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The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be a Christian

Image of The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World's Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian
Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
May 2017
Fred's Rating: 
Brian McLaren
Total Pages: 
Convergent Books

Brian McLaren is a Christian thinker, author, and activist, with a former pastor with a background in literature. He is an Auburn Senior Fellow and a board chair of Convergence. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.)

The Amazon website for the Kindle edition of this book is

I bought the hardcover edition, but I give here the Kindle edition instead of the hardcover edition. Both editions skip some of the content in the Preface and Introduction. The Kindle gives all 5-pp of the Preface but ends on page 8 of his 15-pp Introduction. So I add some excerpts from the rest of the Introduction.

First read on the home page an excellent summary (click on ‘Read more’ to get all of it). I recommend reading this summary before using Amazon’s ‘Look inside’ option. I use single quotation marks either to indicate where he used italics or where he used double quotation marks (which I use when quoting Brian McLaren). I use square brackets when I insert my comments for clarification. Next I give a few excerpts from the last 7-pp of his Introduction.

“Where are we moving toward? My most direct answer would be that we are migrating toward a profound ‘conversion’ in Christian faith. We are seeking a change in the content, not just the can; in substance, not just in style or structure.

“The word conversion can be scary, I know, especially if Christian faith as you've understood it has done you more good than harm. It’s a little like the word ‘surgery’ or ‘chemotherapy’; a doctor utters one of these words, and you whisper to yourself, ‘I didn’t think the diagnosis was ‘that serious’! But you’ll see in the coming chapters why I believe our beloved faith’s diagnosis is, indeed, serious, and the need for migration and conversion are real.”

Now I skip ahead to the last two pages of the Introduction, where he summarizes it and the book’s order. “Christian faith, we might say, was born on a weekend, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Those three days represent three essential movements that we must experience, as individuals and as communities, so our faith can be born anew.

“First, on Good Friday, there is a painful death, a letting go. For us today, this represents the collapse of what I call ‘belief-system Christianity.’ Such a death is traumatic and must be faced with courage and resolve. Our little inner fundamentalists will be chattering constantly, threatening us with hellfire and damnation for even daring to consider that the essence of Christian faith might not be our beliefs. If we are willing to endure the trauma of Good Friday and experience this ‘spiritual migration’, we will discover that our faith can be reborn, nor simply as a stronger or purer system of beliefs, but as something bigger, deeper, and richer: a way of life, which is the way of love. That will be our work in Part I of this book.

“[Second] Saturday represents a silence, a contemplative pause in the aftermath of Friday’s loss, a coming to terms with what Friday’s traumas meant and will mean. If Friday represents a letting go, Saturday represents a letting be, a sinking to the depths, a descent to a deeper vantage point. [What first came to my mind, when thinking of a deeper vantage point, is the opposite of the Christ-on-cross image of the Catholic Church. Instead I think of the large empty cross in my church that reminds me that Jesus tells us to pick up our cross to follow his way of love and compassion.] In Part II, we’ll face some tough truths about the great damage that conventional, unconverted understanding of God have caused and are causing. Then we’ll see how a positive shift in our basic understanding of God – a ‘theological migration’ – can unleash Christianity’s unseized potential for healing and transformation in our world.

“[Third] Part III corresponds to Easter Sunday. Having let go of so much on Friday and Saturday, we can now travel lighter, rising up in a ‘practical’, ‘ecclesial’, or ‘missional migration’. We’ll develop a fresh understanding of communities, institutions, and movements so we can migrate from ‘organizing’ religion – that is, ‘religion organizing for the common good’. This movement orientation, we will see, sustained and empowered by a joyful spirituality that produces ongoing, lifelong, multigenerational transformation.

“Some readers will gravitate strongly to one of these migrations and will wonder why I included the other two. My reply would be that because I travel widely across the Christian traditions, I see how all three are needed in various sectors of the Christian community, and, ultimately, I believe all three are inextricably related. Be that as it may, I hope readers will feel free to concentrate on the parts of the book that they are ready for now, and come back to the other parts later (later, but as soon as possible, I would hope, for reasons that will be clear in Part III). The same goes for the material in the appendices.

“As you read, be aware that others at all levels of church life and in all sectors of the Christian community are considering the same challenges and opportunities as you. Open yourself to the possibility that you and they are being orchestrated in a genuine movement of the Spirit, that together we are being led and called together into a better way of being Christian, and a better way of being human.

“’Stop!’ some people have told you. ‘You’ve gone far enough.’ ‘Go back!’ others have said. ‘You’ve already gone too far.’ ‘Go farther!’ the Spirit is saying. ‘Move forward!’” [His introduction ends here.] But the Introduction and each chapter of this book has a page entitled “Contemplation, Conversation, and Action” and the Conversation usually has several questions for the reader to consider carefully – I often had to go back to reread in order to find my best answer to each question, but it was always wise to do so, for if a reader skips these questions, then he/she isn’t getting the most that can be gotten from this very insightful, inspiring, and thought-provoking book.

