Archive for the ‘Questions’ Category

Today is Valentine’s Day, and I’m one of the very fortunate and blessed people who have many people to love. My wife, my daughters, my church and family and friends throughout the country. These people are dearer to me than my own life.

And, likely, you have people like that in your life too.

You have people whom you cherish; folks you’d trade your life for. And even though Valentine’s Day is the most fabricated pseudo-holiday we celebrate, it’s never a bad idea to let the people you love know that you love them. So make a point today to say “I love you” to those people.

But I want to give us (the Christians who visit this space) a moment of pause. Why? Because those of us who follow the teachings of Jesus are called not only to love the ones we love, we are also called to love those we might be inclined to hate.

Jesus, in one of the clearest teachings in scripture, tells us, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'” Instruction in righteousness doesn’t get any more perspicuous than that. “Love your enemies.” There. Done. Over. Got it?

Jesus is telling us what we already know: Anybody can love the people they love and hate their enemies, but it takes someone with God on the inside to cut against the grain and love those they would otherwise hate. Even though Jesus is giving us a command, most of us treat it like it’s a nice idea that might be good to get around to…someday!

That’s why, some of our supposed American Christian leaders exhort the church to repeal and replace this basic tenet of Jesus’ to love both our neighbor and our enemy. Terrorists, secularists, those on the “other side” of politics, culture, religion and sexuality are objects to be hated and defeated, rather than the destination of God’s in-breaking love for the world flowing through his church.

In a strange way, these leaders are right in their pronouncements concerning the threat of secularization in America. Our country is becoming more secular; but the church may be leading the way! The failure to love our enemies leads away – not toward – the cross.

So what would a church look like that actually believed Jesus was giving a command when he said “Love your enemies”? Any ideas?

I’d love to hear them.

I have long been a fan of Brian McLaren – both the man and his writings. We’ve e-mailed back and forth through the years, been apart of a scripture project together (The Voice), shared multiple meals, and Brian spoke an important blessing into my life at a critical time. His “A New Kind of Christian” came along for me at the perfect time; a time when I thought I was becoming disillusioned with faith, but ultimately, I was disillusioned with the version of Christian practice I’d thoughtlessly inherited. Brian showed this to me. This is, perhaps, Brian’s greatest gift; causing people to reexamine, search, study, investigate and re-conclude. In this way, Brian is a one man Hegelian Dialectic.  This is why so many people distrust and despise him and his work while others love him. In “A New Kind of Christianity, (ANKoCty)” Brian’s newest release, McLaren will not disappoint his fan or his critics.

ANKofCty endeavors to consider 10 questions that Brian says are transforming the faith. Truth is, these questions are not transforming the faith, but Brian wants them to, and he’s right to want it. The ten questions: (1) The Narrative Question, (2) The Authority Question; (3) The God Question, (4) The Jesus Question, (5) The Gospel Question, (6) The Gospel Question, (7) The Church Question, (8) The Sex Question, (9) The Future Question, and (10) The Pluralism Question are good ones, and Brian hopes to help push us ahead as we think through them together.

At the heart of ANKofCty is what McLaren calls, the “Greco-Roman” reading of scripture. This, it seems, is the root of our collective problems in terms of church and culture. Brian argues that freeing ourselves from this narrative releases us to answer the 10 questions Brian poses more faithfully. Within the Greco-Roman reading of scripture, Brian argues, there is no room for story or development, which ultimately gives rise to a “six-line narrative” that prejudices our reading of scripture. McLaren argues the “six-line narrative” leads us to all the wrong conclusions about everything – which Brian endeavors to demonstrate throughout the remaining pages of ANKofCty. In the end, Brian argues that we have read the Bible backwards with our filter coming through Paul, the apostles, Augustine, Plato and the Platonism and philosophical systems that are foreign to the true nature of the scriptures. Therefore, our view of Jesus and the Bible is not the Jesus OF the Bible, but a character – or caricature – inherited by thousands of years of interpretation lodged and birthed by the Greco-Roman narrative and Greek philosophy. This is Brian’s central thesis and gives rise to his conclusions.

