Posts Tagged 'Holy Spirit'



Does God Have An ‘Eternal Purpose’? A Review of From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola

https://i1.wp.com/frometernitytohere.org/pic2.jpgIt was 2003; I was 23. Finally after all these years, I had scraped up the cash (& credit cards) to undergo that great American rite of passage – the summer trip to Europe. Thanks to the generosity of Andrew Jones & family, a couple of house churches, and many other hospitable friends (including Bea & Andy Marshall) I made my way from London to Bournemouth to the Netherlands to Birmingham and Sheffield. While on one leg of my British journey, I was part of a learning party Andrew & friends put on called Wabi-Sabi. It was there I was having a conversation with a fellow American, a new friend 20 years my senior, who had published a book the year before. He was a pastor and church planter, and ‘coach’ to other pastors and church planters. He was asking me what I was up to, & I told him about a book I was working on. (It’s a book I’m still working on! Could this be the month I finish it..?)

“What’s it about?” He asked.

I proceeded to tell him, noting that in part it attempts to unfold “The eternal purpose of God.”

“Well!” He exclaimed jovially but incredulously. “When you figure that one out, be sure to let the rest of us know!”

Ah, these were the early, heady days of postmodern incredulity to metanarratives – even postmodern Christian suspicion of Christian metanarratives. And why not, after all? We (at least, we evangelical Christians) were weaned on a ‘big story’ of “If you were to die tonight, do you have assurance in your heart that you’d go to heaven?” Or, “Have you heard the four spiritual laws?” Those of us following Jesus with awareness of our post-everything cultural shift were keenly aware of the shortcomings of our blithely-uttered “theories of everything,” and were looking for a humbler approach – even if it ultimately meant affirming a much humbler, more localized, cosmology.

But I had a problem – one I still have, at least in part, today. But it’s one I think From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola speaks into. My problem, sitting in Europe circa 2003 – and in the Southeast US of A circa 2009 – is that, since 1998 or so, I was arrested by a grand story – a tale of a God in love, a God who is love, a God who is Community, creating matter and physicality and embodiment as an expression of that love to pour Godself into. If this Story doesn’t do away with the Fall-Rescue-Restoration narrative so common to Christendom, it certainly reframes it, going back further and then permeating the present, to the point (for me at least) that some eschatological tensions are less pronounced. And further still, proponents of this Story have the audacity to believe it’s hiding in plain sight right in our bibles: https://i0.wp.com/jotpuree.com/images/theophanes_in_russia_larger/theophanes_in_russia_larger-Images/16.jpg

Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Paul’s letter known as Ephesians, 3:8-11, TNIV – emphasis mine, as ancient Hebrews & Greeks did not have italic fonts yet.)

So this story’s sexy – it has grace, and the overseeing of an age-old ‘mystery,’ in the same sense as ‘mystical’ or Babylonian mystery religion (only better). A message, a power, hidden by God in Christ that would be as revelatory to heavenly principalities and powers as it would be for mere mortals, a divine purpose that’s not only age-old but eternal.

WTF??

By which I mean Where to, Frank?? It is this impenetrable enigma that Viola turns his pen to unfolding for us – and it’s a good thing, too: If folks in the first century CE barely grasped what the apostle Paul (and, Frank contends, Jesus – and others) were talking about, we certainly don’t talk much about this stuff 20+ centuries later.

Except, interestingly, there is a stream of the Christian family who has dared speak about such things: Plymouth Brethren, Christian Missionary Alliance, Keswick Higher Life movement folks, and their descendents. I can’t do justice to their whole story here – that’d be a post in itself, or a series – so I’ll just do a genealogy. Ruth Paxson begat Mary McDonough begat Watchman Nee and T. Austin-Sparks (I’m talkin’ spiritually, now) begat Stephen Kaung and Devern Fromke. Hudson Taylor and AW Tozer run around in this family tree too, somewhere. All of these folks had teaching ministries, or churches, or publishing outreaches, the emphasized the the exchange that happens when those who trust in Christ spiritually ‘die’ with Christ and have his resurrected life take the place of your own – and how this all fits into a larger, more cosmic plan of God’s original purpose – or as Fromke calls it, ‘The Ultimate Intention.’

Frank brings these teachers’ core messages into the 21st century, connecting them in dialogue with other branches of the Christian family, including neo-orthodox folks like Karl Barth & Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who explore radically Christ-centered spirituality as the ground of all being and escape from religion and conventional categories of knowledge), and more recently still post-evangelical luminaries like Stan Grenz and Miroslav Volf who explore the social habits of the Trinity and how these might be reflected in the Church.

So where to, Frank? Frank wants us to begin in the Godhead:

In “the agelessness of eternity,” God had an incredible dream: He wished to expand the “infinite communion” that He had with His beloved Son. He wanted other beings to participate in the interior mystery of the Trinity, to share in the sacred exchange of fellowship, love, and life that flows…between the Father and His Son. He wanted others to participate in “the amiable society” of the Godhead.

But he doesn’t end there. In order to “participate” in the Godhead, the Church in Frank’s depiction lives out four values (see chapter 27):

Communion with God:

As the bride of Christ, the church is called to commune with, love, enthrone, and intimately know the heavenly Bridegroom who indwells her.
Churches that excel in the bridal dimension give time and attention to spiritual fellowship with the Lord. Worship is a priority. Seeking the Lord, loving Him, communing with Him, and encountering Him are central.

