I 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.