Faith is not entertainment

Entertainment is big business, but it is not the business of the church.

One of the lines that defined the youthful angst of my consumer generation came from Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit where Kurt Cobain sings with that raw and guttural voice, “Here we are now, entertain us.” It is a confession that still gives voice to the antagonism of authentic faith.

In a culture that is overexposed and addicted to consumption, faith has suffered. The few have become responsible for feeding the many. The gathering place has become less of a place to share our gifts, and rather a place to devour the talents of others. It was intended to be a place meant to develop faith, however, it has become in many parts, a place to live off the faith of others.

Every commercial or point of advertising constantly reminds me what they have is newer, faster, and cooler than what I have. At almost every point of culture, I’m being sold something.  The way we live and think is being transformed often without notice by the advertising around us. At times, our lives have no greater purpose or meaning than to make that next purchase.  Our identity is no longer what we consume, but that we consume. This mentality is then transferred and projected into our view of faith and spirituality. The conversation concerning church has been reduced beyond ‘what am I being fed?’ to  simply ‘am I being fed?’

 

We want to welcome you.  Come be a part of something greater.

Faith is more than entertainment. Faith is about being connected to something greater than yourself. It’s about being connected to God, and those around you, and those that came before you. Faith is about living for something greater than trends. It’s about having a purpose greater than to consume. It is to create, to serve, and to love. Maturity is displayed in greater contribution, not in greater consumption.

 

Forgiveness isn’t weakness

“Resurrection is the result of death’s defeat; forgiveness, the result of sin’s defeat. Those who learn to forgive discover that they are not only offering healing to others. They are receiving it in themselves. Resurrection is happening inside them. The wrong done to them is not permitted to twist their lives out of shape. Forgiveness isn’t weakness. It was and is a great strength. Resurrection and forgiveness together are vital for understanding the extraordinary and large-scale result of the victory won on the cross. The nations of the world were now set free to worship the one true God.”

― from “The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion”

Community

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite ideal of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate with ourselves.
 
….Christian [community] is not an ideal which we must realized; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”
 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Spiritual Formation Needs These 3 Elements

Doing whatever feels right is not freedom, it is slavery to one’s own feelings. Yet, spiritual formation and spiritual maturity are not developed by the rejection of feelings for thinking. Nor are they developed by the rejection of thought for action.

A life formed by the spirit must encompass the practice of thinking, feeling, and acting like Christ.

 

Telling the truth of America

“Telling the truth of America today is as unsettling as it was to tell the truth of Israel then. Over thirty-six million Americans live in poverty. One in four children in the United States is poor, and infant mortality rates in our inner cities rival those developing countries. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women: Three million women are being each year and every day for women or murdered by their partners or husbands. Homicide is the leading cause of death among young African-American men, and more or in prison or on parole than in college. AIDS, drugs addiction, and suicide lay claim to more and more citizens, including an alarming number of youth. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are homeless and unemployed as affordable housing evaporates and corporations ship jobs to foreign countries that pay workers pennies a day.

Rampant patriotic fervor and shouts of “God bless America” can’t drown out the cries behind the reality of our nation. For those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ—the one who came to open eyes—looking away is not an option. Jesus invites us to participate in the coming of God’s kingdom.”

Joyce Hollyday, Then Shall Your Light Rise: Spiritual Formation and Social Witness

Divine Judgment: A Relational Framework

Is God’s display of justice (e.g. wrath/judgment) a deterrent, reformatory, retributive, punitive, or vindictive?

How is one to understand the basic framework of God’s justice? Are his judgments “intrinsic” or “extrinsic” to human action? For example, does God say, “Do that and I’ll hurt you”(extrinsic) or “Do that and you’ll get hurt”(intrinsic)

This is topic that deserves a great deal of study and conversation. However, my short answer is that in the Scriptures reward and punishment, blessings and curse, are intrinsic (i.e. the consequences are inherent in the act of obedience or disobedience themselves). Ultimately, in Scripture, one’s relation to Christ is both the criterion and the result of judgment. God’s supreme reward is himself, and likewise, the worst thing that could befall someone was his absence (Isaiah 59:3, Psalm 51:11-12; 89:46).