Corporate display of the church in an atmosphere of ever-member freedom:

The church is called to gather together regularly to display God’s life through the ministry of every Christian. How? …In open-participatory meetings where every member of the believing priesthood functions, ministers, and expresses the living God in an open-participatory atmosphere (see 1 Cor. 14:26; 1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 10:24–25, etc).

God dwells in every Christian and can inspire any of us to share something that comes from Him with the church. In the first century, every Christian had both the right and the privilege of speaking to the community. This is the practical expression of the New Testament doctrine of the priesthood all believers.
The open-participatory church meeting was the common gathering of the early church. It’s purpose? To edify the entire church and to display, express, and reveal the Lord through the members of the body to principalities and powers in heavenly places (Eph. 3:8–11).

Community life where practical reconciliation takes place:

The church’s allegiance was exclusively given to the new Caesar, the Lord Jesus, and she lived by His rule. As a result, the response by her pagan neighbors was, “Behold, how they love one another!”

God’s ultimate purpose is to reconcile the universe under the lordship of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:20; Eph. 1:10). As the community of the King, the church stands in the earth as the masterpiece of that reconciliation and the pilot project of the reconciled universe. In the church, therefore, the Jewish-Gentile barrier has been demolished as well as all barriers of race, culture, sex, etc. (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:16). The church lives and acts as the new humanity on earth that reflects the community of the Godhead.

Thus when those in the world see a group of Christians from different cultures and races loving one another, caring for one another, meeting one another’s needs, living against the current trends of this world that give allegiance to other gods instead of to the world’s true Lord, Jesus Christ, it is watching the life of the future kingdom lived out on earth in the present. As Stanley Grenz once put it, “The church is the pioneer community. It points toward the future God has in store for His creation.”

It is this “kingdom community” that turned the Roman Empire on its ear. Here was a people who possessed joy, who loved one another deeply, who made decisions by consensus, who handled their own problems, who married each other, who met one another’s financial needs, and who buried one another.

Commission where we love the world as God does:

As we have already seen, when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He chose to express Himself through a body to continue His ministry on earth. As the body of Christ, the church not only cares for its own, but it also cares for the world that surrounds it. Just as Jesus did while He was on earth.

The pages of history are filled with stories of how the early Christians took care of the poor, stood for those who suffered injustice, and met the needs of those who were dying by famine or plague. In other words, the early Christian communities cared for their non-Christian neighbors who were suffering.
Not a few times a plague would sweep through a city, and all the pagans left town immediately, leaving their loved ones to die. That included the physicians. But it was the Christians who stayed behind and tended to their needs, sometimes even dying in the process…the early church understood that she was carrying on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. She well understood that He was the same today, yesterday, and forever (Heb. 13:8).

So there you have it. I’m still not sure if we contingent humans can dare speak in plain prose about something as ineffable as an “eternal purpose of God.” And yet, if I saw my American church planter friend again today, I’d echo Pete Rollins (or is that Caputo? Or is that Derrida?) in saying that while language definitely fails at such a sublime provocation, we cannot help but speak about eternity and ultimate meaning. Some of the best conversations, orations, letters and books have been penned exploring this very idea, and From Eternity to Here is no exception. What I appreciate about it is its desire to marry the contemplative with the active, the mystical (if you will) with the missional. As I said in my inside-cover endorsement of the book,

Frank Viola is the heir apparent to classic Deeper Christian Life teachers, faithfully bringing their core ideas into the 21st century with his own fresh insight. Visio Dei meets Missio Dei in this passionate examination of what motivates the very heart of God!

Check it out. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And for a list of reviews and endorsements, check out the booksite.

Further Atonement Thoughts: Late to the Party

[he_qi_crucifixion.jpg]Earlier this week, kicking off Lent, Tony Jones pointed his readers to some reflections on Jesus atonement, including my recent pieces “Beyond Liberal and Conservative” and “Possible Reconstructions.” The resultant comment-conversation is largely quite encouraging, and worth reading. One of the highlights from me was this helpful summary of atonement models by Brian:

(1) Substitutionary atonement (Calvin) – Christ’s voluntarily suffers and dies on the cross as our substitute. In other words, Jesus takes the punishment of God for sinners by representing us.

(2) Satisfaction (Anselm) – Christ’s voluntary sacrifice of his innocent life pays our debt to God so God’s justice can be satisfied. In short, Jesus makes restitution for us.

(3) Ransom (Origen) – Adam and Eve sold humanity out to the devil, so God had to trick the devil into accepting Christ’s death as a ransom so we can be free. In the end, the devil is tricked because Jesus got resurrected after we are freed.

(4) Moral influence (Abelard) – Jesus’ life and death are characterized by his exemplary obedience to God’s love, therefore demonstrating to humanity the love of God. So, Jesus should awaken sinners to God’s reality and inspire us to be obedient to God.

(5) Governmental (Grotius) – God demonstrates God’s anger toward sin by punishing Christ. Here, God is understood as a judge who demands divine justice for sinners. In the end, Jesus suffers in order that humans can be forgiven and God’s justice can be upheld.

(6) Liberation (Boff) – Jesus’ life and death demonstrate God’s solidarity with people who are poor and oppressed. So, Jesus lives a life of care and compassion – and his crucifixion demonstrates how perverse and violent human injustice can be. In other words, Jesus lived obediently to God’s care for the poor, which brought him into conflict with an oppressive empire that killed Jesus. In the end, Jesus was unjustly executed through crucifixion by the Roman Empire. Therefore, the oppressive and violent people in the world were exposed as ungodly and immoral. In this theology, Jesus died because of sin, but not for sins. Therefore, in imitation of Jesus, ministry is about empowering the oppressed and helping the poor.

