KOH2RVA: Day 197

Brian McLarenI mentioned Brian McLaren in a recent post as someone (else) who is spreading the good news that “Jesus didn’t come just so we could go away to some heavenly kingdom when we die, but so we can help make that heavenly kingdom a reality here on earth, right now.”

McLaren is a prominent pastor, author, and speaker, and a leading figure in the “emergent church” movement. In what is perhaps his best-known book, A New Kind of Christian, he chronicles his lengthy question-and-answer email exchange with a young woman who didn’t have much use for the traditional church.

I haven’t read much of what he’s written, and I’m not sure I had even heard of his book The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything, but it sounds provocative, doesn’t it? Kind of like The Da Vinci Code. I looked it up on Amazon.com and considered buying it, but then I thought to look on my young adult daughter’s bookshelf upstairs and there it was. I texted Catherine for permission to read it (should have texted before I looked), and she texted back, “Sure! Feel free to pillage my bookshelves anytime!”

Love that girl.

I’ve only had time to read a few chapters, but something in chapter 2 rang true for me immediately. You know how I keep saying, “There must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth”? Well, that’s been one of the wonderful surprises about this year-long, every-member mission trip—that people can engage it in so many different ways. I talked with a woman last week who hasn’t even joined the church yet, but who had the brilliant idea of inviting students from Glen Lea Elementary School to submit their artwork for exhibit in the show we’re having at First Baptist April 20-21. It was with that experience fresh in mind that I read this paragraph in McLaren’s book:

I’ve become convinced that if the good news of Jesus were carried in a newspaper today, it wouldn’t be hidden in the religion section (although it would no doubt cause a ruckus there). It would be a major story in every section, from world news (What is the path to peace and how are we responding to our neighbors in need?) to national and local news (How are we treating children, poor people, minorities, the last, the lost, the least? How are we treating our enemies?), in the lifestyle section (Are we loving our neighbors and throwing good parties to bring people together?), the food section (Do our diets reflect concern for God’s planet and our poor neighbors, and have we invited any of them over for dinner lately?), the entertainment and sports sections (What is the point of our entertainment, and what values are we strengthening in sports?), and even the business section (Are we serving the wrong master: money rather than God?) pp. 10-11.

I love that paragraph, because it underscores what I’ve been learning this year. As I’ve blogged about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, I’ve told stories about the many different ways people are doing it. On Thursday of last week I quoted Chris Harris, who said you can bring heaven to earth with a basketball. Yesterday I posted Linda Moore’s story about sharing her bread with a homeless woman and getting a blessing in return. The members and friends of First Baptist Church have pursued this mission in every section of the newspaper, so to speak: in the religion section, the business section, the lifestyle section, in regional and local news, the food section, and the sports and entertainment section. They seem intent on proving my point that there must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth.

But maybe they are proving McLaren’s point, too: that the good news is not just “heaven after you die,” but God’s determined effort to bring heaven to earth here and now. Maybe that was “the secret message of Jesus.” And if it was,

Why has it taken us so long to hear it?


p.s. Brian McLaren will be preaching at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church this week as part of their Lenten Lunch Series–12:30 on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday with lunch served before and after.  If you’re in town and have the time it would certainly be worth the trip.  I’m planning to go today.

7 thoughts on “KOH2RVA: Day 197

  1. Dr. Somerville,

    I hope you and Brian McLaren can answer my question because I continue to be confused by the basis for your year long mission. My understanding of the overarching theme of the Bible is that Man did experience ‘Heaven on Earth’ in the Garden of Eden when he walked and communed with God. Then, when he disobeyed God and sin entered that world, a schism was created that separated sinful Man from righteous God. Jesus’ atoning death on the cross paid Man’s sin debt in full so that when God now looks at those of us who have accepted Jesus as our personal saviour, He no longer sees our sin but sees Jesus, the veil that hides our sin. Our relationship with God can thus be restored. The Kingdom of God has come to live in our hearts and we are once again in a relationship with God that from the moment we accept Jesus as our Saviour, continues through eternity. We treat others as our neighbor not because we are trying to ‘Bring Heaven to Earth’ but because that is how it was meant to be when God first created this world–before Man sinned. As the God-Man, Jesus showed us how to live the life God had intended for us. Had Jesus wanted to ‘Bring Heaven to Earth’, he could have done so with a simple snap of his finger. But he didn’t–it wasn’t his purpose in coming and it wasn’t the right time. Jesus will return again, not as a lamb to the slaughter but as a roaring lion with the sword of justice coming from his mouth. All who believe in Jesus and have the Holy Spirit in their hearts will praise and commune with God and Heaven Will come to Earth forever! I’m still not understanding how wicked Man can bring pure Heaven to Earth and why a loving God would impose such an impssible task on him?

