Saturday, February 03, 2007

In the introduction of the Secret Message of Jesus Mclaren asks the following provocative question, "Why is the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown's book, the Da Vinci Code, more interesting, more attractive and more intriguing to these people than the standard version of Jesus they hear about from churches?" I am not sure it is Brown's "hinted vision of Jesus" that people find attractive in the Da Vinci Code but I do suspect it may have to do with the fact that Brown is a very good modern day myth maker/storyteller. I haven't read any of Brown's books but I did see the movie and while I didn't place it on my top 20 best films of the year list I did find the movie and the story imaginatively creative, full of mystery and entertaining...and perhaps...one may want to propose that some of these elements are missing in many of our churches today. Where is the mystery, imagination, and creativity? One of the aspects of the movie I enjoyed the most was the unpredictability of the story, yet when I look at the church today it seems to me that the leadership of many churches want to eliminate as much unpredictability as they can...and...while I understand the psychological attraction of certainty I can't help wondering if that is a good idea in the long run...because... if one eliminates uncertainty than I think we also eliminate anticipation, by default, and perhaps anticipation is an important element that is missing in our Sunday morning worship services..... People go to church for a lot of different reasons but I do think people want to be inspired but inspiration is connected to our imagination and creativity and perhaps a lot of folks feel more inspired listening to Brown's story than what they are likely to hear on Sunday morning. I am not suggesting or implying that the church evaluate itself according to popular myth makers like Brown, because that would be unfair, but I do believe a church can find "many ways" to integrate mystery, imagination and creativity in their services each week, which in turn might help to create a sense of inspiration and anticipation.

Mclaren goes on to ask, "Is it possible that even though Brown's fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church's conventional versions of Jesus may not do him justice?"....It seems from my vantage point that the history of institutional/organized Christianity involves creating Jesus in our own image according to our social economic status, personal preferences, and political ideology. I am not asserting this is altogether bad because I think this is what everyone does to one degree or another, in an attempt to make Jesus relevant to our lives, experience, and situation...The "potential" problem is that we often "limit" the potential implications/applications of Jesus message to our own personal or community experience thus missing the broader picture of the Kingdom of God on earth from a Christian perspective. Stepping outside of our own perspective is not easy to do because of the personal psychological discomfort associated with looking at the world and ourselves from someone else's point of view...or to put it another way...no one likes to hear that their view of themselves, community, or the world may have been distorted because of the potential "negative" implications associated with our confidence in ourselves and the communities we have placed our trust in...but...death or at least partial death to our way of seeing/interpreting ourselves and the world need not be interpreted exclusively in negative terms but rather as an opportunity of initiation to growth and maturity which will hopefully lead to a better relationship with the world, ones neighbors and oneself...

Finally, Mclaren says, "What if, properly understood, the canonical (or accepted" Gospel of Matthew is far more radical and robust than the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, or the canonical Gospel of John is far more visionary and transformative than the Gospel of Peter---if only we "had ears to hear", as Jesus says?"....Personally, I don't see a need to compare the canonical Gospels with the apocryphal/Gnostic Gospels and texts, in terms of their potential transformational power. From my perspective, I am willing to live with the potential implications of both traditions because the historical context in which the texts were written had particular applications to the people of their times and I am not particularly interested nor see the value in pitting one tradition against another. Thus, since Mclaren's comments seem to imply the exclusion of the Gnostic texts in the discussion of discovering the Secret Message of Jesus let's move on to chapter one....

2 comments:

Dave said...

I found McLaren's reference to these alt-Christian materials interesting but not completely satisfying. He notes the interest they've created in people who might otherwise think they've got Jesus "all figures out" but doesn't really engage with the substance of those alternative messages. Still, this is progress from the kind of blasting attacks that other writers within Christendom level against Dan Brown, apocryphal gospels, etc. I like that McLaren is able to avoid being either overly defensive or hysterical about the "threat" that these texts pose. But I agree, it's where he goes from here that is more important. I guess he had to start the book out somehow, and it makes sense for him to begin with what's "hot" within pop Christian culture at the moment he began writing...

Bilbo said...

My take on Mclaren is this...I think he understands the potential fall out to the Evangelical subcluture when one engages the postmodern deconstruction experiment...and...I suspect he is trying to find "a way" for Christians to engage the post-modern culture in a way where they can maintain the "essence" of what they believe and practice. It's tight rope, for sure, but I applaud him for doing so. I think you and I understand the implications of deconstructing one's faith and a lot of folks may not be up for such a challenge without the temptation to throw out the baby with the bathwater which is something much of the Evangelical subculture has reinforced. Personally, I am curious to see where this all leads and predict, a clash in the years to come between an emergent hybrid and the old guard who want to maintain the status quo. I can't imagine the status quo winning in the end but the spirit of fundamentalism/maintaining the status quo, has historically found a way to survive. Just look at the Catholic Church...and...I wonder if the Protestants will create their own timeless subculture...Only God and time will tell....