(7) Decisive Revelation (Riggs) – Jesus is the widow through which we see God. Through Jesus’ life and teachings we learn about God and what God values. Some people experienced God-in-Christ and became faithful to God. But other people were offended and threatened by Jesus and wanted to kill him. In the end, Jesus was murdered by people who hated the values and influence of God. Despite his crucifixion, the presence and ministry of Jesus continues through the lives of Christians. God is still beckoning us into faith and faithfulness. In this theology, the purpose of ministry is to share the good news of God’s love that was decisively revealed through Christ, so more people can develop a relationship with God.

(8) State Execution (Crossan) – Jesus and his disciples invited people into the Kingdom of God and out of the Kingdom of Rome. The Empire of God was about God’s love, justice, and mutuality. The Empire of Rome was about humanity’s individuality, greed, and brutality. Jesus and his disciples were rebels against Rome by living out the values of God. Romans became angry that Jesus was undermining their way of life. So, the brutal Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, hung Jesus on a cross to humiliate Jesus and terrorize his followers. Despite Jesus’ traumatic and unjust execution by the state, Christ’s presence and God’s Kingdom continues to invite people to live by God’s values – and be assured of God love. In this theology, Christians are empowered by God’s love to live out God’s values of love, justice, and mutuality.

Brian’s series on Lent & Crucifixion is well-worth reading too:
Journey of Lent (#1): “Crucifixion of Jesus as Unresolved Grief and Trauma”
Journey of Lent (#2): “Grieving the Crucifixion to Heal Our Memories of Jesus”
Darrell Grizzle’s Atonement and Emergents is great too along this theme. And finally, The Contemporary Calvinist & Friends think we’re taking a blowtorch to the Bible – alas.

Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ – Truth In Labeling

https://i1.wp.com/www.jorieken.nl/Marypages/JesusPrayer.jpgSo my friend Frank Viola writes this blog post titled ‘My Problem With Mental Filters,’ and before you know it I’ve written nearly a 1,000-word response before I find out the comments are closed. Alas. Fortunately (thanks to Firefox) my comment was not lost in comment-abyss, so now it’s transmorgifyin’ before thine very eyes into its very own blog-post-a-looza!

You should probably read Frank’s original post first. The upshot: “Mental Filters. They are frustrating. We all have them. Yet we’re unconscious of them.  It makes communication between Christians about spiritual things almost impossible.” Then Frank goes into how little folks understand him when he describes the kinds of ‘organic church’ gatherings that he helps cultivate & experience. So here’s my reply…

Quite true – we all have filters, and they can either help or hinder communication. In fact, I think a wise man once wrote an article called ‘Rethinking Our Theological Conversation Styles.’

That said, did Paul (a comment-er, not the Apostle raised up in some kinda seance or something – what, you think Frank has illicit consultation with dead?? Are you crazy??) really miss the point when he suggests that you, too, have filters? Sure, he pastors what looks like a big church & you’re advocating something quite different which you feel is better…but isn’t that the (your) point? Surely you’re not claiming to have ‘un-filtered’ yourself. Though I suppose you might be claiming, by grace & revelation, to be able to at least temporarily transcend human filtration when lifted into the glorious atmosphere of heaven-come-to-earth that is an organic church gathering.

If so, I’m with Joshua Tucker – please, blog (or podcast) what ‘sharing Christ’ might mean devoid of cliches. Now I know you blogging isn’t going to compare to a live, collective experience of the depths and riches of Christ coming out of many people’s mouths – you’re just the blog-meister here and that’s going to be inherently limited. But it might create, as you say, the hunger to move forward into a real, live experience. Otherwise these allusions without example are just gonna get caught in our filters!

This probably wont’ surprise you, but I take slight issue with something you framed at the beginning of this post. You said that when you tell someone about “the glorious, every member, open participatory, Christ-centered meeting that is under the headship of Jesus by the Holy Spirit,” that people think you’re talking about “…a Quaker meeting…a Plymouth Brethren styled gathering…[or]…old-school charismatic “body ministry” meetings in a home…But none of those kinds of meetings are anything like what I’m speaking about. None can compare…”

Do you think that anything like might be hyperbole? I’ve participated in some of these off-this-planet gatherings you speak of, and I’d say they’re something like the best of Quaker or charismatic body ministry meetings (I’ve been in both of these too) – though I’d probably agree with you that they’re nothing like, say, a megachurch service. 🙂 But let’s give credit where credit is due: Don’t you think that Quakers, or the Brethren, or any number of other such reforming/purifying groups had ideals – and even experiences – like what you’re describing, at the very least in their early days? I don’t think you intend it, but what you’re saying could sound like “Never since the first century has such tangible Christ-centered glory be seen, but now we’re recovering it in our day…” https://i2.wp.com/www.temple.edu/history/UZ/urwin/images/QuakerMeeting_002.jpg

I think the attempt has been made before. And sometimes, successfully.

With that said (sheesh, I didn’t mean to write a feature-length response to your blog! Just goes to show how provocative you are, Frankie), I’m wondering if the “All riches of Christ, all the time” paradigm is sustainable. I don’t wonder this because it seems theoretically unsustainable, but because it’s been un-sustainable in my church’s direct experience. As you know, I was part of a fellowship for many years that had precisely this goal – “all Jesus, all the time.” If you dared bring up theological questions, your aunt Matilda, personal experiences with God, and the like, you were seen as interrupting the very rich flow of the infinite treasures of the Father’s eternal purpose revealed in the Son before time & space.