I think Brian is both right and wrong. In fact, having read nearly all his books, I have never felt more strongly that he is both right on and far off course. This is what I mean: In terms of McLaren’s analysis of the Greco-Roman reading, he is dead on. The problem is that there is no way to avoid this, no way to time travel back through scripture and get something other than what we already got. This is where Brian is right and wrong. Having been raised in a “Restoration” movement, I know all too well the nonsensical pitfalls of thinking you can just skip over history, doctrine, theology, and theological and ecclesial development and get back to “the real thing.”

It cannot be done!

At best you miss the richness of the tradition that has given life to the faith that gives us life, at worst, you become a partisan to largely uneducated, ununified and incoherent belief system. If we were able leap backward over the hurdles of history to uncover a new way – or the grand old way – to read and interpret text without the obstacles course of 2000 years worth of interpretation and thought, then we would be forced to just to pick a method, system or interpretive lens and go with it arbitrarily.

Been there. Done that. Thank you very much.

All of that to say this; even Brian is coming at the text from somewhere “post-Jesus” in terms of history. Is he right in arguing that the method we’ve chosen is bad for hosts of reasons? Yes.  Is it possible for us to read and interpret Jesus the way McLaren wants us to, without the narratives that have been imposed heretofore? Unfortunately, no.

This means that all of our conclusions, even Brian’s, have to be held loosely, with epistemological humility. Perhaps it is my own ecclesial history, but something in my gut churns at the thought of dismissing church history and the schools of thought developed through it. For this reason, I’m open to the idea that I may be seeing shadows and experiencing paranoia where there need not be. I may be reacting to something not explicit in the pages of ANKofCty.

At the same time, Brian has offered the most helpful way forward on a number of issues that are becoming tremendously important to more and more people – sexuality, pluralism, etc…. He is far from convincing his critics or those entrenched in either/or, black/white, privileged / unprivileged thinking, but Brian’s conclusions, I think, are generally pointing the church in the right direction – though I need more convincing in some areas, myself. Both critics and fans of Brian know where he’s going with many of the issues addressed in ANKofCty before they turn the first page, but what is good about his work is that he provides a useable way forward for conversation (for those willing to have it). Using the Biblical text, McLaren at least gets the ball rolling and establishes what can become common language around these issues. This, I think, is the great service Brian has done for us.

In addition, Brian explores Romans in ways many will find broadening. In fact, I read ANKofCty with my Bible open. Trust me: this does not happen often! What more can you ask of a book? Brian forced me to look into the scriptures and I found myself looking differently. That alone is worth the price of purchase. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to read Romans the same way after engaging ANKoCty.

Likely the most out of character elements of ANKofCty comes in chapters 12 and 13 dealing with The Jesus Question. To articulate his vision of Jesus, McLaren takes on two vocal critics who happen to hold in common the ability to be consistently wrong and increasingly sought-after.  For those in the know, the critics are fairly easy to recognize, though Brian does not name them. What is out of character is Brian’s pointed language. Having spent time with Brian multiple times, I’ve found him to be irenic and generous, these chapters weren’t. At the end of chapter 12, I wrote in the margin, “Bam! One in ___________ _______________’s kisser.”

Between you and I, the rebuke was long overdue. Overdue not because scores needed settling, but because this particular critic has, and often does, misread Jesus and the Bible, offering an alternative gospel, in my view. This critic seems to envision Christian leadership as a full-contact blood sport and Brian gives him what he wants. Brian skillfully disarmed the violent, warrior-only version of Jesus, which had the added benefit of fitting nicely into Brian’s overall aims in ANKofCty. At the same time, he gave one particular critic the only kind of conversation he seems to understand. Harsh! In this way, the rebuke can be described as incarnational – speaking to people in their own language.

