Have you ever wondered what might happen if Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed all met while walking along the road? What would that conversation look like? Specifically for Christians (since that is the majority of my audience), what do you think Jesus’ response would be?
Brian McClaren considers this in his book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road. In this book, McClaren acknowledges two things Christians do well: have a strong Christian identity that responds negatively to other religions; and being accepting to the point of never proselytizing.
McClaren suggests we should do something different: a Christian identity that is both kind and strong. Our Christian identity should be so strong that our love for Christ should move us into relationship with others. We can affirm what we believe without attacking those who disagree. This book is a search to answer the question: “How do we, as Christians, faithfully affirm the uniqueness and universality of Christ without turning that belief into an insult or a weapon?”
McClaren speaks about CRIS: Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome. This conflict stems from the fact that Christianity has spent too much time building walls and barriers at the expense of pursuing peace. How can we as Christians pursue more fully a relationship with Jesus without alienating others? How can we love and welcome others without compromising our faith in Christ?
In four parts, McClaren digs into finding answers to these questions. Many will consider this book bothersome or troublesome. I think that is good. I also think that is partly McClaren’s intent. In part 1, he studies some of the historical issues that have brought us to where we are in our current religious identity crisis. He concludes the section by saying, “Until we face this deep-running current of imperial hostility in our Christian history, we will not be able to forge a robustly benevolent Christian identity. Doing so will be painful. Many will shrink back from it.”
This book is a call to consider creative ways to “rediscover our compelling Christian mission.” It is an important read for all who claim the name of Christ. Unfortunately, there is a lot of negative publicity given to relationships between Christians and Muslims. When President Obama correctly mentioned the history of atrocities performed in the name of Christianity, his opponents unfathomably bristled. We need to learn how to acknowledge the truths of our history and heritage and seek ways to change.
In parts 2, 3, and 4, McClaren talks about our doctrine, our liturgy, and our mission. Throughout each part, McClaren does not suggest that we jettison what churches have done for centuries. He does not recommend changing our message or the foundational truths of Christianity. He does suggest, however, that we look for the mutations that have formed and address them. In other words, how has our application moved from what Jesus actually intended? These are difficult questions to ask, but they are necessary.
All in all, McClaren is calling for welcome and reconciliation. A radical fellowship and with-ness. In the part on liturgy, he suggests we view the table as less than an altar of sacrifice and more as a table of reconciliation and fellowship. What a profound change.
Step back and read news headlines. Check social media feeds. Look at the ways many who profess to be Christian talk about people of other religions, especially Muslims. Ask yourself if that is how Jesus would respond. Ask yourself if that is how you would respond if you met someone face to face as you walked along the road. Imagine a conversation between the leaders of the four largest world religions. What would that be like? McClaren suggests there would be no fear. Instead, there would be humility, love, and peace. I agree with him. I challenge you to read this book and see if you agree or not.