With a teeny bit of hindsight, I can see two main difficulties with such an approach:

1.) I don’t think we can run with all pistons firing, all the time. Our ‘car’ will flood. Even Paul’s magnificent letters come down to earth and address real people with real problems and a diversity of experiences. Now I totally agree with you, so much of the Church today focuses exclusively on the pieces of the New Testament that focus on behavior and ignore the evocative poetry of a cosmos existing by, through, and within God’s loving embrace via Christ – it’s a real shame. But the minority movements that attempt to correct this by completely inverting the focus do a disservice to the Body. Because…

2.) Not only is it impossible to always be in ‘self-less proclamation mode’ about the glories of Christ, it isn’t actually Christ-like. That is to say, it isn’t particularly loving to encourage members to squelch their spiritual questions or practical needs, nor does it do justice to Christ’s Incarnation, Emmanuel: God. With us. Perhaps Christianity today on a whole is narcissistically focused on the “With us” part of the equation, turning the Gospel into self-help. But attempting to focus on “God” to the exclusion of “With us” does violence to the revelation Jesus brings – that God’s Kingdom has come very, very near, and no detail of our lives is left out.

Please don’t misunderstand me, dear readers-other-than-Frank: Frank has something on his heart that really is substantially different than what many of you have experienced. By all means, you should get a copy of From Eternity to Here in a couple of weeks – it unveils a panoramic portrait of this uber-rich big-picture heartbeat of God that animates Frank’s life & vocation. I’ve spent the last decade of my life pursuing a collective pursuit of God with friends of God meeting in living rooms across the country, because we’ve been captured by just this vision. And it’s real – it’s not a sham. But! Precisely because of my similar passion, I want truth-in-labeling. I’m wary of this vision being over-sold and under-delivered. The next expression of church I end up in will probably be a good deal more…modest, and will emphasize her continuities with the rest of the beautiful, messed-up Christian family more than her discontinuities.

Okay, I’ve said enough here. Overcoming filters, experiencing more of our birthright in Christ – great conversation-starter, Frank!

Carl McColman’s 7 Theses on the Future of Christian Spirituality

I’ve just read the most important spirituality post I’ve encountered thus far in 2009. It’s short, but powerful. It comes from my friend Carl McColman, who’s finishing up his much-anticipated Big Book of Christian Mysticism. Here’s an early peak at one of his concluding chapters, on the future of Christian spirituality (or mysticism) – Carl’s Seven Theses, I’m calling it:

  1. Christian mysticism in the future will be increasingly Trinitarian.
  2. Trinitarian Christian mysticism in the future will be essentially relational.
  3. Christian mysticism in the future will be increasingly earthy.
  4. The future of Christian mysticism will hold apophatic and kataphatic spirituality in creative tension.
  5. Christian mysticism in the future will embrace interreligious wisdom.
  6. Christian mysticism in the future will embrace scientific knowledge and will celebrate its own evolutionary nature.
  7. The future of Christian mysticism will be revealed to us through narrative and story, not just through abstract theology and philosophy.

There’s a lot of biblical and cultural wisdom packed into each of these theses; I’ve been mulling over several of these for some time now, but I love how he develops them. If you want to read how Carl unpacks this – or why you should care about ‘Christian mysticism’ at all – please take a moment and read his full post.

Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Recommended Atonement Reads

https://i0.wp.com/www.bradjersak.com/images/stricken-cover-new-5-web.jpgMy reflections on the meaning of Jesus’ atonement are far from finished. I think such multifaceted and rich dimensions of the life of faith rarely are. This year, as I’m able, I’m going to be reading through the following volumes in my library, books that have been recommended to me as valuable resources on reconciling messages of Jesus with messages about Jesus. Most of these I’ve read at least partially before, but I’m gonna buckle down! Here they are:

Stricken By God? An incredible anthology edited by Brad Jersak, featuring Rowan Williams, Miroslav Volf, Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, NT Wright, and a ton of others, it has been a most enjoyable read this past year.

Recovering the Scandal of the Cross by Joel Green & Mark Baker

Consuming Passion: Why the Killing of Jesus Really Matters An anthology – Hard to find in the U.S.

The Nonviolent Atonement by J. Denny Weaver

A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight

Saving Paradise by Rita Brock

This Book Will Change Your World by Kevin Beck

I’ve had this one recommended to me, but haven’t recieved one yet – Saved from Sacrifice by S. Mark Heim

In addition to books, here are a few free online resources I’m working through:

The Day God Turned His Cheek by Graham Old

The Cross: Cure Not Punishment by Wayne Jacobsen (audio)

Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor by Derek Flood

Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence by Walter Wink

Rethinking the Death of Jesus: Cross Purposes by David Heim

Clarion Journal of Spirituality & Justice articles on atonement

The Anthropology of René Girard and Traditional Doctrines of Atonement

…so what resources would you recommend?

https://i2.wp.com/www.eerdmans.com/shop_products/9780802832153_l.jpg

Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Possible Reconstructions

Wow. After all the spirited dialogue on yesterday’s post, I feel like my Part II is somewhat anti-climactic. Seriously. I took time to reply to each & every one of you who commented yesterday; if anyone has the time & patience, you should definitely check out the back-and-forth. It transcends the sadly-typical blog comment disrespect and opens up into some great dialogue. I’ve always thought that I have the best readers. https://i1.wp.com/www.msgr.ca/msgr-4/dali_christ_from_the_apocalypse_of_st_john_1958_lg.jpg

