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Brian McLaren... What Christianity Has Come To

Part ... The “Secret” Message of Jesus

Carol Brooks


Foreword and Introduction: Why Brian McLaren in particular? Who is Brian McLaren?...Short Bio. Index to sections

    You Are Here 001orange Part I... The Secret Message of Jesus: Overview The "secret" message... isn't such a big secret. The New Testament emphasis on doing good works to "the brethren". Do modern day Christians get it?

Part II... God's Coming Kingdom: Are God's coming kingdom and the second coming of Christ literal physical events, or are they to be seen in a 'spiritual' sense? What does the Bible say? The dual 'now' and 'then' message of the Kingdom. How McLaren redefines the word "Kingdom, the phrase "Eternal Life", and changes God's "will" to God's "dream" in order to 'prove' his points.

Part III... A Gospel of Transformation, Evacuation... or Justice? The wrath Of God.The "amazingly subversive" Book Of Jonah. The justice and judgement of God. While there is no question that, as McLaren says.. Jesus will condemn and destroy evil, who or what, according to the Scriptures, is evil? Revelation...example of the "literature of the oppressed", territory of the lunatic fringe, or our only hope. Does God plan to "destroy creation"?

Part IV... McLaren's All Inclusive Kingdom: God's promise to Abraham... who exactly would be "blessed"? Practicing what he preaches... Brian McLaren and Jewish leaders. Services done to "Tash".... unbelievers saved without explicit faith in Christ. Salvation. Does seeking salvation make a person "self-centered" and "narcissistic"? The Bible's conditions for entrance into the kingdom. Redefining repentance and the word "transgression". Demon worship. What's in a Name? What exactly Is a "Christian"? Did Gandhi seek "to follow the way of Christ"? The inclusiveness AND exclusiveness of Jesus. What determines one's 'status' in the Kingdom? The Pax Christi. Many shall come from the east, and from the west..

Part V... The Lambeth Conference: Three questions asked Brian McLaren after the Lambeth Conference. Should Christianity be seen as a "threat" or "welcome friend" to other religions, and are they caretakers or enemies of the Gospel

Part VI... Glossing Over the Occult: Occult ceremonies are not harmless 'traditions'. Contemplative spirituality...practices learned learned from a myriad of sources outside of Christianity

Part VII... McLaren And The Bible: Is the Bible inerrant, infallible, absolute and authoritative, or are Christians resorting to the authority of extra Biblical words and concepts" to justify their own belief in the Bible's ultimate authority? Is the sole purpose of the Scriptures to equip God's people for good works. Seeing the Bible as narrative, does not mean forgetting the all-important meta-narrative. Genesis literal or "deep mythic language"?

Part VIII... Conclusion: God A or God B? Re-writing and sanitizing the Message. Profane babbling. Brian McLaren, the New Age, and the antichrist. Ideas that blends harmoniously with New Age beliefs. McLaren and the "visionaries"



Overview.. The Secret Message
Good News For All Religions and Beliefs?
Not Such A Secret After All

Although it is True That Faith Will Be Judged By Works ...
Note The New Testament Emphasis on Doing Good Works to "The Brethren"

Overview...The Secret Message of Jesus
One of Brian McLaren's more recent books is entitled The Secret Message of Jesus, about which he himself says

    In many ways, all of my previous books are a preparation for this one. It is aimed at a broad audience - including "spiritual but not religious" seekers, members of non Christian religions, and Christian leaders and thoughtful Christians. It is an exploration of the real "passion of Christ," which is the message of the kingdom of God. [5]

Please note: in this article, all quotes from The Secret Message of Jesus are either from Thomas Nelson Paperback Edition (April 2007), or the earlier 2006 Hardcover version published by W Publishing Group (a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers).

The opening chapter, Troubling Questions about Jesus, begins with questions that are, no doubt, meant to be provocative.