  2. I certainly don’t have the intellectual capacity to provide an answer for Sally, but perhaps I can add another perspective. My experience in 83 years of living has convinced me that Jesus is Lord, that we are very blessed to have the love and care of the Trinity – Father, Son, & Holy Spirit – wherever we are, and through whatever our choices have led us to experience. Often that’s not heavenly, but possibly suggestive of some less pleasant places! I don’t know what the next adventure will be or where it will lead, but I am confident that God knows and has a plan for us. I have never thought of Jesus’ miracles as a “snap of His finger” but rather a manifestation of a loving God, who created us, gave us free will, but also loved us enough to help us get past the consequences of our own and others’ poor choices. I don’t see poverty as something that people do entirely to themselves, any more than I see criminal behavior as the result of “a poor underprivileged childhood” — there are many things in the real world over which we have NO control, but we can determine our perception of these things, our reactions to them, and the behavior which we present for others’ reactions. It seems to me that in the Lord’s Prayer He suggests that we definitely are to be about His Father’s business of bringing heaven to earth NOW as well as in some distant (?) future!

  3. Hi Badillon,

    You bring up some interesting points. Your comment that we can ‘determine our perceptions…’ may be accurate and while perception is reality, perception is not truth. And there’s the rub. The truth is that whatever Man touches becomes diseased becasue Man is born with a sin nature. That is my point; all of the things wrong in this world are due to Man, not to God. God is the only one who can create a perfect world where there is no sorrow and no tears. He began that work through Jesus’ death on the cross. One day, you and I and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ will enjoy an eternity where the Devil and Evil have been vanquished. However, I can see no Biblical support fo the idea that Man is the agent through which God will ‘Bring Heaven to Earth.’ Revelation makes it quite clear that Jesus will return, defeat Satan forever and a new Jerusalem will come to pass.

    I also do not see any support in the Lord’s Prayer for Man’s role in ‘Bringing Heaven to Earth.’ Thy kingdom come–don’t we all pray for Jesus’ return? Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven–what is God’s will for us whether we are in Earth or in Heaven? To praise and glorify Him! How do we do that? By living a Christ-like life. Does that ‘Bring Heaven to Earth?’ No, only Jesus’ return will do that.

  4. Sally brings up some interesting points and so does Badillion. Not being as versed in scripture or as intelligent as I would like to be, I have nothing in particular to to add to the discussion. However, I am interested in seeing where the discussion goes from here because I believe that it is a discussion that is probably worth having and I would like to see what Dr. Somerville has to say in response to Sally’s questions.

  5. Sally: Thanks for your comments, and, as always, for the kind of honest and open spirit that allows for real dialogue.

    Speaking of that, I had lunch with Brian McLaren today and told him about your comment, asking if he had a good response. He said he struggles with “the idea that humanity has become detestable to God and that it’s only the people who become Christians that God can truly love, that their being loved by God through just being God’s creatures is somehow destroyed by original sin.”

    Do you have any thoughts on that?

  6. Sally: Brian also said that the narrative you’ve sketched out above–Eden, Fall, Condemnation, Salvation, and then Heaven or Hell–is something he calls the “Six-Line Narrative” in one of his books. That narrative is very popular and very widely accepted, but according to Brian it is not in the Bible, at least not in that form. For example: if all you had to read was the Gospel of Mark, would you come away from it with the idea that humankind fell at creation, that it was condemned to death and needed to be saved by a sinless sacrifice? No, I don’t think you would. And yet Mark says that what he has written is “the good news about Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.” He is sharing the gospel with us, but feels no need to tell us about Eden, or the Fall. He doesn’t say much about condemnation or salvation, and almost nothing about heaven or hell. Are those things central to the good news of Jesus? Not according to Mark, and they don’t appear to be central to Matthew, Luke, or John either.

    These things keep me asking questions and keep me reading the Gospels. I don’t want to get my ideas from what other people say about Jesus: I want to get them from Jesus himself, and the Gospels are the best source I have for that information.

  7. Dr. Somerville,

    I’m flattered that you and Mr. McLaren would take the time during your lunch to discuss my comment on your blog! Although Mr. McLaren’s response to my post was a bit more generalized than I would have liked, I’m sure the two of you had many other topics you wished to discuss. However, before our conversation goes off in a different albeit related direction, I would like to know your thoughts on the original question I posed. Thanks.

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