Monday, November 19, 2007

Church in the World

I recently finished reading Brian McLaren’s new book Everything Must Change. In it McLaren seems to be taking the next step in his emerging church work, moving from an emphasis on those who will be in the church to what the church should be doing. He calls on the church to refocus the metanarrative of Jesus in a way that moves from an individualistic, “me and my soul on its way to heaven” approach to a more societal “me and my community involved in building the kingdom of God on earth” approach. This basic story would then move from being a place where we don’t focus on ourselves as imperfect and the world around us as something bad to be afraid of, but on ourselves as hopeful, creative changing people of God who live in a benevolent world that provides for our basic needs if we’ll let it.

McLaren critiques the theocapitalist worldview that the modern church has taken, emphasizing its four laws:

1)progress through rapid growth;

2) security through possession and consumption;

3) salvation through competition alone; and

4) freedom to prosper through unaccountable corporations.

Then McLaren contrasts those laws with Jesus’ gospel:

1) the law of good deeds for common good, where the aim is not to build up capital but to emphasize care for people, especially the poor;

2) the law of satisfaction through gratitude and sharing. In this section McLaren shows how, beginning with the primeval narratives in Genesis, evil and consumption are closely linked. (Adam and Eve, says McLaren, get in trouble for wanting and then consuming the fruit. Abel and Cain get into a class war based on kinds of consumption. Etc.) Gratitude in contrast, becomes an act of defiance, celebrating not what we want to consume but what we have and are content with.

3) the law of salvation through seeking justice; and

4) the law of freedom to prosper by building better communities.

Toward the end of the book he also does a nice refocusing of the New Jerusalem away from a “the world is bad, we’ve got to end it and start over” apocalypse toward a more transformative eschatology.

I didn’t find much that was new in McLaren’s book, though I agree wholeheartedly with much of his argument. What I did find, as I read, however, was a yearning for the presence of congregations that were consistently speaking to the overconsumption crisis. Especially during this church stewardship season, they seem so rare, that I find myself wondering what would happen if congregations put even half the energy that they put into raising funds for their budgets into doing similar work on combating overconsumption.

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