RSS

Tag Archives: postaweek2011

God wants “Godly things…” God wants YOU.

Here is another excerpt from a sermon—this one is from our most recent Sunday at our church in West Groton, Mass.

In all likelihood, this will be a common trend on this blog for the foreseeable future— to either reflect on readings from my doctoral study, or to post excerpts from recent sermons. So, it will be a combination of me trying to make sense of faith, and of me trying to explain faith to others. Either way, I hope to continue receiving feedback from others in the blogosphere.

This is the middle portion of the sermon, part of a series of sermons teaching on the Kingdom/Reign of God, using the lectionary passages. This Sunday, the passage was Matthew 22:15-22:

(NRSV) 15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?19Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius.20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements
 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 18, 2011 in faith, love

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Unity in love; unity in purpose—possible, or a pipe dream?

This post is a part of the Rally to Restore Unity hosted on Rachel Held Evans’ blog.

NOTE:  I largely wrote this post last night, prior to learning about the Bin Laden death.  Thus, I make no mention of it.  I’ll just say here, no matter your perspective on it, that I hope we could consider this apposite RTRU sign(Courtesy of @WritingJoy). 

If you knew me back in my high school and (especially) college days, you would probably know that the concept of Christian unity was always a passion of mine.  I always felt like the church’s fragmentation and Christians’ general distrust towards each other was a tragedy, and that God has called the church to live and act as one… and that by remaining fragmented, the church’s message to the world would continue to be tarnished. 

Of course, I should clarify that by “concept” of Christian unity…I meant: “If only all churches would just believe the same things THAT I DO, and care about the things I CARE ABOUT, then we would be able to truly be one again.”

Of course, I didn’t think about it that way at the time… back then, I would’ve said it this way:

“If only all churches believed what the Bible says…. then we would be truly one.” 

So simple!  Why hadn’t anyone else thought of this before???  Smile 

Read the rest of this entry »

 
4 Comments

Posted by on May 2, 2011 in church

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Easter Philosophy”: Faith can be a crutch (Rollins). It can also give life (Jones).

 

Yeah, I’m still FOB (Flat on Back) today.  Thanks for asking.

Yesterday’s post featured a “vlog” of me responding to a great discussion between philosopher Peter Rollins and pastor/theologian Tony Jones (who just defended his Ph.D. dissertation yesterday at Princeton) that occurred on Easter in New York City.

(I’m still not happy with my vlogging attempts so far, btw.  If anyone has some ideas as to how to improve them, I’d be happy to hear them.  [Anyone else find it immensely awkward to talk to a computer screen?] )

But yesterday I offered some passing thoughts regarding Rollins, who is far more interested in the present-day manifestations of resurrection-living in faith communities, than in the historical facts of the resurrection itself.  (Which sounds Marcus Borgish, and it kinda is, but I think his objectives are quite different.)  I wondered what the implications were for his take on resurrection for missional church behavior, and I tried to summarize his take on the relationship between faith and doubt in comparison to my own.  By comparison Jones makes a case for a physical resurrection, not by prooftexting or using apologetics, but by talking about what makes a story about a physical resurrection compelling, fitting, and beautiful.  In many ways, their positions well summarize the two primary so-called “postmodern” approaches to Christian philosophy today, although the divide is not nearly as dramatic as it was in the modern era. 

When we say “I love God,” is this really what we mean?

Today, in contrast, I want to mention where I particularly resonate with Rollins, and then talk a bit about (what else?) faith.  Follow me, beyond the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 26, 2011 in theology

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

New Questions– Compelling reasons for faith. (ANKC/God-Notes)

This week features both: 1) A change in blog theme, if you haven’t already noticed, and 2) Returning to posts inspired by A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren.  Almost too much awesomeness to handle all at once, I know.  Take deep breaths if you get dizzy. 

There, there.  Everything’s going to be fine.

Actually, my line of thinking for this post originates from a conversation I had with a youth at our church last week about his faith, and the nature of faith in general.  He had some amazing spiritual insight for his age (16), and drew from a variety of religious sources to get there, including a bit of sensationalized religious “wisdom” passed on from peers.  In other words, as research would tell us, he is your typical American teenager [although I’ll give him higher than average marks for spiritual awareness and humility, imo].

