Along with four other bloggers, one of my summer reading books includes The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren. At first glance, the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” comes to mind. Initially, this book doesn’t seem to be what I thought it would be. Though not deep reading, it is a good spring board for further thought, especially for those not familiar with the Faith. Over the next 6 Friday’s, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on this book, along with Huw Raphael, Fr. Gregory,Jaime, and Don-o. Be sure to check out their thoughts on this book.
This week’s chapters, 1-5, deal with “Excavation: Digging Beneath the Surface to Uncover Jesus’ Message” as McLaren puts it. Mr. McLaren admits to being on a spiritual quest to “understand Jesus”(p ix). I understand that concept very well, as I am sure many of you do! Though, what I don’t get is a quest honed in solely on the Second Godhead of the Trinity. Yes, Jesus is the Word of God, but He is a part of a Whole and paradoxically, THE Whole. So I guess, to seek part, one finds the Whole.
The book’s title and subtitles speak of a “secret message.” IMHO, that skates close to gnosticism. Parables aren’t secret messages, like a code or something. They conveyed the point, or Truth, in a manner in which people would and still do, grasp the point someone is trying to make. What’s secret about that?
These first 5 chapters raised more questions than they answered. Therein lies McLaren’s skill. My added questions are: Why must we teach in the manner in which Jesus taught (p3)? What is the benefit of implying Jesus’ message may have been intentionally distorted and secret (p3)? I think that sets up an adversarial relationship with Jesus being the enemy Who keeps secrets and plays games with His listeners.
If McLaren’s purpose is to grab the attention of the generation who questions the integrity of those in authority, he does a good job. But I think he will lead them to the path that says accept no authority but their own and their individual interpretation of Jesus’ “secret” message.
Another question raised in my mind is McLaren’s seemingly defensive slam on priests, who in Jesus’ time focused on regularity and tradition (p20). Why toss a rock at them? The question McLaren asks is valid, not only for the Jews of the day, but any individual in any worshipping group today. “What happens when people just go through the motions?” Why lay blame at the feet of the priests or pastors for their parishoner’s “ritual faithfulness” being blinded or numbed? In a current culture where everything that is wrong is someone else’s fault, I think this statement clearly reinforces that rather than pushing a person to look in a mirror and ask, “How am I to blame for my spiritual numbness?”
There were a few other things that truly puzzled me but to go into all of them would be to rewrite these whole chapters. A good example of them is when Mr. McLaren writes about the rich, young ruler who asked Jesus what he needed to do to be saved. We all know Jesus’ answer and the young ruler’s disappointment when he walks away from Jesus. Mr. McLaren says, “The man goes away sad,and Jesusis sad as well: you get the feeling He saw real potential in this fellow and like him a great deal.” (emphasis mine).
Saw real potential? That’s what made Jesus sad? Huh? IMHO, what made Jesus sad wasn’t lost potential. It was that salvation was given to this rich, young ruler and he rejected it. He rejected Jesus. He rejected God.
I hope the rest of the book has a little more than that. Ya know?