I’m still paging through Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change. Chapter 12 (No Junk DNA) has been the most interesting chapter thus far.
Chapter 12 offers readers a very, very basic overview of what New Testament scholars, historical-critical exegetes, and form critics refer to as “Sitz-im-Leben” (Ger: setting in life, or life situation). The Sitz-im-Leben of the Sacred Texts compiled in the New Testament points toward a real-time sociological setting in which all particular and revealed forms of narrative rhetoric inherent to the writings were developed. Said differently, all of the New Testament’s Legends, Aphorisms, Prophecies, Parables, Liturgies, Epistles, and Teaching Materials were shaped within and shaped by a very real and very influential sociological context. Aphorisms and Parables exist, for example, because Jesus lived in an oral culture and these forms were conducive to easy memorization. This socio-literary phenomenon, which is totally missed in cursory readings of the texts, and/or seriously altered by a detrimental superimposition of an interpreter’s personal but divergent life situation (e.g., reader response theory), is absolutely necessary for holistic New Testament interpretation and understanding. A holistic understanding of the New Testament, Gospels, and Jesus of Nazareth requires a certain amount of historical study, sociological understanding, and honest real-time interpretation and application. Christians should get a grip on Sitz-im-Leben, to say the least.
Brian McLaren, in a fine attempt to illustrate and historically contextualize what he calls the “emerging view of Jesus,” highlights a few of the most important aspects of the work produced by New Testament historical study and socio-historical analysis. Chapter 12 of Everything Must Change is titled “No Junk DNA.” Why? The title clearly emphasizes McLaren’s point that modern Evangelicals - for the most part - read selectively. Evangelicals unconsciously sift the texts, separating the historical and sociological realities from the soteriological and eschatological elements. The result? Evangelicalism - for the most part - is an expression of the Gospel and Jesus totally centered and focused upon Heaven and the end of the world. McLaren subtly juxtaposes this Evangelical expression of Jesus and his “emerging view of Jesus” and simultaneously exposes both to the socio-historical realities of the Gospel narratives themselves. The Evangelical focus upon Heaven and the inevitable end of the world lose, of course. McLaren does not, however, focus upon this negative; he doesn’t mention it. Instead, he points towards the “emerging view of Jesus” and its accompanying story of human partnership with God as that which has transformational power and the potential to avert global destruction.
McLaren cites “Twelve Features of Jesus’ Ministry that are Not Junk.” It is interesting how McLaren associates most of these aspects with a negative and competing narrative (imperial, counter-imperial). Jesus’ emerging view, in its socio-historical context offered a third way. This is the most important aspect of this chapter. McLaren substantiates the point by contrasting Jesus’ emerging view against the imperial and counter-imperial views of the Romans, Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, Tax Collectors, and Sinners. He also highlights this third way of Jesus by citing the sociological importance of certain parables (Parables about Stewards, Rich Young Ruler), and titles attributed to Jesus of Nazareth (Christ, Son of Man, Lord). Finally, McLaren offers a brief overview of the sociological power contained in the term “Kingdom of God.”
McLaren is obviously writing to a wider audience than do most New Testament/sociological scholars and form critics. So, the elementary and brief nature of the content in this chapter is understandable. He also may expound upon this particular subject matter further in preceding chapters. It seems likely, however, that depth in this subject matter will be limited. McLaren may be, if anything, the catalyst for much needed initiative that will propel readers to dive deeper on their own. If you happen to be one of these initiative-driven readers, I would suggest that you pick up the following books and spend much time digesting their contents, cognitively and emotively:
Gerhard E. Lenski: Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification
William R. Herzog: Parables As Subversive Speech: Jesus As Pedagogue of the Oppressed
Gerd Theissen: Social Reality and the Early Christians: Theology, Ethics, and the World of the New Testament
John D. Crossan: The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant
John D. Crossan: The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus
Stanley Hauerwas: Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America
Stanley Hauerwas: The Peaceable Kingdom
McLaren basically offers readers a brief overview of the socio-historical thoughts and concepts presented in each of these works. The brief socio-historical points echoed by McLaren - and the many he left out - are deeply developed by these scholars. If you want to understand McLaren, and why he is saying the things he is saying in Everything Must Change, read all of these books. These books will change the way you look at Jesus of Nazareth, the Gospel, and Christianity. Everything will change after you complete your reading of these books. I read them and I haven’t been the same since.