In The Secret Message of Jesus, you mention that you've spent nearly a lifetime in the church, but sense that you still don't understand Jesus.

All of us who grew up in a church tradition come with a certain set of preconceptions, assumptions about what questions Jesus is answering, what problems he's solving. I'm almost 50 years old, and it's been very hard to get a fresh look at what's really there in the Gospels and not just see what I have been socialized and trained to see.

What is the secret message of Jesus?

Jesus had a message that was centered in a fascinating, rich phrase called "the kingdom of God." I call it a secret message because Jesus hid it in parables. He didn't just come out and try to explain it in a little formula. It's the kind of message that you have to grasp not just with your logic but also with your imagination. It involves hope, and it involves so much of our being.

What do you think Jesus means when he talks about "the kingdom of God"?

A kingdom is a network of relationships. It's a relationship with a king, and then it's a relationship with all the other citizens in the kingdom, and then that puts you in relationship with the land the kingdom occupies and with people in other kingdoms. So to be invited into the kingdom of God is to be invited into a new set of relationships and a whole new way of understanding yourself, your purpose and your posture toward other people.

In that context, what does salvation mean?

If you pay attention to Jesus's message of the kingdom, he's talking about us being saved from injustice, violence, greed, lust, fear, hatred, worry—from things that threaten to destroy our world and our individual lives and families.

How do you think Christianity in America would change if people saw the kingdom of God in that light?

That is one of the questions I hope the book gets people talking about. Because, to a great degree, Christianity in America has become a civil religion. In many ways we've become the religious legitimizer of a lot of deeply held American myths. And if we were to really get the message of the kingdom of God it would give us another vantage point to critique our myths. It would have great effect on so many of the most important issues—the way we look at our role in the world, our assessment of the war in Iraq, our view of the land, the way people of different political parties treat one another, our racial divides and prejudices, the way we conduct our sex lives and think about family values. The message of the kingdom would take us many levels deeper in thinking about what our values should be.