Saturday, March 20, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
Jesus, followed by his early community of followers, transformed purity from a concern with social rank and spiritual superiority to service. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet to say: purity is ministering to the neediest in the community, not distinguishing yourself from them.I cannot think of a more lost message in Christianity today than th one I have highlighted in that pullquote. Just survey the best selling titles at a book "Christian" bookstore. Most and in the category self-help, and many are just blatant in the appeal - "Your Best Life Now."
This revolutionized ancient religion. Its consequences were world-transformative. As Rodney Stark points out in The Rise of Christianity, when the Roman Empire was hit with the plague, and everyone else ran away, the Christians stayed behind and ministered to the sick and dying. Thus, it began to grow exponentially.
This implies that in the New Testament, “impure” becomes a synonym for “selfish” or “self-serving”, as in Ephesians 5:5: “No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God (NIV).” Thus, the text covers three basic classes of actions excluded from the kingdom to be inaugurated by Jesus Christ: wrong actions in sexual behavior, social behavior, and economic behavior. [emphasis added]
If purity=selflessness I must wonder how it is that, in general, the church moves its congregants towards purity at all these days? We cater to every whim of the pew. Where do we teach such selflessness?
I wonder, continually, if it is right to "sell" Christianity on the basis of what it can do for "me" and then turn around and tell people that what it does is make you not worry about yourself so much? I think most of us get PO'd at bait-and-switch from the retailers we deal with, why should be be any different with religion.
Or, are we, like the retailers, satisfied is someone buys something - anything? Is it "the churn" that matters? Isn't that just a tad bit mercenary? Are we really willing to let that many people just fall by the wayside, many of the angry? Are we that unconcerned with the life of EVERY person that walks through our doors?
Indeed, "many are called, few are chosen." But, does that mean we let the church be defined by the unchosen? Does that mean we turn a hard heart to the unchosen?
Should we not at least mourn them?
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Wilkens and Sanford find three ways Christians conceive of the relationship of psychology and Christian living/theology:In some ways that's not much of a taxonomy since that third category holds just about everything, and yet says absolutely nothing. But that said, the two poles described are pretty accurate.
1. All problems are spiritual; forget the psychologist and dig into the Word. Sometimes called "biblical counseling."
2. Salvation comes by discovering your inner self -- therapeutic approach to salvation.
3. Various degrees of combination.
Like all polar extremes, the truth lies somewhere in that third category - the question is where? McKnight begins to hint at the answer:
They then dip into Freud, Rogers, Skinner and Family systems, and they are right to see them as worldviews.We tend to conflate things that are not really there. Saying psychology is a worldview is a little like saying science is, and we know where that has led us.
There are three maxims I try to live by. 1) Psychological counseling is all about finding the right counselor. You need one that looks at the world pretty much the same way you do - meaning a person of faith at minimum. 2) Christ does not guarantee happiness, just goodness. 3) Pastors are not generally trained as counselors. Some are, but its is not part of the "core curriculum."
You remember those three things and you are likely to find what you are looking for in church and counseling.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Consider that in many churches the coffee bar has displaced the Lord's Table as the place where real community happens. Due in part to the neutralizing of sacred space that has been popular since the 1980s, churches began removing or deemphasizing the Lord's Table and introducing coffee bars. Without doubt the desire has been to build community by offering people a culturally familiar setting to engage one another. But we must ask: What formative message does a coffee bar convey?He then contrasts the kind of community built and message sent by the two gathering places:
A coffee bar mostly carries the values of our culture. We've come to expect coffee bars to offer a number of choices to meet our desires (decaf, tea, hot chocolate), and the setting is one of leisure and comfort. We usually gather in affinity groups. We sip the beverages not because we're thirsty but because we're conditioned to want them.His analysis does come with an important reminder:
By contrast, what does the Lord's Table convey? It is a symbol of sacrificial love that breaks down cultural divisions and barriers of affinity. It reminds us that life is about being chosen by the Lord for interpersonal communion rather than choosing to consume stuff, and it reminds us we are called to take up our cross rather than seek personal comfort.
At the same time, there is no guarantee that a church that prominently displays the Lord's Table and forgoes coffee will automatically model unity, pastoral care, or break down cultural and generational cliques. It's particularly hard when we engage the Lord's Table privately or solely with our friends and loved ones.But let's return to the primary contrast he established. There was a time when the art and symbols in our lives served to take us places we could not go. Not necessarily physically, but intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. The architecture of the great churches served to give us a glimpse of the beauty that is our God. Art, both visual and musical, served to evoke in us a sense of the sacred. Heck, in the more mundane, when I was a kid comic books served to remind us of the heroic ideal.
Not so much anymore - art and architecture now tend to be increasingly familiar. The serve to reinforce our problems rather that call us out of them. In my beloved comics, the heroism serves anymore as mere background for the emotional angst of a love triangle in the Justice League or a drug addiction in the Avengers.
We need sacred space - if it is not the church, maybe it is natural (mountains, beaches, etc.) We need places that are beautiful, that call us forward.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Becoming God's Person
When I read this comment this morning, I immediately returned in my mind to my last visit to a church near me, a church I often attend when I am not preaching elsewhere. One thing about this church is predictable: I will hear about the necessity that my behavior must change. I must attend church more. I must do more church-related work. I must give more and witness more (and this despite that I am a full time missionary teacher working with mostly non-Christian teenagers.) I must support the church more. It is a constant example of the “church shaped spirituality” you’ll be hearing about in my book. Everything is about behavior. Behavior that must change. What I must feel. What God requires of me.There is more I want to get to, but iMonk's set up here lends itself to a comment. There is a disconnect, but part of it has to do with the fact that we keep calling people to behavior related to church instead of behavior related to becoming the people God created them to be.