If Brian’s goal is to get people thinking and talking, ANKofCty is a success. Clearly not all will embrace his vision, yet others will be freed to pursue the Spirit in wild and new directions. Ultimately, ANKofCty is more than worth the time. I suggest reading it community. Drink from it slowly and invest in the ideas, maybe even choosing one question and digging deep over time. This is not a book for singular and individual thought. Brian has returned to what he does best – challenging the church. And he does so brilliantly this go round.

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Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Viral Bloggers for the purpose of this review.

I keep questioning when (or where) is the right time and place for questions. Just recently I saw an interview by Tony Jones (of Emergent Village fame) with John Chisham (of criticizing Emergent Village fame). When asked what his “beef” with Emergent was, Chisham said that people like him don’t like Emergent because they “don’t get it.” He went on to say that he thought doctrine was “nailed down.” He even went on to say that God was “bound” by certain things — which was shocking news to me. After Jones gently dismantled Chisham’s “American court room” analogy, Chisham remained un-changed. Chisham also felt that Emergent (and other religious organizations, I suppose) should have a statement of faith. When Jones said, “What about the Bible?” Chisham suggested that wasn’t good enough. (Again, a Restorationist like me and my friends have trouble with needing something more than scripture.)

Now, I’m not fully on board with all things Emergent Village — and no one is, even the people most intimately involved in it, it seems — but I find it curious that some people have such difficulty with “open questions” about God. Some folks want it all “nailed down,” and when other people allow for, what I would consider, legitimate questions and doubts, the response is vitriol and criticism.

Is there no place for open questions in faith? Or asking questions? No place for challenging beliefs that seem not to ring true? If not, why do we call it faith? We should call it certainty, then, shouldn’t we? But scripture (and I guess here Chisham might refer to his Statement of Faith instead) doesn’t call it certainty. The Bible calls it faith.

I have to confess — and I hope this doesn’t disturb too many folks at my church — everyday I have to make a decision about whether or not I believe God. Note, I did not say “believe in God” which connotes mere intellectual assent, which is no help to me in decision making and spiritual formation. Lots of folks believe in God. My questions center around whether or not I believe God is who He says He is and life is about what He says it is about. As Jones says in the interview, it is an intellectually honest way to live.

God is not provable, and from my read of scripture, doesn’t really like people telling Him what He must or must not do. Are there people really prepared to make that proclamation, that God “must do?”

But I guess at this point I’ve asked you too many questions.

Questions for Heaven!

Posted: November 6, 2007 in Questions

01. Why does the weatherman on the ten o’clock news tell me what the weather was like earlier that day? I know already. I was there. Dude, what do I need to wear tomorrow?

02. When did every Tuesday become “Super Tuesday?” Didn’t Super Tuesday used to be one actual day? Every Tuesday can’t be that super. It’s Tuesday for goodness sake.

My Almighty Review

Posted: June 6, 2007 in movies, Questions, theology

My wife and I caught the screener for Evan Almighty last night. The laughs started rolling before the opening credits due to a mildly crazy lady who stole for seats from some Jr. high girls who had gone to the concession stand. For her rudeness, my friends, Bryan, Kraig, a lady sitting near us and others gave her a hilarious earful, complete with just a hint of name-calling (I won’t tell you what I saidbut trust me, it was kind).

Anyway, there are both some positives and negative about Evan Almighty, which opens in theaters everywhere, June 22.

This sequel to Bruce Almighty is heavily aimed at Christians. In fact, there is  an attempt to use the movie to launch new ministries in churches, called Ark Almighty. In short, it is designed to help churches meet the needs of their fellow church members – which is good, but in some ways not big enough.

Here are the positives: Evan Almighty is good, family fun. If you’ve got elementary school aged kids and older, you should check it out. No foul language, no sex, nothing that you’d be embarrassed about. It’s aimed at families and Christians, no doubt trying to ca$h in on “The Passion of the Christ” phenomena. Most people will find the movie somewhat funny. There are some parts, particularly the scenes with Wanda Sykes, who is always hilarious that are very funny. At the same time, the scenes with Morgan Freeman as God are both simple and thoughtful in there theology. Freeman gets much more screen time in this pic than the previous one, which for reasons I’ll explain later is both good and bad. And finally, director Tom Shadyac brings his faith commitments to the screen in humble ways that hint the viewer toward faith without beating them over the head.

