When emerging church leader Brian McLaren speaks --- or writes, in this case ---people listen. Disenchanted evangelicals, progressive Christians and believers looking for a new way of living out their faith look to McLaren to help them clarify the swirling mass of thoughts and questions and gnawing doubts they harbor. Others listen as well but with a different intent; those "others" are his critics, and they are legion. In EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE, McLaren provides his critics with even more fodder to use against him, starting with the book's title. If "everything must change," then McLaren is saying that the gospel must change. Right?
Wrong. It's the way we interpret the gospel and apply the "good news" to global crises that needs to change. For McLaren, that change begins by asking two questions that he describes as the shaping questions of his life: "What are the biggest problems in the world?" and "What does Jesus have to say about these global crises?"
To answer those questions, McLaren first provides readers with the image of civilization as a suicide machine of its own making. In the process of establishing social structures that would seem to benefit society, humans have created destructive systems because they were functioning from within a destructive framing story marked in part by overconfidence and absolute certainty. The biggest problems in the world today are products of that perspective: what McLaren calls the prosperity dysfunction, the profitable, "rapid and extravagant resource use (with corresponding waste production)"; the equity dysfunction, with each social group becoming "a competing us/them faction that seeks advantage for 'us,' not a common good for all"; and the security dysfunction, "a vicious cycle of tension between an anxious global empire of the rich and an angry global terrorist revolution of the poor." And our "industrial-strength religion" has so far failed to positively impact these interlocking systems, McLaren maintains.
So what does Jesus have to say about all this? This is where McLaren's "revolution of hope" kicks in. Jesus, he writes, saw these systems at work in His day and proposed a transforming alternative, the opportunity to work from within a new framing story about a loving God who calls people to live in a "way of love." This nondestructive framing story, had it been believed and lived out as Jesus intended, could have stopped the suicide machine in its tracks. It didn't, but there's still hope, and there's still time. But to do so --- to stop the suicide machine --- well, everything must change.
That brief and inadequate summary of the book hardly does it justice. Its 300-plus pages are filled with thought-provoking, challenging and controversial insights intended to shake up the complacent, rally the faithful and provoke the opposition. This is not a quick read, but it is also not a difficult read. As always, McLaren's writing is clear and accessible; it's the richness of the content that makes this perhaps the most demanding of his books. This is must-reading for first, emerging church adherents, observers and critics, and second, those who believe that God's will really can be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on October 2, 2007