To celebrate the beginning of Lent…
It’s Audience Participation Time!
McLaren’s first great Question shaping the New Conversation regards the flow, function, and substance of the Christian Story, particularly as regarded in Scripture.
Speaking of “Narrative Theology” has become quite the trendy thing in intellectual circles, and I use “narrative language” frequently in my ministry—it has the unique benefit of appealing to both so-called conservatives in my church for its Biblical emphasis, and to so-called liberals for its intrinsic openness and intellectual honesty regarding Biblical interpretation…yet it goes deeper than either view by challenging us to engage scripture not only intellectual, but experientially and formationally. That is, stories lodge themselves into our brains, and they have the power to shape and challenge us over time, as the stories become part of us. I think that’s how the scriptures were meant to be used, honestly.
However, the more controversial thing to discuss, I would think, is that all our theology, whether we recognize it or not, has narratival implications—and these implications are sometimes what sully the Christian story, and/or what make the Christian faith untenable for others. I’ll be posting more on narrative theology in general, but I thought I’d first try something fun to illustrate this last point. [well, at least fun for nerds like me.]
Two of my favorite activities as a kid were Mad Libs and Choose Your Own Adventure Books. In the spirit of these grand traditions….
I’m going to write an [over-simplified] “skeleton” of what is often considered the most basic flow of the Christian narrative… but with blanks that YOU have to fill in. Pick the response that most closely represents your views. I give a few suggestions for you, but feel free to write your own (one sentence/phrase) answer to each blank.
Keep in mind, I just took a stab at this… it’s imperfect, and no, I don’t represent every theological position, out there, and some of my grouping might feel a tad artificial, but they’re not meant to be perfect…. so, Theology Police, back off.
Now you (yes, YOU): feel free to take a stab at it and put your answers in the comment box at the bottom… don’t feel like every theological position you hold has to be defended here— just do your best… Feel free to “mix and match,” or change the suggested wording…do whatever you want.
[Funny answers are okay, too. I have no qualms against somewhat irreverent humor, as you’ll see.]
1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, because________.
a) He wanted to demonstrate His glory.
b) That’s who God is… a Creator.
c) God’s extravagant love compelled Him to create.
d) God got a “Heavens and Earth” Erector Set for His birthday.
2. Humans were created last, as the ________ of God’s creation, and God surrounded them with __________.
a) epitome….toys to play with.
b) chief stewards….creation to care for.
c) final act…the inalterable laws of nature and time to govern all things.
Hmm….I don’t remember this one….
3. This scene was ruined, however, when humans _______________, and God responded by _______________ and cutting them off from ________.
a) broke God’s commands…becoming angry….eternal life.
b) became “unholy” by sin… becoming disappointed…himself, because a holy God cannot be near what is unholy without destroying it.
c) became selfish… allowing them to pull away from him… the freedom of God, and they became enslaved to their own desires.
d) bungled their advertising project…saying “You’re Damned!”… the hit reality TV show “The Apprentice: God Edition.”
4. This situation was unacceptable to God, because ______________. So He resolved to fix it, beginning with Abraham, promising him a family __________________.
a) He liked having minions… of clones that he would later use to destroy the Separatist’s Droid army.
b) even though God ordained that humans be rebellious, it was nevertheless primarily their fault… that would be especially cared for, in order to be the lineage for the eventual Messiah.
c) even though God foresaw that humans would rebel, He did not stop them from doing so out of His preservation of free will… that would be chosen to bless the entire world.
d) even though God anticipated the possibility that humans would begin to devolve, He had hoped that they would not…that would restore the original purpose/plan that God had for the Creation.
5. Through Abraham’s family line, eventually a nation of people, the Israelites, were formed. Although they were enslaved in Egypt, God rescued them and gave them their own land. In addition, He gave them the law/covenant, because _______________.
a) God needed to provide an impossible standard for the people, in order to demonstrate that people are hopelessly sinful.
b) God wanted the Israelites to live according to the law, living according to a higher standard than (yet analogous to) the surrounding nations, in order to demonstrate a “life with God” to the entire world.
c) He wanted to give the priestly class the necessary means for exerting control over the people….i.e., the priests made it all up.
6. He gave them sacrifices, because _____________.
a) God for some reason loves it when you chop up living animals on an altar for Him, but gets grossed out when you cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk.
b) God needs some kind of bloodshed in order to satiate His wrath whenever the people sinned against Him… and better an animal than a human being, right?
c) God took a culturally-appropriate means of worship and gave it new meaning.
d) God wanted the people to have distinctive rites and rituals, to remind them that they were called to be distinctive as a nation.
“Poor wittle wamb….”
“Hey, better him than me!”
7. He gave them the tabernacle, and later the Temple, because ____________.
a) God ultimately wanted to be among His people again, however possible.
b) God used them to anticipate the coming of Jesus.
c) God got His jollies from watching the Israelites carry around a silly box, thinking that He somehow lived in/on it.
