Posts Tagged 'everything must change'

“I Don’t Want to be Part of Any Jesus Revolution Without a Perichoretic Dance” – Why We Need Both Jesus Manifestoes

Frank Viola and Len Sweet’s book  Jesus Manifesto remains in the Amazon Top Ten today, and my interview with them yesterday has stirred a lot of interesting conversation. Among conversation partners is my friend Jeff Straka, who airs some honest thoughts and frustrations that inspire me to say something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time. Jeff wonders:

While Brian McLaren has endorsed both these authors’ books in the past, his name is glaringly (to me, anyway) missing from the list on this new book. Nor did I find any endorsements from other names considered more solidly in the emergent movement (and not just in “conversation” with). Am I reading too much into this or is this shaping into a “spy vs. spy” manifesto?

Also, are the subtitle words “the supremacy and sovereignty of Jesus” a helpful choice of words as they seem to imply then that other religions are flat-out wrong or false (ala Franklin Graham)?

Well Jeff, we know that Brian rarely eats or sleeps, but even he cannot endorse everything. 🙂

But seriously. I think there is a difference between divergent views and hostility. F’r instance, it was apparent that Mike Wittmer didn’t merely have differences with Brian’s presentation in A New Kind of Christianity; he was pretty hostile toward Brian, both theologically and personally.

I’m almost certain that this isn’t the case here. While there are doubtless differences between Len and Brian (as the Sweet piece you cite demonstrates), I see them as iron-sharpening-iron differences and not iron-jabbing-your-opponents-eyes-out differences. Both Len and Brian have been accused of various grevious heresies by the self-appointed watchdog ministries; I doubt Len wishes to inflict that pain on anyone else, even if he disagrees with them theologically.

So: Does JM say some different things than ANKoC?

Yes.

Is it possible to enjoy both books?

Yes, I think so, though natural predispositions being what they are, readers might naturally gravitate toward one perspective or the other.

Here’s the fascinating thing, as an aside: Brian in ANKoC and Richard Rohr in The Naked Now (which I’m presently reading) both write out of a conviction that Jesus has become in the hearts and minds of Christians too remote and too ‘divine’ to be of any earthly good, or connection with his followers today. Rohr specifically indicts contemporary Christians of the heresy of gnosticism, saying that while Nicea (or was it Chalcedon? I always forget…) technically settled the matter of Jesus being fully human and fully divine, “most Christians are very good theists who just happened to name their god Jesus.” By contrast, Rohr calls for a robust incarnational ethic, where we disavow a remote ‘theism’ as such and affirm a ‘down and in’ God who is located precisely right here, in our midst. Brian and Rohr both hope that people will stop merely worshiping Jesus and start listening to and following his teachings.

Sweet and Viola, by contrast, are observing an opposite trend: People following the human Jesus, but neglecting the exalted Christ. They wish to reclaim the grandiose language of the Epistles, which speaks of a Christ who fills all-in-all. This is different than a John Piper or Franklin Graham approach of brow-beating the planet earth with a jingoistic Christ, in my opinion.

To begin with, ‘supremacy’ is used in a mystical sense, inspired by T. Austin Sparks. And the divinity of Jesus championed by V&S isparticipatory divinity: We have become partakers of the divine nature through Christ. It’s a perichoretic divinity: The expansion of the dynamic life of the Trinity into communities where this Trinitarian life is made welcome, and thus radiating into the earth. (See Viola’s From Eternity to Here and Sweet’s So Beautiful.) To be honest with you, not counting Rohr, I miss this kind of unbridled mystical-devotional dimension in much of the emerging church. I too agree that everything must change and I don’t share Len’s antipathy with liberation theology (I don’t see how anyone can read Leonardo Boff or James Cone or Gustavo Gutierrez, or know the story and plight of the Base Ecclessial Communities in Latin America, and dismiss liberation theology as simply re-hashed Marxisim), but I will paraphrase anarchist Emma Goldman here: “I don’t want to be part of any Jesus revolution without a perichoretic dance.”

