Tuesday, May 17, 2011

another question about hell

From Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian:

Religious determinists have offered us another determinism we could call the “soul-sort” universe: everyone will be sorted into either the destruction/damnation or the redemption/salvation bin. Everyone is determined to end up in one or the other. That sounds good if you’re one of the chosen few, but, then again, how could good and generous people rest in peace or celebrate in bliss when they know the majority of their ancestors, friends, family members, and descendants are experiencing eternal conscious torment in hell? (p. 195)

This is a question I have really begun to wrestle with. There is no easy answer, and it’s not a debate that’s going to be settled anytime soon. But I think it is an important conversation to have—to think, share ideas, listen, ponder, read, study, wonder…It’s one of those issues that isn’t as black and white as we may want it to be.

Brian asks an interesting question in a recent blog post, responding to a question about whether or not Osama bin Laden is in hell: “Do we fear that God will be excessively merciful or excessively harsh?”

Thoughts, anyone?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Brian McLaren on church

From A New Kind of Christianity:

The church, then, in Paul’s mind, must be above all a school of love. If it’s not that, it’s nothing,. Its goal is not simply to pump knowledge into people, but to train them in the “way of love,” so they may do the “work of the Lord,” empowered by the Holy Spirit, as the embodiment of Christ. Perhaps school isn’t the best metaphor, though, unless we think of a karate school or a dance school or a language school—not simply a community where you learn or learn about, but where you learn to. (p.170)

Too often we think of church as a place to impart information, rather than a group of people who walk through life together. The types of schools Brian gave as examples are schools that are more about doing something, as well as learning something. The knowledge we often gain in church does little more than make us feel better about ourselves, or more sure of our position (and as a result, more critical of others).

Church should be a group of people who “do life together.” People committed to looking beyond themselves to the community and world around them, striving to establish God's kingdom and helping make the lives of others a little better.

Friday, May 13, 2011

common ground

With all the differences within the Church, what is the one common mission or message?

“To form Christ-like people, people of Christ-like love.” (A New Kind of Christian, p. 164)

Yesterday I posted a passage (which Blogger lost, and I don't have the book with the quote anymore) about diversity in churches and denominations, and how that can be a good thing. So if we celebrate diversity instead of judging or criticizing those who are different, what do we focus on? What do we seek as common ground? It’s easy to focus on the differences, but what do we have in common?

Instead of making sure that others have the right theology; what if we simply love them as Christ loves them, and walk by their side as they go through life. What if we allow the Holy Spirit to teach and grow and correct?

I’m not saying we never teach or disagree or offer correction to someone else. But we should do it in a spirit of humility, not arrogance; remembering that there are times when we may not be right, or have the only valid perspective. Our focus should be to love one another, and let God do the molding and shaping. I notice that anytime I get too focused on what I think God wants to do in someone else’s life, I lose sight of what God may be doing in my life.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Gospel of the Kingdom (more from Brian McLaren)

In A New Kind of Christian, Brian McLaren describes a conversation with a well-known Evangelical theologian:

(he) upset years of theological certainty with one provocative statement: “Most Evangelicals haven’t got the foggiest notion of what the gospel really is.” He then asked me how I would define the gospel, and I answered as any good Romans Protestant would, quoting Romans. He followed up with this simple but annoying rhetorical question: “You’re quoting Paul. Shouldn’t you let Jesus define the gospel?” When I gave him a quizzical look, he asked, “What was the gospel according to Jesus?” A little humiliated, I mumbled something akin to “You tell me,” and he replied, “For Jesus, the gospel was very clear: The Kingdom of God is at hand. That’s the gospel according to Jesus. Right?” I again mumbled something, maybe “I guess so.” Seeing my lack of conviction, he added, “Shouldn’t you read Paul in light of Jesus, instead of reading Jesus in light of Paul?

--p. 137-138

I think the theologian Brian refers to is Dallas Willard. I heard Dallas talk about this several years ago, and was really impacted by his ideas about the Kingdom.

I think many of us have elevated the writings attributed to Paul above the words of Jesus in the NT. Paul is more black and white, easier to understand and apply. But Jesus’ words, while not always as clear and straightforward, reveal first-hand the heart of God.