When I leave I am, literally, beaten down. The Gospel is a past tense matter and its time to get down to “application.” (Not a bad thing, but something that requires careful gardening.) The over-riding present tense concern is behavior, and I feel it. My behavior is not what the preacher believes it ought to be. And will I hear the “comfortable words” of the Gospel? Unlikely. Somewhere in the relationship between the evangel we proclaim, the offer to the broken and the demands of behavior change we make of the saved, there has been a disconnect. Readers of this site know this language. It is what, as I will say this fall, drives thousands of people away from the church for the sake of their own integrity to the gracious message of Jesus.
People are not dumb, they know when the lever of their faith is being used to drive them to support a flawed institution that only occasionally aligns itself with the will of God for themselves and the ones they love. God does call us to change and behave differently, but that does not necessarily mean teaching Sunday School at your church, and to tell me it does, even imply it, smacks of you trying to take God's place in my life.
Back to iMonk:
We’re on dangerous ground here, friends. Getting the Gospel of justification- a glad announcement of Good News- balanced with reality of Spirit-produced, Jesus-shaped “behavior” change is not just a matter of lining up arguments. It’s a matter of despair or confident assurance in God’s love. Say “required behavior modification,” and I am on the verge of despair, as are many, many others whose journey through evangelicalism has left them hungry for a place to stop and say “Here I know that God loves me, now, with no demands at all.” If you don’t think the sacramental presence view of the eucharist doesn’t touch many of us deeply at that point, you aren’t paying attention.Here we get to the core. "Behavior Modification" is not directly a matter of will, but a matter of transformation. Spencer goes on to discuss books about the relationship of justification and sanctification - fair enough, sound like good books, but it was a bit disappointing to have the argument placed in front of me when the table had been set so deliciously for a discussion of hearts and the Holy Spirit.
Why dangerous ground? Because we are talking about two hearts: the heart of the Gospel and the heart of every believer, that heart from which all true Gospel produced, God honoring, Jesus shaped change must flow. Behavior change is small change in the Kingdom if it is not a living garden growing out of soil saturated with the blood and body of Christ.
The bottom line is this. We know how to apply our will to ourselves and we know how to bend people to our will - but changing hearts - genuine transformation - well, that is a task only the Holy Spirit can accomplish. And will intellect and understanding are not the enemy of the Holy Spirit we often use them as shields against Him and His efforts in our lives. If nothing else, we let "trying to understand" what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives divert us from actually letting Him do it.
A thought that always brings me back to Jesus and the whole speck v plank in the eye thing. I believe that American Christianity, taken as a whole, whether you want to discuss Evangelicalism, or iMonk's "post-evangelical wilderness" or whatever is in a season of needing to remove the plank from its own eye.
We are holding the Holy Spirit at bay. Whether it be through intellectual activity, or worrying worship styles to death, or selling books, or trying to 'modify behavior' - we are diverting ourselves from the transformation that we should be enjoying. I am not proposing a break out of tongues or anything so wild here - I am thinking still small voice stuff - but we do need to start listening - we do need to get the hell out of the way.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Showing Sin Light
We should all be growing in our understanding of the gospel. Over the past five years in pastoral ministry, the Lord has been teaching me about the liberating power of the gospel: it frees us to admit that truth about us.After setting up the problem in this way Michael McKinley quotes Alfred Poirier:
I am blown away by how many Christians (myself included) want to live in denial, desperately hiding the sins and struggles that would make us look bad. Even if we're not aware of it, we often think something like, "If people knew the truth about me, then they would reject me and judge me. If I admitted the truth about myself to myself, I would have to feel guilt and shame."
Now think about how much damage is done in marriages, in churches, between parents and children, when people won't own their guilt and ask for forgiveness.
In response to my sin, the cross has criticized me more intensely, deeply, pervasively, and truly than anyone else ever could. This knowledge permits us to say to all other criticism of us: "This is just a fraction of it."... If the cross says anything, it speaks about my sin.and Tim Keller:
The gospel gives you psychological freedom to handle the wrong things that you will do. You won’t have to deny, spin, or repress the truth about yourself. These things don’t make it impossible to know who you are. Only with the support of hearing Jesus say, “You are capable of terrible things, but I am absolutely, unconditionally committed to you,” will you be able to be honest with yourself.in response.
My initial response to this was that it was a great thing - A discussion of good old confession "in disguise" as psychobabble. Then I was struck by the self-centeredness of it, confession not as a means of reconciling with God, but as a means to self-realization. Of course, is that really that different than confession as a means of staying out of hell? The answer, of course, is "not really."
But then the question arises, "Which language choice more readily lets us come to understand that it is not about us, it is about God." In one approach the end result is to "fell good about ourselves." I the other approach we move from being a sinner to being a forgiven sinner. In one approach we can say, "See that wasn't so bad." In the other we can say, "Thank you God that your love exceeds my awfulness."
Or is this just the psychological approach to deep true confession - a means of overcoming the natural barriers we have to it? But should not confession be a matter of discipline, not a matter of getting ourselves in the right frame of mind to do it? Is there not deep value in the shame and guilt we feel as it lets us discover the immensity of God's love.
Maybe I should just be grateful that given the state of the church today someone is talking about anything that approaches confession and stop nit-picking the details to death. Yeah, that's probably the ticket - baby steps.