Given that this is obviously not my first post re: Brian’s upcoming publication, you might wish to start by reading my rather cleverly entitled post, Everything Must Change: Part 1.
Naturally, I’ve gone over Brian’s foundational arguments with some brevity, for he is building a complex argument to deal with complex problems. Though if it helps to reassure, Brian ensures me that I’ve given a reasonably accurate portrayal of his opening few chapters. And hopefully, I’m about to do the same to what Brian calls his ‘Reframing of Jesus’.
Basically, if you’ve read Brian’s previous book, The Secret Message of Jesus, or Rob Bell’s, Velvet Elvis, or indeed my own work, The Lost Message of Jesus, then Brian’s arguments regarding Jesus’ message will be fairly familiar to you – though one should say that this particular reframing has in mind the specific agenda of the book, rather than a broad re-reading of the gospels.
Clearly, one of the greatest hermeneutical tasks needed to make Jesus’ message meaningful and sufficient is to bridge that all-too-dissonant gap between the first and twenty-first contexts. For Brian, initially painting with a broad brush, the most obvious and useful observation to make is that ‘Jesus . . . saw that his contemporaries were stuck in their own suicidal system, driven by their own defective framing story (79).’ Therefore, what Jesus did was to propose a new framing story – good news.
The problem Brian recognizes, however, is that that good news has be interpreted and re-interpreted down the centuries to the point where the original context, and so by implication, the original message has been lost or distorted, leaving many Christians and Christian communities without an adequate framing story with which to engage the current global crisis. Indeed, Brian suggests that in many ways, the good news has become so detached from it’s first century moorings that it’s simply been absorbed into the dominant framing story of the twenty-first century and is, therefore, no longer a counter-story to the prevailing narrative.
Therefore, Brian takes some time to compare and contrast what he labels the Conventional View of the message of Jesus with an Emerging View, which I won’t bother to summarize here. In line with Brian’s own generous orthodoxy, he doesn’t simply dismiss the Conventional View out of hand, but recognizes it’s value. However, he is keen to suggest that, ‘it does not adequately situate Jesus in his original context, but rather frames him in the context of religious debates within Western Christianity (82).’ And I for one know exactly what he means by that!
Again, reviewing with some brevity that overlooks the nuances of Brian’s thinking, he suggests that pax Romana was the dominant narrative in the first-century. That being: ‘Concentrate the power of violence in one source – the emperor . . . Decisively crush any and all opposition . . . Then, unified under the emperor’s supreme will, the empire will defeat it’s enemies and punish its criminals so that all will experience prosperity, equity and peace . . . except for slaves, servants, tenant farmers, women, the people of border territories, soldiers, those not given tax breaks, and those unable to control their dreams of freedom and impulses for free speech (86 and 90).’ And like all dominating narratives that generate oppressed, poor, disenfranchised and marginalized groups, it doesn’t matter what is done to suppress these groups, ‘something in the human spirit isn’t easily cured of being on the underside of dominating societal machinery, of being treated as less than fully human (91).’ Therefore, you have a context ripe to receive a counter-narrative.
So it is that Jesus proclaimed an alternative empire: ‘Don’t let your lives be framed by narratives . . . of the Roman empire . . . but situate yourselves in another story . . . the good news that God is king and we can live in relation to God and God’s love rather than Caesar and Caesar’s power (93)’.
However, as Brian points out, this is not just a counter narrative against the dominant story of the empire, Jesus framing story also counters other counter-narratives that seek to undermine Rome using violence, such as that advocated by the Zealots, or indeed, stories that suggest collaboration, or a fatalistic withdrawal, as preferred by the Essenes.
One of the key points Brian is driving at is that good news is a political narrative. As is one of the central metaphors to that good news: the kingdom of God. However, Brian feels that such a metaphor is problematic for reasons he discusses in the Secret Message of Jesus. Therefore, he suggests alternatives Jesus might use in order to generate a counter-framing story for a post 9/11 world. Personally, though I’m fully aware what Brian is driving at, and I sympathize with him as to why he wishes to play with alternative metaphors, I’m not sure how successful his ideas of divine peace insurgency, God’s unterror movement, new global love economy and God’s sacred ecosystem are. Admittedly, they certainly don’t look good wrenched out of their context and placed here without explanation, so please read Brian’s book before passing your own judgment. Though it’s totally unrelated, I’d prefer something like, Karma Army, but that is another story. But then that’s partly what Brian’s attempting to do – get us to think about the appropriateness of the metaphors we use to communicate the counter-narrative of the gospel, and recognize that even the ones we have inherited from the Bible, may not transfer into all contexts – as any missionary will tell you.
With these thoughts, and many more I’ve been unable to mention here, Brian is about to place Jesus’ message head-to-head with the dominant framing story of the twenty-first century. And I’m about to read what he has to say in this regard.