ways, he’s helped create it. He’s also lived it and experienced it firsthand. For him, this shift began following a conversation more than two decades ago. “I was a pastor in my late 30s, and I remember one conversation where I realized that for Jesus, the Gospel is not, Here’s how to go to heaven when you die,” he explains. “For Jesus, the Gospel is, The Kingdom of God is at hand. I had no idea what that meant, and I remember leaving that conversation thinking, ‘I’m a pastor and I’m about to rethink the whole essence of what the Gospel is!’” Eventually, McLaren realized that all of the things he saw as problematic about how modern Christianity was practiced—from its politicalization, focus on
“But once our needs are met, then we face the question: Are we actually going to become followers of Christ? And if we’re interested in really becoming followers or disciples or students of Jesus then his way is a way of concern for others not selfinterest only.”
NEW FOUNDATIONS McLaren says that the first step in the process of making this shift personally—from a Christian whose worldview is distorted by cultural baggage to one who sees the Gospel in fresh ways—is to be willing to ask questions. Even if these are “dangerous” ones that seem to challenge ideas we’ve been taught not to question.
[THE FIRST STEP IS] BEING WILLING TO SEARCH FOR THE REAL TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL ABOVE OUR IDEA OF BEING “RIGHT” BY CULTUR AL STANDARDS. rules, tendencies to wage culture wars, denominational divisions—were symptoms of a bigger issue: We’ve gotten the core of the Gospel wrong. We’ve shifted away from its essence. “I just tried to kind of go back to the beginning and learn in fresh ways,” he explains. One of his great realizations was that the Gospel wasn’t just about escaping hell; it was about creating a kingdom here on earth. There were deep, personal implications for this “fresh” perspective: “Is our understanding of the Gospel terribly faulty when it is seen primarily as a message of self preservation?” he asks rhetorically. “Maybe all along, the Gospel was actually a call to us to move beyond selfish concerns. Maybe what repentance means is to repent from only being worried about your individual well-being.” The shift started happening when he applied this new understanding to Jesus’ actual teachings. Suddenly, the Gospel he’d read for his entire life took on new meanings: “I personally think the core of the Gospel is not, Here’s how to go to heaven when you die and avoid hell, but, Here’s how to join God in God’s Kingdom coming and God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven,” he says. “I do think a lot of us come to faith because of personal need. Whether it’s fear of hell or a need for deliverance from addiction or a need for community, we come out of a sense of need and there’s nothing wrong with that.
It’s being willing to search for the real truth of the Gospel above our idea of being “right” by cultural standards. “If Jesus had said, ‘By their correct doctrine you shall know them’, we’d be OK. But he didn’t. He said, ‘By their fruit you shall know them,’” he explains. “Or if Paul had said, ‘The only thing that matters is correct doctrine expressing itself in correct behavior,’ we’d be fine. But Paul didn’t say that. He said, ‘The thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.’” For Christians raised to believe their denomination’s biblical doctrine is the primary foundation of every other belief about faith, this can sound like a risky prospect. But, despite what his critics may suggest, McLaren isn’t simply trying to throw out doctrine in favor of religious universalism. He’s trying to get people to rebuild their idea of Gospel from the ground up. And that may mean re-laying the foundation. “I’m certainly not against doctrine, but I think we have painted ourselves into a corner where a certain kind of system of beliefs has given us a shortcut to a kind of moral superiority and moral complacency that is very destructive,” he says. It’s not that the doctrine itself is dangerous. It’s that McLaren believes we become so focused on it that it allows us to develop major moral blind spots, shifting our focus from Jesus to a set of guidelines that reduce His ideas to teaching dogmatic principles. “Here would be a great example: By those
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