Here's the important footnote in McLaren's new book:
Among these theologians and writers who explore the political dimension of Jesus's (sic) message are John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, N.T. Wright, Jim Wallis, Walter Brueggemann, Walter Wink, Rene Padilla, and Chuck Gutenson. (pg. 235) [I have an advance review copy so page numbers could be different in the final release.]
Behind the names of most of those men stands another name: Karl Barth. Most trace their theological heritage back to Barth. The tree that McLaren draws from includes Barth, Frei, Moltmann, Ellul, and finally Yoder. The others are branches off that main trunk. Not that they are less important, just that McLaren draws from an interesting assemblage to build his case in this book.
It is true that McLaren cites these men as contributing to the political dimension of Jesus' ministry and message, but he also uses their arguments, especially Wink, Yoder, and Wright to discuss the larger ministry of Jesus. Wright is indebted to C.S. Lewis at many places in his thinking, and McLaren has already discussed nascent postmodern theology in Lewis before (New Kind of Christian), so it is no surprise that Lewis shows up repeatedly in this book as well.
What McLaren is wanting to do is discuss the real message Jesus is preaching, and that is impossible without understanding the political nature of that message; this is of course Yoder's whole argument in Politics of Jesus. This is where McLaren will finally nail the coffin shut on his relationship with many evangelicals. They will not tread the road he is taking. McLaren has moved from evangelical foundationalism and a personalized, spiritualized Gospel to the Gospel of the kingdom as understood by Yoder and Wink.
What does that mean? Here's the simple answer: McLaren's argument is that Jesus really means what he says. Really. Again, Yoder makes this argument at length in PoJ and Royal Priesthood, but McLaren presents the argument as if it is "the secret message of Jesus." The reality, of course, is that the Anabaptists have always believed that (it's never been a big secret to them), thus McLaren's dependence upon Yoder. When the Protestant Reformation began, the Reformers quickly split into three separate branches (sorry to be so pedantic, as many of you will know this, but some of you won't): Calvinists, Lutherans, and Radical Reformers. The Radical Reformers wanted to take the reformation of the Church farther than the Lutherans or Calvinists. Both those groups were committed to a vision of the kingdom that was tied to the secular state—to be fair, they would have had no such understanding of a secular state. The phrase is anachronistic, but allow me to use it. The Radical Reformers, eventually Anabaptists because of their insistence on believer baptism, understood the words of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, as the controlling grammar and vocabulary of the kingdom. The kingdom wasn't tied to a secular state; it was a state unto itself. The Anabaptists understood Jesus to be talking about a present reality, not a future state of bliss in heaven, nor a future millenial reign on earth, nor a standard that drove us to grace. Rather, they saw the grammar of the Sermon on the Mount as the grammar of the kingdom. This is who Jesus is, so this is who we are to be. This is what Jesus says, so this is what we are to do. Simple, right?
That's an important introduction, I think, because McLaren assumes much of that as the book moves through its three parts: Excavation, Engagement, Imagination. He said on his blog several months ago that the previous trilogy was preparatory work for this book. He's right and wrong about that. He could have written this without writing the previous three. In fact, he might have had a wider audience for this book had he written it between books two and three of the trilogy. That's a side issue though, and I think this is a good and necessary book. McLaren will command an audience that many of us would never reach, and what he has to say, the filtered wisdom of the best theologians of the previous century, could revolutionize the Church. I'll cover the three separate parts of the book over the next three posts. Notice I didn't say the next three days.