It brought my memory back to a familiar question that I faced regularly in college, as I confronted religious diversity for the first time:  “What are the essentials of my belief system?”…. [which is followed by the important corollary:  “Why are they so essential, and what’s actually at risk if those essentials are muddied or disregarded?”]   

Read the rest of this entry »

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 21, 2011 in theology

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Making Jesus in our image.

 

Oftentimes when I meet new people, I hear one of two things:

Either:  “You look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo!” 

(To which I, of course, reply with my best impression:

“I’m scared, Scoob!”

(Imagine me doing my best prepubescent squeal as I say it. ) )

Or, more commonly these days (especially after people learn of my profession):  “You look like Jesus!” 

I’ve never known exactly how to respond to that statement, but it’s typical for these encounters that I find myself overwhelmed with the same, somewhat-snarky thought: 

       “But Jesus wasn’t a white Scandinavian.”

And sometimes, despite myself, I say this out loud.  Which, predictably, usually yields an awkward grimace and a change of subject, which I gladly welcome–thankful to be out of that awkward exchange.

For starters, I could do about 25 blog posts just talking about all the ways in which my life has not looked like Jesus’ at ALL in the past week!  But that’s not the subject of this post (Thank God).

But I think it’s a real problem that we naturally make assumptions about how Jesus looks based most depictions of him in the Western European tradition… when most of us are at least aware that Jesus was a Palestinian Middle-Eastern. 

[It’s amazing to me that I have often been called “Jesus” just for being a white guy with a beard and long hair.  I mean, I have red hair, people!  I’ve never seen a depiction of a red-headed Jesus. (After all, we prefer our Jesus white, not sunburned.)  Meanwhile, I wonder what the same people would say if they met a Middle-Eastern man with a beard…would they make the same association? ]

Naturally, I mostly blame the depictions themselves–which leads my thinking about the question of images of Christ in the first place, which I woke up Monday morning thinking about.  

In addition to being pasty white, American Jesus also typically has a great stylist and makeup artist. 

In general, I’m not an iconoclast in general (an iconoclast is someone who destroys or condemns the use of art or “icons” for worship because they see them as idolatrous).   I am actually an advocate for the use of art and images in worship, despite their obviously-imperfect depictions of the ineffable God or of a historically-inaccessible Jesus.   Art can guide our minds towards worship of God, just like interpreted, translated words on the pages of our Scriptures can guide us towards God.  We in the Protestant church have underutilized the engagement-possibilities of our other senses and learning styles, and reclaiming them in part, as some churches have done, is a helpful corrective[although there is admittedly great beauty in the Anabaptist/Mennonite/Quaker tradition as well of near-sensory-deprivation in worship]. 

But when I see all these depictions of a white Jesus with a white robe, often (though not always) painted as such out of a white European tradition regarding what Christ looked like, I typically process it with one of the following two inner-monologues:

1)  “Josh, chill out with the righteous indignation. After all, every culture has always depicted Jesus “in their own image,” with the skin color of their own people [not always true, in the post-colonial world, but point conceded…]… People are merely saying that Jesus is ‘for them.’ They’re reminded of the truth of the incarnation— that Jesus came to be among us, to be like us.  Sure, it may be inaccurate, but it’s ultimately no worse than all the other ways that we see our faith through our own personal lenses.  It’s natural, merely people following historical patterns, and not inherently sinful. At any rate, as the Western church has always used them, people have come to naturally connect these images with Jesus and thus find them meaningful for worship…so it’s really not much about the images themselves in the first place, anyway.”

2)  “Josh, I know you’re not an iconoclast and that you really think using art and icons in worship is a good thing, but maybe, if the only image of Christ in the West that we’ll accept or “naturally connect” with Jesus in worship, then maybe we’re better off without them.  There’s something to be said, after all, about making God into our own image!!! We have made Jesus in the image of the race that is typically identified as the wealthiest and most powerful in the world on average; yet Jesus on earth identified with the poor and despised, those without power.  For whites, that means we’re psychologically-conditioned to believe that Jesus, as a fellow white, condones our affluent lifestyle.  For people of color who inherit this Jesus from former colonizers or oppressors, they are left with an image of God, made in the image of their oppressors.  In a multi-cultural world, we would do well to depict Jesus as he was—or to just not depict him at all. 