So…gulp…without further ado, here are some of my Possible Reconstructions of atonement meaning. I’m well aware that people far smarter & more thorough than I have attempted what I’m attempting, and do it better…but again, for my own wholeness’ sake, I’ve been re-reading atonement in Scripture afresh, with the aim of charting a faithful way forward. As I implied in my last post, my goal in reconstructing atonement is to be faithful to both the message of Jesus, which I take to be the Gospel of Peace, the message of God’s in-breaking Kingdom, and the message about Jesus – what he has done on our behalf in forgiving, cleansing, and empowering us, not to mention relationally indwelling us. Working with this latter aspect, messages about Jesus, is invariably working with images of sacrifice. While ‘penal substitution’ is tracable to Anslem’s work Cur Deus Homo in 1098, sacrificial imagery to describe Jesus’ death is undeniably tracable to the New Testament itself. I don’t want to sideline this imagery, but I do feel like I need to get a better grasp at the meaning(s) of sacrifice in Hebrew religious understanding. Here’s where I’m going right now…

  • The Cross isn’t salvation by violence; it’s salvation from violent living, and God’s ultimate repudiation of violence, absorbing it all unto himself rather than fighting back.

  • This absorption is not as a passive victim, but as transforming sustainer. Rather than transmitting pain, as we humans so often do, Jesus transformed the world’s pain/sin/death, creating instead sustaining nourishment whereby we can become partakers of the divine nature.

  • Jesus’ death can be rightly seen as ‘sacrifice.’ But in the Hebrew faith sacrifice is not centrally about killing; it’s about giving your best – representative of your all. By freely giving a symbolic portion of your sustenance – the very food you eat, grain and meat – God meets the collective people with all that God is, giving away God-as-sustenance. (Which makes sense of Jesus speaking of his death and resurrection as real food & real drink in John 6)

  • Jesus, as a symbolic representation of the whole of humanity, is given for all. But this giving began with Jesus’ birth, and didn’t end with his death. Jesus’ response to the cross stands out as the most vivid declaration of God’s eternal heart toward humanity & the cosmos – rather than retaliate in kind and mount the hordes of heaven (or an army of all-too-human zealous followers) in vengeance, Jesus forgives his tormentors, forgives the thief, and puts the powers of violence and oppression to an open shame in the manner of his dying and in resurrection by the Spirit’s power. The sacrifice that occurs is not the Father slaying the Son, but Jesus’ own sacrificial, creative-culture life, which he lived to one of its logical (and tragic) conclusions. Any theology of the cross that celebrates the execution without first mourning it is sub-Christian.

  • Because Jesus’ execution by the collusion of the State and Religion is first of all a tragedy, a mockery of justice, and not something unusual but mundane in the litany of the fallen powers, we should not speak primarily of God’s desire for this to have happened. Jesus was ‘slain before the foundation of the world’ does not have to mean ‘before all time began,’ or some such thing. It can simply mean ‘in front of the foundation of the world,’ in a cosmological sense. This was an ordinary event – the officially-sanctioned killing of undesirable elements – projected by God onto the stage of the universe. In the midst of this most humiliating moment, the Father exalts the Son, and thus, by extension, exalts the suffering of all criminals, terrorists, innocent, guilty, perpetuators and victims alike. He who knew no sin became sin for us, displaying all of our tragedies and inconsistencies and lifting them up to Abba God’s forgiving, reconciling embrace.

So I’m going to make a bold claim: I’m not sure that the killing of Jesus changed anything metaphysically in the universe. I don’t think that God was unable to love us until God saw some spilled blood and suddenly his disposition changed. (‘Cause, y’know, John 3:16 is pre-death) Make no mistake: I fully affirm Paul’s writing in Romans 5:

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life!”

The question is, what did Paul mean when he spoke of “dying for”? He zooms out the lens from Jesus himself, to whom “anyone” might (or might not) die for – but it’s clearly in the context of a rescue mission – not a human sacrifice, which would be unconsciable for any Jew. To be sure, Jesus’ blood speaks, declaring righteous – but this doesn’t mean the act that sheds the blood is somehow righteous or just. After all, the blood of Abel speaks in Genesis too, crying out and accusing. And in this, another senseless and tragic murder, Jesus’ blood meets the cry of Abel’s blood, comforting it at last. Perhaps the wrath we are saved from is our own.

Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Beyond Liberal and Conservative

https://i2.wp.com/i139.photobucket.com/albums/q295/sheepnose777/dali1Christ.jpgAbout a year ago, I wrote a post that became one of my most controversial to date: Spilled Blood & The Cosmic Christ: Atonement Dissonance. In my youthful zeal of last year, I expressed myself in some ways that I wish I’d stated differently. Given my newfound ROM-and-centering-prayer perspective, I think some of my thinking is clearer and more precise. Let me see if I can better lay out the perils and promises of atonement models as I see them.

