Beyond The Pale

Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

Beyond The Pale - Thoughts on Kingdom, Grace, Culture, and Church

When the “Good News” Becomes “Good” Again!

Paper Fortune Teller

Two years ago I had a paradigm shift in my faith when I read Brian Zahnd’s Beauty Will Save The World.  As I wrote then “I suddenly had my ‘spiritual mojo’ back!”  In hindsight now I realize that for years my theology was often times at odds with my faith.  It created a dissonance in my Christian walk which made me quite happy to remain sitting quiet in the back of a church service as opposed to up front teaching.

But Zahnd’s book was quickly followed by as slew of  other like minded writers; N.T Wright, Greg Boyd, Rob Bell, Peter Rollins, Paul Ellis, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Jay Bakker, Mike Lloyd.  These teachers, and a handful of others, helped me to see God’s plan for his sons, daughters, and this world were far bigger and better than my previous theology had perceived.

Suddenly “Mediocre News” became “Good News” again!

 

The Political Church

I realized much of the American Christian model, when everything is stripped away, is sharing pretty mediocre news with people… and, understandably, getting pretty mediocre results.  In America, by and large, the church sacrificed its prophetic voice years ago for political influence and in the process  successfully alienated a generation of young people on the horizon.

faith

We bemoaned the secularization of society blaming the atheists, humanists, and gays for it when in fact, the greatest catalyst for America’s turn from Christianity has been the behavior of it’s church.

* The church saw Jesus as a culture to be defended rather than a love to be shared

* The church chose a political team to support rather than supporting the duly elected

* The church became the behavior referees better known for calling a “foul” than announcing “Good News”

And as the church increasingly becomes more irrelevant and ignored by the average American, we are now becoming experts in claiming “persecution” and “victim” status.  Our “rights” are suddenly being violated.

Think for a moment where we would be if Jesus had started claiming his rights were being violated?  Hard to even imagine…

Instead when Christ was offered political power by the devil (in the wilderness) or by the people (to make him King) he rejected it both times.

Sadly the church has not!

 

Theology, Faith…and Hell

Then there is hell.  There is a funny meme going around Facebook showing Jesus at the door knocking.  It says:

Knock Knock…Jesus5

Who’s there?

It’s Jesus, let me in!

Why?

I have to save you…

From what?

From what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me in.

—————————————————————–

Now, that is a little cheeky but it highlights the underpinning of mainstream evangelical Christianity;  the threat of eternal damnation.  What better sales motivation is there than “If you don’t buy our product…you’ll burn in hell!”

How many people have “received” Jesus with a metaphorical shotgun to their head?  How can we share an unconditional love that is rooted in fear?

I can’t!

Because then it isn’t love…

Conclusion

So you can see my dilemma.  My mouth couldn’t speak anymore. I suspected my “good news” wasn’t all together that good.  When I got asked to speak somewhere I made a polite excuse why I was unavailable.  I preferred instead to hang out in the back row of Sunday service remaining incognito.

Now…you can’t shut me up.  I have GOOD NEWS to share again.

God loves you…you are his child, and you don’t have to be afraid!

I speak anywhere…anytime.  If I’m on vacation and get asked to speak…I speak.  Just this week I got asked to share at a young adults event.  I don’t know anything about it but I just said, “Yes!”  What I do know is there will be people there that need to know how much God loves them.

Funny how I changed when the “Good News” became “Good” again!

 

 

 

 

 

If Jesus Is The Word Where Does That Leave The Bible?

bible-11The Apostle John had a gift for describing what we may call in the 21st  century “the Big Picture.”  Rather than start his account of Christ’s life with a genealogy (Matthew) or with a historical narrative (Luke), John begins his gospel with an cosmological understanding of what had occurred that even Douglas Adams could appreciate;

* that God created everything in existence

* that very same God had just entered the world as a mortal man.

* that the God who became man was the keeper of Life and Light and darkness could not stand against Him

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome

John 1: 1-5

In light of this incredible declaration by John many Christian’s initial association with “the Word” is not Jesus…but the Bible!