I go back and forth with these two lines of rationale… but as I write today, I’m very much in favor of the latter… although I still think we should use art in worship.  I just think we should depict Jesus closer to as he was:  a Palestinian. 

The elephant in this virtual-room, of course…. is that in white America, we don’t want our Lord to look like (what we perceive to be) a terrorist.  Because we assume everyone who’s from the Middle East is Muslim [not true], and all Muslims are radical Muslims [also not true], and the cognitive dissonance that would be created if we commonly saw images of our Lord Jesus looking more like “those people” we see on the news throwing rocks at tanks would be too much for us to handle.

Maybe, we really don’t believe in the radical nature of the incarnation. 

Such a change in depiction, I think, would drastically change us, if we let it.  Images, after all, have a way of lodging in our brains and influencing our subconscious assumptions and judgments, more so than we even realize, I think.  I think a Middle-Eastern Christ would force many to confront their own discomfort and disregard for Jesus’ command to “love your enemies.”  It would force the racism in our hearts out into the light of day, exposing it to the fires of worship.  And, we (as white Americans) perhaps, would stop implicitly assuming that Jesus is our Jesus (which, perhaps unwittingly, carries with it the implication that he is not your Jesus). 

What do you think? 

An Aramaic depiction of Jesus… what is your gut-response when you see this?

Does our depiction of Jesus as white in art and dramas affect how we view ourselves, and others? 

Would changing our art change our perceptions, or would we simply be better off without icons/art of Jesus altogether? (Keep in mind that even the most iconoclastic among us still have manger scenes in our home during Christmas.)

If we DO depict him, should we have a variety of “Jesuses” depicted with various ethnicities, or should we be “historically accurate”?

At least we can all agree that Jesus looked NOTHING like this growing up. 

 
3 Comments

Posted by on April 12, 2011 in church, jesus, justice, race

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Creeds Guard the Mystery of the Story.

 

Can being dogmatic actually lead us astray off the path of faith?

Church history has never been short of people who have claimed to be the “true defenders of the Gospel.”  Far too often, this group is composed of Christians who look at other Christians and say, “Well, they’ve really mucked this up, haven’t they?” and then proceed to split from, condemn, dismiss, or destroy the opposition. 

Some will say that the church has always done this, going all the way back to the early church controversies that led to the creation of the Nicene and Constantinopolitan creeds, among others.   Theology, it is said, was at stake…. and the church put a stake in the ground for certain theological truths, an interpretive grid that would ensure that the Bible would be read the “right way.”  

There is a danger in false teachings, to be sure… and creeds were written in order to help defend the church against such teachings.

But what about those creeds, anyway????

It’s interesting to me that what’s presented in the creeds (particularly in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan and Apostles’ creeds) is a story, primarily… and they are primarily concerned with stating the clear identity of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and telling the story of God’s revelation.  They don’t work out a particular theological system. 

In fact, you can make the argument that the creeds’ authors were actually responding to attempts to systematize the story—i.e., church leaders were overstepping the boundaries of faith by trying to figure out the how of Jesus’ incarnation and divinity and the Trinity… and so the church responded with an assertion that kept the mystery intact.

     (your run-o-th-mill heretic)                     (an apophatic theologian)

                                                 

“Jesus had the power of God.”

                                                         No…. he WAS God.

“Oh, so God the Father took the form of a human.”

                                                         No… he WAS human too.

“Okay… so Jesus was a lesser God, created by the Father.”

No…. he was FULLY God, and existed eternally.

“But then how can he be two things?  He must have two wills.”

                                                       No, he has one will.

“Oh, so maybe he’s a weird human/divine combo.”

         No, he’s both human and divine, fully, not a “third thing.”

“……..”

                                                       …….

“I don’t get it.”