Simply put, it’s exceedingly difficult to take Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence and peacemaking seriously while also taking seriously a punitive model of Jesus’ atoning death. Penal Substitutionary views of atonement (a fancy way of saying that Jesus died in my place so I don’t have to, because God requires the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins) just don’t square with the God of Jesus Christ, who encourages us to not remove an eye for an eye, or plot against our adversaries. Sure, ‘Vengeance is mine, says the Lord,’ but we cannot be sure what God repays. As Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch say in ReJesus, “It is true that Jesus is like God, but the greater truth, one closer to the revelation of God that Jesus ushers in, is that God is like Christ.” (pg. 12) How would a Christ-like God redeem humanity?

To place this in a larger frame, it’s difficult to hold with integrity both the message of Jesus (that is, change your living for God’s in-breaking, all-encompassing Kingdom is at hand) and the various messages about Jesus that have been promulgated in the millennia after Jesus’ death and resurrection. If I’m honest, it’s even difficult to square the message of Jesus in the gospels with some of the messages about Jesus even later in the New Testament. Not trying to be a reverse-Marcionite or anything…just sayin’.

And yet! One of the tasks before me, as an emerging Christian, is to hold liberating truths in creative tension. As a follower of Jesus in this era that many of us believe is one of ‘great emergence,’ I feel like our task – not in some lofty way, but simply for our individual & collective spiritual sanity – is to not repeat the mistake of the 20th-century modernist-fundamentalist divide. The Church of 100 years ago was being met by a flourishing of science, the arts, and scholarship. They were also, we now know, on the cusp of meeting the full impact of the darker side of full-on modernity: eugenics, total war, entangling geopolitical alliances, racism, environmental degradation on a massive scale, and the full industrialization and compartmentalization of everyday life, from cooking to entertainment.

In the face of all of this change and sensory input, the Church in the West fissured (as we Western Christians often do). The fundamentalists forged a retreat from the promise and terror of the modern world, from its evolutionary science to its weapons of mass destruction. They chose the messages about Jesus, the good news as told by his friends. They dismissed the message of Jesus as too utopian for this life; it must be referring to far-off heaven, to the world that awaits us after this corrupt place breathes its last. Thus did the message about Jesus become in vogue for fundamentalists and later evangelicals; thus did the good news about Jesus become distorted beyond recognition.

But that isn’t the whole story of the split. The modernist Church, by contrast, saw much that was amenable about modern culture. They wanted to engage this culture, and be relevant. There was heartfelt concern about the viability of major components of the modernist project, and the teachings of Jesus were, in a fashion, brought to bear on these problems – poverty, for instance, and other forms of injustice. But where science or critical scholarship brought into question some of the tenets of Christian belief – the actuality of cherished confession and experience – the modernist Church was quick to capitulate, feeling that earlier generations probably didn’t know what they were talking about when they were ‘strangely warmed’ by amazing grace.

By contrast, I want it all. And so do you, I think. I don’t want an Ockham’s razor minimalist faith, that attempts to strip down to the “real” or “historical” Jesus. Faith has ways of knowing that sight simply doesn’t know. So I wish to embrace the good news of Jesus and the good news about Jesus. But my problem, my struggle, is that the good news about Jesus needs to be ethical, it needs to be loving, and it needs to square with what I’ve apprehended of Jesus’ own life, message, and depiction of Abba God. And frankly, most of the atonement metaphors in vogue today seem to be about an evasion of justice, a glorification of violence and victim-hood, and a denial that the message of Jesus really has the power to work in our day and age.

I want to affirm the historic Christian faith (and reality!) that Jesus saves us. More specifically, I want to joyously experience Jesus’ incarnation, life, teachings, signs & wonders, death, resurrection, ascension, and indwelling as saving us.

The crux of the question – both for followers of Jesus and the world at large – is how Jesus saves us, and from what Jesus saves us. Tomorrow I’m going to try and articulate how I’ve been processing this lately.

To be continued in Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Possible Reconstructions.

‘End-Times Remixed’ – This Book Will Change Your World (& It’s FREE)

preview the book

What comes to mind when you think of ‘the end-times’ or ‘the return of Jesus’? For some, this is a boring subject. For others, it literally defines their lives. For many, ideas about eschatology fuel their passion & faith in God; for still many others, those same teachings have caused untold pain.

From the 1970s – 1990s, books about ‘the end of the world as we know it’ became best-sellers that fueled entire cottage industries. But as the first decade of the 21st century seems to mirror more & more a real-life apocalypse now, it seems like Christians are questioning their inherited assumptions. At the same time, people of goodwill from all faith backgrounds (or none at all) are questioning the public good of ‘Left Behind’ spirituality. Environmental carelessness, turmoil in the Middle East, and a general attitude of war = end-times progress and peace = the antichrist have caused many journalists, theologians, ministers and ordinary believers to weigh the fruit of these popular ideas. They’ve been weighed and found wanting.

Thankfully there are other resources for faith and practice besides pop-culture interpretations of Revelation. Inquirers have been seeking out Scripture and church history with fresh urgency, to see what Jesus and his earliest followers might have been thinking about ‘the time of the end’ and Jesus’ return.

My friend Kevin Beck of Presence International has written a book exploring just these questions. No dogma remains unwalked; no sacred cow remains un-tipped in his exploration of a better way to tell this Story. Kevin and the folks at Presence have decided that this book is too important to sell – and I agree. Whether you see eye-to-eye with every jot-and-tittle is irrelevant; This Book Will Change Your World lives up to its promise, and deserves to be set free to as many readers as possible.

For this reason, Kevin has enthusiastically agreed to give away a digital edition of this book to everyone who will share it with their friends. You can share it with as few as 3 friends, or you can share it with your whole email address book, which I’m doing.