Understand that for years I had been taught, and later taught others, that the Bible was the Word of God!   Jesus and the Bible were interchangeable!  When someone said they were “studying the Word” we knew they meant the Bible, not Jesus!

And if Jesus is infallible, well the Bible must be as well!

In Catholicism, there is a dogma of “papal infallibility” whereby the pope holds and defines doctrine for their church.  However with the Protestant Reformation  a new authority or “infallibility” was needed.

The Bible

Sola Scriptura! 

Infallible.

Examine many evangelical churches Statements of Faith and it is quite likely that the Bible is not simply the highest textual authority for guiding and governing Christianity.

It is inerrant!

inerrancy1.jpg.scaled500-300x210

Hey, I LOVE the Bible.  I have a very high view of scripture and believe it to be inspired by the Holy Spirit.   The scriptures points to and reveals Christ.

Having said that though the following would seem quite ridiculous to me:

In the beginning was the Bible, and the Bible was with God, and the Bible was God.  Scripture was with God in the beginning.  Through the Bible all things were made; without the Bible nothing was made that has been made.  In the Bible was life,and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome.

Brian Zahnd writes a great blog piece on the topic and says:

The Bible is the word of God that bears witness to the Word of God — Jesus Christ.

The Logos-Word became flesh — not a book.

Jesus is God. The Bible is not.

The Bible did not create the Heavens and Earth — the Word (Christ) did.

We worship Jesus; we do not worship the Bible.

The Bible is not a member of the Trinity.

The Bible is not God. Jesus is God.

The Bible is not perfect. (There are parts of it we now regard as obsolete; e.g. Levitical codes.)

Christ is the perfection of God as a human being.

What the Bible does infallibly is point us to Jesus Christ.

There is one mediator between God and man…and it’s not the Bible.

The Bible is the inspired witness to the true Word of God who is Jesus Christ.

Brian Zahnd – Scripture as Witness to the Word of God. 

I use the the Bible to understand and know The Word but these days I’m careful not to confuse one with the other!

More Thoughts on John Piper, God, And “Dexter”

John piperDoes pastor and theologian John Piper worship a different God than the one I do? That was the question I unpacked a couple posts back when I suggested that, based on some comments made by Piper, the God he worshiped looked more like the T.V. serial killer Dexter than Jesus.

As vexed as I was by the statements made by Piper such as,

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases.  God gives life and he takes life.  Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die. So everyday God is taking life.  He will take 50,000 lives today.”

I still had this bad feeling inside about suggesting we worshiped “different Gods”.  I have always been one who strived to pull the Body of Christ together despite theological differences.  I don’t care so much about opposing ideas on baptism, communion, or eschatology;  show me somebody who loves Jesus and I’ll show you someone I share the Lord’s Table with.

Then I received an e-mail from a friend about the post:

I have been pondering on this idea of how Piper
worships a different God…

I think this is a really tricky one… I guess he appears a different God
(because so harsh/horrible/ungood), but I hope it is the same one… because
I used to be quite conservative…, and I have
old friends who still like Piper.

And I think if we start saying that people with beliefs we find hard have a
different God, then we’d have to start writing off a good chunk of the
historical church. I am sure that is not what you meant, but I think it is a
somewhat perilous trajectory

He’s right!  It is a perilous trajectory…

Dividing the Body

During the 2012 American presidential election I remember being bothered that whenever President Obama would mention his Christian faith, many in the evangelical community would question, “Well, what God is he talking about?” and suggest that it was a “different God.”

I remember thinking how dangerous it is to divide the Body of Christ; to break the communion of the Lord’s Table with another person who claims Jesus as King.  Now I was doing the exact same thing!

I shared with another friend (yes this post solicited some e-mails) how I try to avoid singling out Christian leaders by name preferring to be more general when critiquing elements within the church.  But something stirred up in me when I saw that video of Piper saying how it may please God to slaughter women and children.

It would never please God!

And the last thing the world needs to hear is a respected minister of the Gospel revealing God as a cold heartless monster who is, nevertheless, capable of random acts of compassion on occasion.

As I suggested…When Piper describes God’s nature it looks more like Dexter than Jesus.

