The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

The Secret Message of Jesus Review - Part III

Old Ideas

As I mentioned in Part I, McLaren’s intended audience is those who define themselves as “spiritual but not religious." McLaren certainly succeeded in knowing his audience as is evidenced by the title. As well, I applaud McLaren for seeking to attract an important and open audience.

However, it could be argued that McLaren misleads his readers (not just his intended audience but also the Christian laity) regarding his view of Jesus’ message. He portrays his view of the Kingdom of God as a wholly new and unique perspective, and this is simply not true. As I argued in Part II, McLaren’s view of the Kingdom’s presence and arrival is one that has been around for a long time. It is a debate within scholarship and among theologians globally. Failing to acknowledge these facts puts McLaren is a poor light. His tone of openness and honesty is undermined by not honestly recognizing that good and godly men disagree on about this.

One might argue that bringing up old debates is an attempt to find a place among them. But he is not bringing his arguments before seasoned theologians. That is probably a good thing because his arguments are not tight enough to withstand scrutiny. His express purpose is to pose these ideas to people relatively unaccustomed to theology and the Christian faith. That is, he is foisting old theological ideas onto unsuspecting, unknowing masses who don’t know any other arguments. Even I can’t articulate what the difference is between his position and those of other end times theologies—and I went to a Bible college.

McLaren is seemingly sidestepping the scholarly debates that rigorously evaluates Biblical theology from a well-informed position and feeding it to laypersons. This sounds a bit like a coup to me. I think it is important to give “the people” the Bible, to let them read it for themselves, but McLaren is forming their theology for them and not giving them both sides of the story—this is an old argument long debated within theology. McLaren never told us that.

A Journey to an Unknown Destination - A Destination without a Map

The secret message of Jesus is that “The Kingdom of God has come near!” The big topic of the book is the Kingdom of God. Perhaps, though, you’ve noticed and been frustrated by my failure to give you a working definition of the Kingdom. You are not alone. My ongoing frustration with The Secret Message of Jesus was that, for all this talk about the Kingdom, I didn’t get much of an idea at all as to what McLaren conceived that to be. In the text, it’s not until chapter 21 that McLaren offers this: “this world will become the Kingdom of God” (203, emphasis his).

Earlier on (that is, in chapter 20), McLaren adds an endnote (in the back of the book), which offers, “[C.S. Lewis] defines heaven as ‘the whole Nature of system of conditions to which redeemed human spirits, still remaining human, can enjoy such participation [in the divine life of God] fully and for ever.’” Of this, McLaren notes, “This…definition of heaven may in fact be identical or nearly identical to our idea of the Kingdom of God in this book” (241). [1* note]

If McLaren had these views when he began the book, why didn’t he provide his readers with this thesis from the outset? Even if he had provided it following the first section of the book or somewhere in the middle section, his readers would have had an easier time tracking with his thinking. We needed to know the destination in order for the journey to make sense; we needed a map so that we saw each stop's place along the way. But, he doesn’t provide us with it until the last chapter of the book!

I have a theory regarding why this is: In advocating what McLaren believes to be Jesus’ message (the Kingdom of God), McLaren sought to arrive at a conclusion rather than begin with an assumption. That is, he wanted reader to journey with him to an understanding of what the Kingdom of God is or is like. He wanted it to feel more like A New Kind, more postmodern.

Yet the format of the book is that of a logical argument not a linear path. He’s drawing together a logical argument but trying to shape it as a organic process. And it simply doesn’t work. Instead, I was simply frustrated at his vagueness, which I think he was forced into in order to arrive with the reader at the conclusion.

Had he begun by giving the reader the big map (what he thinks the Kingdom of God is), the stops along the way would have made more sense with that context and been more appreciated. He gave us snapshots of the location, but didn’t tell us where it is, so the pictures didn’t make sense, even when we had them all. Perhaps a second read would be more beneficial, knowing what I know now. I didn’t have any sort of resolution until the last chapter when he finally said what I expected he would. This wasn’t pleasing; it was irritating. The postmodern method didn’t work for this book.

Next Up: What I Liked About The Secret Message of Jesus

1* - Consider Lewis’ definition of heaven, then consider our current world condition (crime, AIDS, war, poverty, etc.). McLaren believes, if we work at it, that we can get from where we are now to the world Lewis’ defined. Do you?