I want to see an emerging conversation that makes room for neo-liberationists and neo-pietists, Jesus Manifesto and Jesus Manifesto. We need neo-pietists in the Conversation to remind us just how revolutionary Paul was, and the Epistles are – that participatory divinity linked to the monotheistic God was truly a new phenomenon in the first century, and can be just as much so today. We need the neo-pietists to remind us of a good, strong, Lutheran-esque Gospel of God’s gratuitous grace and favor toward us, and how we can’t be the ‘hands and feet of Jesus’ unless we’re connected to the authority and animating energies of Christ our Head.

And so: I hope that in the next year, emergents and missionals, organics and liturgicals, conservatives and progressives, can stop writing each other off. If I have to stop calling it the ’emerging’ conversation in order to help missional and neo-pietist folk feel more welcome at the table, I will. Because I think that’s what Jesus – the whole, living Christ – wants.

Brian & Spencer’s Excellent Adventure

I started reading Brian McLaren about eight years ago. I was drawn in by his probing, unconventional, and sometimes-controversial questions about Christian faith and practice – his, ours, everyone’s. Reading Brian morphed into friendship with Brian, and today I’d say he’s one of the top half-dozen living people who’ve had the greatest impact on my faith and life. I wasn’t alone in finding his work compelling: Many people worldwide were asking similar questions; the conversations and action that followed have created conversations and (arguably) movements. From The Church On The Other Side and his New Kind of Christian novel trilogy, to A Generous Orthodoxy and Everything Must Change, Brian has been on a journey to re-envision what it means to faithfully follow Jesus in the 21st century. For many of us in emerging, missional, and ‘progressive’ faith circles, Brian needs no introduction – and in some ways, that’s a problem, isn’t it? Presumed familiarity can sometimes breed narrative contempt, especially in our world of high-profile authors who basically rewrite the same book over and over again. But I can honestly say that, in light of Brian’s back-catalog, this book breaks some new ground and is written with fresh candor and synthesis. That’s why I’m so happy with this ten-minute video of Brian and Spencer Burke, driving around Santa Monica and discussing where they’re at with faith and life these days.  I hear a wiser, more no-nonsense McLaren who’s grown more comfortable in his own skin, more comfortable as a voice and statesman for a new generation of Christianity coming of age in the 21st century. What hear ye?

Brian isn’t finished questing and questioning. Whether you love his work or it makes you nervous, whether you’ve read his every book or have lost track with him these past few years, his latest offering is his most important and striking to date: A New Kind of Christianity. In it, Brian asks ten questions that attempt to integrate our inner lives with our outward actions, to align our beliefs with how we live in increasingly interconnected global community. Questions like

  • The Narrative Question: What Is the Overarching Storyline of the Bible?
  • The Authority Question: How Should the Bible Be Understood?
  • The God Question: Is God Violent?
  • The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and Why is He Important?
  • The Gospel Question: What Is the Gospel?
  • The Church Question: What Do We Do About the Church?
  • The Sex Question: Can We Find a Way to Address Sexuality Without Fighting About It?
  • The Future Question: Can We Find a Better Way of View the Future?
  • The Pluralism Question: How Should Followers of Jesus Relate to People of Other Religions?
  • The What Do We Do Now Question: How Can We Translate Our Quest into Action?

We at TheOOZE are teaming up with Brian to bring these questions into your churches, coffee shops, pubs and living rooms. In addition to the Think:FWD episode here (go here for show notes BTW), we’re going to be launching an entire Brian McLaren channel devoted to exploring these questions starting in February. Stay tuned!

Want more links?

A Perfect World? What If?

My friend Kevin Beck, co-creative at eschatological thinktank/activist cell Presence International, has written a thought-provoking piece for the new year. I encourage you to read it in its entirety and comment below. With any luck, Mr. Beck himself will join us.