8. Later, He gave them a king ____________________.
a) in order to establish justice/equity in the community.
b) in order to create a royal line from which the Messiah could descend.
c) in order to help Israel kick some a$$ against their enemies.
9. After a time of prosperity, Israel forgot God. They ________________________.
a) started worshipping idols, forgetting that they were the people of Yahweh.
b) began to take advantage of, and even abuse, the poor and alien in their midst, contrary to the society of justice and peace that God wanted them to be.
c) failed to uphold the law, which was God’s plan all along.
d) ran up an astronomical bill at the “Mount Carmel Delight Resort, Spa, and Brothel,” including thousands of shekels in damages. (God: “That’s the last time I’m letting Israel borrow my credit card!” )
whoops, got Israel confused with someone else for a moment…
10. So God _____________________ and the people were conquered. After that, Israel was never the same, nearly always under the thumb of foreign rulers. Soon a new hope began to arise: a hope for _________________.
a) relinquished his protection…restoration of the nation.
b) unleashed his fury… the Messiah that would eventually come to absorb the anger of God that was meant for His sinful creation.
c) cried into His pillow that night…that God would stop avoiding Israel’s phone calls and forgive her for being so stupid.
11. This hope was fulfilled in Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem in Rome-occupied Judea, which was the moment when________.
a) God came near to humanity again in His fully-God and yet fully-human self.
b) God came to earth to do what humanity could not do on their own behalf; i.e., keep the law, as fully God and yet fully human.
c) God came to earth to give humans an example of what a human could actually do and accomplish.
d) a baby was born… plain and simple. It was what that baby ended up doing with his life that was extraordinary, not his birth.
12. He grew up in a small Galilean town, and grew up to proclaim the Good News that ________________________.
a) The Kingdom of God had come— that Jesus had come to establish a new way to live, in fulfillment of Israel’s original call.
b) Those who believe in Jesus the Messiah as the Son of God would be saved from God’s judgment.
c) The Kingdom of God had come near— that creation’s brokenness was being radically reversed due to God’s healing work and presence in the world, first demonstrated by Jesus.
d) The Kingdom of God was about to drop-kick the freakin’ Romans.
No doubt, if given the chance, Jesus would’ve punked those feather-duster-wearin’ Romans on the gridiron. Pretty sure I had that dream once, come to think of it….
13. In addition to His teachings, many miracles were reported around him. The people responded to Jesus _________________ because ________________.
a) with frustration… Jesus’ teachings were even tougher than the “old law.” But He taught in this way to them, again, only so that people would recognize how utterly sinful they were.
b) with hope… Jesus had come to fulfill Israel’s original purpose and function, even though many misunderstood what this was.
c) with offense… they didn’t like the fact that they were just the “temporary fix” to the problem, all just a big lead-up to Jesus.
d) by running away in fear… he trashed all their swag, all while brotha’ hit a note so high, it’s outlawed in 29 countries.
14. He also called other people to follow him as disciples, because _______.
a) the upside-down Kingdom of love that He was establishing would be continued on through the disciples’ own lives.
b) Jesus needed some company for the lonely journeys through the Judean countryside.
c) Jesus was an egomaniac who needed attention.
d) then at least some people could see Him die and then rise again, which proved that Jesus was divine.
15. Eventually He was killed on a cross ________.
a) to finally pay the hefty price-tag on all of humanity’s sin.
b) in an act of Roman cruelty, yet refusing to fight violence with violence.
c) in an ultimate act of love towards humanity.
d) in the culmination of living as a faithful Jew, and as their King (Messiah) God reckoned His life as having fulfilled the Mosaic/Abrahamic Covenant.
e) to be a sacrifice that would replace the need for all other sacrifices.
f) in an act of giving Himself up to the devil in exchange for the souls of humanity.
16. However, he was resurrected on the third day _________________ and appeared to His followers, among others.
a) demonstrating victory over the powers of violence and death
b) in order to prove His divinity to people, which made His sacrifice for all humanity possible
c) in the hearts of His followers
d) as a nice “bonus” to the real Good News that Jesus died on the cross for our sins
17. He ascended into heaven ____________ , and later, during the celebration of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples_____________________.
a) as spirit… in order to choose who would be saved and who would not.
b) , taking His humanity up into the Godhead… and so uniting divinity with humanity.
c) in a Criss Angel-like optical illusion… ,a.k.a. a drug-induced hallucination.
“No, really, that’s okay. I believe you’re alive now. Please don’t make me…”
“NO, dude, you gotta touch it! Trust me, it feels so weird.”
“No, Jesus, really, I appreciate the offer, but…”
“JUST TOUCH IT!”
