Friday, November 26, 2004
McLaren gives several examples of this, all of which I agreed with, but I found my own while looking at this week's scripture for the study I'm in on Sunday mornings in John. I was in John 6, and Jesus is teaching in Capernaum. As Jesus is teaching, he comments that he had 'come down from heaven', sent by God.
The people responded incredulously, saying that (in my words) 'we know his parents, Joseph and Mary, so how can he say he came down from heaven? It's not like he just stepped off a cloud...' They might even have been insinuating what they probably heard about Mary's pregnancy, reminding people that Mary was certainly pregnant when she married Joseph, and I suppose bringing to mind questions of who Jesus' father really was. But I digress...
So the crowd is already stirred up. But Jesus doesn't explain himself, doesn't defend his declaration about himself (at least not at this point), and he doesn't stop there. He goes on to say that He is the bread of life, and that people who eat the bread of life will live forever. And the crowd gets even more stirred up ('how can he give us his flesh to eat?').
Now, we know today what He was talking about. We've heard about it all our lives. But at the time, the people were already offended by his comments about having come down from heaven, and then he goes on to say (from their perspective, I surmise) that they'd have to EAT HIM to live forever. (Anyone remember that movie Alive, about the rugby team that crashed in the Andes and had to eat each other to survive?) Needless to say, the crowd was totally shocked.
So Jesus stops there, right? He lets them chew on that before throwing anything else at them, right? Nope. Despite their reaction, despite the fact that they were obviously not on the same page with him, he says this in John 6:53-58
53 ..."I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever."
He pushes them right over the edge. It's like the 'shock and awe' approach to teaching about God. He repeats that people will eat his flesh, adds that people will drink his blood, repeats both of those things several times (in case someone didn't catch it) and in the next few verses as people are turning to leave in disgust he asks if he offended them!
Again, the people couldn't have understood what he meant at that moment, unless the Spirit revealed something to them, and I don't think that's the case (there's no mention of that in the text, anyway). It's like, the point is, either you trust Him or you don't. Even if it sounds like the craziest, most truly insane, maniacal declaration you've ever heard -- either He's the One and is telling people what God wants them to hear, or not.
And then he asks the Twelve whether they'll leave too, based on these words he just spoke. But even though I'm pretty sure they're as clueless as the rest, they at least have made a decision that's helpful: they're with Him, no matter what.
Having read this a hundred times, its like I've never read it before. I wonder how often God says things to my heart that I dismiss outright as ridiculous? I wonder what I miss by my lack of faith? I wonder...
Sunday, November 21, 2004
- I have the most amazing family. My wife loves me (almost as much as I love her), she's gorgeous, and she spoils Piper and me rotten. My daughter is adorable, she's gotten big into giving hugs and kisses without being asked, and she has the sweetest smile I think I've ever seen. And we found out the other day that the 'one in the oven' is a boy! I'm very thankful to God for my family.
- I may be going bald, but my haircuts cost nothing. Seriously, that's huge. No, seriously!
- I live in what I truly believe is the greatest nation on earth, where I am free to pursue my dreams, where I am free to say what I like, and where I can worship as I please. Praise God! And may He help me not to take these things for granted!
- Chocolate. Always thankful for chocolate.
- I am so thankful for Southlake Church. I know God is working through His body all over the world, but my friends -- my family -- at Southlake are so precious to me. I'm glad to be in a place where so many people have such a real desire to know God, more and more.
- Dubya won. (Not that I ever really doubted...)
- I have a good job, if frustrating sometimes, where I make a comfortable living. And I have great friends there who really care about me.
- Did I mention my family? They're awesome.
That's probably enough for now. I thank God for each of these blessings. And I pray that you and your family would have much to be thankful for as well!
Grace and peace, Brian
Monday, November 15, 2004
I went ahead and finished the chapter, gave it a few days to let it simmer, then went back through it again. In the end, what I decided was giving me heartburn was the fact that McLaren commented in several different ways that we need to transcend the ideas of 'conservative' and 'liberal', and take the discussion to a higher level -- which is probably a good idea in many respects. But from that point forward he consistently slaps the hands of 'liberals', then turns and gives 'conservatives' a mushroom-cloud-size nuke.
For example, he gives a laundry list of ways that conservatives have 'gotten too comfortable' in using scripture to justify their actions, including perpetuation of slavery, marginalization of minorities and exploiting the environment, etc. Meanwhile, he has a single line about how liberals have 'gotten too comfortable', and in their case the only problem was (in my words) that they didn't have clear enough direction as to how to be good people. (Is there any question which way McLaren leans, when he's not 'transcending' the argument? And if you're wondering, I consider myself a conservative, politically speaking.)
Now, I suppose if I don't fit his description of a conservative, that might make me a liberal, in which case I guess I'm a pretty good guy already and I just need more direction. :-) Seriously, though, it seems to me that he conspicuously excluded identifying any areas that liberals have justified problematic behavior with scripture -- or perhaps it would be more correct (given his definition of a liberal) to say that he conspicuously avoided listing problem areas that have been caused or exacerbated by the lack of clear standards amongst liberals (given his definition of 'liberal').
