What do the life and teaching of Jesus have to say about the most critical global problems in our world today? Acclaimed author and Emergent church leader Brian McLaren states, "More and more Christian leaders are beginning to realize that for the millions of young adults who have recently dropped out of church, Christianity is a failed religion. Why? Because it has specialized in dealing with 'spiritual needs' to the exclusion of physical and social needs. It has focused on 'me' and 'my eternal destiny,' but it has failed to address the dominant societal and global realities of their lifetime: systemic injustice, poverty, and dysfunction." McLaren asks, "Shouldn't a message purporting to be the best news in the world be doing better than this?"
What he sets forth in this provocative, unsettling work is a "form of Christian faith that is holistic, integral, balanced, that offers good news for both the living and the dying, that speaks of God's grace at work both in this life and the life to come, both to individuals and to societies and the planet as a whole."
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Everything Must Change
Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope
By Brian D. McLaren
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Brian D. McLaren
All rights reserved.
If you're like some people (including my wife and a few friends who have been nervous about this book since they heard what I was writing about), you may already feel a little skeptical and suspicious, having only read the title and subtitle of this book.
You've surmised that the statement "everything must change" is hyperbole. Whatever your reaction to the subtitle's mention of "Jesus" and "revolution of hope," you've judged "global crises" to be totally depressing and overwhelming. You've determined that people who talk about global crises aren't life-of-the-party types; instead, they score high in the categories of being boring, humorless, and guilt-inducing.
If we're going to get anywhere, I have to convince you—and fast—of at least four things. First, that I'm not another blah-blah-blah person ranting about how bad the world is and how guilty you should feel for taking up space in it. Second, that I can help you understand some highly complex material and make it not only accessible but maybe even interesting and inspiring. Third, that when you're done with this book, you'll not only better understand the world and your place in it, but you'll also know how you can make a difference. (You'll also be able to engage in dialogue and further research through the book's website—www.everythingmustchange.com.) And fourth, I must convince you that making a difference is not another dreary duty for an already overburdened person, but rather that making a difference is downright joyful—fulfilling, rewarding, good.
You also may be wondering who I am and why I'm writing on the subjects of Jesus, global crises, and hope. I'm not an economist, politician, or certified expert on anything really. But I am a normal person like you who cares and wants to do the right thing. I started my career as a college English teacher and then became a pastor for twenty-four years. In the mid-1990s, while I was a pastor, I started writing books, a few of which have been best sellers. I serve on a number of nonprofit boards and travel extensively as a public speaker and networker. I've been on national news shows as a spokesperson for "the emerging church" and "progressive evangelical Christianity" and other such oxymorons (some would say), and you can Google my name and find websites and blogs from fundamentalist groups who consider me the son of Satan or on the wrong side of both the "culture war" and "truth war."
More personally, I'm a rather ordinary person. I care about my young adult kids and the kids they may someday have. I care about my friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens and our common future on this beautiful, imperiled planet. I care about the billions of people I've never met and never will meet, including people who might be called my nation's enemies. I also care about our fellow creatures—brown trout and blue herons, raccoons and gopher tortoises, red dragonflies and royal palms, barrel cactus and woodland ferns. I care about all of these for a lot of reasons, especially because I am a committed follower of Christ, and people with this commitment, it seems to me, can't help but care about all these things.
As a follower of God in the way of Jesus, I've been involved in a profoundly interesting and enjoyable conversation for the last ten years or so. It's a conversation about what it means to be "a new kind of Christian"—not an angry and reactionary fundamentalist, not a stuffy traditionalist, not a blasé nominalist, not a wishy-washy liberal, not a New Agey religious hipster, not a crusading religious imperialist, and not an overly enthused Bible-waving fanatic—but something fresh and authentic and challenging and adventurous. Around the world, millions of people have gotten involved in this conversation, and more are getting involved each day. (One reason we keep calling it a conversation is that we can't find a short way of describing it yet.)
The couple hundred thousand people who have read my previous books seem to find in them some hope and resonance with things they've already been thinking and feeling, including a suspicion that the religious status quo is broken and a desire to translate their faith into a way of life that makes a positive difference in the world. They share my belief that the versions of Christianity we inherited are largely flattened, watered down, tamed ... offering us a ticket to heaven after death, but not challenging us to address the issues that threaten life on earth. Together we've begun to seek a fresh understanding of what Christianity is for, what a church can be and do, and most exciting, we're finding out that a lot of what we need most is already hidden in a trunk in our attic. Which is good news.
