"Emerging church" lightning rod Brian McLaren, author of Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (reviewed in this issue) encourages American Christians to think globally and put their faith into action.
RBL: Why must "everything change," and what do you mean by everything?
McLaren: The book tries to answer two questions: what are the top global crises, and what does the message of Jesus say to those crises? When you dive into crises and begin to see how interrelated and deeply rooted they are, you begin to see that we need a profound change. You're confronted with the unsustainability of our current life. What really surprised me more than I had expected when I began the book was the relevance of the core message of Jesus with our current crisis.
RBL: Can you be more specific?
McLaren: When you study Jesus' historical context, you realize he was dealing with similar systems in his world. One way to say it is you have an imperial framing story, which is the story that Rome tries to impose on the Jewish people, and some sectors of Judaism collaborate with that framing story. The Sadducees and the Herodians in the gospels fit into that category. And then you have people who develop a counter narrative, the Pharisees and the Zealots, who dreamed of a violent revolution and overthrow of the Roman story. And then you have what I would call a withdrawal narrative, and that would be the Essenes. I think Jesus comes along with a fourth alternative to those three. And that is what is captured in his really dangerous and subversive metaphor of the kingdom of God.
RBL: Why dangerous?
McLaren: First of all, it critiques the three main alternatives. And in our day, it's so interesting that we have the same three dominant narratives at work. We have imperial narratives that want to bring peace and prosperity by domination by a superpower. We have violent counter-narratives epitomized by terrorist networks. We have withdrawal narratives, some of which are religious, that fantasize about leaving this world behind, and some of which are consumerist. They want to cocoon in a little bubble of personal peace and affluence. And I think Jesus could be seen as recruiting people to a fourth alternative—a non-violent, radical alternative.
RBL: How do you think American readers are going to react to what I'm hearing between the lines here? That our culture is the new Rome?
McLaren: You are correctly reading between the lines. The first thing I'd say is that I've been speaking about some of the content of this book for the last couple of years, and the overwhelming response I get from people is gratitude and relief. They have some sense that the Christian faith has been co-opted by our societal machinery, and they're relieved to hear someone validate that suspicion. And then I think they're also excited because it helps them get the Christian message back as a force for social transformation, rather than social control.