Happy New Year, and welcome to a perfect 2008! Perfect? How can anything be perfect? There is disease, sadness, and poverty. Political upheaval in Pakistan and Kenya threaten what little global stability there is. Maybe only a fool would try to suggest things are perfect. Just look out the window. At best we can only hope things might become perfect sometime down the line – and only if God miraculously intervenes and destroys a lot of people and establishes a top-down enlightened dictatorship forcing everyone into compliance with his wishes.That’s the story seeping out of popular religious and political circles. Just this past week, one well-known televangelist released the contents of his annual “message from God.” According to him, God has several disasters in store for us. How shocking! Not all religious voices make such exact predictions, and certainly not all agree on the specific solutions. One anticipates all “true believers” to be levitated off the planet, leaving all others behind to suffer intolerable disasters due to their hardened unbelief. A more “scholarly” approach dismisses rapturism, opting instead for God remake the space-time universe, thereby undoing all manner of distress.While these schools of thought are separated in the way they see the “solution,” they understand the “problem” exactly the same. According to that version of the story, humanity is corrupt to the core. We supposedly fell from a state of perfection, and we now wander in the wasteland of flaws, defects, and deficiencies. As wretchedly sinful creatures filled with rebellion against God and disdain for all things holy, we can only hope to escape this miserable existence.In this way of thinking, we end up living on a treadmill of what we sadly call hope. We hope for the God to make renovations to or destruction of the planet – as if that will “fix all of our problems.” I’ve always wondered: if humanity could mess up an ideal world in the first place, what would keep us from doing the same after God remade things? Meanwhile as the song says, we keep on waitin’, waitin’ on the world to change. Paradoxically, our “theology of hope” leaves the majority of humanity desperate, left on the outside, without God, and without hope in the world.

Perhaps, we’ve misplaced our hope and abdicated our role as divine partners in creating our world. The wisdom writer noted that hope deferred makes the heart grow sick. After millennia of practicing deferred hope, religion has done a marvelous job of fostering sick hearts.

But what if there is a different way of telling the Biblical story? A fresh way of reading the Bible? A new way of understanding the work of God in the world? What if this way remained true to the scriptural witness? It didn’t gloss over, ignore, or dismiss the more disturbing sections, yet it didn’t descend into crass fundamentalism? What if this way accepted the integrity of Jesus and his initial followers who announced their expectation of the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God in their day? What if this way of reading the Biblical story casts out all fear – not just some fear, but all of it? What if this way allowed you to see the end as just the beginning?

This is what we at Presence International are dedicated to helping people see and experience in their own lives. We call this approach Transmillennial because it cuts across the millennia, reaching back from Jesus’ day to translate his first-century message of world-transformation into meaningful life practice for our twenty-first century world.

We explore these dynamics in the 6-week Transformations course. [Note from Mike: this is an excellent course! I encourage anyone to take it] In this online class, we discuss the four quadrants of transformation: Covenantal, Personal, Organizational, and Societal. Each week takes a particular aspect of these quadrants and offers real-life instruction on understanding the process of creative transformation. The way in which Jesus envisioned and enacted covenantal transformation can change the way you live. It can revolutionize the way your family, faith community, and workplace functions. It can transfigure our society and your world.

One of the fist steps is simply becoming aware of what exactly Jesus was working toward. Jesus rejected the mainstream conformist way of his day. At the same time, he refused to get caught up in the blame game of political revolution. He found a third way, a creative path that transformed everything once for all.

Of course, it’s easy to become enamored with studying the past. We can talk forever about what Jesus did without ever comprehending its value and meaning for our lives and world. This is why we at Presence International are actively engaging people from all walks of life with this transformative message. If God transformed all things from death into life through self-emptying love, then we can begin to see that God truly has reconciled the world to himself. We can do more than criticize popular theologies that predict a catastrophic end. We can go beyond seeking political solutions for the world’s issues. Instead, we can love our neighbors as ourselves. We can love our enemies and in so doing be perfect as God is perfect.

