Finally, we get into the book proper! It’s entitled ‘The Seven Jesuses I Have Known’ and is a bit of a summary of McLaren faith journey over the years. McLaren has been influenced by various expressions of Christianity over the years, and each of them have taught something about Jesus or an aspect of following Jesus that he never really understood before.
So this shouldn’t be taken as meaning that McLaren thinks there are seven Jesuses. He’s simply talking about how his understanding of Jesus has grown over the years.
That’s not so bad. I think all Christians have different experiences of Jesus at different times. Think of it the other way: if our understanding and experience of him didn’t change over the years, it would mean we haven’t grown. My understanding of Jesus is certainly different to what it was twenty years ago. It’s deeper, and I know a lot more about him too, both intellectually and spiritually. That’s a good thing.
It should also be noted that McLaren realises that what he has to say about various expressions of Christianity are caricatures. He’s talking about broad tendencies as he’s perceived them, and he knows counter examples abound.
The first Jesus McLaren talks about is the Conservative Protestant Jesus. The Conservative Protestant Jesus is the Jesus on the cross. The focal point for this style of Christianity is the atonement. Much of its theology revolves around the various theories of how the atonement works, which McLaren summarises. Sin is taken very seriously. This is a good thing; however, this Jesus appears to be mainly interested in individual moral guilt in this life and salvation in the afterlife. He seems to have little to say about many of the problems in the world as it’s experienced by modern people.
I knew a lot of people at university who followed this Jesus. I’m glad of the experience–they taught me a lot of my theology. However, I understand McLaren’s problem. To me, this Jesus was more concerned with correct doctrine than correct practice. He taught me a lot of big words, and he taught me lots about who I’m allowed to have sex with. He didn’t seem to have much to say about loving my neighbour, though.
The second Jesus is the Pentecostal/Charismatic Jesus. This Jesus is much more in touch with Christians. This version of Christianity is supposed to be lived; it’s more than just eternal fire insurance. However, some versions of this expression of Christianity rely too much on demonstrations of spiritual experience. People who don’t manifest certain things (for example, speaking in tongues) are considered to have only a second class spirituality at best. Yet this seemed a little fake–it seemed to be quite possible to have this extra experience and it make no difference to your life or character at all. It also seemed to create tiers within the church that didn’t seem justified.
This Jesus still had some of the problems of the first Jesus McLaren met. It was still focused on the individual Christian. Jesus was alive and well in the life of the believer–but that was about it. There was little said about justice for non-Christians. The gospel, whilst powerful, was still very small.
The Salvation Army, being part of the holiness tradition, has long taught the importance of a ‘blessing’ subsequent to conversion. This is quite similar to the Pentecostal blessing, but is more concerned with personal holiness. More and more, however, this blessing is being seen as a continuation of a work begun at conversion (I had a look at this in an essay I wrote last year). Part of the reason for this (I would suggest) is a reaction to what McLaren found–it can create a class of ‘super-christians’ that simply doesn’t seem to exist in the Bible.
Well, that’s all I’ve got time for now. More Jesuses tomorrow!