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Jesus' Openly Secret Teachings
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Brian D McLaren
The Secret Message of Jesus:  Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 2006.  263p.)

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McLaren presents this discussion out of concern for the current generation of Americans and other Westerners who have dismissed the church and standard Christianity as out of touch, irrelevant and perverted.  He discovers that a large percentage of the current population actually are very open to Jesus, even have a quite positive attitude toward Jesus, but not the Christianity as an established religious system.

The Gospels
McLaren takes a look at Jesus and his teachings in the Gospels.  He attempts to probe the original contexts of the life and times of Jesus.  Outlining the social and political setting, McLaren takes a look at Jesus' teachings and finds more of them make sense without the cultural and philosophical blinders that have accrued in the western culture we have inherited.

McLaren starts with the assumption that the actual teachings of Jesus were and properly should be the core and foundation of "Christianity."  He finds that the core and thrust of that teaching is referred to as "The Kingdom of God/Heaven."  The Gospel of John represents this state of spiritual living by the term "eternal life."

This insight will not be new to most "evangelical" believers, who are familiar with the emphasis that "eternal life" is a quality of life we have now, based on the words in John 3 that "the one who believes already has eternal life."  But McLaren rightly points out the strong tendency to strip the term "eternal life" of its contextual meaning, and apply it to a life after death, stripping the Kingdom of God of its power to bring life abundant now.

Meaning of "The Kingdom"
This "Kingdom" concept or experience of the Rule of God in our lives was a radical idea that challenged the Roman society's approach to rule by violence.  McLaren's investigation makes sense of Jesus' teachings about peace and non-violence in the dynamic first-century Jewish-Roman social context, attempting to redeem it from the sentimental dismissals of that as naive.

After examining the Gospels he considers how overlooked emphases in the writings of Paul actually support and extend this same perspective as the core of the Gospel message Paul lays out in practical terms of the believing community in a hostile empire with radically different values.

An important aspect of the secretiveness of the message of Jesus derives from the political and social scenario of the period.  The whole region (and from their view, the whole world) was occupied by Rome.  The message had to be clear to his hearers, yet not immediately draw down violent repression from the Roman occupiers.

An Open Secret
This seems to help account for his use of parables, and for the theme that there is a "hearing" beyond the actual words.  The "coded" examples and relational teachings in his parables, as well as his symbolic interactions with religious leaders sets the tone and indicates the radical disjunction of values of the Rule of God compared with the repressive, coercive rule of Rome.

Even as it was he lost his life due to the threat he posed to the powers that be.  Likewise, the message had dangerous implications for his followers as the message spread across the empire soon after his death and resurrection.

As McLaren looks at the teaching and actions of Jesus, it becomes clear that as the faith gradually became a Gentile faith, separated from its Jewish roots, the Christian religion lost focus on the original contextual that gave meaning to Jesus' teaching.  This accounts partly for the obscuring or ignoring key aspects of the Message of Jesus.

Personal Experience
The reader can identify with the steps in McLaren's investigation, because McLaren is explaining his own experience in coming to some realizations and finding answers to his questions.

In Part 1 the author analyzes the message of Jesus under its characteristics as the Political Message, the Jewish Message, the Revolutionary Message and the Hidden Message.  In Part 2 he wrestles with the Meaning of the Message.  Part 3 considers the ways in which this discovery of the "hidden message" of Jesus will change our approach to everyday life.  He makes so bold as to propose that following Jesus' teachings can actually change the world in which we live.

Many readers will be especially interested in his focused treatment of Apocalyptic concepts in light of the consistent concepts of God's radical rule in our lives.  He thoughtfully considers various implications and perspectives.

The symbolic character of Revelation is very critical here also in considering the dangerous situation for believers at the end of the first century.  Persecution was underway and proceeding.  The Apocalypse provides encouragement.  McLaren discusses aspects of that in its context and looks at the message of Revelation in that light and against the background of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.

I was glad to see he focuses on the worldview context for this treatment also, helping the reader reclaim the historical and cultural context and the special literary characteristics of Apocalyptic literature.  Be sure to give Chapter 19 serious attention.

Courageous Challenge
McLaren makes sense of the radical, revolutionary message of Jesus, and portrays the dangerous role of his message of a new Rule of God that challenged the established Divine Empire of Rome with its Emperor Cult.  This author has shared with us his own spiritual journey and the process by which he encountered Jesus directly, rather than through layers of historical tradition.

McLaren lays bare the Good News in this message and the radical possibilities that offers to us today.  He will enable many readers to see Jesus more directly as he is actually portrayed in the New Testament, where he may previously have been obscured by misconceptions or formal religion in whatever form.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
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[Review] Graduation to Reality – The Church Emerging
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[review] The Shack:  a Realization of Relationship and Revelation
[Review] Uncovering the Hidden Kingdom
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Book finished and initial versions of this review posted on Amazon and Barnes and Noble 7 May 2009
This review-essay posted on OJTR 8 May 2009
Last edited 10 June 2013

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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