Brian McLaren, founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland, offers his readers yet another cutting-edge text, thoughtfully presented and guaranteed to produce some measure of cynical response. Therein lies the glitch. Even McLaren's title, THE SECRET MESSAGE OF JESUS, begs skeptics to open the first chapter sporting an attitude trimmed with a critical air. Yet it shouldn't. Jesus Christ's words did often appear, at first glance, enigma-like and contrary to common sense. However, like most hard-won treasures, for those men and women who stayed with the process long enough to truly understand the meaning behind Christ's parables, his unspoken inferences and message for ushering new life in the here and now, the "secret" makes perfect sense.
After years of personal study, McLaren was compelled to get onto paper what his understanding of this "secret" message of Jesus is all about. Candidly admitting he doesn't have all the answers, the author writes this book, in part, for those who consider themselves "spiritual, but not religious, or interested in Jesus, but not Christianity" because as a pastor he recognizes that even for himself "...there is much in the religious establishment that repels me."
McLaren shares that the typical portrait of Jesus found in the New Testament does not jive with that of the image portrayed by much of religious-centric organizations and their spokespeople. Readers will appreciate the opening chapters, in which the author takes great care to introduce and set the stage for understanding Jesus' spoken message from a historical, political and Jewish standpoint.
Says McLaren: "God did not merely create Adam and Eve and then leave them to their demise. Rather God instituted a 'critical response team' in the form of a family --- a lineage of people who will, through the generations, remember their Creator and their original purpose and who will seek to bring truth, blessing, wisdom, and healing to all people so that God's creation can be rescued from human evil."
In the same way that God the Father desires to be an interactive part of His creation, Jesus the Son speaks in parables, often "hiding" or giving out clues to what he really means to say, so that his followers will engage in "interactive" relational conversation with him. Certainly the parables could be tricky to understand, but that's the point. Those who cared enough to query and thoughtfully ponder Christ's words reacted in one of two ways: with "arrogant and impatient anger" or with "eager and curious humility" that forced them to depend upon Jesus more fully. McLaren says that Christ didn't simply speak truth --- he sought the "spiritual formation of the hearers" or, in other words, lives that are inwardly transformed, which lead to outwardly changed behavior that will revolutionize family, towns and the world.
Once this foundation for the "why" of the secretness of Jesus' message is set, McLaren further proposes how scandalous this truth was to the period's religious leaders (and to ours today) and how Christians are to take to heart the call to "globally" make Christ's love real no matter what occupation one sets their hand to, by literally "rethinking, believing, receiving, going public, and practicing a new way of life." Finally, McLaren offers ways to expand one's faith borders by making the love of Christ "real." This is accomplished by speaking the language, instituting peace, making future promises work for today, and opening the heart's eyes to "see" the kingdom of God through the lenses of hopeful possibility.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on April 4, 2006