See, while awareness is a necessary first step in transformation, it is not the last one. Awareness is followed by acceptance. Acceptance of what is. Acceptance of ourselves. Acceptance of others. Acceptance of God. Acceptance of the forgiveness that you have already been granted. Acceptance of God’s acceptance of you.

For generations, humanity has told itself that we are nothing but filthy, rotten sinners. We’ve believed that we are full of failure, weakness, and fault. We’ve been telling ourselves that we are sinners in the hands of an angry God, and that we are locked in spiritual battles with demonic forces, which – naturally – means that anyone who disagrees with “us” is in league with malevolent supernatural forces and must be dealt with decisively one way or another.

This takes us back to where we began. We’ve told ourselves that the only way out of this mess is for God to take all of the good people into heaven, destroy the earth, or magically start all over.

The Transmillennial approach offers an alternative to these doom and gloom outlooks. We at Presence believe that God has made all things new, and that we all have been given the divine gift of being able to shape our world. Again, the wisdom writer affirms that death and life are in the power of the tongue. Instead of speaking words of death as we have for so long, it is time to speak words of life. Words such as, “You are forgiven. You are loved. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. I and my Father are one. God’s mercies are new every morning. I am free. God is love. With God all things are possible.”

When we change our way of speaking and thinking, we will begin to see things anew. More than an optical illusion, all things will become new. We will forge new deep structures in our individual and collective psyches that will manifest themselves outwardly. At Presence, we call this Agapeology – loving God by loving others.

As you know, the Biblical story begins with two trees in a garden. One is the Tree of Life. The other is the Tree of the knowledge of God and Evil. As Doug King eloquently illustrates in his talks at Transmillennial 2007, the tree of the Knowledge of God and Evil is so deceptive because it promises what it can’t deliver. In the hope of knowing God by knowing what is good, that tree sows the seeds of judgment. In an amazing realization, Paul announces that he actually experienced “death through that which is good” (Romans 7:13). How astounding! Through the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Paul could not achieve what he sought.

However, Paul sees Christ delivering him and all humanity from the fruitless cycle of attempting to live according to the Knowledge of God and Evil. When we read John’s vision of the New Creation – the New Order – we find only one tree. There is simply the Tree of Life. It blossoms year round, providing healing fruit for all.

Today, we have the God-given gift of taking that fruit and eating it. But more than that, we have the blessing of planting the seeds of the fruit from the Tree of Life in our own gardens. We can tend and keep the garden that brings forth a harvest of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Kindness, Faith, Meekness, and Temperance.

As you plant and cultivate the seeds of the Tree of Life, you will find the fruit to heal. The more of us that plant, the more healing we will experience in our shared experience. Of course, this is a lifelong process, a spiritual practice that comes not through engaging in some esoteric rituals. Instead, it happens in the everyday relationships with ourselves and one another. Conscious, intentional, and deliberate thinking and living will bring about vibrant results – individually, locally, and globally.

This is why 2008 is perfect. It is already saturated with God’s presence, in fulfillment of his promises to create humanity in the divine likeness. Jesus does not have to physically return to earth on a cloud of water vapor to achieve that. Instead, Jesus was convinced that in recognizing God’s fellowship with us we would share his joy completely, perfectly (John 17:13).
The point of perfection, then, is not the cessation of what we normally call disasters. Even Jesus experienced loneliness, misunderstanding, hunger, sorrow, and death. Yet, through it all he remained confident that “as the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father.” More than that, he believed that we “may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.” Today, we participate in the joy of his fulfilled confidence knowing that because he has appeared we are like him; for we see him as he is. Face to face. Right where you are, now and forever more.

Enjoy a perfect 2008!

And so…I might as well come out and say, kicking off this new year, that I’m with Presence, and other voices of change like Shane Claiborne, Rob Bell and Brian McLaren–there are different, more hope-filled, and just as ‘biblical’ ways of mixing and framing the Christian story–ways that empower rather than sour, that give credible spiritual energies rather than fatalistic schemes. I have questions about semantics and application, but I am excited that the Spirit seems to be speaking in our midst, and leading the way forward.

What thinkest thou?


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