The negatives of the film mostly come by way of comparison to the first film – which is typically the case with sequels. First of all, family humor is often corny to me, and frequently you can see a joke coming half a mile away.  Second, the spiritual themes (and they were abundant) from Bruce Almighty were – for me at least – more subtle and more profound. Much of this is found in the ‘deleted scenes’ on the DVD, but in over a decade of ministry, I’ve found nothing that teaches more and better about prayer than Bruce Almighty. Third, there’s a lot of God (Morgan Freeman) in Evan, wherein he was only physically present a few choice times in Bruce. I think it would be easy to follow God is He were showing up in the flesh every five minutes, explaining everything and handing out how-to manuals (you’ll get it when you see the movie). Third, while Bruce Almighty approached God from an unbeleivers’ perspective, Evan has beleivers in mind. This isn’t necessarily bad, it just raises different questions, and as professional clergy, I already have the inside track on “believer questions” and, quite frankly, find them less interesting. Finally, it seemed like there were so many stories to tell that they couldn’t tell them all. Evan has major work to do with his wife – played gloriously by Lauren Graham (and I think Lauren Graham is great in everything – wink) – as well as work to do with his kids and himself and all these storylines are half told. I would have liked to have seen Evan discover his three sons through the building of the ark. At the same time, there is much that could have been said about creation-care that goes unsaid (but it’s hard for me to criticize that and praise Shadyac for not beating people over the head).

In the end, Evan Almighty is a good effort and you should see it. The spiritual themes abound and people of all ages will enjoy it. You will particularly like it, if like me, you are a Daily Show fan, since Evan is replete with Daily Show talent, including Jon Stewart. Don’t go expecting the edginess and frank questioning of faith that Bruce Almighty provided, but do go expecting to have a good time and food for thought and conversation with believers and near-believers.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Posted: May 18, 2007 in blogs, Questions

I’m thinking about moving this blog to another provider. I’ve loved blogger, but I think wordpress might be a little easier to use. Any input?

20 Questions

Posted: January 24, 2007 in Questions

Every now and then I’m struck by the fact that so many questions that rattle around in my head never get answered. They just remain questions. And at the same time I realize that more and more questions there are the less and less real answers seem to come. So today I thought I would just share some general questions that have been on my mind.

Ready? Here we go, in no particular order.

1. How come I’ve never heard of most of the movies nominated for Academy Awards?

2. How come newscasters think they must spend 4 hours re-telling us what the President just told us?

3. How come Nancy Grace is still on TV?

4. Why does the weatherman start the “forecast” by telling us what already happened that day?

5. Why does my mother-in-law do her crossword puzzles in pen?

6. Why do both me and my mother-in-law do crossword puzzles?

7. Why doesn’t Starbuck’s have free WI-FI like everybody else?

8. Who are the people who haven’t learned to not use permanent marker on a whiteboard?

9. Why do people care about Brad and Angelina or Tom and Katie?

10. Why can you negotiate the cost of a house or car but not a computer or a sandwich at Subway?

11. Why was I such a jerk to so many people in high school and college?

12. Why was Shepherd Smith (of Fox News) wearing a Parka last night to cover the State of the Union? Was he covering it from Alaska?

13. Why didn’t the Texans draft Reggie Bush or Vince Young?

14. Why does Arizona not observe Daylight Savings Time?

15. Why do people like cats?

16. Why do ultra-fundamentalist Mormons think polygamy is a good idea? Isn’t one family difficult enough? (I mean, well worth it, but how many college tuitions and weddings do you want to pay for?)

17.Why are there ethnicities and races in the first place? Wouldn’t there be much more peace if we were all, say, black?

18. Why do people enjoying belittling each other so much?

19. Why do people of character and conviction so rarely rise to power?

20. How come so many of us Christians praise Martin Luther King, and Mother Theresa, but so seldom want to do the kinds of things they did?