Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Secret Message of Jesus

Brian D. McLaren, 2006, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group)

I must admit I approached this latest book by Brian McLaren with a little apprehension. When the title denotes that the author has a secret message of Jesus Christ, one cannot but think of the many heretic, Gnostics books that hit the bookstores lately-each claiming to have discovered a long lost message of Jesus.

McLaren was writing about Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God. In an attempt to translate ‘kingdom of God’ into contemporary terms, McLaren suggested the following six metaphors:
(1) The dream of God
(2) The revolution of God
(3) The mission of God
(4) The party of God
(5) The network of God
(6) The dance of God

Each of these metaphors has much to offer but personally I feel it does not give the same dimensions as the kingdom of God. The key to the kingdom, was as McLaren puts it, is interactive relationship. Other metaphors offered by Dallas Willard (divine conspiracy) and Tom Sine (mustard seed conspiracy) are also inadequate.

What I read in McLaren me surprised me.

I consider myself as a
catholic (small c)
english educated
malaysian chinese

My understanding of the Kingdom of God is that it is the rule of God in our lives, starting now and extending into eternity, involving all spheres and dimensions of our lives as we follow our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Basically, McLaren said the same thing. What surprised me is that from the way the book was written, it was assumed that other Christians who will be reading his book do not share the same understanding of the kingdom of God as I do. How do these other Christians understand the term, kingdom of God, I wonder? Would I have understood the kingdom of God differently if I am not who I described above. Would it be a secret message then?
soli deo gloria

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Blogger Sivin Kit said...

:-) so we're holding on to an open secret?

10:30 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...


looks like we are sharing a open 'unsecret' secret. As Brian will say "Duh"-scipleship type.

Okay, for anybody else who wonders if it is safe to read the book, it is. Trust me.

1:24 AM  
Blogger Bob K said...

Seriously .. the term "Kingdom of God" is so much taken for granted that I never gave it much thought until a year or two ago. And that was at the prompting of some people who have engaged me.

The wider and deeper implications really blew me away.tpx

12:10 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi bob k,

sorry if we seem frivolous. Let me assure you that we are taking Jesus' teaching of the Kingdom of God very seriously.

Many theologians has engaged the understanding of what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God. St. Paul had tried and recently N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham. So Brian's secret message is really not a secret.

However I am curious why he wrote this book. I suspect this book is a link between generous orthodoxy (which he has published) and deep ecclesiology (which he has not).

1:38 AM  
Blogger Israel Lee said...

hi alex

Could you comment on what you think are the differences and similarities (if any) between N.T Wright's writings on the kingdom and McLaren's?

6:08 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

hi Israel,

I finding Brian's understanding of the Kingdom of God similar to N.T. Wright. Even in the book, Brian approach the Kingdom of God through the narrative of Jesus in the context of the Jewish social and religious culture, metaphors and Jesus as prophet.

What do you think?

3:11 PM  
Blogger Israel Lee said...

Actually, I have not read Brian's book. I only browse through it. I have read Wright though and was interested to see how their views could be compared.

However, I did browse through the content of a book written by Brian and Campolo. I am not sure whether I could agree with Campolo concerning his views on same sex marriages.

Overall, I still feel that the 'emergent' church is an inclusive postmodernistic reaction (borrowing McKnight's term) towards modernity. But this is only my mere subjective perception. In such a case, I would prefer Wright's vision of not turning back to modernity, but going through and out of postmodernity as spoken in his Noble lectures at Harvard.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Israel,

Yes, I share your reservation in some of the things discussed in Brian and Tony Campolo's book, Adventures in Missing the Point.

It is interesting that you "feel that the 'emergent' church is an inclusive postmodernistic reaction (borrowing McKnight's term) towards modernity." You may be right. However, the 'emergent' church is a vague terms that covers a variety and numbers of people, churches and viewpoints. Whether it is purely a reaction to modernity remains to be seen. Other claasify it as a protest.

"In such a case, I would prefer Wright's vision of not turning back to modernity, but going through and out of postmodernity as spoken in his Noble lectures at Harvard."

This is an interesting observation. It also begs the question, "What is after postmodernity?" :)

9:44 PM  
Blogger Sivin Kit said...

I was talking with someone today and exploring the possibility to invite NT Wright to Malaysia and see what kind of conversations we could generate with that! :-)

Israel (what a cool name!) Lee, I suspect McLaren would probably say something similar to Wright about "going through and out of postmodernity". But then we can confirm that when he comes.