Kevin wants to share this book with everyone – not to manufacture consent, or tell you what to believe. Rather, his heart is to re-frame a well-worn paradigm and open a conversation, a vital dialogue on what is (spiritually, geopolitically, ecologically – you name it) one of the most urgent matters of our time. To get your free copy of This Book Will Change Your World, go here and click the ‘free e-book’ option. It’ll take you from there. I’m trying to get the word out about this, and I hope you’ll help me. Feel free to post a link to thisbookwillchangeyourworld.com (or my post here) to your blog, Facebook profile, email list, etc…

And let’s discuss it! In the comments here, or on The Ooze.

Saturday Morning Praize

Good morning! I wanted to share with you three great (if you’ll pardon the term) praise & worship videos friends of mine posted on YouTube.

This one from Brittian Bullock is a nice atmospheric riff on faith & ambiguity

Seth Irby‘s anthemic offering expresses unabashed praise toward a good God

Brian McLaren‘s song here is infectious – it’s what would happen if Michael Dowd wrote Messianic Jewish music

Coming soon to a congregation near you?

House Churching: Where I’m at Now

https://i0.wp.com/web.ku.edu/%7Erusscult/visual_index/images/orthodoxy/rublev_trinity.jpgUpdate: I’ve written more, in response to some thoughtful comments below. If you’ve already read my original post, scroll down…

So: I’ve been house-churching for a decade now. I thought I’d share a little bit about how I’ve gone from being an ardent member of the house church’s self-described ‘radical wing’ to something of a house church moderate. I’ll begin with a comment I left on Late Emerger’s blog:

I agree with the Stuart Murray book recommendation. I’d like to see you blog more about Reimagining Church – if the ideas aren’t ‘new’ to you due to your Brethren background, what do you find helpful (or not) about them, regardless of their relative novelty?

As a decade-long house-churcher, I wrestle with these questions a lot. (I blogged about Reimagining a bit here). In light of my recent posts, I should share where I’m headed today, albeit briefly: I still enjoy the house church emphases of the direct leadership of the Trinity in our gatherings (‘direct’ being a rather tricky word; I fully acknowledge the problem with language, immediacy, and analogy that postmodern theologians grapple with) and the priesthood of all believers for the ‘open-sourcing‘ of the Church. That said, I like the anabaptist emphasis on the political and social dimensions of the gospel, and I’ve gotta say, I’m more and more drawn to High Church smells & bells too – what’s a 21st-century friend of Jesus to do? For now, I think ‘what to do’ in my decidely low-church (basement church!) expression is to compost church expressions, give expiring institutional models the dignity to die well, and let something organic grow from its decay; liturgy is ‘the work of the people‘ after all and can work, even thrive, in an open-source setting.

Update Starts Here

Thanks for the feedback, all!

Monasticism Old & New

https://i2.wp.com/www.geocities.com/tjbd/Waldenser-Wappen.jpgKevin, you’re absolutely right. Had I written A Somewhat Less Brief Post on House Churching: Where I’m at Now, (Oops! It looks like I am!) I would have certainly included the insights from both monasticism and the new monasticism as key influencers in my sensibilities-shift. One thing I like about the ‘wing’ of the house church movement we come from is the attempt to locate ourselves historically beyond ‘the first century church.’ Through the influence of books like The Torch of the Testimony and The Pilgrim Church, hagiographies though they may be, we were  able to see (an amusing little essay I wrote ages ago) lines of spiritual continuity with many minority movements that went before us, some of them heterodox. These included Montanists, Donatists, Waldensians, Lollards, Anabaptists, Quakers, and ‘post-Brethren’ movements like the Little Flock in China. Similarly, the New Monastic folks, coming from more ‘mainstream’ evangelical backgrounds, took a look at our equally-neglected heritage of the Desert Mothers and Fathers, Catholic mystics and activists (including Oscar Romero, Liberation theologians, African and Latin American base communities, Catholic Worker houses), the rich tapestry of monastic movements, and again the Anabaptists – our two streams share them in common inspiration! So they take all of these groups and personalities for inspiration, but also feel free to retain the best of their evangelical backgrounds too, remix, and stir with a sensitivity to contemporary culture – both where it needs to be affirmed and prophetically critiqued. Hence they move the monastery back to the city, ‘relocating to the abandoned places of empire.’ I love it.

Ten-Year Itch

Marion, I understand where you’re coming from. Why, in you perception, exchange the Substance for mere types and shadows? I get it. First off, a question: How long have you been actively involved in house-churching? I only ask because a wise older brother, who had been living in an intentional house church community that I began gathering with early on, said to me – a young buck house church zealot – “Before you commit to anything for life, give it ten years. Let’s talk in ten years.” At the time I thought he was trying to be a downer, but you know what? It’s been ten years. And my perspective has changed.

Leadership: What Is It?

