Review: Everything Must Change

Review of the book Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren

2 questions and 3 systems form the framework for the thesis of this book.

The 2 questions:

  • What Are the Biggest Problems in the World?
  • What Does Jesus Have to Say About These Global Problems?

Brian’s answer, “If Jesus’ message of the gospel of the kingdom is true, then everything must change.”

The 3 systems:

  • The Prosperity System
  • The Security System
  • The Equity System

Brian uses the term suicide machine to describe the combined dysfunction of these 3 systems. He describes these systems as being co-opted by destructive framing stories fueling the greed, fear, and hatred that cause human suffering. He sees these systems interlocked in a perpetually destructive cycle.

The strength of this book is in Brian’s description of an alternative framing story to the dominant cultural message of power, control, and greed.

“If our framing story tells us that we are free and responsible creatures in a creation made by a good, wise, and loving God, and that our Creator wants us to pursue virtue, collaboration, peace, and mutual care for one another and all living creatures, and that our lives can have profound meaning if we align ourselves with God’s wisdom, character, and dreams for us…then our society will take a radically different direction, and our world will become a very different place.”

Brian clarifies the emerging view of Jesus and the gospel versus the conventional view, basically pointing out the difference between the message of a gospel of personal salvation and religion versus the message of the gospel of the kingdom.

“When Jesus proclaimed his central message of the kingdom of God, he was proclaiming not an esoteric religious concept but an alternative to empire: “Don’t let your lives be framed by the narratives and counternarratives of the Roman empire,” he was saying, “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.”

He describes that to be a follower of Jesus is to join in His divine plan to reveal the kingdom of God:

“Following Jesus instead means forming communities that seek peace through justice, generosity, and mutual concern, and a willingness to suffer persecution but a refusal to inflict it on others. To follow Jesus is to become…a believer in the living God of grace and peace who, in Christ, sheds God’s own blood in a manifestation of amnesty and reconciliation.”

Here is some practical advice Brian offered about what we can do to heal the inequities and injustice of the system and to acknowledge our role in it:

  • First, we will seek to help the poor through generosity – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, showing hospitality to the homeless.
  • Second, we will call the rich to generosity, as Jesus frequently did. We will call the comfortable to turn from their own endless enrichment and to instead invest their energies for the good of their poorer neighbors. In today’s world, this would often involve using their entrepreneurial skills to create good jobs, since unemployment is at the core of so many of the sufferings of the poor.
  • And third, we will work to improve the system, to detect and remove systemic injustice. More and more Christians are showing a concern to show kindness or compassion. But the number of individuals and churches focused on doing justice remains low.

This is probably my favorite quote:

    “If there is a force in the world powerful and good enough to overcome the grinding, destructive momentum of the suicide machine, it is to be found, not in organized religion seeking institutional self-preservation, but in religion organizing for the common good.”

    Churches should be challenged in their stewardship of the influence and resources available to them. It is high time that the power available to us collectively be turned outward to benefit our neighbors both locally and globally.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Brian’s hope to “change the vision of what is both possible and desirable.”

    “The revolution we need starts in us – in our minds and hearts – as an act of faith, a transfer of trust from the dominant system to a new way of seeing, believing, and living…to become a community that forms disciples who work for the liberation and healing of the world, based on Jesus’ good news of the kingdom of God.”

    Conclusion

    Brian is a thoughtful, provoking, and engaging writer, but to be honest, I struggled in reading this book. Having seen how the religious right manipulated the gospel to push political agendas, I found myself wary of an underlying agenda. Throughout my reading I had trouble with the inflammatory adjectives used toward the rich, capitalism, and Americans and an underlying Robin-Hood mentality. I worried that this was simply another attempt to use the message of the kingdom to promote a political agenda.

    I am glad that I persevered because I think that in the end I understand better why Brian approached the topic in this way. While one may not agree with all of his conclusions, he presented his message in a way that cannot be ignored. My main complaint with the book would be that I felt like it only presented a narrow aspect of the kingdom and at times seemed to imply that overthrowing or curing worldly systems was the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom.

    Perhaps he avoided the more spiritual realities of the kingdom in order to keep the focus on addressing the practical realities of suffering and injustice rather than to allow them to continue to be dismissed by confining the gospel solely to the spiritual realm. However, the kind of transformation that Brian proposes must be connected to individual spiritual transformation and relationship with Jesus in order for the outflowing expression of generosity and justice to be a movement empowered by the life and power of God.

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    10 thoughts on “Review: Everything Must Change

    1. Grace, first I need to acknowledge I have not read the book, only a number of reviews such as yours. Overall, my reaction is quite similar to yours.

      The issues raised by MacLaren in this book have been of concern in my personal life for a number of years now. My family is looking at how we can better be a part of Kingdom justice. However, like you, I do not believe this is a political issue and would have the same concern as you about a Religious Right equivalent.

