The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth the Could Change Everything
by Brian McLaren (Nelson, 2006)
Review by Kevin Miller
Just in time for the cinematic adaptation of The Da Vinci Code—Dan Brown’s scandalous, bestselling novel about the “secret history of Christ”—comes a new book by emerging church guru Brian D. McLaren that helps clarify why millions are intrigued by such unorthodox interpretations of Christ.
Rather than attempt to refute The Da Vinci Code, however, McLaren argues that the popularity of Brown’s book and the “shared frustration with the status-quo, male-dominated, power-oriented,cover-up-prone organized Christian religion” it expresses should prompt some serious self-examination among believers.
Brown’s fictional version of Christ may mislead in many ways, McLaren agrees, but could it be that the church’s conventional portrayal of Jesus is just as misleading? Is it possible that amidst all the hustle and bustle that is twenty-first century Christian life, we are missing out on the very person, the very message that started it all?
If it’s true that all of us—even Dan Brown—are missing the point, then exactly what is the point? What is this hidden message of Jesus that we’ve all overlooked? Can it even be found? And who appointed McLaren head excavator? Readers will be happy to learn that far from assuming the air of one who has “arrived,” McLaren takes a humble, understated approach to this book, proceeding as someone with more questions than answers. He does not claim to know much, but he does assert that there has to be something more—“a hidden door somewhere behind a curtain or a bookcase ”—through which we can access “rooms we’ve never imagined.”
The book begins with an examination of Jesus and his times. Through this study, McLaren seeks to help readers understand the context in which Jesus lived and taught so they can see how utterly revolutionary he and his message really were (and are). And what is this message? Essentially, that it is possible for everyone, everywhere to live an extraordinary life to the full, centered on a relationship with God. Eternal life doesn’t begin after we die; it begins right here and now.
This has tremendous implications on every level—political, social, religious, and personal. For some, it is the best news imaginable. For others, it is the worst, because it stands to threaten all they have invested in the status quo.
But this is only the beginning. From here, McLaren proceeds to a thorough examination of the substance of Jesus’ message. This includes the various media through which it was delivered, the veiled nature of Christ’s teachings (and why it was delivered in this way), and the overall meaning and implication of Christ’s message in his historical context.
Part Three of the book brings things back to the present, so we can reconsider our world in light of Christ’s revolutionary message. What does it mean to live in the Kingdom of God in the twenty-first century? What does this look like on an individual level? On a corporate level? If we truly do begin to live out this message, will we pose the same threat to society that Jesus did? If so, will we be treated in the same way?
Conversely, what is at stake if we fail to fully grasp Jesus and his message? Overall, this section presents a strong sense of hope, that our secret longings and suspicions about there being some hidden dimension to life are really true. There really is more to this world—to Jesus—than meets the eye. And we can access it all right here and now!
To ensure this exploration of Jesus and his teachings doesn’t remain an idle intellectual exercise, McLaren provides some helpful appendices at the end of this book that show readers how to begin living out what we’ve learned. Of particular note is Appendix Three, which presents a three-part strategy for “plotting goodness”:
1. gather for conversation about Jesus and his teachings
2. launch experiments (practice some facet of Jesus’ message), and
3. undertake some sort of group action that expresses the kingdom of God.
Overall, not a bad strategy for anyone seeking to go deeper into the life Jesus revealed.
There are not many Christian books that I would feel comfortable handing off to my non-Christian friends, but this is definitely one of them. It doesn’t matter if you identify yourself as a Christian or not: If you’ve ever shared McLaren’s hunch that there’s more to Jesus—to this world—than meets the eye, I strongly encourage you to read this book. You won’t find all of the answers here. Far from it. But at the very least, you come away encouraged that your questions are valid, your journey authentic, and your destination real.