This is a review for Brian McLaren’s Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World
I’ve been a Brian McLaren fan now for over a decade, having read most of his books. The author addresses many issues that trouble thoughtful Christians, especially those who started their spiritual pilgrimage from a relatively conservative background and now wonder whether there are alternative and still biblical perspectives, and this book is no exception.
The book addresses how Jesus would view other religions. Would Jesus focus on the differences and throw them out of the window as heresies, or would Jesus look at the commonalities and encourage a collaborative discussion to promote faith in action?
It boils down to a simple question: Can a Christian maintain a strong Christian identity and remain benevolent and friendly to other religions? The author’s answer is a definite “Yes.”
The problem with the current identity for Christians today is that we have assumed an identity that is not quite the same as that of Jesus Christ. Brian writes (p.84): “We have created a new religion with an identity far different from the one proclaimed and embodied by Jesus…In other words, what we call Christianity today has a history [that] reveals…a Roman, imperial version of Christianity.” Right on, Brian!
The author shows us how the Greco-Roman culture sort of “hijacked” the original inclusive and healing message of Jesus Christ and turned it into an exclusive and conquering command. Over the centuries, the church has built a theological framework around the exclusive and conquering culture with mutually supportive doctrines. Brian calls this framework of doctrines a “dynamic system”. When there is a fresh viewpoint (doctrine) that in itself is biblical and legitimate, “other elements in the system will gang up on it and attempt to crush or co-opt the reformulation” (p. 158).
The authors calls for a rediscovery of the inclusive and healing message of Jesus Christ and of the early church fathers, and reformulate a doctrinal framework alternative to replace the exclusive and conquering one. The Christian’s identity should be based on hospitality and not hostility, mercy and not condemnation, compassion and not legalism, and forgiveness and not revenge (206). He urges Christians to rebuild a strong identity based on the former attributes and not be threatened by other religions.
Finally, Brian calls Christians to learn from other religions and meet them where there are commonalities. There is no need to water down the Christian identity: “Christian identity must focus on unadulterated, undiluted Christian practice―full-bodied, caffeinated, high-proof devotion in action…to emphasize love as ‘center and soul’ of our faith…and approach other cultures [with]…understanding, respect, human-kindness, or benevolence” (269).
The author has brought an important message to all Christians. Because of certain vocal groups of the “hijacked” Christianity, I believe the church (i.e. the Body) of Jesus Christ should recast its identity along the inclusive and healing message of Jesus of Nazareth and the early church fathers, and Brian as given us all a trumpet call.