      I would really like to read a book that wholistically addressed the justice, material, spiritual issues that we face. There is no doubt that evangelicals need to be as concerned with justice as with so-called “salvation” issues.

      One thing that gives me great encouragement is the fact that the young university students I am around who are followers of Jesus seem to naturally gravitate this way. Many times they are an example to me of changes I need to make in my life.

      Thanks for the review…..

    2. Grace, that’s a good review. I posted a review of the same book on my blog last week, but missed out on summarising the book – which I think you have done rather well. (Would that McLaren were so succinct!)

      I guess what bothered me most was the black-and-white model of the world behind his narrative: either you buy the “conventional narrative” or you buy his “emerging narrative”. But the world isn’t like that: most Christians I encounter would certainly, implicitly, agree with many of his messages. They may be struggling to put them into practice, but that’s a different matter entirely – he’s not exactly strong on suggestions in that department in any case.

    3. traveller,
      Rick McKinley’s book, “This Beautiful Mess” presented practical ways of participating in the kingdom dimension in a way that was encouraging and inspiring.

      Maybe RPV.

      Andrew,
      The missional aspect of the emerging conversation has made this message more familiar to many. However, I wouldn’t say that it is widely understood by the average American christian.

    4. McLaren writes – “If there is a force in the world powerful and good enough to overcome the grinding, destructive momentum of the suicide machine, it is to be found, not in organized religion seeking institutional self-preservation, but in religion organizing for the common good.”

      Serving an “institutional church”, there is no doubt that self-prservation can get in the way of organizing for the common good. For instance, looking at the budget, about 50% pays for staff (like me), and around 25% (or more) pays for our property, which leaves just 25% (or less) for other ministry and mission expenses.

      So what do we do?

      1) Cut staff (including me)?
      2) Sell off property?

      Such radical approaches are rarely even placed on the table. What we can (and do) do is such things as allow community groups to share our property and see that our staff is actively building community both within and beyond our current membership.

      We may not go far enough, but at least we’re moving forward. If we don’t move forward, we’re bound to implode or, worse, drain vital community resources keeping the church on life support.

    5. cindy,
      Considering I had reservations about the book, I attempted to focus on the parts I liked in reviewing it.

      pistolpete,
      It sounds like you are already on the right track. As the leader of an existing congregation, you live in the tension of maintaining what you have while also having the opportunity to use your resources (you, your building, the talents of your members) for purposes beyond yourselves.

      Getting rid of your resources wouldn’t likely be the best stewardship of what is available to you. It is really more about focus and moving forward faithfully in whatever position you find yourself.

      While I support expressions of church outside of the institution, I also believe strongly in the ability of existing congregations to implement change as the spirit leads. In fact, I believe that there is incredible potential and opportunity within traditional churches that should be encouraged, not dismissed.

    6. “Perhaps he avoided the more spiritual realities of the kingdom in order to keep the focus on addressing the practical realities of suffering and injustice rather than to allow them to continue to be dismissed by confining the gospel solely to the spiritual realm. However, the kind of transformation that Brian proposes must be connected to individual spiritual transformation and relationship with Jesus in order for the outflowing expression of generosity and justice to be a movement empowered by the life and power of God.”

      This is so interesting because it sounds exactly like what Liberation theology has tried to do. The values of liberation and equality and justice our huge, but Latin America shows that liberation theologies flirtation with marxism has led to failures of many of these goals.

      At the same time it is Pentecostalism that has taken off among the masses. Liberation theology is, oddly enough, elitist in a way, for scholars and those who want to institute their own managed changes, under a new power structure.

      As the spiritual emphasis takes a backseat to the political and social, everything becomes gutted of real power and change. It is through the Holy Spirit that we participate in the Kingdom of God and all the signs of liberation that come from it. Otherwise we replace one hierarchy with another, and once again the poor are left out–even if they are once again used as a tool.

    7. Patrick,
      Exactly! Loved your last paragraph. It describes well the uneasiness I felt in Brian’s approach to the issues.

    8. Grace & Commenters,
      I also have not read this book , I have been wanting to read it but have limited time and resources.
      Any way, I find my self in a sort of middle of the road spot when it comes to this “emerging view” .
      It seems to me that if gone unchecked, this movement will become exactly the same type of system that it speaks out against. It’s human nature that causes us to become separatist ,elitist or any of the other ist’s you would insert here . Like water we will take the path of least resistance, and in doing so will begin to flounder on the things that were our passion.
      I think Mclaren has some really great points, but I already see a movement into being highly organized within this cause that is supposed to be all- inclusive, there is already a sort of an us vs. them mentality.
      I am actually apprehensive of buying this book for that reason. I don’t feel like I should participate in anything that will become another type of marketing of the Gospel of God.
      I hope that much of this movement will stay true to it’s calling . But, alas people are still involved.
      Peace

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