For me, a very important chapter of this book is Ch. 5 – God 5.0. My first reaction to his using what I normally think of as version numbers, like version 5.0 of some computer code, was a poor choice. But, once I read it, I reconsidered because he used the version number to describe the usual sequence in one’s learning about a religion. I summarize his meaning for each stage (not a version number but a stage of knowledge or wisdom). God 1.0 is the early stage (infancy or very early childhood) where you believe that which your parents tell you is right: “a primal trust in God 1.0, a God of loving faithfulness.” When you “graduate” to God 2.0, comes the “tough job of calling you beyond selfishness to generosity.” Then “As you entered the young adulthood, you were graduating to God 3.0: the God of rules and fair play whose job was to reward the rule keepers and punish the rule breakers.” McLaren adds that God 1.0 and God 2.0 “were still there” in God 3.0. God 4.0 usually comes when “you fall in love for the first time.” …”You started to think in terms of two, voluntarily linking your well-being with the well-being of another. There were no simple rules for this new territory in life, so you needed a new concept of God to guide you beyond the simplicity of rule keeping, and God 4.0 came into view: A God of affection, fidelity, forgiveness, and family.” [But “coming into view” lacks some essentials of the Way of Christ.] “There’s just one problem. God 4.0 is the “God of the ‘exclusive we’, whom we met in Ch. 4, the one who shows favor to ‘us’ but not ‘them’.”

Later in Ch. 5 he includes a summary paragraph of God 1.0 through God 4.0. It is simplified, but he puts it in the form of the evolution of religions, so I need to give all of it. “Our ancestors developed new kinds of governments to support and regulate life in their enlarging exclusive we. Religions evolved and adapted as well, as did God concepts. No group could thrive without helping people learn to trust (through God 1.0), to transcend selfishness (through God 2.0), to respect rules (through God 3.0), and to love one another in family and nation (through God 4.0). And no group could thrive without being ready at any moment to defend against or attack other groups – each of which was united by a different version of God 4.0. Groups with the biggest and best God 4.0 gained important survival advantages over their counterparts, and God 4.0 proved remarkably flexible, serving small tribes and global empires with equal efficiency.”

Today’s world and most of its religions have not gotten beyond God 4.0, unforgivably. So if you think, hard and honestly, about this, most religions, including the three monotheistic ones, have not yet realized their violent status. To put it in Christian words, reaching only the stage of God 4.0 means the kingdom of God is still neither here or even yet near, as sad as that realization seems. And fundamentalists in any religion don’t want to change – they accept violence – to protect them and theirs against any others. But Brian McLaren thinks positively. Near the end of Ch. 5 he says “… thousands of Christians across many denominations have been rediscovering the contemplative and monastic traditions. These spiritual seekers have, with the help of contemplatives and mystics, embraced a vision of God that is bigger and deeper than God 4.0: a God of unfathomable compassion who can be encountered through spiritual practices and silent solitude, not just through words and arguments and longer words and hotter arguments.”

He ends Ch. 5 with a question and his answer: “How can they [many others] not proclaim that it is time for God 5.0 to emerge?” …”At this very moment, inspired by all this foment and theological creativity, a grassroots movement of Christians is springing up around the world. Christians everywhere are reading new books, following new blogs, attending new conferences and festivals and retreats where new ways of thinking are possible. Courageous leaders of previous generations have opened many doors, and today’s emerging trailblazers are walking through them. They aren’t waiting for anyone’s permission. They have all the permission they need. A great theological migration has begun.” In Ch. 5 he makes no predictions of when God 5.0 will emerge to all Christians and for the world to respond properly.

Chapter 8 – Salvation from the Suicide Machine – speaks of migration as salvation. He gives ”three preliminary examples of the kinds of movement proposals, demands, and refusals to comply that are taking shape for many of us: (1) We call upon just and generous Christian communities who have embarked on this great spiritual migration to identify themselves. Where no such communities exist, we call upon Christians to start creative new ones.” …”(2) We call upon Christian leaders and parents to begin afresh with children, youth, and college-aged adults.” …”(3) We call upon Christian communities, movements, and institutions to recruit different leaders and train them differently (and without debt, if possible).” Chapter 8 ends with “The journey of salvation and liberation is long, the risks and dangers are many, and the costs are high.” [At this point, upon my second whole-book re-reading, I asked myself how many generations will this take? I have no answer, neither does Brian McLaren.]

I close this review by giving, from the end of Appendix III, his worldview as A Converging Table: “Traditional Christianity has focused on a clear list of prescribed conceptual beliefs, while its story, saints, and vision of the future have been present, but secondary and far less clear. I propose that it is now time to reverse that emphasis, and come together around a sturdy table upheld by four legs, with bread and wine in the center, speaking to us of Jesus.

“Around this table we will celebrate the meaning and joy of ‘the loving way of life’ embodied by Jesus. Around this table, we will commune and be filled with ‘the nonviolent, liberating Spirit of God’ embodied by Jesus. And around this table, we will ‘organize people’ for mission so more and more of us can become embodiments of Christ in our world, ‘working for the common good.’

“This is good news of great joy for all people – good news to believe in, good news to share, good news to launch a great spiritual migration.”

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this very insightful, inspiring, and thought-provoking book, both the uplifting parts as well as the needed hard-to-take parts. I give it a five star rating.

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