    What if Jesus had a message that truly could change the world, but we're prone to miss the point of it?

    What if we have developed a religion that makes reverent and honoring statements about Jesus but doesn't teach what Jesus taught in the manner he taught it? What if the religion generally associated with Jesus neither expects nor trains its adherents to actually live in the way of Jesus?

    What if the core message of Jesus has been unintentionally misunderstood or intentionally distorted? What if many have sincerely valued some aspects of Jesus as message while missing or even suppressing other, more important to dimensions? What if many have carried on a religion that faithfully celebrates Jesus in ritual and art, teaches about Jesus in sermons and books, sings about Jesus in songs and hymns, and theorizes about Jesus in seminaries and classrooms, but somewhere along the way missed rich and radical treasures hidden in the essential message of Jesus?

    What if too many of today's leaders -among whom I must be counted -are among the last to get the message of Jesus and the first to reduce, oppose, distort, or suppress it, just as they did in Jesus' day? [6]

The overall thrust of the book can be summed up by a single paragraph in which McLaren says Jesus' secret message may have revealed a secret plan...

    "What if Jesus' secret message reveals a secret plan? What if he didn't come to start a new religion - but rather came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world? What if his secret message had practical implications for such issues as how you live your daily life, how you earn and spend money, how you treat people of other races and religions, and how the nations of the world conduct their foreign policy?  What if his message directly or indirectly addressed issues like advertising, environmentalism, terrorism, economics, sexuality, marriage, parenting, the quest for happiness and peace, and radical reconciliation." [7]

In other words, the gospel of the kingdom is not primarily a message about salvation from God's wrath against sin, and eternal life with Christ, but that God has called out a people who will establish His Kingdom/transform the world by leading lives of love and compassion. To this end, Jesus did not speak of Heaven as something that comes in the future, but as a reality that we can begin to live in here and now. By actively working towards the kingdom's social, political, and economic objectives, we can begin to usher in the "kingdom of God" on earth.

However, in the chapter Seeing the kingdom, McLaren quotes someone or the other who says [Emphasis Added]

    "humanly speaking, if we have any chance to survive, I suspect that it is men and women who act out of that deep impulse (which is best described with the words like tolerance, compassion, sanity, hope, justice) who are our chance. By no means will they themselves bring about the kingdom of God. It is God alone brings about his kingdom... [8]

I might be a bit simple, but I have no idea how to equate the two thoughts above. Is God alone going to bring about His kingdom, or is our only chance to survive tolerant, sane, and compassionate men and women?

A Secret Plan For All Religions and Beliefs?
McLaren's "world transformed' idea goes quite a bit further. The focus has been shifted from forgiveness for sins and resurrection from the dead, to how anyone, regardless of religious affiliation and/or involvement with the occult can, by living life to the fullest now, and following kingdom precepts that Jesus taught, become active participants in God's kingdom. He asks...

    What if the message of Jesus was good news- not just for Christians but also for Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, New Agers, agnostics, and atheists? And what if the message of Jesus also contained warnings -for Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, New Agers, agnostics, atheists- and for Christians too? [9]

In all fairness, the question has to be asked.. Is Brian McLaren right?

Or is he yet another 21st century, self proclaimed spiritual leader/reformer/revelator, who claims that, for 2000 plus years, everyone has managed to miss, overlook, and/or distort, the truth about Christ and His message. (Everyone? In over two centuries? Really?) And now, although we had to wait centuries, we are to be extremely grateful that McLaren has come along to tell us where we have been going wrong. Enlightenment is merely a matter of buying his book, or books.

And if he is right, doesn't it make you wonder whether everyone else that has read the Bible over the last two thousand years had/has a terribly flawed or limited understanding of the Gospel, because they were/are all dumber than a post, or whether there was/is a gigantic cover up in place.

Or, is there something more sinister unfolding now?

