Brian McLaren, well known here as a leader of the Emerging Church movement, has written a new book that argues that "Christians must move beyond traditional charity and work for systemic change that addresses the causes of human suffering." Earlier this week, Rachel Zoll interviewed McLaren about this book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises and a Revolution of Hope:
Q: How is what you recommend different than the humanitarian work churches do already?
A: It's not working within the paradigm that a lot of Christians work — which is all that God is ultimately interested in is extracting souls for heaven. And we might do some good works here on earth, but we don't really expect any of it to work, because the world is sort of, the toilet has been flushed and it's going down.
Q: What do you mean by systemic change?
A: You can make incremental changes within a subsystem but in order to actually change a whole system you have to get a lot of the parts changing all at once. ... You can pour money into building a school, but then if there's a war, the war wipes out all the benefit you got from the school and the school shuts down. You can improve agriculture, but if HIV runs through, then there's so much upheaval, then you can't maintain the advances in agriculture.
Q: But there's an impression churches are already so active on these issues. Why does anyone need to urge churches to do this?
A: One of the really important concepts is the difference between mercy and justice. There's that famous passage from Micah 6, "Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God." One way to describe it is unjust systems throw people into misery and mercy brings us to relieve some of their misery, but until we confront the unjust systems by doing justice we're never going to make a change. ... I think what churches in America, especially evangelical churches, are just waking up to is the way they have to deal with systemic injustice, not just charitable giving to people in misery.
Q: Are you trying to create heaven on earth?
A: As a Christian, I'm just trying to be faithful. I'm trying to live out what I pray when I pray the Lord's prayer, 'May your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth.' ... I'm not a utopian in any way.