So although I would have to say Piper is my brother in Christ, I feel I must take issue with him in this area:

John Piper says: “It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases.”

jesus-with-children-2309-234x300

Jesus says: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom.” Matt 10:13

John Piper says: God gives life and he takes life. 

Jesus says: “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!” (Luke 9:60 in a parable on how his disciples are supposed to act)

John Piper says: Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.”

Jesus says: “Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords.” Matt 26:52

John Piper says: “He (God) will take 50,000 lives today.”

Jesus says: “The thief (Satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

 

Can We Know What God is REALLY Like?

Admittedly the Bible does have some conflicting verses which challenge the “goodness” of God. But Jesus came to clean up ALL those misconceptions.

Righteous Father, the world has never known you,
But I have known you, and these disciples know
That you sent me on this mission.
I have made your very being known to them—
Who you are and what you do—
And continue to make it known,
So that your love for me
Might be in them
Exactly as I am in them.

John 17: 25-26

We never really knew God.  The Old Testament writers never really knew God.  Jesus came to make God known to us.  Jesus and the Father are One so when we see how Jesus treats humanity, we know how God in heaven treats humanity.  (John 14: 8-11)

Replacing “God” with “Jesus” in John Piper’s statements reveal them for the absurdity they are:

“It’s right for Jesus to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases.  Jesus gives life and he takes life.  Everybody who dies, dies because Jesus wills that they die. So everyday Jesus is taking life.  Jesus will take 50,000 lives today.”

dexter1

To paraphrase and tweak Brian Zahnd’s quote from the last post:

God is not like Dexter!  God has never been like Dexter.  There has never been a time when God was like Dexter.  We haven’t always known that…

…but now we do!

 

John Piper’s God Looks More Like “Dexter” than Jesus

dexter

After reading my post yesterday on the great lengths God will go to for his children my brother Andy commented:

I just did a post about a John Piper video that is making a resurgence on the web… and I have come to a conclusion – You and he do not worship the same god. What do you do with a guy like Piper?

That had me curious.  Did one of the most famous theologians in America and I really worship different gods?

So I watched the video my brother shared.  In it Piper is answering a question about why it was OK for God to kill women and children in the Old Testament.

My thought was, “Well that should be a quick answer…it’s not OK”.

Apparently John Piper thinks otherwise.

Says Piper:

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases.  God gives life and he takes life.  Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die. So everyday God is taking life.  He will take 50,000 lives today.”

Piper goes on for five more minutes in a similar vein getting further and further away from the God who was revealed through Jesus Christ.

 

 

Jonathan Edwards Legacy

John Piper’s views on God’s nature did not form in a vacuum. Rather it has been shaped by the theological legacy of America’s Great Awakening 270 years ago.  The Great Awakening was a religious revival that has had a lasting impact on modern American Christianity.  It stressed a deep need for personal salvation and the consequences of a failure to respond to Christ.

Probably the most famous sermon out of the Great Awakening is Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

crisis_pic1

The title says it all.  Yes, according to Edwards God is very angry indeed!

The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell,
much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abho

rs you, and is dreadfully
provoked; his Wrath towards you burns like Fire;
he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but

to be cast into the Fire; he is of purer Eyes than to
bear to have you in his Sight; you are ten thousand
Times so abominable in his Eyes as the most hateful venomous Serpent is in ours. You haveoffended

him infinitely more than ever a stubborn Rebel did
his Prince: and yet ‘tis nothing but his Hand that
holds you from falling into the Fire every Moment

Excerpt: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

 

God abhors you!

God sees you like a loathsome insect!

God holds you over a consuming fire every moment!

Oh, and by the way…God also loves you…

Can you see why John Piper, and for that matter, a large section of American Christianity, appears schizophrenic to the rest of us?  They are trying to reconcile a psychotic serial killer and the Prince of Peace.  The result?

John Piper doesn’t worship God…he worships Dexter!

 

When God Looks Like Dexter

Dexter is a TV show about a police forensic specialist named Dexter… who is also a serial killer.  Dexter is aware of his brutal need to kill so he has constructed a series of rules (the law?) of who he is allowed to murder. Essentially he has created a way to methodically kill other murderers and “bad guys” allowing the release he needs to satiate his murderous nature and thus maintain the facade of a normal life.