But, in order to answer the question of whether McLaren is right, we have to take a look at some specific claims that he makes, and compare them to the Word of God. Let begin with the overall premise of the book.. Jesus' so called "secret message". Did Jesus even have one? The New Testament seems to unambiguously deny that He did.

The "Secret" Message...
If Jesus had a "secret message" or a hidden agenda, it seems that even He wasn't aware of it..

    Jesus answered him, I have spoken openly (parrhesia) to the world; I ever taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and in secret spake I nothing. [John 18:20]

The word translated "openly" is the Greek parrhesia, which means...outspokenly, frankly, bluntly, publicly, or with boldness. John 7:4 provides a contrast between the words "secret" and the word "openly" (en parrhesia and en kruptoi ).

    For no man doeth anything in secret, and himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou doest these things, manifest thyself to the world. [John 7:4]

Note the use of parrhesia in the book of Mark, where Jesus made some very explicit statements.

    And he charged them that they should tell no man of him. And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he spake the saying openly (parrhesia). And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. But he turning about, and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter, and saith, Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men. [Mark 8:30-33]

Jesus even bluntly informed the Samaritan woman at the well that he was the Messiah

    The woman saith unto him, I know that Messiah cometh (he that is called Christ): when he is come, he will declare unto us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. [John 4:25-26]

If the Jews didn't miss His claim to be God, I fail to see how they could have missed any "secret message".

    But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh even until now, and I work. For this cause therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only brake the Sabbath, but also called God his own Father, making himself equal with God. [John 5:17-18] [Also See The Deity of Christ.. Was He Lord Liar or Lunatic?]

In other words, Jesus spoke in public, and He spoke explicitly, not ambiguously. As commentator Alfred Barnes said "He taught no private or concealed doctrine". In fact, Paul told the Colossians that Jesus Christ actually came to uncover the "mystery", to make plain the plan that, until then, had been hidden, but was since openly revealed.

    Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, [Colossians 1:25-26]

...Isn't Such a Big "Secret"
There's no question that some of the statements McLaren makes are absolutely correct. For example he writes

    "Jesus emphasized the inward sincerity of the heart and not mere outward conformity. Outward faithfulness to tradition, he said, can mask inward unfaithfulness toward God. Religious people can become "whitewashed tombs" (Matthew 23:27)" [9b]

In Matthew 25:31-46 (the separation of the sheep and goats) Jesus clearly warned about 'faith' without works. When Christ returns to assume His throne, all the nations of the earth will be gathered before Him to be judged, which will result in either eternal life, or eternal death, for each individual. To be especially noted is that the goats will be rejected based on sins of omission toward "the least of these", or what they failed to do. Failure to do good is actually equated with doing evil. 

Although it is True That Faith Will Be Judged By Works...
McLaren's point that Jesus came to teach us how to live, and that Christians need to practice what Jesus taught, is anything but a "secret" in the Scriptures. Those who erroneously believe we cannot make a difference in our present world, and are not required to do all the good it is within our power to do, need to remember Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), His words in Luke 6 and 12, and the apostle James' hard hitting words a short time later.

    And if ye do good to them that do good to you, what thank have ye? for even sinners do the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? even sinners lend to sinners, to receive again as much. But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful. [Luke 6:33-36]

    Sell that which ye have, and give alms; make for yourselves purses which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief draweth near, neither moth destroyeth. [Luke 12:33]

    Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. [James 1:27]

.... Note The New Testament Emphasis on Doing Good Works to "The Brethren"
Parables like the one about the sheep and goats definitely convey the importance of orthopraxy, or right living, which is so stressed by the emerging church. However, to be especially noted is although the NT clearly puts doing good to all people on the agenda, as in..