18. In that moment the church was born, for the purpose of _________________________________.
a) telling other people about how Jesus died for their sins.
b) maintaining and perpetuating an institution that in its majesty and power reflects God’s reign over the world.
c) Being the “New Israel,” the people of God that will function as a “light to the nations” in the way that it loves and serves each other.
d) being the “body of Christ,” and thus continuing to bring the healing, teaching, loving, and serving to the world that Jesus did, living according to the way of God’s Kingdom.
e) one day creating mega-churches where you can go to worship, eat lunch, AND do your weekend shopping all in the same location!
19. The church now continues in its purpose, while continuing to preach the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus: ______________, by ____________. People become part of this community by ___________________________.
a) “The Kingdom of God has come to earth”…working towards redemption in all its forms…reorienting one’s life to Christ and participating in this Mission.
b) “Jesus died for your sins”…preaching and evangelizing…hearing the Word and then praying for Jesus to come into their hearts.
c) “God is love”… loving everyone…being loved and loving others.
d) “God has chosen His people to be saved from His wrath”… preaching, which God uses to draw His elect… submitting to the inevitability of one’s fate.
e) “God wants you to live the best life that you can”… working hard and being a good person—oh, and going to church sometimes… telling people that you’re a Christian.
f) “Panera gives you quality coffee with free refills and free Wifi!”… going to Panera whenever possible and ordering Panera pastries and coffee for your office meetings… beginning to spend your Saturday afternoons at Panera, forsaking Starbucks and all other idols.
20. Eventually God will ___________, heaven will________; earth will __________. This will fulfill God’s original intentions for the creation because _______________________.
a) rescue His chosen and then as Judge invoke His fury against the world…become the safe haven for the chosen…be destroyed, except for hell, which will persist forever as God’s eternal punishment for people’s sin…the whole purpose of the creation was to demonstrate God’s glory, and what shows God’s glory more clearly than utter annihilation and eternal suffering?
b) rescue His people and then allow Satan to unleash His fury against the earth… be the safe haven for those who made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ… be destroyed and then restored, ready to be God’s home again (with the exception of hell)… God is once again without dissenters and can start over with the creation process, just like He did with Noah [sure, He promised He’d never destroy the earth and “start over” again, but that was with a flood, so that was totally different.]
c) complete and actualize the redeeming work of the church in the world, and then all will be resurrected, and as Judge, Jesus will invoke His justice to all, Christians and non-Christians alike, according to how they lived…become one with earth…become one with heaven… this is how things began, even though the history and culture of the world will in some way be preserved in the New Creation.
d) sit back and watch as the world destroys itself… increase as pure souls become One with God… only where pain and suffering resides… creation was the “holding cell” for our souls until we could escape to be one with God again.
e) Return to His creation to complete its restoration, and Jesus will invite all of humanity to participate in it, all having been redeemed by His fully efficacious sacrifice… join with earth…join with heaven… everything will be made new and whole, as God originally intended, and pain and suffering will be gone.
21. This message is hopeful to the world because ______________.
a) well, you’re among the elect, aren’t you?
b) there’s a way out of the impending doom!
c) God loves you….yes, even you.
d) there will be justice for all who are oppressed one day, for those who could not receive it in this age.
e) it means that, as God’s chosen, living in the temporary creation, I can basically live however I want, no matter who it affects, and still get to party with Jesus in the New Kingdom…. so that’s a pretty sweet deal.
Party people, line up!
Make a list #1-21 and note your answers for each number. If you like one of my options, just put down the corresponding letter.
In case you want it, here’s the entire story-skeleton together:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, because________. Humans were created last, as the ________ of God’s creation, and God surrounded them with __________. This scene was ruined, however, when humans _______________, and God responded by _______________ and cutting them off from ________.
This situation was unacceptable to God, because ______________. So He resolved to fix it, beginning with Abraham, promising him a family __________________. Through Abraham’s family line, eventually a nation of people, the Israelites, were formed. Although they were enslaved in Egypt, God rescued them and gave them their own land. In addition, He gave them the law, because _______________. He gave them sacrifices, because _____________. He gave them the tabernacle, and later the Temple, because ____________. Later, He gave them a king ____________________.
After a time of prosperity, Israel forgot God. They ________________________. So God _____________________ and the people were conquered. After that, Israel was never the same, nearly always under the thumb of foreign rulers. Soon a new hope began to arise: a hope for _________________.
This hope was fulfilled in Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem in Rome-occupied Judea, which was the moment when________. He grew up in a small Galilean town, and grew up to proclaim the Good News that ____________________. In addition to His teachings, many miracles were reported around him. The people responded to Jesus ______________ because ________________. He also called people to follow him as disciples, because ___________. Eventually He was killed on a cross _______________. However, he was resurrected on the third day _________________ and appeared to His followers, among others. He ascended into heaven ____________ , and later, during the celebration of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, because _____________________. In that moment the church was born, for the purpose of _________________________________.
The church now continues in its purpose, while continuing to preach the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus: ______________, by ____________. People become part of this community by ___________________________. Eventually God will ___________, heaven will________; earth will __________. This will fulfill God’s original intentions for the creation because __________________. This message is hopeful to the world because ______________.