                                                       That’s the point. 

To the Greek (dualistic mind)…. rationally, these things don’t make sense.  The whole thing is a big, fat contradiction.  Of course, Jesus didn’t fit into Greek categories.   When people tried to shove Him into Greek categories, crucial parts of the story were squeezed out of the mold.  The creeds were written to prevent that.  Creeds can be seen as defense against overstepping bounds, and embracing mystery, despite the logical inconsistency of it all, in a Greek-philosophy-dominated culture. 

Because what’s at stake—is God’s character, his identity, his mission… things ultimately beyond our grasp, that CANNOT be “defended” by us; they can only be asserted and lived-out. 

This naturally leads me to question:  How many times have we as Christians overstepped the bounds of what we can possibly know, in order to create an artificial, “who’s in, who’s out” distinction?

Did Roman Catholics overstep with particular [e.g. Tridentine] views on sacramentalism and church authority, or especially in doctrines such as immaculate conception? 

Did Luther and his followers overstep by making justification by faith the centerpiece of the gospel (thus strictly dividing it from sanctification)?

Did Wesley overstep with his defenses of Christian perfection?

Did Calvin overstep when he makes some apparently logical conclusions about election and predestining of the future of both the saved and damned (preservation of mystery was, in fact, Calvin’s point….)? 

Isn’t it ironic that our “defenses of the Gospel” when it’s at stake, can actually strip or deemphasize aspects of the Gospel story? 

The fact is, we all have systems, lenses, traditions, etc…. that seek to explain and interpret.  These systems use of combinations of logic and experience, tradition and cultural developments, history and church authority, translations of scripture, etc. etc…. all of which shape our view of scripture and our experience of the Spirit.  And they help us understand…. and they also hinder us, and cause us to overstep.

Overstepping, honestly, isn’t the big issue.  We wouldn’t be able to say much about God without overstepping (although some examples are certainly worse than others.)

The big issue is how we overstep, and then say, “And I KNOW this is true….and if you don’t believe this, you do not believe the REAL Gospel!”

Because faith and dogmatism are antithetical. 

I think the Creed-authors realized this, which is why the creeds were seen as so critical. 

Because in a rationalistic world, the creeds guarded the Mystery for the universal Church.

And we sometimes need to say definitive things about God…. but we’d best remember:  we should first determine why this need is present and if it is truly a need, and second, say what we say with humility, love, and openness, knowing that whenever we claim to speak for God, no matter how many people we believe stand behind us, we are standing on dangerous ground. 

The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son.

John 5:22

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 4, 2011 in church, history, theology

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wow… just, wow. Thank you, Brian.

This could have been done via Twitter, but I am so thankful for this post by Brian McLaren today on Red Letter Christians [which I think can possibly be the future platform for furthering a “prog-evangelical” consensus, i.e., a “generous orthodoxy,” that David Fitch and Scot McKnight seem to want. ]that I thought I’d give it a slightly more thorough endorsement (for what it’s worth….)

 

The post’s primary purpose was to address Al Mohler’s critique of…  you guessed it, the heretic of the hour, our friend Rob.  Which is fitting, considering the number of consecutive weeks McLaren has spent at the top of that hit list.   He does a great job of defending his friend:

*He addresses the difference between either framing Bell as choosing heresy over historic Christian beliefs, vs. someone trying to understand the real “gospel” over what the gospel has been reduced to in the modern West. 

*He addresses the hermeneutical questions in play and explains them in plain language.

*He frames Bell as one trying to reconcile God’s love and justice, as opposed to holding them apart as dual, opposing characteristics of God (God divided against himself?)….in contrast to how Bell is being framed as not taking God’s justice seriously at all.

*And (Thank God) he challenges those who have blatantly accused Rob of placating and of being controversial for the purpose of increasing book sales.  (That’s out of line, imho.)

