Saturday, February 02, 2008

Everything Must Change - Book Review

Brian McClaren has a new book, which I have just finished reading. I have been interested in the things Mr. McClaren has had to offer over the last several years. While I am aware he has a number of both critics and admirers, I really wanted to see what was on his mind in this book, particularly after hearing a compelling interview here.

After reading this book, I have several conflicting thoughts. Please remember, this is from the mind of a 49-year old white guy from the suburbs who has not voted Democrat since Jimmy Carter. What do I know?

Helpful Critique of The Church
Mr. McClaren offers a very insightful and helpful critique of the modern church, and the surreal way in which Christian-think has become mixed up in conservative politics. This whole thing bothers me a great deal, as the older I get the less I think that any of us who follow Christ can shrink wrap him into our way of looking at the world as Democrat or Republican. Given this, what is said in the opening chapters of this book is very helpful. We all need more of this constructive criticism.

Of particular value is McClaren's thoughts on the way that we have misunderstood the message of who Jesus is. Suffice it to say there is much to think about how we might "reframe" our view of Jesus here. Change here is needed; we believing folk should make this a priority. The decline of the Western church is evidence that our old model is not working. I am totally in with this form of thinking.

A Mass of Criticism
After the early chapters, Mr. McClaren ventures into the deep water of politics, economics, international affairs, and the military history of the United States.

I find myself often wondering during these chapters if the author is in over his head. While his ideas are good, and also faithful to Scripture in many ways, they seem, at the end, to be idealistic, and frankly detached from reality. I shudder to think what would have happened with Mr. McClaren at the helm of US foreign policy over the past decade, most particularly in the face of 9/11. Be very careful when mixing theology and politics, this is very choppy water indeed.

I will admit that much is and has been wrong with the way the US has acted in relation to other countries, and our sense of imperialism over the past century.

However, after several chapters of predictable screeds against our country's behavior, I wonder again, what would Mr. McClaren have done with the brutally oppressive Taliban in the aftermath of the attacks on the US? See: The Kite Runner. Should we have sent over diplomats to talk about our feelings; how we had been deeply hurt by the "damage" brought upon our country? About how, perhaps, these attacks had really been our fault, because of our oppressive behavior? I wonder. While I struggle with much of the military posturing of our country, the world is still menanced by bad people, and no amount of happy thinking seems to be able to change this.

Mr. McClaren reminds me of utopian urban planners, with whom I have to deal often in my work. They love the idea of "mixed use" projects with residential and commercial uses placed neatly together. However, guess what? Many times these mixtures are financial disasters; they simply do not work in the real world. I can prove it to you numerically. I think the same ideology applies to other things in life. Urban planners need to spend some time with those who actually need to show their developments must make money. Shocking, I know. Not all militarists are evil, some like their kids and care about others.

That offered, I think McClaren has much to offer about the way we view money. Our consumer culture needs healing, and there is much good thinking here!

Nowhere to Go - Vague Suggestions
The final portion of this book is long on hints and short on practical response. I felt as if I was offered a book thick with complaints, and short on suggestions and solutions. How shall I then live, please?!

If the dominant world view is so messed up, where do I, as a believer who wants to make a difference turn? Where are the centers of hope in the world, where are the opportunities to make a change? Please, Mr. McClaren, tell me stories of transformation and of hope, of renewal and rebirth. I want to hear them.

I am not just a shallow white guy who wants to stay comfortable. I would like to think about this sort of thing more. Or do I need to wait for your next book? If that is the case, I call foul.

Ok, so that is what my tiny mind thinks. But there is far more in the blogsphere to look at and think about. Much smarter people than me. If you struggle like I do with this sort of thing, go look!
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