Book CoverI’ve finally had chance to start reading Brian Mclaren’s new book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope, which should be available in early October. As one can surmise from the title, Brian is taking on an ambitious, complex and wide-ranging thesis, resulting in his longest manuscript to date. Given these factors, rather than try and summarize Brian’s arguments in one brief post, during the month of September I intend to spread my thoughts on the book over three or four separate posts. Perhaps I should also say, though it may not be the best way to review a book, I will be reflecting as I read, rather than finishing the book before commenting. So . . .

After some opening reflections, Brian starts the book with what he calls his two preoccupying questions: What are the biggest problems in the world? and What do the life and teachings of Jesus have to say about the most critical global problems in the world? As I said, this is an ambitious project!

Though these questions have been a constant companion for Brian for some thirty years, what’s clear from the book is that recent experiences in places like East Africa, and the general post 9/11 context, have proved a catalyst and a focus for his thoughts and the incentive to write. Who knows, perhaps this may yet prove a prophetic time to write. By which I mean an Old Testament style, politicized, earthy sort of prophetic, which engenders a conscientization of people. Certainly, Brian is not alone in his desire to galvanize the global Christian community and it’s message, so that it’s essential understanding of the kingdom of God is social and global transformation, rather than just personal. For this, Brian would argue, is Jesus’ vision of the kingdom, and I for one aren’t about to take issue with such a statement. As he says himself, ‘Truly good news . . . would confront systematic injustice, target significant global dysfunctions, and provide hope and resources for making a better world (p34)’.

Naturally, if you are going to tackle foundational global issues, you’ve not only got to attempt to establish in your own mind what these are, you’ve also got to generate a consensus around them. Rather sensibly, Brian draws on significant work done in this field, comparing and contrasting the Copenhagen Consensus, the Millennium Development Goals, the work of J.F. Rischard (vice president of the World Bank in Europe), the PEACE Plan of Rick Warren (yes, that Rick Warren!) and perhaps the more rigorous list produced by the United Nations University. However, what Brian came to realize is that we can’t take these and simply produce a global to-do list, for such an approach denies the systemic problems involved and the interconnected and interrelated nature of the global crisis facing the world in the third millennium.

Given this observation, and informed by others, Brian metaphorically builds what he calls a societal machine, ‘comprised of three primary interlocking subsystems . . . prosperity, security, and equity (pp55-56). ‘The prosperity system’ according to Brian, ‘feeds civilization with the products and services that people want to obtain – or consume,’ in order to fulfil a hunger for happiness (p56). But a prosperity system needs a security system to protect it. So, we build weapons systems, intelligence systems, border control systems, surveillance systems, etc. But all this expensive development means we then need an equity system, ‘not only to fairly spread the expense of the security system, but also to support the expansion of the prosperity system in equitable ways’ (p57) – equity being fairness and justice, rather than simple equality.

According to Brian, not only can’t these systems function independently of each other, but the societal machine they collectively create exists within the bigger context of the earth’s ecosystem. Given the close relationship between the machine and the ecosystem and the need for the machine to thrive by exploiting both its renewable and non-renewable resources, the question begins to loom large: how big should the machine be in respect to the ecosystem? (p63).

Finally, for now, Brian goes on to suggest that this question hangs in the balance because of the framing story we tell ourselves (which I take to be similar, or correlates, to the more common idea of worldview, or perhaps a metanarrative). For if the story we tell ourselves is that we are not limited by, or bound to, time and space or our environment, and that life’s purpose is to accumulate and seek pleasure while being in competition with each other within a meaningless expanse with no ultimate purpose or transcendence, the chances are we are going to be in trouble. The machine becomes dysfunctional because our story does not guide us to respect environmental limits, nor work for the common good or seek peaceful reconciliation with competing factions (pp72-73).

So, if this is the case, then what is needed is an alternative framing story, and as Brian has already asked: ‘Is it possible that at the heart of the life and message of Jesus was an attempt to expose, challenge, confront, transform, and replace the unhealthy framing stories of his day? And could there be a resonance between the unhealthy framing stories of his day and their counterparts today?’(p39).

Clearly, Brian is being rhetorical here, and he’s about to use this literary device to allow himself the opportunity to answer his own questions, so watch this space.