Much of the language we use in our modern (and post-modern) Christian culture is not found in the Bible; rather, it is language that comes from our interpretations of the Bible—“personal Lord and Savior,” “make a commitment to Christ,” “the sinner’s prayer.”

In applying such language, we have simplified the Gospel to this: Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected for one purpose—so that those who decide to follow/accept/receive Him will live in heaven forever when they die.

While that is a core belief for Christians, and it is truly good news, it is not necessarily the good news that Jesus proclaimed. We have the idea that the Gospel is about us, about how we can overcome death and go to heaven. But when we look at the words of Jesus, it seems that His priority was his kingdom, and living it out on earth. This is important because it helps us take our focus off ourselves and put it onto others.

Much of our traditional language about the Gospel is focused on our response and reward—we accept Jesus, believe in him, profess him, and obey him—all so that he will be with us, bless us, protect us, and most of all, save us from hell.

But Jesus was most concerned with us learning how to be faithful to him, and living life focused on others. His main message was to love God and serve our neighbor, to do what we can to make the world a better place.

In this I fall terribly short. Especially over the last couple years, as I have tried to keep my family above water financially, finish my MDiv, and look for the next job/ministry/adventure. I have become very self-absorbed. I realize that I do very little to contribute to God’s Kingdom beyond my family and friends.

We are in a period of transition—there will be some new things coming soon for us as a family. I am hopeful that we can have a kind of fresh start, and commit as a family to be more involved in helping to live out God’s Kingdom in our community.

Friday, May 06, 2011

random thoughts

Just some random thoughts on a Friday night. It was a good week; worked at Mountain View most of the week--fun in PE class (whiffle ball), English, Chemistry.

Had some good and bad baseball this week. A fun, come from behind win by the home team in a local varsity game tonight; and a 15-1 private school blowout yesterday. The language in baseball is pretty rough, even in high school. At least at the private schools, they preface the profanity with prayer; ie. "Jesus Christ, I didn't hit that worth sh*t!"

Tonight I was standing near the plate between innings, looking up at the sky--it was beautiful. We had rain earlier, now it was clearing up, the sun was going down, and the sky was filled with scattered clouds and rays of sunshine breaking through. Just then, three old airplanes flew over the field (there is an old air-field nearby). Watching those planes fly across the sky, with the clouds and the colors of the sunset behind, was breathtaking.

I stood there thinking how great my life is. Even in stressful times, I am blessed with a family that fills me with joy, a home, great friends, and baseball. I love baseball season. I love umpiring. 2 games tomorrow; better get to bed.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Seeing through the Bible

more from A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren:

…seeing Christ as the hinge of the biblical story, the spine or backbone of the narrative, the climax and focal point toward which the Old Testament points and ascends and the peak from which the vigor and vitality of the New Testament flow. This is how Jesus can be seen, for Christians, as the supreme and ultimate revelation of God, with the Old and New Testaments pointing to him like dual spotlights…

Don’t simply look at the Bible, I am suggesting; look through the Bible to look at Jesus, and you will see the character of God shining radiant and full. (p. 118)

In his gospel, John identifies Jesus as the Word. Yet today, when we refer to the Word, we are almost always talking about the Bible. Is this wise? Is it accurate? Do we run the risk of worshiping the Bible instead of Jesus? The Bible is not the goal—Jesus is. The Bible is an amazing collection of writings that all tell the story of God and His relationship with His people. It is a great tool or resource to help us learn about and connect with God; and we believe that God communicates through it; but it is not God.

To live according to the Word…I want this to mean that I live in intimate relationship with Jesus. Reading the Bible, studying it, praying it, living in it--helps me in my relationship with Jesus; not by telling me what and what not to do, but by revealing the heart of God, seen through his interactions with his people over thousands of years, and embodied in the life and teachings of His son, Jesus.

The Bible helps me better see God’s heart, God’s desires for my life, God’s hopes for the world we live in. The Bible comforts me when I am hurting, encourages me to be the man God wants me to be, challenges me when I need it, and most of all, shows me the amazing, endless, perfect love of the God behind the words and stories.