So this is a religious book, but in a worldly and unconventional and ultimately positive way, a way some nonreligious people would probably call "spiritual but not religious."
I've always had a propensity to think a few degrees askew from most people, especially about religion. And not only am I often unsatisfied with conventional answers, but even worse, I've consistently been unsatisfied with conventional questions.
For instance, when I was a pastor, people often asked my opinion on hot-button issues like evolution, abortion, and homosexuality. The problem was that after discussing those issues in all of their importance and intensity, I couldn't help asking other questions: Why do we need to have singular and firm opinions on the protection of the unborn, but not about how to help poor people and how to avoid killing people labeled enemies who are already born? Or why are we so concerned about the legitimacy of homosexual marriage but not about the legitimacy of fossil fuels or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (and in particular, our weapons as opposed to theirs)? Or why are so many religious people arguing about the origin of species but so few concerned about the extinction of species? Then I'd wonder, If we religious people have exclusively seized on a couple of hot-button questions, what other questions should we be thinking about that nobody's asking? That's the kind of wonderment that can turn into a book like the one you're holding.
Part of what it means to be "a new kind of Christian" is to discover or rediscover what the essential message of Jesus is about. As I explained in some detail in The Secret Message of Jesus, more and more of us are realizing something our best theologians have been saying for quite a while: Jesus' message is not actually about escaping this troubled world for heaven's blissful shores, as is popularly assumed, but instead is about God's will being done on this troubled earth as it is in heaven. So people interested in being a new kind of Christian will inevitably begin to care more and more about this world, and they'll want to better understand its most significant problems, and they'll want to find out how they can fit in with God's dreams actually coming true down here more often.
Which is why I wanted to write this book: because when I started caring about these things, I didn't know where to begin. I started reading books and websites and talking to knowledgeable people, but I soon felt my naïveté being replaced by an overwhelming complexity. I kept looking for a way to tame the complexity in a big picture or metaphor, and when the big picture began to come into focus, I felt I had discovered something worth sharing.
The Leverage Point—A Better Framing Story
To make preliminary sense of the crises that surround us, I can briefly introduce a few metaphors or word pictures that we'll consider later in more detail. For example, I can speak of a perfect storm of global crises brewing like an undetected hurricane out at sea, sending preliminary rain bands ashore that aren't themselves the problem but are signs of the problem that approaches. I can develop a disease metaphor, comparing our global crises to varied symptoms of a single as-yet undiagnosed autoimmune disease. Or I can explore the ways our society has become an addict.
In particular, I can use the image of a suicide machine that coopts the main mechanisms of our civilization—our economic, political, and military systems—and reprograms them to destroy those they should serve. It's not coincidental that the image of a machine that turns on its creators has recently become popular in movies from The Matrix to I, Robot. In this book, I suggest that the image is true.
Whatever metaphors I employ—an undetected storm, an undiagnosed disease, an unacknowledged addiction, or a machine that has gone destructive—I'll suggest that our plethora of critical global crises can be traced to four deep dysfunctions, the fourth of which is the lynchpin or leverage point through which we can reverse the first three:
1. Environmental breakdown caused by our unsustainable global economy, an economy that fails to respect environmental limits even as it succeeds in producing great wealth for about one-third of the world's population. We'll call this the prosperity crisis.
2. The growing gap between the ultra-rich and the extremely poor, which prompts the poor majority to envy, resent, and even hate the rich minority—which in turn elicits fear and anger in the rich. We'll call this the equity crisis.
3. The danger of cataclysmic war arising from the intensifying resentment and fear among various groups at opposite ends of the economic spectrum. We'll call this the security crisis.
4. The failure of the world's religions, especially its two largest religions, to provide a framing story capable of healing or reducing the three previous crises. We'll call this the spirituality crisis.
By framing story, I mean a story that gives people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives. It tells them who they are, where they come from, where they are, what's going on, where things are going, and what they should do.
In searching for a better framing story than we currently proclaim, Christians like myself can discover a fresh vision of our religion's founder and his message, a potentially revolutionary vision that could change everything for us and for the world we inhabit. We can rediscover what it can mean to call Jesus Savior and Lord when we raise the question of what exactly he intended to save us from. (His angry Father? The logical consequences of our actions? Our tendency to act in ways that produce undesirable logical consequences? Global self-destruction?) The popular and domesticated Jesus, who has become little more than a chrome-plated hood ornament on the guzzling Hummer of Western civilization, can thus be replaced with a more radical, saving, and, I believe, real Jesus.
