“Indeed the word doctrine, a word fallen on hard times in contemporary culture, actually means a ‘healing teaching,’ from the French word for doctor. The creeds, as doctrinal statements, were intended as healing instruments, life giving words that would draw God’s people into a deeper engagement with divine things. When creeds become fences to mark the borders of heresy, they lose their spiritual energy. Doctrine is to be the balm of a healing experience of God, not a theological scalpel to wound and exclude people.”* – Diana Butler Bass (Christianity after Religion)
Thursday, January 10, 2013
"It seems ridiculous to imagine that he would be insecure among them, considering them his rivals, or that he would find it necessary to extract from them explicit agreement on fundamental doctrines before condescending to cross a road with them. It's unthinkable, if one of them came to confer with him by night like Nicodemus, or in broad daylight like the rich young ruler, that he would intimidate them, threaten them, call down fire upon them, patronize them, or humiliate them. Maybe his followers would pull out a sword and slash off their ears, or herd them and their followers into ghettoes, concentration camps, or reservations where their influence could be limited. But never Jesus. Never."
It is all too easy to imagine two alternative approaches to the Christian faith. The first one being a strong and hostile faith and the second one being a weak and benign faith. The first approach having a distinctive Christian identity and at the very least a strong suspicion of people of other faiths. The other approach is one that is benevolent towards other faiths but lacks any thing to make it distinctively Christian. A third approach we could imagine is one which tries to make the two meet somewhere in the middle, a faith expression that is moderately strong and moderately benevolent.
For Brian McLaren none of the above approaches is good enough, so he sets out to find something better with the words of his (unnamed) mentor in mind:
"Remember, Brian: in a pluralistic world, a religion is judged by the benefits it brings to its nonmembers."
The question that this book wrestles with is if it is possible to have an expression of the Christian faith that is both strong and benevolent. Can we remain faithful to the distinctive movement of Jesus without having distrust and hostility towards other faiths? In doing so Brian, through out the book, effectively re-orients the question as How can we not and still be faithful to the movement of Jesus?
Because we may not have a choice... If we don't find a way to re-form our Christian (as well as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist,Native American Spirituality, etc...) faith communities then we may very well find that we not only have not lived up to the best that our traditions offer but we have destroyed ourselves in the process.
I cannot recommend this book enough! Brian McLaren is truly a gift to the Christian community and I have learned so much from all of his writings. In light of the events of recent decades this may be one of the most important books you can read (whether you claim any religious faith or not) in regards to how we can live together as well as create a livable world for future generations.
You can grab you're very own copy of the book here and while you wait for it to arrive you can look forward to a few excerpts that I plan on posting.
Grace & Peace
Monday, January 7, 2013
Slavery is a loaded word, especially for American Christians who have had a less than stellar past in regards to this issue. Which is why I’ve been excited to see and hear about the over 60,000 young people at this year’s passion conference in Atlanta that have made a clear statement that modern systems of slavery and especially human trafficking need to be confronted.
I’m excited because young evangelicals are making a definitive move away from the hyper-individualistic, hyper-spiritual ideology that plagued the faith experience of my conservative, evangelical childhood. These young people are waking up to the reality that the Christian faith is not solely concerned with ‘my heart’ and ‘my personal relationship with God’. It’s a move towards a more materialistic* faith that understands that the community of Christ has a responsibility to oppose the systems of violence and oppression, the principalities of darkness of the world.
I’m excited because of my friends who are proclaiming that in Jesus, God was not just offering us (spiritual) freedom from (spiritual) sin; God was proclaiming freedom, in the fullest sense of the word, from the sinful systems that enslave and exploit people.
I’m excited because American Christians (as well as Christians all around the world) have a desire to own up to the failures of our past and are committed to not making the same mistakes.**
I’m excited about the possibility of a world in which human trafficking is no longer tolerated, and where the captive are set free.
I’m excited because these young evangelicals are bringing energy and passion (see what I did there?) to the conversation that the occasionally jaded churches on the left have not had in a long time. I’m excited because people on both sides of the aisle are getting excited about ending human trafficking.