Like Piper’s God, Dexter is capable of acts of incredible compassion…and incredible savagery.  The only problem is of course…

…he’s insane!

Honestly, I was only able to watch 6 or 7 episodes of the hit show despite many friend’s recommendations.  I struggled with that type of gratuitous violence, as well as the nasty feeling that came from rooting for a serial killer.

I found myself having the same nasty feeling watching Piper describe his God!

 

When God Looks Like Jesus
If we were still living in the Old Covenant, before Jesus appeared, Piper’s description of God could be more accepted…and forgivable.

Why?

Because people didn’t know God.  They hadn’t seen him and he had not revealed himself fully.  People got glimpses of what God might be like but at best they were like guessing shadow puppets on the wall.  But when Jesus showed up everything changed.

The Light had come into the world and we were invited to see God  for who he is with absolute clarity.

And guess what?  He didn’t look like Dexter at all!

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1: 18-19

Instead of a God who takes life, Jesus reveals a God who gives Life!

Instead of a God who sees humanity as loathsome insects, Jesus reveals a God who calls us his children!

Instead of a God who holds you over the fire, Jesus reveals a God who holds you close to his heart!

father-and-son

As Brian Zahnd says:

God is like Jesus!  God has always been like Jesus.  There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.  We haven’t always known that…

…but now we do!

Instead of revealing to the Body of Christ the nature of God through Jesus Christ, John Piper clings to a shadowy image of God found in the Old Testament when even John the Apostle implies that no one really knew or saw him clearly.

I have to use the verse I mentioned yesterday simply because it is such a contrast to the image of God projected by Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and much of the church with a “reformed” theology as their foundation:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

1 John 3:1

The Father’s lavish love for his children trumps “an Angry God” anytime!

When the church’s understanding of God comes more from Dexter than Jesus, well, we shouldn’t then wonder why the world sees the church as insane.

This Easter Which Messiah would YOU Choose?

barabbas

Barabbas

On that first Easter week more than 2000 years ago, many of us are  familiar with the moment where the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, in keeping with the Passover tradition of releasing one prisoner back to the people, offered the choice of freeing either Jesus of Nazareth or Barabbas.  Most people, however,  don’t know what Barabbas’ first name was.

It was Jesus!

Even more startling is the meaning of Barabbas.  “Bar” means “son of” and “abba” is of course, father.

Barabbas was Jesus, Son of the Father!

Barabbas was also a local hero who had led a riot that had killed Romans.

In this moment Jerusalem had a choice to make.  Would they choose to release:

* Jesus of Nazareth, who arrived as a prince of peace into the city just days before, not on a triumphal warhorse, but humbly on the colt of a donkey.

or

* Jesus, Son of the Father, who had already shown he was ready to pick up a sword to vindicate Israel and drive Rome from the Holy City.

Earlier in the week we see that Jerusalem was ready to back Jesus of Nazareth.  But this Jesus didn’t seem to care to much about the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. In fact, he barely mentioned Rome at all!  Instead he placed great importance about the state of people’s hearts…and, incredibly, seemed to see a relationship with God being beyond Israel to the nations of the Earth.

But Jerusalem had plans for their Messiah!  They were looking for a King of War…

and instead he came as a Prince of Peace.

Jesus knew the choice Jerusalem would make on that fateful day:

 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

Luke 19:41-44

Jesus offered them peace.  But deep down, they didn’t want peace.

  • They wanted a messiah that would prove they were right!
  • They wanted a messiah that would defeat their enemies!
  • They wanted a messiah that would show the world that God was on their side!

The crowd made their choice:

We want Jesus, Son of the Father, the false Messiah.

And what should be done with the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Alpha and the Omega…the “I AM”?

Jerusalem responded with one voice, “Crucify Him”! (Luke 23: 13-23)

Jesus wept for Jerusalem!

Jesus wept for Jerusalem!

So what about today?

When I hear (some) Christians talk today, I can’t help but notice the similarity in temperament with those citizens of Jerusalem so long ago.  They want Jesus to come again…but they have a certain agenda for him when he gets here.

