Monday, November 19, 2007

Recommended Film

Watched a moving documentary last night. "God Grew Tired of Us" is the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan - their flight to safety in Ethiopia, then Kenya; and finally the immigration of a select few to the U.S.

I won't go into a full review here, but I wanted to comment on one particularly disturbing aspect of the film. It was embarrassing to watch these young men (who had endured incredible hardship, formed their own system of government, prayed fervently for peace, and learned a new culture) treated as if they were stupid, dangerous thugs.

As my wife and I discussed the film, we reflected on some of the prejudice and racism we see in our own community. We were reminded of recent conversations with people from our Multi-Cultural church - one conversation where someone expressed their frustration with 1st generation immigrants who were still learning the language, another conversation with a person who wanted their child in an all-anglo sunday school class, yet another where a person pulled a child from one school because there were too many of a specific ethnic group there. My wife, who sells used books, told me of a book she recently saw that talked about our education system being "dumbed down" because of other ethnicities in the system (I think it may be being "dumbed down", but if it is, it is because those teaching them think they are less capable.) Our son-in-law (an East Indian) has talked about being treated differently everywhere from public places to girlfriends houses simply because he's "brown".

It seems that the thinking goes something like this... "People who look, think, and act like me are smart. People who look, think, and act differently are stupid." Talk about stupid!

My friend Nathan explored this on his blog. Brad, a commenter on this blog, is an educator who is also passionate about cultures coming together in unity. I'm hoping he may have some insight on the education piece of this issue. Others, like Jennifer, have experienced this first hand as one of the growing number of inter-racial marriages.

In the end, I'm convinced that the new kingdom that Jesus invites us into is the only solution to this craziness.

In Christ's family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Galatians 3:28

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What To Do With Evil?

I just finished "Evil and the Justice of God" by N.T. Wright. Wright is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

This book, as the title implies, explores the problem of evil in our world and develops a theology of what God is doing about it. My brain is still wrestling with some of what he proposes, but near the end of the book, I was really encouraged by this wonderful paragraph.

"...and now (Revelation 5:9-10) the Lamb has ransomed people from every nation in order to make them a royal priesthood, serving God and reigning on the earth. This theme, so frequent in the New Testament and so widely ignored in Christian theology, is part of the solution to the problem [of evil]. It isn't that the cross has won the victory, so there's nothing more to be done. Rather, the cross has won the victory as a result of which there are now redeemed human beings getting ready to act as God's wise agents, his stewards, constantly worshiping their Creator and constantly, as a result, being equipped to reflect His image into His creation, to bring His wise and healing order to the world, putting the world to rights under His just and gentle rule. A truly biblical ecclesiology should focus not so much on the fact that the church is the community of the saved but that the church is the community of those who, being redeemed through the cross, are now to be a kingdom and priests to serve God and to reign on the earth. Our fear of triumphalism on the one hand, and on the other hand our flattening out of our final destiny into talk merely of "going to heaven," have combined to rob us of this central biblical theme. But until we put it back where it belongs we won't see how the New Testament ultimately offers a solution to the problem of evil.

Paraphrased... a big part of what God has saved us for is to work with Him in "putting the world to rights". My question for you... what would that look like in your home, neighborhood, workplace, world?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pretty Good News

Been doing some reading lately. Well, I actually read quite a lot… just haven’t posted about it much. Okay, I haven’t posted much about anything lately – so this seemed like a good thing to appease the blog-gods. I’ll give you fair warning… this could be a long post.

I should also preface this post by saying that while on the outside I may have the appearance of a well behaved evangelical, on the inside I’m often troubled by the too neat, too “we have all the answers about God” approach that shaped my Christian upbringing. There are times that I find myself caught between a modern and post-modern world; relating to and understanding parts of both, while also rejecting some aspects of both. (some of you might think I’m suffering from a bad case of spiritual bi-polar disorder and need to get help… quick!)

Anyway, one of the things that has bothered me over the years is that the gospel we preach is too small, and perhaps not very relevant. For example, we say that Jesus died for our sins so we can go to heaven. For many, that may be gospel (really good news.) But for many others, we have to first convince them that there is a heaven (and a hell to be avoided) before we explain the gospel, which might end up being just "pretty good news". Surely, a gospel from God would have to be really, really good news. So good, in fact, that it would be hard to resist. And yet, time and time again, my experience tells me that the gospel we preach is pretty resistible by a lot of the people we share it with.

Now, before some of you go crying “Heretic!” or “Blasphemer!” let me try to assure you that I do believe with all my heart that I am a sinner, and my sin caused a separation (death) from God (my source of life), and that Jesus’ work on the cross somehow paid my debt and restored my relationship to God. In fact, part of my frustration has been, how can I believe the above statement – while at the same time, reject that it is not the whole answer? Asking these questions out loud causes really odd looks from some, and real frustration and hurt from others.

There are, you probably realize, several other ways of explaining the gospel. Different theologians over the years have focused on different statements in Scripture to explain the gospel. But each of those explanations seems to leave out aspects of one of the other explanations, and results in a “too small” gospel.

Lately, when discussing the gospel, I’ve sort of landed on this really broad definition that says “the gospel is that the kingdom of God is breaking in, changing everything, and Jesus invites us to be a part of that.” This, of course is way too loose for many – like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.

I recently read Scot McKnight’s “Embracing Grace” (remember, this post was about reading?). In it, McKnight says that the gospel is too big for just one story to be able to tell it. One metaphor (penal substitution, for example) cannot tell the whole story. In order to tell it, we will need Irenaes’ story of Recapitulation, Anselm’s story of Satisfaction, the early theologian’s story of Ransom, the reformer’s story of Penal Substitution, Abelard’s story of Moral Example, and even more contemporary stories –being written today– like the Christus Victor story. This may make your head spin (it does mine), but at the same time it begins to form a story of Gospel that is VERY BIG and VERY GOOD NEWS.

In the end, McKnight lands on a definition of gospel that says that “the gospel is the work of the triune, interpersonal, relational God to form a community in which cracked Eikons (that’s us – cracked “image of God” people) are restored through the Cross and Resurrection and Pentecost to union with God and communion with others for the good of the world.

I rather like that. And as I talk to people, they seem to think that if such a thing were true, that’d be really good news. Trouble is, they don’t always see us promoting that gospel. But that’s another post.