Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Everything Must Change I

We're starting a book discussion on Brian McLaren's book Everything Must Change. We'll take it in chunks: after "Everything Must Change I, we'll have EMC II, EMC III, etc. If you're reading the book, skip the next section of this post and go directly to Comments. The following will attempt to summarize the first two sections (roughly the first 70 or so pages) for those who haven't been reading.

McLaren begins with the two questions that have preoccupied him for years, What are the world's biggest problems? and What does Jesus have to say about them? His main contention is that, while the Gospel of Jesus has in fact has a lot to say about these matters, the Western Church has largely proven to be a failed religion in responding to the world's present distress (e.g., environmental degradation, hunger, violence, slavery, addiction, etc).
In the second part, he develops the metaphor of a Suicide Machine to describe the impact of modern Western civilization on the Creation and the human community. All societies have legitimate needs for prosperity, security and equity, and all have a "framing story" that meshes these three areas of need into a coherent whole. (One example would be the way in which the framing story of the pax Romana justified the Empire's manner of providing prosperity, security and equity.) He contends that our current societal "machine" (using the term metaphorically) has become suicidal in the way it attempts to resource prosperity, security and equity in a manner that ravages the ecosystem in which it is necessarily embedded. He further argues that the Church has been largely complicit in the development of this suicide machine, either because of a deficient theology that assumes God has no interest in his Creation but only in "saving" people out of it, or because the Church in the West has tended to enjoy and depend upon the blandishments of the modern enterprise (or some combination of the two).
McLaren concludes section two as follows: "... we have raised the possibility that Jesus' message might be seen as an alternative framing story that, if believed, could save the system from suicide. To test this possibility, we will need to consider the possibility that "Jesus" as we have understood him has... been domesticated and made part of the dominant framing story. For Jesus to save the system, we must first, in a sense, save Jesus--by reframing him outside the confines of our dominant and largely unquestioned assumptions" (page 73).