Jesus discourse in John 3:16-21 highlights the relational understanding of God’s justice.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Through Jesus, God reconciles the world to himself. Apart from the Jesus the world already stands condemned and awaits judgment. Eschatological (future) salvation is the continuation and consummation of a relationship with God already experienced. To call it a reward in the retributive sense would be like calling marriage a reward for being engaged.

Yet, one must not error in separating God from his acts of justice. God’s judgments do come from God (and can be spoken of as coming from God) because they are directly connected to one’s relation to God. Intrinsic does not mean God is not distant or uninvolved in the process. This is what the Scriptures mean when they mention the direct agency of God’s justice (e.g. wrath/judgment/punishment).

The relational framework of God’s justice does not contradict the repeated Scriptural references to judgment based on works (Romans 2.1–16; 14.10–12; 2 Corinthians 5.10.). Good works (i.e. right/righteous action) is directly linked to knowing God, the exercise of faith, and the power and presence of his Spirit (Romans 1:18—2:11; 8:9-17; Galatians 5:16-25; Hebrews 11:6). Jesus says obedience is a manifestation of love. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

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For a deeper exploration of this topic see Stephen Travis’s Book, Christ and the Judgement of God: The Limits of Divine Retribution in New Testament Thought

WHY GO THE SECOND MILE?

The following is an excerpt from Walter Wink’s book, The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium. (emphasis mine)

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Why carry the soldier’s pack a second mile? Does this not go to the opposite extreme by aiding and abetting the enemy? Not at all. The question here, as in the two previous instances, is how the oppressed can recover the initiative and assert their human dignity in a situation that cannot for the time being be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, but how one responds to the rules is God’s, and Caesar has no power over that.

Imagine, then, the soldier’s surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume his pack, and the civilian says, “Oh, no, let me carry it another mile.” Why would he want to do that? What is he up to? Normally, soldiers have to coerce people to carry their packs, but this Jew does so cheerfully, and will not stop’. Is this a provocation? Is he insulting the legionnaire’s strength? Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to violate the rules of impressment? Will this civilian file a complaint? Create trouble? From a situation of servile impressment, the oppressed have once more seized the initiative. They have taken back the power of choice. They have thrown the soldier off balance by depriving him of the predictability of his victim’s response. He has never dealt with such a problem before. Now he must make a decision for which nothing in his previous experience has prepared him. If he has enjoyed feeling superior to the vanquished, he will not enjoy it today. Imagine a Roman infantryman pleading with a Jew to give back his pack! The humor of this scene may have escaped us, but it could scarcely have been lost on Jesus’ hearers, who must have been delighted at the prospect of thus discomfiting their oppressors.

Jesus does not encourage Jews to walk a second mile in order to build up merit in heaven, or to be pious, or to kill the soldier with kindness. He is helping an oppressed people find a way to protest and neutralize an onerous practice despised throughout the empire. He is not giving a nonpolitical message of spiritual world transcendence. He is formulating a worldly spirituality in which the people at the bottom of society or under the thumb of imperial power learn to recover their humanity.

A lesson from Church history.

“Therefore, we as a body of Christians, while proposing to fulfill all obligations of loyal citizenship, are nevertheless constrained to declare we cannot conscientiously participate in war and armed resistance which involves the actual destruction of human life since this is contrary to our view of the clear teaching of the inspired Word of God, which is the sole basis of our faith.”
 
The Assemblies of God made this resolution to their bylaws on April 28, 1917. In 1967 they reversed their position, adopting a position of personal freedom and conscience. The ‘clear teaching’ of scripture was given a backseat to human reason and the desire of individual persons.
 