But on a selfish level, based on what I have said here in recent weeks, and also based upon my own discoveries in recent years as a self-described “post-evangelical” who did not grow up in the mainline church but have since joined myself to it…. I really appreciated this from McLaren (emphasis mine):

From childhood I was taught this liberal-mainline-decline narrative (and its counterpart — the conservative-Evangelical-growth narrative). I’m ashamed to say I never questioned it for years. But the narrative, like all prejudices, turns out to be terribly vulnerable — especially if you actually meet many of the people it purports to describe. Consider these possible rebuttals (some of which are quite popular among mainliners, some not):

  • Perhaps it wasn’t liberalism that killed mainline Protestantism. Perhaps it was institutionalism.
  • Perhaps it was an excessive concern among many mainline Protestant leaders to protect their “mainline” status of privilege and power.
  • Perhaps it was complicity with nationalism, a complicity that was exposed as faulty in the 20th Century by two world wars and Vietnam.
  • Perhaps it was liturgical and organizational rigidity.
  • Perhaps the fall of mainline Protestantism had more to do with complacency and a lack of visionary leadership than it did with a willingness to question traditional interpretations of Scripture.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestantism isn’t dead or even dying: perhaps mainline Protestants have entered a latency period from which a new generation of Christian faith is trying to be born. (And perhaps conservative Protestantism is about to enter that latency period too.)
  • Perhaps mainline Protestantism isn’t failing at all, any more than the U.S. Postal Service is failing. (It’s actually doing more work than ever, with proportionately fewer resources than ever.) Perhaps it’s just that the times have changed, and First Class mail isn’t what it used to be, and mainline Protestants think they’re in the stamp-and-envelope business instead of the communication business.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestants are in decline primarily because they haven’t been as good marketers as Evangelicals. Perhaps mainliners haven’t “pandered” to customer demands as well as Evangelicals. They haven’t adopted new technologies — first radio, then TV, then the internet — as savvily as Evangelicals have.
  • Perhaps mainline decline is related to higher college attendance rates — rates that, by the way, Evangelicals are now catching up to. Perhaps conservative Christianity will fare no better in holding young adults who get a college education than mainline Protestants were. Perhaps the graphs will end up in the same place, with just a 30- or 40-year lag.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestants started to decline when they became prophetic — agreeing with Dr. King about the institutional evils of segregation and the Vietnam war. Perhaps being prophetic, which involves calling people forward to a better future, is inherently more costly and less popular than being conservative, which involves calling people back to a better past.
  • Perhaps Evangelicals started to grow when they filled in the same role mainline Protestants used to occupy: the civil religion of the United States.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestantism collapsed because of hypocrisy and disconnection from real-life issues, and perhaps Evangelicalism is edging ever-closer to a similar collapse.
  • Perhaps mainline Protestantism was the religion of the American countryside and small town, and it declined as rural and small-town populations declined. And perhaps Evangelicalism is the religion of the American suburbs, and its fate will rise and fall with suburban life.

 

These reasons (although he admits, as well as I, that only the future will tell us for sure) are precisely why I said what I said last week:  that the mainline church (should we even CALL it that anymore!?) is positioned to be a more desirable and stable future for the American church, and if they can embrace that role, they will outlast institutional Evangelicalism. 

I also appreciate him saying what professors began to show to me back during my Fuller days:  Contrary to how they portray themselves, the conservative evangelical church is actually quite secular/modern:

To more and more of us these days, conservative Evangelical/fundamentalist theology looks and sounds more and more like secular conservatism — economic and political — simply dressed up in religious language. If that’s the case, even if Dr. Mohler is right in every detail of his critique, he’d still be wise to apply the flip side of his warning to his own beloved community.

Yes, many of us are rejecting theologies that seem to dress up secular conservative ideology in “Sunday best.” But that doesn’t mean we want to put secular liberal ideology in robes and collars instead. Of course not. We’re seeking — imperfectly at every turn, no doubt — an incarnational theology, a theology that brings radical good news of great joy for all the people, good news that God loves the world and didn’t send Jesus to condemn it but to save it, good news that God’s wrath is not merely punitive but restorative, good news that the fire of God’s holiness is not bent on eternal torment but always works to purify and refine, good news that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more

Click on the button below to read the entire article: 

Red Letter Christians

 
10 Comments

Posted by on March 28, 2011 in future, theology

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,