Like the Jewish people who felt oppressed by the Romans, many Christians in the West increasingly see their values at odds the society around them.  One Christian in America I know even wrote to me, “the Barbarians are at the Gates”.

This is not good!

When Christians develop a “siege mentality” like Jerusalem did so long ago, their interests become parochial, political, and very self-serving.  They wave palms for Jesus on Sunday morning but secretly hope when he returns he will “kick a little butt” (so to speak).

  • They wanted a (returning) messiah that will prove they were right!
  • They wanted a (returning) messiah that will defeat their enemies!
  • They wanted a (returning) messiah that will show the world that God was on their side!

But that first Easter Sunday the Son of God declared that he was on no one’s “side”.  Instead, through his sacrifice, he would draw all men and women to his side. (John 12:32)

But that second list looks a lot like the first list.  Have we really changed?  Have we learned?

Given the choice between Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus, Son of the Father…I wonder which messiah Christians today would choose?

(Just want to note I was inspired to do this post after hearing a great teaching by Pastor Brian Zahnd which can be found here )

7 “Proofs” That God Exists!

proof

In Brian Zahnd’s book “Beauty Will Save the World” Zahnd suggests that Christianity has lost much of its shine and beauty in its endless pursuit of:

Apologetics: Defending Christianity and attempting to “prove” God

Ethics: Christians have appointed themselves the behavior police of not only the church, but the world.

The tragedy is that the focus on these two “missions” camouflage the  inherent beauty (Jesus) of Christianity.  A “Beauty that will Save the World”.

And isn’t that the problem Christianity is facing now?  We spend an inordinate amount of time on “ministries” that have little to nothing to do with the instructions our Lord gave us.  He told us to:

* Love God

* Love those around us beginning with our enemies.

Then Jesus tells us to go everywhere and share with everyone the good news (gospel) that they are FREE!  That they are invited into a new way of ordering society based on love, mercy, justice, and forgiveness.

Somehow though that message has got a little muddled as we somehow feel it’s our duty to defend God (who needs neither defending or to be proved) or to enforce our perceived norms on people around us (and convincing ourselves its just our “loving” them)

So I was watching a “Christian” TV show that came on in Hong Kong a couple days ago.  It was an American pentecostal minister and the title of the sermon was something like “7 Proofs that God Exists”.  I am always intrigued when these shows come on the “free to air” Hong Kong channels.  The cultural layers separating Hong Kong “urban Internationals” and American southern Pentecostals would have to make for an interesting sociology study.  In fact some Hong Kongers probably don’t “get it” and just figure it’s just one of those crazy American reality comedy shows.

Well, I was rushing to get out the door but had my curiosity aroused enough to stick around to see what he was going to say to “prove” God.  I was able to catch the first 3:

1) Creation Demands a Creator

2) Life Demands a Life giver

3) Laws Demand a Lawgiver

Really?  These are “proofs”.  To a 21st century audience you are going to claim these propositions prove the existence of God?

proof 3

Now I’m not suggesting these are not great things to contemplate as a Christian.  As a believer and as I mediate on God and study the Bible these statements are certainly worthy of further reflection to underpin my faith.

But I would certainly not use them on someone who didn’t believe in God as a tool to get them to now suddenly believe in God.

Point of fact, I don’t see a lot of Bible space given to “proving God” (A little Romans Chapter 1 comes to mind).  It just doesn’t seem like “proving God’s existence” was something we were supposed to give a lot of energy too.

But there are a number of things Christ says we should be giving some energy to.  Things that just may help “prove” God!

But Ok, So if its proof we need I got Seven “proofs” to get us started:

* Be kind to someone who doesn’t like you
* Speak nice about someone who talks behind your back
* Spend time listening to someone share their heart when they have no positive networking potential for you whatsoever.
* Doing an extra task at work for another even if its “unfair”.
* Find a neighbor who is out of work and show up with a few bags of groceries and something for the kids.
* Let someone who is in a hurry go before you
* Be a genuine friend to someone who doesn’t share your religious, political, or cultural beliefs.

