No one articulates the emerging pattern of Christian thought, attitude and practice for the 21st century better than Brian McLaren, and “The Secret Message of Jesus” is by far his best effort to date.

McLaren sets out to discover the meaning and implications of “the Kingdom of God.” His work reflects an in-depth appreciation of a wide range of biblical and historical scholarship, the biblical literature itself and human nature. Throughout the book, McLaren stakes out positions yet manages to convey an attitude of humility.

The book is divided into three parts.

In the first section, McLaren attempts to use informed imagination to better understand the world-view of Jesus, the particular ways his words and deeds may have been heard by others in his own time and the core of Jesus’ message.

He concludes Jesus announced the ever-present opportunity to enter into an interactive relationship with the living God. Those who choose such a relationship will become life-long learners of the way of Jesus and begin to participate with God in his great work of reconciliation in the world.

McLaren explores the personal, social, economic, religious and political implications of the message of Jesus in the first century world.

Part two deals with how Jesus shared his message and how others appropriated it.

McLaren’s discussion of parables, miracles and the death of Jesus illuminate the difference between the ways of the world and the way of God. He argues strongly and persuasively for continuity between Jesus and Paul.

McLaren concludes with a chapter entitled “Getting It, Getting In,” which outlines five, ongoing movements which lead to an interactive relationship with God. The five movements involve repenting of self-assurance, acting on whatever belief in God one may already possess, cultivating receptivity to God’s guidance, publicly identifying with Jesus and practicing the discipline of following Jesus.

Part three explores how Jesus’ message might affect the life of the world.

McLaren takes a fresh look at the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount. He argues that spiritual practices such as giving to the poor, prayer and fasting directly challenge our common assumptions about money, sex and power.

McLaren also addresses the challenge of language in an era when the term “kingdom” carries negative connotations. He proposes six modern metaphors for the Kingdom of God: dream of God, revolution of God, mission of God, party of God, network of God and dance of God.

More so than in previous books, McLaren deals directly with the question of the borders of the Kingdom of God, acknowledging that while the Kingdom of God is available to all, some may miss it. He encourages “purposeful inclusion” of all those who wish to participate in God’s mission of reconciliation, while acknowledging the church cannot include those who refuse to embrace such a purpose.

Three appendices add to the book’s value. The first provides a running commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. The most intriguing deals with the question “Why Didn’t We Get It Sooner.” McLaren provides eight complementary answers and cautions that even now we do not comprehend more than a fragment of Jesus’ vision. The final appendix provides a strategy for encouraging further exploration of the message of Jesus.

How might the book be put to good use? Clergy will appreciate the way McLaren integrates numerous disciplines into a coherent challenge to the church. They will also find numerous stories, images and talking points useful to sermon and teaching preparation.

Both clergy and laity will find the book useful for personal reflection and small group discussion.

Finally, the book may used to foster meaningful discussion both with “seekers” and with Christians disillusioned with the church.

Mike Smith is pastor of First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

The Secret Message of Jesus, by W Publishing Group, is due for release April 4. Click here to pre-order the book from

Share This