“The Great Spiritual Migration” by Brian D. McLaren. Published by Convergent Books, 2016. This review refers to the hardcover edition of this title.
So in the interest of full disclosure I need to start out by saying that I love Brian McLaren. His books were absolutely essential in solidifying my faith and continue to be a huge part of my spiritual growth as well. This might put a few folks off, since he is a fairly controversial figure in Christianity today, especially in evangelical circles. I don’t agree with everything he says. He’s probably a bit more of a universalist than I am, but in the end those are things that only God can judge, not me.
So what I’m saying is that if you’re looking for a totally neutral perspective on this book, this probably isn’t going to be it. However, if you’re curious about McLaren’s ideas and wonder if they’re for you, then by all means, keep on reading.
McLaren generally works from two interrelated premises in his books. The first is that mainstream Christianity has lost some of it’s vigor and vitality over the years as we’ve often doubled down on fundamentalist arguments and somewhat dismissed the original message of love, grace, and mercy taught by Christ. This has led to a mass exodus from many traditional churches, especially among younger people and people who just can’t stomach the fundamentalist Christian message.
The second premise is that our society as a whole is functioning in a way that is unsustainable. The promise of trickle down economics and rising tides raising all boats has been shown to be false. The gap between the rich and the middle class is growing. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing exponentially. This affects not only American Christians but the whole world as well. So many people live on just dollars or cents per day while many more of us treat both money and things as disposable. He envisions our society as a consumer driven culture that operates in a closed system. The earth itself is a closed system. We consume the resources of God’s creation much faster than they can be replenished. Once we’ve consumed these resources we just spew streams of waste into the environment. This waste can take many forms. Sometimes it’s actual human waste that must be disposed of. Often it’s the unholy amount of garbage produced by our rampant consumerism that has to go somewhere. Another one of the wastes produced is the actual heat that is pumped back into our atmosphere and causes things like climate change. McLaren calls this a suicidal system. If we continue on our present course eventually there will be too few resources and too much waste. With this being the case we will eventually destroy ourselves. Honestly I don’t know anybody can sit and take a good look at the data, without your consumer issued rose colored glasses, and see things any differently.
These two premises are related in that the Church so often plays an accomplice role to the consumer driven society. Christians are just as much consumers as anyone else, and the church sometimes actually assists in the promotion of consumerist values. You would think that the church, knowing that God entrusted his creation to us as stewards, would make protecting the environment a top priority. It is not. In fact, our churches are often persuaded not to challenge the way things run by being offered political power, which has now been wielded to great affect in our election. Too often the Christian church is merely a chaplain to the status quo, in McLaren’s eyes.
However he also believes that no other institution on earth is better suited to save society from itself as the Church is. We cross racial lines, we cross political lines, we cross all kinds of socioeconomic lines. At the core of our faith is a man who taught love, honesty, humility, modesty, and community. If we could set aside some of these other matters and grasp on to that message as the entire Body of Christ, we could do much good in the world.
But will we? That’s the question.
McLaren suggests in this book that the only way for this to happen is for Christians to go on a great spiritual migration. This calls for moving on from some of our most comfortable places and confronting the problems that society has head on. He believes that this migration must take places in three areas: our spirituality, our theology, and our mission.
Doing that requires that we examine ourselves, some of our most cherished beliefs, and how we act on those beliefs. Throughout the book McLaren not only talks about the theory behind his opinions, but gives many concrete examples about how we as Christians could truly build a movement for change.
And that’s why this book is so important. At this point another book about “What’s wrong with the Church” isn’t going to cut it. They’re a dime a dozen. What we need are formative steps to take to start making a change, and it’s not going to be easy.
It’s often said that Christianity is only one generation away from dying out. If the faith is not passed on to the younger generation, then it will be lost. That’s something that not a few people are worried about today. McLaren turns that on it’s head though. He dares to believe that Christianity is only one generation away from stepping up to the plate and doing big things in our world for the better. If we take an honest look at ourselves, reevaluate, start to make changes, and pass those on to the next generation we could be dawning on a new era of Christianity.
That’s why I read this book. If you’re interested in that you should read it too. Ultimately is offers hope in the midst of a lot of uncertainty.