As to your thoughts on hierarchical leadership: I’m no fan of hierarchy per se. And in case I was unclear, what I meant by

I still enjoy the house church emphases of the direct leadership of the Trinity in our gatherings and the priesthood of all believers for the ‘open-sourcing‘ of the Church

sermons

…is that I’m still a huge supporter of participatory gatherings open to all to share. But I’ve also come to realize that leadership is not a dirty word. It’s certainly been misused and abused in some bricks-and-mortar church settings, but I think we house church folk can sometimes romanticize what ‘the headship of Jesus Christ in our midst’ means in actual practice. To be specific: I think we’ve sometimes sold ourselves a bill of goods in the idea that New Testament churches just kind of magically got together without direction or leadership, and their gatherings just ‘came together,’ magically and marvelously. In my experience, some people are just naturally more gifted at motivating the rest of us to practice our own priesthood in a variety of ways. These people either arise after awhile in a house church setting, or the overall house church experience ends up being pretty sub-par. Don’t get me wrong: I still bristle when I visit house churches that are trying to re-create Big Church Sunday Morning Worship in a living room; they’re just getting started and they seem to already have a Pastor, Worship Leader, and Greeter all picked out! It’s annoying. At the same time, I can’t throw stones. I’m way less judgmental as to how that occurs in each particular group, fellowship, or congregation.

The Work of the People

Regarding liturgy: Believe it or not, there is a growing segment of people who are now ‘doing’ liturgy without hierarchy. Many of them are on your side of the pond, in the UK. (See this section of zoecarnate.com for some extensive links, photos, videos and stories) It’s known as ‘alternative worship’ or ‘fresh expressions.’ For some, it’s following more or less a traditional liturgy, though sometimes simplified for smaller groups or acapella singing – creating a rhythm of regularity around which spontaneity can be supported. For others – like the Ikon community in Belfast, Grace in London, or the late, lamented Vaux (it’s really worth going here and here and here to see all that the Spirit wrought with the Zeitgeist in their day) – it’s a bit more community-created from the ground up, more creative and elaborate…though these groups typically meet on a monthly, rather than weekly, basis, their worship takes so much time and energy. And I don’t think most of ’em wear robes! Though I’ve gotta say, I’ve lightened up on this count too. I’ll never forget earlier this year when Jasmin and I met up with our friend Sara Miles (and Paul Fromberg) at St. Luke’s Episcopal in Atlanta. Sara and Paul were talking about various aspects of their life together at St. Gregory’s in San Francisco, including the food pantry they started from their altar. It was an informal chat with about 40 people present, and lots of interaction. Then came a transition point where they were teaching us St. Gregory’s uniquely homegrown style of alt.worship liturgy, which is a blend of Anglican and Byzantine sensibilities, open-sourced so the whole congregation can genuinely participate. It’s all a capella, with just some hand chimes and a Tibetan prayer bowl for accompaniment. But the part I won’t forget is how I was chatting with Sara and then she nonchalantly said “Excuse me a sec while I slip into something less comfortable,” and voila! Five minutes later, Sara had donned a – I don’t even know what you call it, a robe with some a tie-dyed stole. It’s wasn’t pompous, it was festive! And then we all began dancing around a table, arm in arm, hugging and kissing, and eating holy bread and wine. It was one of the most open, participatory gatherings I had been to in awhile – all in an ornate downtown Atlanta cathedral. While the setting was unfamiliar to me, I sensed the unmistakable aroma of Jesus.

I don’t know if this responds to all of your (very well-stated) concerns. I’m particularly curious to hear others weigh in on what ‘poor and ordinary’ people think of liturgies versus house church gatherings. I’ve heard anecdotal corroboration that both people from more ‘roughneck’ backgrounds appreciate the beauty and poetry of good liturgy, and that sometimes seekers feel more at home in cathedrals than in living rooms. Of course I’ve heard/seen the reverse to be true as well. Jesus was certainly ‘everyday’ in many respects, but he was also seen as a sage. His parables involved everyday objects and concepts, but turned them on their heads. Paul was a master of rhetoric (despite his protests to the contrary) and the prophets, not to mention authors in apocalyptic and Wisdom genres, were skilled poets. So I think we see every level of discourse in the Bible as well as everyday life. I agree with you, though, that sisters and brothers in Christ don’t need to be eloquent or profound to share real spiritual depth. But they also don’t have to not be those things.

Where Do We Go from Here?

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this on my blog before, but Jasmin and I are leaving our beloved house church community here in Raleigh in late March 2009. We’re moving back to the Atlanta area to be closer to family – our little girl’s grandparents in particular. What does this mean for us spiritually, and church-wise? I honestly have no idea.  We’re not quitting ‘house church’ – or as its increasingly referred to nowadays, ‘organic church’ – per se. At the same time, I’m not sure if that’s where we’re headed again immediately when we return. My wife and I are amazed by what we see the Spirit working in the ATL; it really seems like Kingdom movement if afoot in many streams and tributaries of the household of God – ‘house church’ included. I’ve told Jasmin that I’m wide open to whatever – house church, Episcopal Church, Mennonites, Quakers, Vineyard or East Orthodox or one of those start-up emerging churches – Oh my! It might just be the season of life I’m in, looking at age 30 – but I’m more concerned about our rhythms of everyday life than where and how we worship. I’m learning to see my house church heritage, like any other set of cousins in the family of God, as a particular tradition. And insofar as I continue gathering for fellowship, action, and encouragement in homes, I’m committed to seeing her as a living tradition, for her own health and well-being.

Related posts:

Open Gatherings and Life’s Wisdom

I May as Well Admit It…I’m a House-Churcher

House Church: Ready for Prime Time? Pt. 1

House Church: Ready for Prime Time? Pt. 2


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    My Writings: Varied and Sundry Pieces Online

    Illumination and Darkness: An Anne Rice Feature from Burnside Writer's Collective
    Shadows & Light: An Anne Rice Interview in MP3 format from Relevant Magazine
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    Review: Furious Pursuit by Tim King, from The Ooze
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    Review: Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola, from Next-Wave

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