This is the fourth post interacting with Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. Please remember that I cannot reproduce the book in these posts. I will do my best to summarize without being overly simplistic or reductionistic. Each post will be two parts. The first will be a summary of McLaren’s discussion and the second will be my reflections.
The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and why is he important?
In this the fourth question, the Jesus question, McLaren seeks to find an authentic representation of who Jesus is in the Scriptures. The issue is particularly stated:
Among those who become more self-aware about the danger of distortion, and understandable fear arises: if all of us (not just “all of them”) are tempted to make Jesus in our own image, then we should be extremely cautious about compromising, letting Jesus be reimaged according to contemporary tastes…By holding a presumptive hostitlity to new views of Jesus, which may indeed reflect contemporary biases, we may unwittingly preserve old views of Jesus, which also reflect dangerous and compromising biases — just biases of the past rather than the present (121–122, italics original).
The old way of understanding Jesus that McLaren spars with is once again founded in his Greco-Roman construct. The Jesus of the Gospels is replaced by the Jesus of Revelation: the angry, sword wielding, Caesar look-a-like Jesus. While Jesus failed the first time around, there is no fear, he will come back and bring the sword and lead a great militaristic victory. This is the Jesus imaged after Caesar in all his glory and splendor. Finally, Pax Christus will match up with Pax Romana.
If this is not Jesus then who is he? McLaren argues that Jesus is the bringer of a new Genesis, a new Exodus, and a new kingdom come. His arguments are derived by comparing the gospel texts to the narratives found in Genesis, Exodus, and Isaiah. In these places he finds parallels between Jesus and Moses and the peaceable kingdom. The difference is that in Jesus we have a greater depth of the realization of creation, liberation, and peace. This most clearly evidenced in the dream of the peaceable kingdom found in the prophets. In Jesus, we no longer have a dream, but a kingdom actually inaugurated.
McLaren summarizes what Jesus does in this way:
…Jesus…did not come merely to “save souls from hell.” No he came to launch a new Genesis, to lead a new Exodus, and to announce, embody, and inaugurate a new kingdom as the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6). Seen in this light, Jesus and his message have everything to do with poverty, slavery, and a “social agenda.” (135)
This was one of the most challenging sections of McLaren’s book for me. I think it is because I find myself so often shrinking Jesus into a box that keeps him purely in the business of saving souls. I see him only as the sacrificial lamb whose blood I paint on my door frame so that I am passed over on the day of judgment. My life is so much easier that way. This approach protects me from “losing my life to save it.” This approach to Jesus makes it easy to “win” debates about spiritual things. This approach relegates Jesus to gymna-sanct-a-toriums and the first day of the week. If Jesus is more than a sacrifice for me, if he is the victor, the liberator, the one who brings about my re-creation, then a relationship with Jesus will be painful, real, passionate, beautiful, and transformative.
That being said I have a very real concern about the picture that McLaren paints. It is due to the fact that he does not include any discussion regarding the atonement. He says that he painting a picture of Jesus outside the lines of the six-line diagram and that he seeking to bring “Christ and him crucified” to the fore. However, he does not interact with the cross of Christ. What we have is a focus on the other aspects of Jesus’s work.
In a text that is painting a new vision of Christianity it is sloppy, at best, to ignore the crucifixion and it’s atoning work. Is it possible that McLaren simply accepts Steve Chalke’s representation of the atonement? Is he simply affirming liberation theology? I hope not. He says in the quote above that Jesus did not “merely” save souls. I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is “balancing the scales”, so to speak. However, this is very dangerous turf upon which to walk. I hope in future texts that he will clarify his position on Christ’s work on the cross.