Friday, December 28, 2007

On Reading McLaren's "Everything Must Change" (Part 1)


(Note these are notes typed in situ on my mobile phone while reading the book in various places over the past couple of days - so pardon typos and capitalization goofs!)

  1. McLaren sets out to reinterpret the gospels and the message of Jesus
  2. Uses his oft-used metaphor of switching the box tops on puzzles - so that the puzzle pieces within are forced to fit into a "narrative" that they weren't meant to
  3. He follows J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright in insisting that most modern readings and interpretations of Christian theology are based not on a raw reading of the message of Jesus from the Canonical gospels, but from the reinterpretations of these gospels "on the other side" of the Pauline writings and hundreds/thousands of years of accumulated metaphors, ideas and theories of Christendom
  4. McLaren, following Wright and Crossan, would have us earnestly try to hear the gospel message as its original hearers heard it
  5. This kind of hearing, McLaren insists, would refute the popular and dominant idea of a religious and/or spiritual message and instead hear a primarily political and societal message
  6. The unlying theological ideas that make this difficult for modern Western Christians to hear are first soteriological - the idea that Jesus came to save the sinner and that therefore places the pimary emphasis of interpretation on moral behavior in light of a perfect absolute and the call to a new kind of moral behavior in order to enter the kingdom - then wrongly interpreted as an afterlife. Second is eschatology - and the idea that jesus came initially to give us the "new rules" and will come back with a judgmental wrath at some to-be-determined point in the future to see how well we've done in passing his message of religious conversion and adherence on
  7. McLaren (w/Wright - but not Crossan) insists that these interpretations are wrong from the outset and that the original hearers would have heard nothing like the message we think we are hearing
  8. Instead, the hearers would have heard a message about confronting the political and societal systems of the day - the roman government and the jewish religion - and seeking to supplant these systems with God's new plan - a plan that would "see his will done on earth" by a community based on charity, love, generosity
  9. McLaren repeatedly seeks to weave into this "brotherhood of man" "anti-imperial" message an ecological message that rejects the platonic dualism of later and modern Christianity and reattaches a more semitic and pagan idea of man-as-part-of-creation "anti-dualism" where humanity has a deep and abiding obligation to the creation and its care
  10. Eschatology here plays a part, McLaren points out since in modern conceptions of a "second-coming" the current earth is destroyed - which then undergirds the modern Christian's disregard for the creation as something that is going to be cast aside later - so why all the fuss?
  11. McLaren's reinterpretation has Jesus' second-coming not as a violent overthrow of a sinful world but as the victory of the truth of jesus' message of love and peace over the systems and empires of the world - McLaren here pays special attention to Rev 19:5 where Jesus' sword "comes out of his mouth" insisting that such a vision is not one violence, but one of peaceful learning based not on a literal sword (wielded in the hand, one supposed) but of a literary sword - here, Jesus' truth - from his mouth - thus, the truth of God defeating the weapons of the world not through violence, but through peaceful service and teaching
  12. Interestingly, McLaren cites Sam Harris' diatribes against all religions - saying religion is at the root of practically all violence.
  13. Harris particularly lambasts the ol d testtament, and here, McLaren quotes Thomas Paine:
    1. "Whenever we read...the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of god. It is a history of wickedness that has served to currupt and brutalize humankind. And, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel."
  14. Mclaren then goes on to begin a direct and impassioned assessment of The American Empire and its vilent dominance in the world
  15. He cites the incredible spending (over $5 trillion) the US has spent on defense ostensibly to "maintain the inequity of us prosperity"
  16. Citing the 2006 US budget, McLaren says that the us was dead last in foreign aid as a percpetage of GDP
  17. Mclaren then goes into a focused attack on the us military establishment citing figures and ideas about the us war machine
  18. He notes that 20 of the top 25 arms purchasers from the us are simulataneously on the us state dept's undemocratic or human rights concerns list
  19. It is interesting to note that when McLaren is quoting negative statistics about US giving, he states figures in percentages of GDP; when citing negative statistics about US arms sales, he uses absolute values; is mclaren distorting the facts for his purposes? Seeking to manipulate data and , therefore , perception? A man holding up honesty and forthrightness as banners should play more honestly with his writing
  20. Some amazing and sobering statistics on war:
    1. 2 million killed in Afghanistan
    2. 1.5 million killed in Sudan
    3. 800000 killed in Rwanda
    4. 500000 killed Angola
    5. 500000 in Bosnia and Burundi
    6. 200000 in Guatemala
    7. 150000 in Liberia
    8. 75000 in Algeria
    9. In the last century, 43 million military and 62 million civilians killed

1 comment:

Eric Livingston said...

Judy S. and I are planning to teach a class over the next 8 weeks using this as the primary resource. Should make for an interesting class. I expect the greatest pushback when discussing some of the eschatological issues...