Tuesday, June 09, 2009
I'm starting a new blog at http://gettingfree.wordpress.com/. Whether it becomes my new permanent blogging-almost-once-a-month home remains to be seen. But I will be posting there a bit for a spell.
It's got more columns. Which is what I really need in my life. More columns.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Now, you may notice that a fair summary of the gospel I've described in this post and before has the feel of a story of a very gracious king coming to his people who had been in various stages of rebellion against him. Instead of giving them the penalty for their treason and their other crimes against him and others, he took the consequences of their rebellion upon himself in the hopes that his people would cease their destructive rebellion and finally join with him in caring for each other and the whole creation as he envisions. Or, to put his hope another way, that they would 'repent and trust him' as his apprentices and constructive co-workers, that they would 'enter' and 'receive' his government as grateful and willing participants, joining his family business of making all things new though his love and power.
What you may notice is lacking from this description is any central concern about where one might be headed after death. My summaries of the gospel are focused on bringing humans back into participative, and increasingly constructive cooperation with God's chosen king--right now in this life for the good of all we effect. Now, the implications for the after-life are clear enough. As Todd Hunter has said, if there are two options for the after life, where do you think God takes his friends? With him, of course, to finish what they have worked toward together--the new heavens and new earth. And the negative implications are also clear: what of the person who has remained hostile to Christ and to his rule of love and self-sacrifice? Out, tragically, with the rest of the trash that is committed to death. But--and this is the salient point--the focus of the gospel of the reign of God is how one wants to go forward in this life. Specifically, the issue is whether we want to 'receive' the new management. Do we want to actually ask God to let his name be honored above all (including ours), his government to come (not ours), his will (think, great commandments) be done in our particular corners of the earth--at least through us, or do we want to pray for and continue to seek our name, our reign, our will be done. It is a directional choice. It is a 'how we want to live and for what?' choice. It's a day-by-day choice. It's the choice God has laid before us when he sent his son proclaiming that 'The time has come. The reign of God has come near. Repent and trust this good news' as he healed and took apprentices, teaching them his Way.
Now, as that gospel started to get hold of me, I started looking at the 12 steps and thinking, "Is there a better way to respond, or rather, follow through in response, to that gospel, then this?" I encourage anyone to think about this gospel and what God is seeking to do in the world--really search the whole NT on that question-- and ask the same question. I will go into some of the specific strengths of the steps as a kingdom-gospel response in later posts, but for now I will simply say that the steps are, in a nutshell, about turning the practical reigns of our lives over to God, especially as they inevitably involve our dealings with others. What's more, the path of the steps aren't taken alone, but in truly helpful relationships with others who are on the same path. The steps are about learning to actually live the way Jesus lived and taught, not just hear about it. They are a communal path to entering the reign of God, one day at a time, ceasing to be an instrument of other, darker powers such as our own selfishness and the idols we've counted on and followed for so long.
Monday, March 02, 2009
the kingdom of God is not a place but a dynamic.Specifically, it was an intimate and productive dynamic with the Father and his people in which God got to actually lead and provide for humanity in the way he intended. Looking at the verbs of the NT, it was a dynamic with God and others, which we entered, or failed to enter, received or failed to receive. It was a dynamic that Jesus perfectly modeled for us and invited us into as his apprentices. The government of God had come and was looking for a people to govern and provide for.
This was amazing to me. I'm still dealing with the implications. But my first question was where does the cross fit in? As I read, I became aware of a long-running debate of which I had been totally ignorant—was it Jesus' gospel (the kingdom) or Paul's gospel (forgiveness via death and resurrection) that was the gospel? How exactly does "The kingdom of God has come near" fit together with "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures?" Where does forgiveness of sins fit in with the kingdom of God, or vice versa? One of the benefits, though, of coming late to a debate is that you get to hear, immediately, some of the better ideas that often only come after others have done much work. Another common theme that kept popping up in my reading was the narrative flow of Scripture. God doesn't do everything all at once. There is a story at work here, with characters, large and small, along with plots, subplots and more than one twist and turn before the end. As this big picture started to sink in, I began to see Jesus, his kingdom, his cross and his resurrection within this Story, and everything started to make sense. First the central character and the basic context of the NT: one cannot talk about the Jewish "Messiah" or "Christ" without simultaneously talking about "the kingdom of God" he is "Christ-ened" to lead. The Christ is a king, the King, who was to come, "restoring the kingdom." Jesus tended to talk about the kingdom (implying he was the Christ), while Paul focused on the main character—Jesus is the Christ!—assuming that everyone knows that the "Christ" leads a kingdom, the kingdom, God's kingdom. I started to understand that the historic connection between Paul's "Christ" and Jesus' "kingdom" is strong enough to bring substantial congruity all on its own. Second, though, the (messianic) plot: this king will, among other things, rescue God's people from their enemies, rebuild God's temple, bring God's justice to bear on the whole world . . . but how? The way I have come to see it, the early church saw the cross and the resurrection as the guts of the "how." It's how God's choice of king saved humanity from the dominance and fate of evil. It's how he rebuilt the temple of God. It's how he fulfilled the calling of the Jewish nation in general and the vocation of the Messiah in particular. It's also "how" a holy God can invite ordinary, messed up humans into an intimate collaboration. It's how Jesus brought the government of God near to humans in the form of an invitation instead of a death sentence. The cross and resurrection is the big climax, the ultimate surprise plot twist, of how the kingdom of God came to earth with peace and goodwill instead of a sword, even while the enemies of God and humans were completely dismantled! It's also the heart of how people will follow this king and become his people in this world, living examples and agents of his ongoing (and growing) rule. It is also the sign to the whole world, just as the Exodus was through superpower Egypt, that Yahweh is more powerful than the ultimate weapon of the most powerful human government on earth. God turned the symbol of Roman power into the ultimate ad campaign, into another stepping stool: Jesus is Lord with a capital "L.", everyone else should govern themselves accordingly. Jesus and Paul were indeed telling the same story of God's kingdom coming to earth, telling the same "good news" but Jesus was himself the main character--the king--living through the unexpected and intense climactic battle, and Paul was telling his story--which he understood as the story of the kingdom of God coming to earth, rescuing peoplefrom the kingdom of darkness.