I've kicked around several theories for why he would do that -- primarily that McLaren leans toward the 'liberal' side of the line when he's not 'transcending the discussion' (some of the political commentary on his website seems to make that clear), or possibly that McLaren's got a beef with conservatives because there is little doubt that they are his biggest critics -- but in the end, it doesn't really matter. I'm happy to say that, while I'm confident that McLaren and I don't share the same perspective on national politics, I have yet to see anything specifically relating to Christian Postmodernism (as McLaren describes it so far in the book) that is really inconsistent with what I believe.
So far, the most uncomfortable thing I've read about Christian Postmodernism (the thing that made me stretch the most) had to do with whether or not the Bible is authoritative. McLaren seems to say both yes and no depending on what page I'm on, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that the yes's are correct, and that when I think he's saying 'no' I'm just misunderstanding him.
To drop down in the weeds for a moment, McLaren argues (in my words) that the Bible is authoritative, but that we shouldn't be too confident in our understanding of anything we read there. Now, I frankly don't know how someone can really live in that state of mind about everything in the Bible. Not that we need to bash anyone over the head with what we believe based on Biblical teaching, but I have to think that there must be something that McLaren believes Christians can all agree on, regardless of culture. After all, Jesus Christ is the Son of God, right? God created the heavens and the earth? I find myself wondering whether McLaren would say that if we believe those things wholeheartedly we are taking a Modern approach to the text. But again, I'm willing to believe that I'm probably misunderstanding him.
One last thing and then I'm done (I promise). At the end of my last post I took a moment to say that no one should call me a Postmodern Heretic (or not yet). I must say as of the end of this post that no one should think that I don't like McLaren, or that I don't think he makes valid points. The heartburn I described above about conservatives/liberals didn't show up until page 50, and he had moved on to another (more comfortable) subject 3 pages later; so clearly most of what he is saying is consistent with what I believe. Further, I haven't even finished the book yet -- this is a running commentary -- so I am intentionally not making up my mind as I continue on this path.
I commit that I will continue to do my best to read the book objectively and critically to an extent, and continue to flesh out the raw concepts of Postmodern Christianity.
Blessings to you,
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
I must say, these are exciting times for me:
- Celeste and I are blessed with a beautiful 15-month-old girl, Piper, and we're expecting our second child, due in late March.
- Several things seem to be pointing me toward some sort of job change or even a career change in the near future. (Even if I stay with my current employer, the way things are currently going, it looks like my job will absolutely change in the next 6-12 months.) This is a good thing!
- And on top of that, I'm in a sort of self-discovery mode right now, participating in a small group study of the book 'Wild at Heart', recently taking a test to help me identify my strengths, and trying to better ground myself in my faith.
Relating particularly to the self-discovery activities, one of my current interests is the concept of postmodern Christianity. I was first introduced to the idea as 'Emergent' Christianity, which is (from what I can tell) a particular group of Christians who are attempting to examine their faith to determine how much of it is truly Biblical, and how much of it has been influenced or even distorted by the 'modern' culture of the last several hundred years.
One of the leading voices in this group is Brian McLaren, and I've begun reading a book he wrote called 'A New Kind of Christian' in the last week or so, plus I've been reading some additional information from his website. Along the way I was surprised by two things:
First, I was surprised to realize that postmodernism is related to (though not necessarily the same as) the belief that there is no absolute truth. (This shows my ignorance I suppose.) If you don't know me, I'm a believer in absolute truth - a 'right' and 'wrong' that is bigger than what serves my own interests in a given moment. So my knee-jerk reaction was to think that this 'postmodern/emergent' stuff is not going to be for me.
Second, after having the thoughts above, I read the first few of chapters of 'A New Kind of Christian' and so far I'm even more surprised to find that I haven't read anything about postmodernism that particularly bothers me. The concept so far strikes me as an ideology that questions everything, and doesn't take things at face value without really looking closely at it. McLaren comments in several places that 'younger' people have to some extent been exposed to postmodern thought their whole lives, and I suspect that's true of me.
One caveat: McLaren himself strikes me as a bit on the 'elite academic' side of the world, tending to position his arguments as if to say that his thoughts are really obvious, then adding in phrases indicating that he could maybe, possibly be wrong, but pretty clearly indicating that anyone who disagrees with him just doesn't understand. This is a bit annoying, but so far I think I've been able to separate my perception of his writing style from the details about postmodernism.
Now, don't anyone go reading this and decide that I'm a postmodern 'heretic' ... at least not yet. I'm still getting my arms around the issues, and I know I'm only on the threshold of what is involved in postmodernism. But I think it will be fascinating to see where this path leads. I wonder if anyone reading this will have a 'knee-jerk' reaction to postmodernism?
(How's that for a deep thought, right out of the chute?)
P.S. Have you talked with God today?
Friday, November 05, 2004
Having said that, if I thought anyone would actually read this...