Alex, I think the value for me (and I think for many) was the frank discussion between Brian and Tony in their book. One which is rare in our circles in Malaysia. I've been reading about the consensus model of decision making as opposed to parlimentarian democratic model which I found useful even to think about how we discuss and even debate matters of concern

11:26 PM  
Blogger Israel Lee said...

Since postmodernity in general is a reaction and critique towards objective truth which according to Nietzsche is a form of control by the those in power, then according to Wright, going through this stage would bring us to the restoration of truth as understood in the gospel, not just an objective truth to crush those who disagree nor a subjective one to divert away any challenges, but one that is related to faith and love. But these are Wright's ideas and I don't think I have fully grapsed them yet.

I thought it made sense though because in area of action research that I am conducting, indeed the objective and subjective understanding of knowledge are being united in a dialogic relationship of theory and praxis.

11:31 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...


I am all for 'sacred spaces' for discussion. That means we each can have our thinking sharpened by one another. We should allow for frank discussion. However I do not know whether we can be as frank as Brian and Tony in our culture. Nevertheless it should allow us to come to a decision or a stand in our thinking.

We need to think about the consensus model of decision making as opposed to the democratic model. Personally I feel most of our decisions in our culture is already consensus based. We just think it is a democratic model!

1:04 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...


Postmodernity is often thought of as a response or reaction to modernity or objective truth. Nietzsche however is not writing about objective truth. He is writing about relative truth that is held by the powerful in society. In fact, I believe, Nietsche is one of the factors that brought about post modernity. Anyway, I do not believe fighting the straw man of postmodernity will bring us back to objective truth.

You are involved in action science research! Wow. You never cease to amaze me. I am interested in theory of action and praxis. I wrote an article on using action science to understand spiritual formation. Will be interested to know more about your research.

1:25 AM  
Blogger Israel Lee said...


Thanks. I truly believe that God spoke to me on my birthday back in 1991 when I heard him say, "Today, your name shall be called Israel". It quite strange and exhilirating because others who were praying for me could not hear it, but I heard it loud and clear in my heart despite the fact that all of them were praying around me aloud.

It would be great to get Wright to talk in Malaysia. Perhaps to add sparks, getting Crossan, Borg and Dunn would be really interesting. ;-)

Sorry, I think I did not write well or clear. Indeed Nietzsche was reacting to objective truth as a modernistic control and was the influential person for postmodernity and existentialism. Thus, subjective truth and perception are always associated with postmodernity which could be used to ward off challenges of any truths, especially the truth found in the gospel. I still remembered being challenged in such a way in the varsity when I was told off that the God I believed in was not the same god as perceived by the person I was speaking to. It was an eye opener for me.

I am very glad that you gave me the link to your paper because I have gleaned valuable information from there concerning reflective learning and practitioner. The references (especially by Schon) would help my current study of my own practice as a learning technologist and how I collaborate with academics to adopt technology and different learning approaches for their teaching practices. I am a change agent.

I could not agree with you more that I could see how secular (if we can term it that way, but I believe all truths come from above) could be used to understand how we could grow as a disciple and a community of believers, but is so often neglected and shut out because of fear and skepticism caused by a dualistic perception that the spiritual part of our lives have nothing to do with the professional side. I find it difficult sometimes to speak to my leadership on this matter because the door seems so tightly shut. We are shutting ourselves while the world passes us by. It's sad amd worrisome because there are serious consequences.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Israel,

I agree fully with your thinking that all truth is God's truth. Hence the need to remove the dichotomy between the secular and the sacred in both our lives and our faith communities.

I am glad you like the paper. I believe action science, reflective practioners and framing has much to teach us in learning and incorporating our Christian faith.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Sivin Kit said...

Alex, I think you have raised a very good point: "However I do not know whether we can be as frank as Brian and Tony in our culture." So, while there are areas where I might agree with Brian or Tony on a particular issue, I think I would have said it much differently to get a hearing here. BUt that's also being a bit more conscious about the big word "contextualization.

and I agree with you ... many a times I find there are a lot of considerations running in my mind even when I'm in conversation with another - depending on backgrounds and persuasions. So, in reality at least in our Malaysian context more care is needed and the way we convey our most honest musings requires more nuance. And yet, it's always refreshing when we do find "safe spaces" and "places" and "people" where we can just "be" - for me those are gifts.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...


Again I agree with with about "safe spaces, people and places" for conversations. In our Asian context, we can often misinterprete each others and not know about it until years later.

The culture of shame and of non-confrontation is very strong here. We need to work with it and not against it. That is until each of us is of sufficient maturity to rise above it. Maranatha


12:34 PM  

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