And what was "the gospel" of the Old Testament? "How blessed are the feet of those who bring good news, who say to Zion, your God reigns." There are many gods and powers in the world, neutral at best and hostile at worst. The people of God in the OT and NT come to Yahweh and his Christ, enter and receive his reign over and for us, in substantial part, if at all because they believed he alone can treat the great powers of the world as podiums to stand upon or whatever else. He is the ultimate and highest Power in the world. He reigns, not least of which over the things which are the most menacing to people. And we rejoice, and jump at the chance to enter his government, his society, his never-ending administration on the earth. Eventually, it will be the only administration/society at work on the earth. Next will be how AA relates to this "gospel."
Thursday, February 19, 2009
For those in the Church, especially those who have not personally been part of a 12-step recovery group, AA's inclusion in the above list of topics is likely surprising, and maybe even suspicious. As one who grew up chiefly in the Southern Baptist camp of Christianity, I think I understand at least some of that surprise and suspicion. Perhaps mentioning 'the gospels' (plural), of the Old Testament, of the kingdom of God, and of Paul only adds to the suspicion! If so, my point (which I'll eventually post about) is that each of these, while seemingly very different in their bare verbal content, contain much, much more of the same substance than most Christians realize. Indeed, the various ways 'gospel' is used in the scriptures have no conflict at all, but come from different angles and from different points in the story of God's good actions, often with more details of God's work available at the later points of the story. And it's when that shared substance of "the good news" of what God is doing is understood that one can better appreciate why AA's program has worked and continues to work so well for so many people around the world, and why AA can repay a very old favor and help the Church, particularly in the West, with her current task. In essence, each post in this series will discuss a different way in which one or more of the above highlighted topics converge or fit together, often in a way that ends up making AA's program, with surprisingly few adaptations, look more and more attractive as a way to respond to God, faithfully, appropriately and with the kinds of results God is seeking.
In the fashion of classic Christian witnessing (and AA tradition), this series will not be the explanations of an expert in any of the areas mentioned. I'm sure I've misunderstood some things and not yet even seen other important pieces. But these posts will be the reports of my own experiences, my own testimony of what I, a person in the process of following Jesus, think I have seen and heard, offered in the hope that they may be helpful to others and even generate conversations that will help me make progress in the Way.
The next post will look at the way the Old Testament and the New Testament talk about 'the good news' or 'the gospel', some of how they fit together, and what that might mean.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
"Any successful plan for spiritual formation, whether for the individual or group, will in fact be significantly similar to the Alcoholics Anonymous program." Page 85, Renovation of the Heart [hereinafter, Renovation].The following adaptation of the 12 steps is found in the Renovation of the Heart Leaders' Guide, page 5A:
- I admit that I am powerless over sin and that my life has become unmanageable.
- I believe that God—through His action and those of His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit—can restore me to sanity.
- I will turn my will and my entire life over to the care of God.
- I will make a searching and fearless inventory of my life to discover all the ways I have engaged in self-worship (by being in control instead of living surrendered to the will of God).
- I admit to God, to myself, and to another human being the exact nature of my
- I am entirely ready to have God remove all the defects in my character and replace them—through His presence—with the thoughts, emotions, will, behavior and relationship patterns of Christ.
- I humbly ask God to help me become willing to deny myself—and the desire to live life on my terms—and to remove my shortcomings.
- I will make a list of all the people I have harmed and become willing to make amends.
- I will make direct amends to all I have injured.
- I will continue to take personal inventory, and when I wrong someone, I will promptly admit it.
- I will, through prayer, meditation, and the practice of other Christian disciplines, attempt to improve my conscious contact with God.
- Having experienced some measure of authentic transformation as a result of surrendering all aspects of myself to the power and presence of Christ, I will carry this message to others and continue to practice these principles in all my affairs.
"The familiar means of the traditional AA program—the famous "twelve steps" and
the personal and social arrangements in which they are concretely embodied, including a conscious involvement of God in the individual's life—are highly effective in bringing about personal transformation." From Living A Transformed Life Adequate To Our Calling, http://www.dwillard.org/.
"So the problem of spiritual transformation (the normal lack thereof) among those who identify themselves as Christians today is not that it is impossible or that effectual means to it are not available. The problem is that it is not intended. People do not see it and its value and decide to carry through with it." Renovation, p. 91
"Now I must say something you can be mad at me about. A fundamental mistake of the conservative side of the American church today, and much of the Western church, is that it takes as its basic goal to get as many people as possible ready to die and go to heaven. It aims to get people into heaven rather than to get heaven into people. This of course requires that these people, who are going to be "in," must be right on what is basic. You can't really quarrel with that. But it turns out that to be right on "what is basic" is to be right in terms of the particular church vessel or tradition in question, not in terms of Christlikeness . . . . As a result they actually fall far short of getting as many people as possible ready to die, because the lives of the "converted" testify against the reality of [Christ's power and character]. The way to get as many people into heaven as you can is to get heaven into as many people as you can - that is, to follow the path of genuine spiritual transformation or full-throttle discipleship to Jesus Christ. When we are counting up results we also need to keep in mind the multitudes of people (surrounded by churches) who will not be in heaven because they have never, to their knowledge, seen the reality of Christ in a living human being." Renovation, p. 239, 239