    But this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound unto you; that ye, having always all sufficiency in everything, may abound unto every good work: as it is written, He hath scattered abroad, he hath given to the poor; His righteousness abideth for ever. [2 Corinthians 9:6-9]

Charitable behavior was largely spoken of in the context of Christians caring for Christians. In other words, special attention was paid to the "brethren" and the "saints". Note Jesus' words in Matthew 25

    "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers (adelphos) of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' [Matthew 25:40 NASB]

Considering that the same Greek word is used in Matthew 12:50 and Hebrews 2:11....

    "For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother (adelphos) and sister and mother." [Matthew 12:50 NASB]

    For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren (adelphos), [Hebrews 2:11 NASB]

... it is more than likely that the "brothers" Jesus refers to in Matthew 25:40 are Christians. In other words, the fate all professing Christians will be determined, at least partially, by how they have treated His "brethren". This focus on particularly caring for one's family in Christ is further underscored by numerous New Testament verses, For example ... (all emphasis added)

    And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul: and not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. For neither was there among them any that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto each, according as any one had need... And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need. [Acts 4:32-35, 44-45]

    in diligence not slothful; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing steadfastly in prayer; communicating to the necessities of the saints; given to hospitality. [Romans 12:11-13]

    beseeching us with much entreaty in regard of this grace and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints: [2 Corinthians 8:4]

    So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith. [Galatians 6:10] (Note that the second half of this quote does not nullify the first)

    But concerning love of the brethren ye have no need that one write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another; for indeed ye do it toward all the brethren that are in all Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, that ye abound more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your hands, even as we charged you; that ye may walk becomingly toward them that are without, and may have need of nothing. [1 Thessalonians 4:9-12]

    Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath the world's goods, and beholdeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his compassion from him, how doth the love of God abide in him? [1 John 3:16-17]

    Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need. [Ephesians 4:28]. (If read in context, even this verse is applied to fellow believers).

Do Modern Day Christians Get It?
While, there is no question that the church has watered down and compromised Jesus' message and, all too often, Christians do not live in accordance with the principles taught by Christ, it is simply not true that all Christians are so focused on heavenly matters, that they have neglected earthly ones. While it is certainly true that a great deal more can be done if we all set our minds to it, there are scores of Christian organizations and individuals that have taken this un-secret message of Jesus very seriously, living and working in a way that furthers the Gospel, by demonstrating it's heart.

Some Christians have even named their organizations after this particular chapter in Matthew. For example: The Matthew 25 Center is a non-profit Christian ministry located in Pender County, NC, which serves the hospitality needs of the families of inmates in area prisons and jails. A second Matthew 25 Ministries that provides prison after care in Florida. The Matthew 25 House, located in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is a house of hospitality which provides hospitality, comfort and assistance to visiting North Americans involved in the PTPA or other missionary and humanitarian organizations.  A Matthew 25 Farm... a small not-for-profit farm in the Hamlet of Vesper, New York that grows and distributes fresh vegetables to those in need throughout Central New York. Matthew 25: Ministries provides humanitarian aid and disaster relief to the poorest of the poor in Ohio.


CONTINUE ON TO PART II... GOD'S COMING KINGDOM: Are God's coming kingdom and the second coming of Christ literal physical events, or are they to be seen in a 'spiritual' sense? What does the Bible say? The dual 'now' and 'then' message of the Kingdom. How McLaren redefines the word "Kingdom, the phrase "Eternal Life", and changes God's "will" to God's "dream" in order to 'prove' his points.


End Notes
All URLs were good at the time of writing (July 2012)

[5] http://www.brianmclaren.net/books.html

[6] Brian McLaren. The Secret Message of Jesus. Thomas Nelson Paperback Edition (April 2007) Ch. Troubling Questions About Jesus.
Pgs. 3-4

[7] ibid. Pg. 4

[8] ibid. Pg. 201. Ch. Seeing the Kingdom

[9] ibid. Pgs. 4-5. Ch. Troubling Questions about Jesus

[9b] ibid. The Secret Message. Pgs. 22-23. Ch. The Jewish Message of Jesus


Brian McLaren...Foreword and Bio