This is not to pick on the Assemblies of God. To be fair, many other American denominations also observed seismic changes in their doctrine and bylaws following WWII. Many factors contributed to these changes, but none greater than the fear of the great evil witnessed in WWII and the roaring nationalism that followed the war.
 
It could be said, that when the church looked up and saw world erupting in evil, they looked not to God, but to the Empire for answers. I don’t think this is entirely true. I don’t think the church failed to look to God. I believe the church misjudged the call to love their enemies as simply a strategy of getting what they wanted by other means. It failed. Whereas, the Empires’ solution, as old as Cain, proved effective. In fact, it is the effectiveness of war and murder that makes their offer so intoxicating. The ends, thus, justified the means, as the church forgot that its mission is not judged on the ability or swiftness to procure justice or peace. The church has been called to participate and bear witness to the work of God.
 
You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” Matthew 5:43-48

What Nonresistance Is and Is Not

“[Nonresistance] has been interpreted – by those who reject the idea – to mean a weak acceptance of the intentions of the evil one, resignation to his evil goals. This the text does not call for. The services to be rendered to the one who coerces us – carrying his burden a second mile, giving beyond the coat and cloak – are to his person, not to his purposes. The “resistance” which we renounce is a response in kind, returning evil for evil. But the alternative is not complicity in his designs. The alternative is creative concern for the person who is bent on evil, coupled with the refusal of his goals.”

John Howard Yoder

The Problem When We Talk About Biblical Authorship

 

The post-mortem details about Moses in Deuteronomy, the superscripts that begin most of the Psalms, the ending of the Gospel of Mark, the story of the women caught in adultery in John 8, or even the process by which each of the books and letters gained entrance into the Bible itself…all of these examples of editorializing in the Bible can be shocking—even troubling—when single divine authorship of the Bible is taught and assumed. The Bible did not come to humanity as golden tablets sent from heaven, nor was the product of a few singular holy men. The Bible is unashamedly a unit of documents created through and knit together by communal authorship, editorializing, and Spirit-led discernment. This is why I really appreciate Paul’s words about the text being “God-breathed”(2 Timothy 3:16-17). Paul’s  statement is not about authors, it a statement about the cannon (i.e. complete list) of Hebrew Scriptures (and specifically it’s purpose in character formation).

** A few other examples of the compiled and editorialized nature of the Scripture: Proverbs 1:1, 25:1, 31:1; Jeremiah 36:32; Luke 1:1-4

However, the issue of authorship can not only cause a crisis of faith when the when the truth of how the Bible was patched and quilted together is discovered, I believe it also causes problems for the practice of biblical interpretation and communal discernment.

BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION

If the Bible is not being spoken of as the dictated words of God, then the weight of the conversation of authorship is being placed upon the shoulders of a few singular holy (male) authors. Yet, because the focus is placed on these original human authors, the conversation concerning interpretation is bound to their authorial intent. Thus, great effort and resources are given to trying to uncover and recreate these authors, their thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and the situations which may have given rise to texts. In similar fashion, the conversation of original authorship and textual criticism occurs in large part as a way to delegitimize and remove problem texts created by the attempt to recreate the original the text, authors, and their intent.

Textual criticism is not without value, nor are the resources that help us better understand the authors and the cultures and setting of the text. However, textual criticism and a pure historical-grammatical approach to the text are far from complete in helping us make sense of the text entrusted to us in light of the revealed Son of God, Jesus Christ (the very thing modeled by Apostles, the early church, and the New Testament text itself).

COMMUNAL DISCERNMENT

“God told me …” is often an unsettling declaration, not only because of what may follow but because it is understood an autonomous declaration of authority. I believe this form of spiritual malpractice is rooted in the focus on single biblical authors rather than the community that received, discerned, and complied the text. No one may be suggesting that they are speaking with the same authority as the Biblical authors. Yet, the way we imagine and prioritize the role of the individual over the role of community in regards to the Biblical text has implications on how we act; none greater than the church’s practice and ability to discernment the will of God together.