So there is my seven “proofs” of God’s existence.  Believe me, if more people lived this way A LOT more people would believe in God.

 

 

What Does It Mean To Be Saved? Part 4

Jesus saves

When we say “Jesus Saves” what do we think of?

God’s mercy?

Love?

Forgiveness?

Unfortunately in the West the term has become a bit cliche and sadly often invokes images of wild eyed preachers on the street or TV pleading for us to repent or suffer eternal damnation.

But I like to think of it as coming home!

In Acts Chapter 2  we see the first instance of Jesus being invoked for the purpose of salvation since his sacrifice on the cross.  The disciples are huddled together when the Holy Spirit comes down on them.  It gets so crazy (yes, the first charismatic meeting) that everyone in the neighborhood comes out to see what the ruckus is all about.

The verdict from the onlookers is that it is just a drunken party. (A model for church? Mmmmmm Just asking…)

Anyhow, Peter, who just short time ago was denying Christ begins to publicly declare him to the crowds.  He goes into a detailed explanation Israel’s history all the way up to the point where they nailed their own God to a tree.

Peter continues:

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.

Acts 2: 36-40

The message of Jesus seems to produce two very distinct responses.  Either people are “cut the heart” and ask what they can do to respond or, like the religious crowd in Acts 5:33 they want to dig their heels in or even try to stamp out the message.

jesus saves1

This whole series has been about what does salvation really mean.  What must WE DO!  Which is what the crowd asks Peter.  Peter tells them, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

But Steve, isn’t this a different salvation than what Jesus was teaching in the first 3 parts of this series?

Not at all!

Jesus had been proclaiming his Kingdom and was inviting people to become citizens in a new way of ordering society.  He declared over and over the principals on which his Kingdom operated and how people who wanted to participate in that Kingdom would relate to God and those around them.  Jesus declared salvation whenever people were able to see his Kingdom (born again? John 3:3) and began to live lives in keeping with that.

Peter is doing the exact same thing!  His response is that they first repent which, rather than mean some crazy response from a wild eyed preacher, simply means to “change your mind”.  Acknowledge your going in the wrong direction and respond to God’s invitation to return.  Realize you carry the image of God in your spirit and you are his child.

Come Home!

Then be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  There are many names Jesus has been given and they all signify his attributes and character.  Baptism is an initiation and, in this case, a submersion.  Peter’s invitation is no different than Jesus’ was in the Gospels.

Come Home!

Change your direction, take up your birthright as a Child of God and acknowledge your citizenship in his Kingdom.  Then be submerged in his character and likeness (i.e. take on his name) “transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

And what are we saved from?

Peter is pleading with them not with the threat of eternal damnation but to stop being a participant in “this perverse generation.”  I think a lot of evangelicals forget that the Bible starts on Earth and ends on Earth.  Revelation ends (Rev 21) with Heaven descending again on Earth and being united…as it was in Genesis 1.

It’s always been about here.  Jesus came to bring heaven here!

kingdom passport

As Brian Zahnd would say we are being saved from the Kingdoms of this world which have always centered on an axis of power enforced through violence and invited to participate in God’s alternative society which is centered on an axis of  love and enforced through mercy and forgiveness.

Heaven and Hell start now and God is is still offering salvation to those that want to come home!

 

N.T. Wright & How God Became King

How-God-Became-King

Followers of Beyond the Pale know that the theme of the Kingdom of God has been resonating in my heart this last year.  In fact its probably the driving force behind my re-launching the blog with a priority focus on faith and Kingdom issues.  Since I’ve been sharing thoughts on “Kingdom” a couple friends have commented to me, “You must be reading N.T. Wright”

The fact is I hadn’t read any N.T. Wright but now that I have, I know why they thought I had.  He articulates an understanding of the Kingdom of God in a way that is not very clearly promoted by much of the church today.

In his latest book, How God became King Wright proposes that the ancient creeds that govern the average church mission statement are…incomplete.  Both the Apostolic as well as the Nicene creeds are similar in their silence about anything to do between Christ “being born of a virgin” to “suffering under Pontius Pilate.”

