LentBooks #1: Everything Must Change, by Brian McLaren

The first book on this year’s Lenten reading list is one I picked up in a store a few weeks ago and saved for Lent. McLaren’s subtitle is: “Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope,” which sounds like everything I want to read about.

However, the book wasn’t nearly as thought-provoking or inspiring as I’d hoped. McLaren’s thesis is that Jesus’ message was as much (or more) about social justice and caring for the poor as it was about personal salvation, and that the church needs to be more active in responding to and putting into practice Jesus’ radical worldview. And that if we did, things would be better.

Well you’re preachin’ to the choir here, Brian. Obviously, this is everything I believe. What irked me was that he kept talking as though these were shockingly NEW ideas that no-one but Brian McLaren and a select few others in the 21st-century emerging church movement had ever revealed before. I saw one review of the book that described McLaren’s view as “ahistorical” and I think this really sums it up. He has a good grasp of all the (many) ways the Christian church has gotten it wrong in the past, but little awareness of or sense of continuity with the many, many Christians who have preached and practiced this same message throughout Christian history. So, that bothered me.

And it bothered me, too, that there was so much theory and so little practice in this. McLaren spent the whole book convincing me that yes, Jesus did have a different value system from the world and Jesus’ values do offer answers to our global crises. And maybe for some people this is just the message they need to hear, but I kept thinking, “Yeah Brian, I know this … just tell me HOW IT WORKS.” I wanted to read about practical suggestions and examples, and I felt all I was getting was preached at.

This summary makes my experience of the book sound worse than it was. I did enjoy reading it, and it is inpsiring. If you haven’t ever thought before about the connection between the message of Jesus and crises such as environmental disaster and world poverty, or if you’re just starting to explore those questions, this book may be an eye-opener. For me, I guess it boils down to a case of “not what I was hoping for.” I am at a place where I want to see specifics on how I as a Christian can put my beliefs into practice to do something about hunger or global warming. My reaction to Everything Must Change could best be summed up as: “Well, of course it must — but please give me some insight into how to do it!!”

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3 Comments

Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- general

3 responses to “LentBooks #1: Everything Must Change, by Brian McLaren

  1. Have you read his other books? I’ve read most of them, and have this one on my shelf, high on my list to read “next.” The main critique I’ve heard from him is that he offers theory, not practical advice. I tend to like that, so it doesn’t bother me. I think the role he intentionally plays is the guy who interrupts a conversation with a discussion starter, then bows out while people start talking. He frequently says in his books that he doesn’t want to give you a formula, he wants to get you thinking. And, though I agree his message is clear to us, I’d say that many/most people in the American Evangelical world today DO THINK that he and a few other Emergent folks are the first to think this way. So, even though that’s showing a great deal of ignorance, I can see that he’d need to frame his message that way, since he’s talking to them.

    Anyway, I’m not meaning to defend him, since I haven’t read it. I’ll be back when I have!

  2. Catherine, I have read A Generous Orthodoxy and enjoyed it very much … nothing else by him. I didn’t mean to sound too harsh on him — it is a good book and a message that needs to be heard. I guess I was just looking for less theory, more practice!

  3. Several of us from around the blogsphere are reading “Everything Must Change” together and discussing our thoughts. We’ve just begun, but we’ve set it up in a way where it’s never to late to participate.

    If you have any interest, you can visit us at:

    http://readingforchange.wordpress.com

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