"Snow Patrol wrote the greatest worship song," proclaimed Pastor Rich McCullen. "'Open Your Eyes.' As a church, we've decided to open our eyes to the world and what's going on around us. And sometimes, that's extremely uncomfortable." It's also why MissionGathering invited noted Christian author Brian McLaren to come and speak about his new book: Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. "Do you remember when the book came out?" asked McCullen as he introduced McLaren. (The book in question was McLaren's earlier bestseller, A New Kind of Christian , which sought to integrate postmodernism and Christianity.) "And you went and you bought it, and you kind of snuck it around -- you really didn't know if you wanted your parents to know you were reading it. Remember that? Remember the radical transformation that took place when it so resonated with you? 'This...this is who I am!'" He half-joked that if "you struggle with this church at times because you don't understand who we are -- Are we conservative? Are we liberal? -- blame this man!"
McLaren began with talk of hope -- how some lack it because they see just how bad things are, while some have it in spite of how bad things are because "we actually believe that, through Jesus, God has somehow entered our world...that if God has come into the mess with us, then God's not going to give up until, somehow, there is some healing, and some hope really is fulfilled.... God's grace has come, and that gives us hope."
McLaren said he had been thinking about global crises -- "how do they fit together, and what does the message of Jesus say to those crises?" As for how they fit together: he imagined society "as a machine that is fundamentally seeking to fulfill a desire for prosperity, for equity, and for security. If you think of these as three gears, then the driveshaft of these gears is what I call a framing story. It's the story that tells us who we are, where we're from, and where we're going. All cultures live by stories.... If our story is dysfunctional, dangerous, and untrue, it creates a lot of problems for us." Our problem, thought McLaren, was "at the level of the story." And the world's religions, instead of presenting a solution, "can usually be found to support a framing story from outside of God."
He cited four such stories -- Dominion/Empire ("we will have peace when the 'right' nation is the superpower, and everyone falls into place"); Revolution/Holy War (the right response to the "wrong" people being dominant); Revenge or Scapegoating ("You know what's wrong with the world? Those [fill in the blank]s"); and Isolation/Withdrawal ("The world is hopeless.... Just let it go down the drain"). And he pointed out that all four narratives were at work in Jesus' time: the Sadducees and Herodians thinking it must be God's will for the Romans to be in charge, the Zealots looking to rise up and free their people from Roman oppression, the Pharisees busy blaming the sinners in their midst for their people's troubles, and the Essenes living off in the wilderness.
"Jesus comes into this setting and proclaims a radically different narrative; He calls it the message of the kingdom of God. He's trying to say that it's a message that contradicts the empire of Rome, but it's also different from everybody else's story." The apostle Paul understood this -- McLaren compared a Roman inscription to a passage from the letter to the Colossians. The Romans talked of Augustus as a god, a savior who brought the good news and put an end to war. For his part, Paul named Jesus as "the first born over all creation...whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities." "Caesar is small potatoes in this bigger story," noted McLaren, a story in which peace is made "through His blood shed on a cross" -- the cross being the supreme humiliation Rome could deliver to its enemies. Christ's is "the very opposite way of bringing peace" -- through reconciliation instead of domination, through obedience to the Father instead of mastery over armies.
"We're gathering because we don't actually believe that the officials of the empire are the people who have ultimate authority. We're living by a different story, which can lead to a different way of life. We've got to build communities of faith that are seeking to live the story and message of Jesus.... Your will surrenders to God's will, and you become part of the outworking of God's will in the world."
And what is God's will? McLaren cited Micah: "Doing justice, loving-kindness, or compassion, and walking humbly with God. Everybody agrees that churches should be about walking humbly with God.... More and more churches are learning the piece about loving-kindness." But McLaren hoped for a greater embrace of "doing justice"; he wanted communities peopled by "agents of God's kingdom...demonstrating this new way of life that can bring healing to the world.... Paul says, 'Work out your salvation in fear and trembling.' He means, 'This is real life; this is not just a little religion, this is the real thing.'" If you do it, says Paul, you will "shine like the stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life."
"Maybe that phrase could be rendered 'this message of survival,'" concluded McLaren. "The only way we can survive is by choosing to follow the way of the kingdom of God.... The world will be united in peace through this downward mobility: the service and sacrifice of Jesus."
What happens when we die?
"An awful lot of things," said McLaren. "One of them is, we give an account of how we lived while on earth."