Wright then goes on to state that whenever we share the “gospel” with people we tend to skip over Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and head straight to Paul in order to explain the “gospel”.

We don’t actually use the “gospels” much to share the “gospel”.

N. T. Wright, being a member of the Church of England and former Bishop of Durham, has a great regard for the traditional creeds and he goes into a bit of history on how they developed and why they make the declarations of faith that they do.

As mentioned though, he ultimately views the Creeds as book ends (Jesus born, then jumping to to his suffering and death) and as being incomplete.  What Wright argues is what goes on in between, what fills the space that the creeds neglect, is the story of how the God of Israel became King over the whole world.

Says Wright:

The great creeds, when they refer to Jesus, pass directly from his virgin birth to his suffering death.  The four gospels don’t….Matthew, Mar, Luke, and John all seem to think it’s hugely important that they tell us a great deal about what Jesus did between the time of his birth and the time of his death. 

In particular, they tell us about what we might call his kingdom-inaugurating work; the deeds and words that declared that God’s Kingdom was coming then and there, in some sense or other, on earth as in heaven.  They tell us a great deal about that and the creeds don’t.

Wright then goes on to use a metaphor of sitting in a square room with audio speakers in each of the four corners.  Each one of them is sharing a different, yet very vital, aspect of the gospel story.   He breaks down and explains what is being transmitted out of each of the four speakers:

1) The Gospels are an organic fulfillment of the story of Israel

2) The story of Jesus is the story of Yahweh visiting his people, and this means that his deity is assumed

3) Jesus comes to launch God’s renewed people into the kingdom or into kingdom life. This is what eternal life is all about

4) The kingdom of God conflicts with the kingdom of this world, because it subverts the expectations of worldly kingdoms.

Depending on your Christian faith tradition and church background the book suggests that you may have some speakers turned up too high (causing distortion), some speakers too low, or in some cases, have a speaker turned off altogether.  In How God Became King Wright attempts to become the sound mixer and bring balance to each of these narratives.

NTWright

N.T. Wright’s latest book fills the gap in a lot of traditional evangelical theology.  When the gospels are seen as a “whole” and not simply reduced to it’s separate “sermon point” parts in support of random topics you really do begin to see that God was revealing something much, much bigger.

I think much of the church is only beginning to get the enormity of what Christ accomplished between his birth and his death.

Jesus effectively created an alternative society and now He is inviting people to become citizens of that life giving society or, put a better way, The God of Israel has become King of the world and he calls all men and women to be part of that Kingdom.

For me, I am hugely excited about what that entails.  I have become much more “evangelistic” when that became the message I was sharing.

Pastor Brian Zahnd calls N.T. Wright “the C.S. Lewis of our generation” So, I would really recommend giving How God became King a read soon!

My Year End Book Reviews: 2012

Last year I did a year end book review and as I look at it I realize how much my reading tastes has changed in a year’s time.  In 2011 not a single “Christian” book made my list.  In 2012 however, my reading list has been made up almost exclusively of books of a Christian “faith building” nature.   I chalk it up to the book that restored my spiritual hunger, Beauty Will Save the World by Brian Zahnd.

So, as 2012 wraps up and I write this last post of the year I thought I would give you my list of some top books I have read these last 12 months:

(In no particular order)

 
Beauty will Save the World by Brian Zahnd.

Zahnd suggests that we need to focus a little less on apologetics and ethics in our Christianity and let the natural beauty inherent in the faith rise again to the surface. Also has an amazing examination of the Sermon on the Mount which I unashamedly stole and used as a basis for a sermon a couple months ago. This book lit the fire in me that resulted in a flurry of reading that follows.

For my complete review of Beauty click here

 

The Gospel in 10 Words by Paul Ellisgospelinten

Paul Ellis, blogger over at Escape to Reality, wrote one of the “must have” books of 2012.  His The Gospel in 10 Words will unpack an understanding of God’s grace so completely you’ll be ordering extra copies to hand out to friends around you.