And I’m excited about the way in which this issue transcends the old conservative/liberal divide. Human trafficking is the one issue where we agree that something has got to change, and we can be a part of that change. This is an issue that has the potential to bring all of us together.
I’m not saying that our doctrinal differences should be minimalized or ignored, and I’m certainly not saying that our differences and disagreements don’t matter. However, I do think that for the sake of our future and for the sake of the world we need to come together in spite of these differences and be united by the reconciling, redeeming, restoring, ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ movement of Jesus.
Grace and Peace
*When I say materialistic I do not mean one of the common uses of the word that means something like “greed for material riches”. I’m also not referring to the materialism of philosophy which says that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena. When I say “more materialistic” I mean a faith that is not only concerned with hyper-spiritual matters, but rather a holistic faith that sees the physical and spiritual as deeply intertwined.
** To be certain there were many Christians in our history that also spoke out against slavery and we would do well to not be so arrogant as to think that we finally got it all right when our ancestors couldn’t. Like them, we are haunted by the ghosts of our colonialist past and we run the risk of having an attitude of ‘We are from America and we’ve come to solve all your problems for you’ that reflects our colonial arrogance and sense of superiority. This attitude does not reflect Christ and usually does more harm than good.
If you are interested in getting involved with countering human trafficking I suggest checking out Slave Free Earth.
Friday, January 4, 2013
The Little Vagabond
by William Blake
Dear mother, dear mother the Church is cold,
But the Ale-house is healthy and pleasant and warm;
Besides I can tell where I am used well,
Such usage in Heaven will never do well.
But if at the Church they would give us some ale,
And a pleasant fire our souls to regale,
We'd sing and we'd pray all the livelong day,
Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray.
Then the Parson might preach, and drink, and sing,
And we'd be as happy as birds in the spring;
And modest Dame Lurch, who is always at church,
Would not have bandy children, nor fasting, nor birch.
And God, like a father, rejoicing to see
His children as pleasant and happy as He,
Would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the barrel,
But kiss him, and give him both drink and apparel.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
In Genesis 18 Abraham is standing with God looking out at the city of Sodom when God reveals to him that the cries of injustice coming from Sodom are very serious and that he has decided to destroy the city because of this.
But Abraham, being ever so bold, argues with God saying, “It’s not like you to do this, killing the innocent with the guilty as if there were no difference. It’s not like you! Will the judge of all the earth not act justly?”
So God changes his mind and tells Abraham that if there are just fifty innocent people in Sodom then he will refrain from destroying the city. Still Abraham persists to argue and eventually works God down to just ten innocent people being enough to redeem the whole city.
In Exodus 32 Moses is standing with God on a mountain and God reveals to him that because the people of Israel have rejected the one true God for idols made of gold he has decided to wipe them all out and start over new with Moses.
But Moses responds, “Calm down your fierce anger. Change your mind about doing terrible things to your own people,” and reminds God of Abraham and the promise God made him. So, “Then the Lord changed his mind about the terrible things he said he would do to his people.”
If, as some presume, God knows the future then how can he change his mind? If God changes his mind about something then wouldn’t that make the future he previously thought he knew untrue? Or if God knew he would change his mind then wouldn’t it be dishonest to say that he was going to do something that he knew he wasn’t going to do? And what about all the times in the Bible when God is genuinely surprised? How about when God is genuinely disappointed?
You could say that the language about God changing his mind or being suprised is just humans projecting onto God (It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that happened). But let’s imagine for a minute that it’s not a projection.
This would raise some really interesting questions about the future.
For example, if people truly have free will and are free to change our minds, then how can God know for sure what will happen? If the future is already foreknow by God are we truly free to act in a way that is not in line with that?
If people really can and do make actual choices then it seems that there must be different possible futures? So it could be said that the future exists not as actualities but as possibilities. But if the future exists only in the realm of possibility then can God know the future?
Well yes and no…
God does not know one future but rather all of the possible futures. In this sense God’s knowledge is not limited by the nature of the future, but rather expanded by it.
But if God only knows the future in the realm of possibility then how can God make specific promises about the future? How could God have promised a Messiah to the people of Israel without misleading them?
