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.”
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.