For my complete review of TGTW click here

 

How God Became King by N.T. WrightHow-God-Became-King

I literally just finished this book two days ago and can now say I am a full fledged N.T. Wright fan.  In How God Became King Wright fills in the blank left by the traditional Apostle’s and Nicene creeds which seem to jump in their declarations from Jesus being born of a virgin to suffering under Pontius Pilate.  What he fills the blank with is the gospels which explain how the God of Israel became King over all.

A full review is pending

 

Insurrection: To Believe is Human, To Doubt, Divine by Peter Rollinsinsurrection

Rollins writes in Insurrection that for many Christians, God is not part of the natural narrative of our lives but is wheeled out when needed to address a problem or or help in some manner.  Instead,  those that claim the Resurrection of Christ must be willing to take part in an Insurrection that challenges not only cultural foundations but the church’s.  Normally I shun books like this because the writers tend to be burnt out and angry.  Rollins instead is both humble and gracious even as he is challenging the very pillars of your beliefs.  And he will challenge them….this book is not for the faint of heart.

For my full review of Insurrection click here

 

Love Wins by Rob Bell

Rob Bell stirred a lot of controversy with his book Love Wins being accused of love-winsflirting with “universalism” (The belief that no one will be thrown into hell)  The book actually never says that and focuses on many other issues, issues I think have not been addressed in traditional evangelical circles.  When I did my review of the book I had some people quickly warn me what a heretic he is and others asking if we could talk more about it.

Read my full review of Love Wins here

 

Things Things unseenUnseen: Living in the Light of Forever by Mark Buchanan

 Rather than paint Heaven as the great “Here After”,         Things Unseen reveals a heaven that we can have written in our hearts.  A heaven that guides our actions and decisions here and now; and when the time comes that we do move on into eternity, we simply transition into the fulness of what we had already been living in.

Read the full review of Things Unseen here

 

Sacrilege by Hugh HalterSacrilege_163542

I actually met this guy in Denver Colorado years ago where his missional church Adullam is located.  Just finished this book and it is a great encouragement and practical guide for people wanting to make their church integrated with the community.  Oh, and as the title suggests, he smashes a few sacred cows along the way.

 

How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins

how-not-to-speak-of-godYes, my second Rollins book in as many months.  In this earlier book Rollins outlines some of the services they do in a bar called The Menagerie for his faith group IKON. I read one of the services outloud to Tammy on the balcony and she got so depressed  (they were trying to recreate the dark time of the soul the Apostles must have felt on the Sat. night between the Crucifixion and Resurrection) I thought she was going to jump…she didn’t. Alright, that’s an exaggeration; but it really affected her…as it was meant to.  OK, some of what they do at these meetings even offended me…oh yeah! :)   Loved it!

And now as 2013 begins I already have some great books lined up in my book reading queue:

The Gods of Christianity by Cornel Marais

http://www.charismaministries.org/

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

http://rachelheldevans.com/

The Idolatry of God by Peter Rollins

http://peterrollins.net/?page_id=3440

 

A Hong Kong Christmas Story

ImmanuelGod With USFor the last month my department at school has been working on a film to be  the “main event” at the yearly Christmas assembly held on the last day before the holiday break.   While I was writing the script I especially wanted to convey the message that “God is with us”.

Angel: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call him Immanuel

Mary: Immanuel… I know what that means…it’s Hebrew isn’t it?  It means…

Angel: God is with you…

The Hong Kong Christmas Story from CMED on Vimeo.

God is WITH us!

Much of the reason I wrote the story the way I did is because of the fresh understanding of what that name “Immanuel” means to me. That the creator of the universe, the “I AM”, the First and the Last,  chose to empty himself of all divinity and enter the human family as a baby.

Our DNA became His DNA..

…and by doing so he is able to lead us out of the darkness

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…

…For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1: 9-18

That is SO cool!  I can hardly read this portion of scripture without getting misty eyed…

The text says NO ONE has ever seen God but his son, in the act of becoming one of us, has made God known.

Now we can know exactly who God is, how he acts, and how he responds to events.  Want to know what God thinks?

Just look at Jesus!

As Brian Zahnd says:

God is like Jesus…God has always been like Jesus…There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.  We haven’t always known this…but now we do!

Merry Christmas everyone!