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Book Review

Spotlight on Evangelicalism

Brian McLaren’s name is closely associated with the ‘emerging church’ concept, which questions much standard evangelical doctrine and practice and looks for new ways for Christians to be relevant in the 21st century. Among his many writings is a series of short fictional ‘The Word of the Lord to…’ ebooks, including this one (which cost me only £1.96): The Word of the Lord to Evangelicals by Brian D. McLaren (Creative Trust Digital, 2012. ISBN: [none provided]).

The ‘evangelicals’ in question are chiefly of the American variety: typically right-wing, Republican, capitalist, middle-class, pro-Israel dispensationalists. Many British readers, therefore, may find some of the references extreme or inappropriate.

The story is fictional but realistic. It begins with a group of girl-students from Wheaton College (a prominent American Bible college) doing a spot of urban evangelism among the homeless of Detroit as part of their course. Unfolding events leave them disillusioned with both the doctrine and practice of their evangelical heritage and looking for something better. One of them goes a long way towards finding it by moving to live in poverty-stricken Haiti, where she works to improve the living conditions of its ordinary citizens.

At different stages of the book God appears in the form of several individuals, both male and female (shades of The Shack), to interact with the heroine, in the dialogue which becomes the main medium for the author’s message.

Some will find this uncomfortable reading. Personally, I found myself saying a loud ‘Amen’ to some parts and cringing at others. It certainly made me think—and I suspect it will do the same for you.

[I read this in the Kindle edition, so the numbers are Location numbers, not Page numbers.]

What’s got me depressed to the point of suicide is Evangelicals,” Joe [i.e. God] replied. “Especially American Evangelicals.  (155)

[God speaking]  The only salvation I have ever really been interested in is global salvation, the restoration of all things. All this talk about saving souls and damning everything else—it did not come from me. That is something you guys made up…  I have always been interested in the whole earth, all of creation—soil, birds of the air, beasts of the field, and people too, but not apart from everything else. I care about people as part of everything else that I created. You Evangelicals still do not get that. All you care about is personal salvation.  (244)

We, “the Evangelical leadership of tomorrow,” are not actually learning “the biblical worldview” as we are so often told. Instead, we are learning a white, middle-class, conservative Republican American worldview.  (372)

Yes, there was bad all around, but at the center, in the marrow of everything, there was goodness, goodness so powerful, so deep, so wise, so strong, so warm, that the bad seemed pathetic, doomed, petty, weak, almost laughable.  (451)

“And what is that good news?” “It’s that God cares—about everybody. It’s that with God, there are no outsiders. It’s that God is with us, with everyone, with all creation, working for good. It’s that God is at work in the world, restoring the value of things that people have devalued, and showing the emptiness of things that people have overvalued.”  (497)

Maybe to really help poor people, you have to confront bad economic policies, and maybe that will mean tarnishing the Evangelical image of being—you know, free-market capitalists and all that.  (539)

But that word ‘save,’ that’s a big stumbling block for Evangelicals, because whenever they hear it, they’re sure they know what it means. But I see it very differently now.”
“Save used to mean, you know, saying the Sinner’s Prayer, accepting Christ, being forgiven and justified and regenerated and all that so you can go to heaven when you die. It was all about personal salvation, not being sent to hell, all that. But now when I see that word in the Bible, I see something much bigger and deeper and more ... encompassing.”
Leslie didn’t say anything, but her silence invited more, so Wendy continued, “Now, I see the word save as meaning heal or set free or liberate, and it’s not just for this or that person, or this or that religion. It has to do with God’s love for the whole world, God’s desire to free everyone from ... you know, evil. Oppression. Poverty. Hatred.  (544)

I think the best way I can help Evangelicalism is by not worshiping Evangelicalism, by not worrying so much about it. For a lot of us who grew up Evangelical, it can be an idol, really, maybe an addiction, like a bunch of dysfunctional kids trying to save their alcoholic daddy. So I’m trying to just focus on—you know, following Jesus. I figure if I seek God’s kingdom and God’s justice first, well, everything else will work out.”  (559)

The word of the Lord to Evangelicals is this: Stop following Evangelicalism and start following Jesus. Stop seeking to enhance Evangelicalism’s reputation and start seeking God’s justice in the world, for everyone, beginning with the poor. Bring all your Evangelical passion and commitment and zeal and enthusiasm to bear on what God cares most about ... which basically boils down to healing the world from all the damage we’ve inflicted on it.”  (567)

Other books by Brian McLaren reviewed on my website:

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