We could say that God is very creative (as you might imagine the creator of the cosmos would be). Not only does God know all of the possible futures but God also knows a creative way to bring about his desired results in every potential future. So if there are an infinite number of potential futures then God has an infinite number of ideas of how to redeem each future into the future he is creating. The example of Jesus then becomes a first fruit or a foretaste of the way in which God is redeeming the brokenness of the world into new creation.
Still, another question persists. If God knows all the possible futures is he completely in the dark as to which possible future we will make actual?
We can so no to this by remembering that God knows us in an intimate, relational way. God knows us like a person knows a very close friend or sibling, like a teacher knows their students or a parent knows their children to use just a few of the examples found in the Bible. When we are with a very close friend we generally know how they will react to certain things. We know what will make them happy and what will make them angry and we know what not to say when they get upset.
We don't know these things in a scientific sort of way, like we know that two plus two always equals four. We have relational knowledge of the person, as opposed to empirical knowledge. Likewise, God knows us very well and has relational knowledge of us in regards to what possible future we will make actual.
This understanding allows for humans to actually make choices as well as be in a genuine relationship with God, as opposed to a manipulative one. It also allows for God to promise specific things about the future and still be genuinely surprised when things happen or change his mind in response to human actions, like Moses speaking up for the people of Israel or any petitions of prayer.
Grace and Peace
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
"Paul was not a systematic theologian in the Christian tradition of that enterprise. He was a missionary whose Pastoral letters strove to help churches faithfully play the roles God had assigned them in the drama of Israel as that drama was being brought to its head in Christ. He was a director, cuing the understudies to imitate the Master Actor's performance. He was a narrative theologian, writing letters to churches to help them see more clearly how God had written them into the cosmic story of salvation. The upshot of all this is that we are being the most faithful stewards of the Pauline correspondence if we use these letters to help us narrate our own communities' participation in the Jesus story."
Paul, unfortunately, has been used to champion all sorts of things that in our modern worldview do not look very good. Were as Jesus is seen as the liberator of the oppressed, Paul is soon as someone who supports slavery, bigotry, sexism and most recently the rejection of equality for homosexuals. He is also accused of being someone who is only concerned with a "heart" religion and has done little to continue the imminent physicality (healing, feeding, clothing, freeing, mourning with, etc...) ministry of Jesus. This apparent disconnect has left many people who want to follow Jesus but have not found an ally in Paul thinking something like Jesus have I loved, but Paul have I hated.
So Kirk sets about the task of deconstructing this, what he considers misguided, view of Paul in exchange for a view of Paul that locates him in the narrative of the God of Israel who is bringing about new creation. This reading requires us to understand Paul as situated in a specific time and place with a specific mission and expectations. Furthermore when we read Paul in the narrative of the God of Israel we recognize that the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus is the climax of that narrative, and Jesus has to be the lens which we view Paul through.
With that in mind Kirk works through issues like new creation, community, inclusion, women's roles, slavery, justice and sexuality. On every issue he starts with Jesus and works his way over to Paul, always reading him with the larger, cosmic narrative of God's redemption in mind. He concludes that Paul is always inviting us into more faithful participation in the incoming Kingdom of God, which involves figuring out what exactly that looks like in our own place and time.
"There is, of course, a danger here, that we might confuse 'what is happening in the world' with 'what God is doing in the world,' as though these two statements meant the same thing... But there is a danger in falling off the other side of the horse as well, the danger of so restricting the activites of God to the church or to issues of personal spiritual growth that we miss our calling to praise God for what God is doing in the world and our summons to participate with this broader work as a component of our own Jesus stories."
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
“ "I believe that leaving religious status quo unquestioned is potentially destructive. The word destructive is often associated with the word deconstructive, but the association is erroneous. Deconstruction is not destruction, it is hope. It arises from the belief that sometimes our constructed laws get in the way of unseen justice, our undeconstructed words get in the way of communication, our institutions get in the way of the purposes for which they were constructed, our formulations get in the way of meaning, our curricula get in the way of learning. In those cases one must deconstruct laws, words, institutions, formulations, or curricula in the hopes that something better will appear once the constructions become obstructions have been taken apart.” – Brian McLaren