The Hope That Can Change Everything
As I worked on this book—grappling to understand our world's top problems and to see them in relation to the life and message of Jesus—I was struck as never before with the one simple, available, yet surprisingly powerful response called for by Jesus, a response that can begin to foment a revolution of hope among us, a hope that can change everything. That hope may happen to you as you read, without you even noticing it. If it happens in enough of us, we will face and overcome the global crises that threaten us, and we will sow the seeds of a better future.
I spent 2006 and early 2007 writing and editing this book. It brings to fruition thought processes that go back for several decades. This book took shape in a variety of places around the world, over twenty countries in all: Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, England, Wales, Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, Malaysia, Kenya, Uganda, and the United States. It was written in slums, in airports and trains, in hotels, in homes, in seminary dormitories, in places of great natural beauty, in places of great human ugliness, and some of it (thankfully) in my own home in Maryland, in the good company of my wife and life companion, Grace. It was written under the musical influence of Bob Dylan and Bruce Cockburn, Afro Celt Sound System, the Putumayo Mali collection, Steve Bell, U2, Harp 46, Carrie Newcomer, David Wilcox, Eva Cassidy, Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, and Keith Jarrett. These many influences, plus the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the invasion of Lebanon, the deteriorating conditions in Darfur, and the slow, sad burn of the Congo ... all of these have marked and flavored this book in some way, making it, of all of my books so far, the most "worldly."
The book is a first visit to a new way of seeing the world and hearing the message of Jesus. Many things I have understated in the interest of gentleness; they could have been expressed in much stronger language, but that more passionate language would have been off-putting for uninformed readers (just as the understatement may be off-putting for informed readers, which shows my bias). Everything here also could have been explored in much greater detail. That's why in the back of this book, you'll find extensive notes that cite resources to help you go deeper in areas that grip you. You'll find much additional background in The Secret Message of Jesus, and although it is the prequel to this book, you can read either book first.
Having finished writing the book, I am eager for you to read it—slowly and thoughtfully, I hope, and with some friends if possible—and I'm eager for all of us to get to work. There is much to dismantle, much to overturn, much to rebuild, much to imagine and create, and there are many seeds to be sown and grown.CHAPTER 2
The Amahoro Flowing Between Us
A person's life is shaped by many things—among the most important are the questions she or he can't help but ask. This book explores two of the shaping questions of my life. I began asking myself these two questions when I was in my twenties, and they've been simmering in my mind ever since.
Two Preoccupying Questions
You may criticize my two questions for their lack of modesty, or you may feel I have no business asking questions of this magnitude. But then again, you may find yourself as intrigued by them as I have been. For people who share a commitment to ethics or faith or both, not asking these questions seems unthinkable—once you think of them.
Question #1: What Are the Biggest Problems in the World?
The first question I asked was this: what are the biggest problems in the world? By biggest, I mean problems that cause the most suffering in the present, that pose the greatest threat to our future, that cause most of the other problems, that lie at the root of what's wrong with the world—and therefore at the root of what must be done to set the world on a better course.
When I asked myself this question in my twenties, and then when it resurfaced in my forties, what disturbed me most was that I couldn't remember ever hearing anyone address it. Instead, I had heard a long list of un-integrated crusades against or for this or that, with little rationale as to why the crusade was worthwhile. Through all the commotion, I had seen too little progress on any front.
Question #2: What Does Jesus Have to Say About These Global Problems?
The second question flowed naturally from the first question and from my faith, my chosen path as a follower of God in the way of Jesus—which you may or may not share and still find this book of interest: what do the life and teachings of Jesus have to say about the most critical global problems in our world today? Believing, as I do, that Jesus was (among many other things) unique and brilliant and wise, I had reason to believe that if I could determine the top global problems, I would find some relevant wisdom in the life and teachings of Jesus. And, in turn, I reasoned, my view of Jesus would be deepened and enriched by seeing him in light of today's global problems.
But most of what I had heard religious people say about Jesus related to (a) how some individuals could go to heaven after death, or (b) in the meantime, how some individuals could be more personally happy and successful through God and the Bible. Jesus, as someone focused on individuals and the afterlife, seemed to have little to offer regarding pressing global matters. This common assumption, I hope to show, is false.
Excerpted from Everything Must Change by Brian D. McLaren. Copyright © 2007 Brian D. McLaren. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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