The Secret Message of Jesus [Book Review]

I posted here awhile back that I got a [free] book in the mail from a publisher to review and post my review on here and a few other places. Well, the great unveiling has come (for those who I have a) not already excitedly told about it or b) not figured it out by the cover being conspicuously posted in the side index) and I am now writing my review. In typical Gillian fashion, it is being posted 2 days before it is due. Come to think of it, that is actually record earliness for me. Well done Gillian!
Anyway, enjoy! And then go read the book… there is a link below to the Amazon site for the book, but support your local Christian book store and get it from them instead (or be cheap and read my copy – it is the “Advance Reader’s Copy” after all, which makes it automatically cool!).

The first time I read one of Brian McLaren‘s books, it was like I was reading a more eloquent and better thought-out version of my own thoughts. McLaren has, since the first one of his books I read (3 or 4 of his books ago…), consistently challenged my thinking with his fresh insights into the Christian way of life. This book is no different. In The Secret Message of Jesus (subtitled “Uncovering the Truth that could Change Everything), McLaren deals with the person and, primarily the message of Jesus. Much like Phil Yancey did with the person and character of Jesus in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, McLaren steps back from the common images and perceptions we (both Christians and not Christians) have about Jesus and his message to take a long, hard look at the New Testament to see what the message really was.

The book is divided into three sections. The first deals with the context of the message. McLaren places Jesus and his teaching in a political and cultural context as well as looking at the impact the message would have had on contemporaries and how it turned their world upside down. He also spends time assessing the “hidden” aspect of Jesus’s message – how it seems so obscure and, well, hidden at times, questioning why Jesus would need to do such a thing. If Jesus’s message truly is as important as Christians seem to think it is, why did Jesus speak so obscurely at times, never giving a straight answer?

The second section deals with the meaning of the message: how Jesus presented the message impacted its effectiveness (for lack of a better word) and influenced how it was received then and how it is still received today. It impacts how we take that message and incorporate it into our lives, living it in daily life.

This leads to the third section which is, perhaps, the crux of the whole book. The section is entitled “Imagination: Exploring How Jesus’ Secret Message Could Change Everything” and proceeds to do just that. Chapter after chapter in this section looks at different situations and what it could/would/should be like if we lived according to Jesus’s “secret message.” What if the message weren’t a secret anymore? What if Christians started to actually live it? If McLaren’s ideas as written here were actually lived out in the world, what would the world be like? It is the kind of thing that gives both hope and despair simultaneously: hope that we could actually achieve this and despair that we have gone so far from this ideal, both Christians and not Christians.

As I said at the outset, I have enjoyed all of Brian McLaren’s books thus far. They have been both challenging, stimulating, and refreshing all in one. This one was no exception. It was really good to read and especially thought-provoking at times. It made me think about how I live my life in response to “the secret message” and what I should be doing in my life. I’d definitely recommend it, and I’m looking forward to re-reading it when I’m not in school so I can fully digest what McLaren has to say and spend more time in study with my Bible beside me.

Note: Brian includes three appendices in the book, one of which discusses “The Prayer of the Kingdom.” It is quite good but, apparently, has been left out of the final copy of the book that went to the publishers (I have a pre-publication version, so its in there). Anyway, if you want to read it, the chapter has been posted on McLaren’s website here.

If you end up reading the book, drop me a line and let me know what you thought. We can have a little debate, I’m always open to those, especially with classes almost over (3 days left baby!) and not too many finals on the horizon.

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