Just over a month ago I responded to an email inviting me to receive an advanced copy of Brian Mclaren’s latest book entitled, “Everything must change”. It arrived yesterday.
The book I received is a meaty 362 pages and divided into eight parts. For the next few days I’ll attempt to review the book. Let me preface this review by stating clearly that I’m not a seasoned reviewer. My reading site will be as a pastor in Johannesburg South Africa who planted a church with some friends. We are trying our best to follow Jesus in our suburban context. As such I will engage with Brian’s thoughts out of my particular context.
Brian introduces the book in chapter one with a “framing story” that he describes in terms of four crises, an attempt to reflect on the current global crisis: Prosperity (environmental crisis), Equity (gap between rich and poor), Security (war/violence), and Spirituality (inability of religions to heal the former crises).
In South Africa we’re facing serious challenges in all of these. Our CO2 emissions contribute to 40% of Africa’s total; we have one of the highest GINI coefficients in the world (a tool used to measure the inequality between rich and poor); and even though we’re not a terrorist target, South Africans experience unprecedented levels of violence and lastly we live in a country wherein over 70% of the people claim to be ‘Christian’. Therefore I find Brian’s framing of the crises extremely relevant for my life and our faith community and engaged me into wanting to read further.
Brian uses delightful pictures and metaphors, for instance when he explains how the church has reduced Jesus he states : “The popular and domesticated Jesus, who has become little more than a chrome-plated hood ornament on the guzzling Hummer of Western civilization …” I’ve always found Hummer’s kind of ridiculous, and btw they’re coming to South Africa.
The only struggle I had with the intro was when Brian situates the reader into his curriculum vitae as an author. I couldn’t help to wonder whether the publishers led him into phrases like “I started writing books, a few of which have been bestsellers” and again “The couple hundred thousand people who have read my previous books …” It also seems to be in vogue these days to have as part of an author’s biography that he/she has “travelled extensively” as if it makes one more credible. It reminds me of the famous quote of Thoreau’s where he notes that he “traveled a good deal in Concordia” – his hometown.
Part 1 has a wonderful mix of intent, personal stories and a bent towards action. Brian proposes that one “read it – slowly and thoughtfully … and with some friends” and states that he is “eager for all of us to get to work”.
In chapter two, Brian asks two questions:
1. What are the biggest problems in the World?
2. What does Jesus have to say about these problems?
He then expounds on how a reductionist view of Jesus has interpreted Him as uninterested with the problems of this world. He just wants to forgive us and send us to heaven. Influenced by authors like Willard and NT Wright, Brian then explains how Jesus’ message was about the kingdom of God. Brian’s pursuit for answers led him into an “obsession” that translated itself into a relationship with his friend Claude, a Burundian. My favorite sentence in this chapter was: “I was forty-eight years old, and if I was ever going to do something about poverty and injustice, it seemed like high time for me to get some firsthand experience”. I appreciate the incarnational and relational bias of the chapter and the story of his arrival in Burundi … (buy the book for the delightful details)
The discussion questions at the end of the chapters are helpful … though I wondered why one would ask a question like number 4: “Have you ever visited a foreign country? If so, share a vivid memory or two. If not, where would you like to visit, why?” If this question is designed to illicit responses on exposure to the crises, then I think mother Theresa’s advice to “find your own Calcutta” would have been great. Africa is not the only place with poor people suffering and sometimes I’m afraid that over eager American Christians will flock to our continent ‘to do good’ to the poor in an unrelational way. OK, enough for now … will post more tomorrow … I’m excited to read and learn more.