The Secret Message of Jesus (by Brian McLaren)

I’ve very much appreciated the books by Brian McLaren, one of my favourite modern Christian writers. He has challenged labels, including that of evangelicalism, and stirred up a great deal of controversy, yet still manages to write in an intelligent, thought-provoking style.

I was intrigued, therefore, to find ‘The Secret Message of Jesus’ on our shelves; I think it’s something my husband was given. The title gave an air of mystery, as did the subtitle ('uncovering the truth that could change everything') and the introduction. And, like McLaren’s other works, this book is well-structured, clearly written with good Scriptural backing, and gives plenty to think about.

The theme is essentially related to the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven) as understood in the first century, and today. The first section of the book looks at the historical and Jewish cultural background in which Jesus lived as a man, and how his message would have been seen by his followers and the different sects of religious leaders of the time.

Those who follow Christ are described as ‘agents’ of the Kingdom, our job being to spread the message of Jesus - of peace, reconciliation, healing, and so on. The book looks into parts of the ‘sermon on the mount’, and reminds readers about the meanings of the ‘parables of the Kingdom’, which can be lost, sometimes, in strict or reformed evangelical theologies.

However, I’m a bit puzzled about the idea of this being a ‘secret’ message. Despite having read the book from cover to cover, some sections twice, I still haven’t really grasped what it is that the author considers ‘hidden’. What he describes is how I understood the Christian message as a child growing up in somewhat ‘broad’ Anglican Church in the UK. At senior school, doing ‘Scripture’ O-level exams, we looked in some depth at the Kingdom parables, among other things. It has always seemed clear to me that the Kingdom of Heaven is ‘at hand’, something which grows at a tremendous rate if the right seeds are planted.

Indeed, reading books set in the early and mid-20th century, it would appear that this message - of Christ and his Kingdom being with us, offering grace, healing and forgiveness to all - was the standard theology of the time, only challenged by the ‘neo-orthodox’ (what we might call ‘reformed’ or even ‘fundamentalist’) viewpoint which emerged after the first world war. Evangelical churches in the US - and indeed the UK - often stress the latter, but even in the most reformed of churches, there is encouragement to do the work of the Kingdom, even if the main emphasis is on being ‘saved’.

Still, this book is one of the best about the Kingdom of God in a large number of aspects, and gave me a great deal to think about. Critics complain that the author has missed out significant parts of the message of Jesus, but I don't have a problem with that; they are well covered in many other books, after all.

My only real complaint, then, is the insistence throughout the book that Jesus' message has been 'hidden' for two thousand years, and is only just being uncovered in the 21st century.

Recommended to followers of Jesus who want to know more about the Kingdom of God, and indeed anyone interested to know what the message of Jesus was, rather than how it's sometimes interpreted in extremist groups.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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