Monday, August 24, 2009

The News Itself Is Your Teacher

1 John 2:18-27

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us —eternal life.

26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

This last bit makes the top 10 list for Bible passages that don't ever get mentioned. The ESV Study Bible note is clear to point out that "you have no need that anyone should teach you" is not to be applied too broadly, for John himself is teaching them in this letter. Wouldn't want to undermine anyone's authority or anything. Those leaders are so important.

But what John is saying, and what is simply unpalatable to about 97% of a culture enamored with celebrities, faces, sound bites, and media appearances, is not something primarily about the presence (or absence) of teachers. It is a statement about "his anointing."

We who have brushed elbows with the charismatic movement at any time have heard plenty of stuff about anointings. "So and so is anointed for this," and "we are anointed to do such and such a ministry." In fact, everyone were as anointed as they claimed to be, we would probably be drowning in oil. But John seems to be doing something slightly different than doling out spiritual tasks and ritualizing one's appointment to an office or role(NAR anyone?). The anointing John speaks of squarely roots the anointing in Jesus Christ himself.

Far from being some libertine statement about how these "children" are to be untaught and untethered, it's a libertine statement about their freedom to be mastered only by the anointing itself. John is locating the source of their growth, the teaching that comes to them, in the person of Jesus, not in the authority of men. The dreaded conviction, that "you have no need that anyone should teach you," is given in contrast to the coming of the false teachers. Because what must a false teacher do to validate his or her own conviction in order to gain influence but invalidate Christ, his message, his authority, and his necessity? If Christ himself is not the authoritative message that teaches us, then we have need of special folks. We need people who are better than us. Educated, elevated people whose spirituality proceeds from their inborn or trained contact with a higher plane than the rest of us. Closer to God.

I'll take John at his word when he seems to dispense with the necessity of teachers, because it frees me to throw out people like Todd Bentley and the shamans who endorsed him, whose essential goal is to demand my allegiance and subvert my devotion to Jesus. The point here is that there's no need for this teacher or that prophet to come to me and give me "special impartation" because the logos itself is doing that. These fools can be snuffed out in an instant, their credibility undermined, their careers ruined. Is Lakeland, FL important anymore, a year or so later? No, it's the butt of irreverent jokes. If Jesus' anointing was the power at work, if the News held sway over people's imaginations, would a leader's fall would not reduce the anointing, the rejoicing, the salvation, the teary worship. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. "Leaders" and "prophets" who decide that the gospel isn't enough and claim that their super-powers are the newest and best antidote, serve their bellies and deny the Father and the Son.

A true teacher, on the other hand, when faced with this statement, that "his(Christ's) anointing teaches you about everything" will rejoice. Because it is the anointing of Christ that taught them at first. Nothing originates with them, nor does it require them to sustain it. And now it is the anointing of Christ that teaches others, which they bear witness to. A true teacher doesn't crave attention, because he is not directing it to himself or his "wisdom" in the first place. True teachers act as if "He must increase, but I must decrease."

So how does "his anointing" teach us? It's impossible to overstate how deeply the Gospel itself, taking root in our psyche, transforms and brings life. It rips up old assumptions. It deconstructs motives. News: God has come in Christ. He has defeated the power of sin and will one day destroy it altogether. He has slain death. He has risen in the "body of flesh" giving us a testimony of the power of God to raise the dead, and the promise that death cannot stand between us and the glory we were designed for, which will be revealed in the consummation. It has happened. It is no new philosophy we preach. It is a historical/future event.

The anointing John is referring to, as if it were a person in itself, with intention, teaching the children, is the news of events that transpired surrounding the coming of Jesus Christ. This news is passed along from person to person, mouth to mouth, and carried throughout the realm as the message of the great, triumphant victory of God over sin and death. Those who hear it and receive the news as indeed good, great news, can never be the same. Their imagination is transfigured. Death has no sting. Guilt is buried. All may now be lost in the service of this King, because all has been gained on their behalf.

The anointing of Christ that teaches the children is the message of the anointed-- the Christ-- and his victory that irrevocably shifts the thinking of the hearer, if indeed he/she decides it is true.

So why don't I need anyone to teach me? Because the message itself has changed me, and continues to change me. "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him."(Col 2:6) Dramatically. Irrevocably. The implications are endless. This is what it means for the anointing to teach you- to have the gospel message dramatically reshape all spheres of the mind, and thus the motives and deep inspirations, and thus the life lived. Applied perennially, watering the ground daily with this news: the event of the coming, death and resurrection of Christ, the only anointed one.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

ReJesus on How You Should Be Reading Scripture

Update: Forgot a particular quotation from the book that must be included in this post:

In any genuine encounter with Jesus, we can either respond in faith and
obedience, cut and run, or take the fire out of the issue by reinterpreting the Bible to suit our understandings. Ever heard yourself saying, "Oh it's not what it means literally, Jesus is actually saying..." Just see what most preaching does with the kingdom way expressed in the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, or the rich young ruler--we emasculate the text by spiritualizing it or domesticating its direct implications.

Finishing up ReJesus by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost. Today I read one of the most compelling chapters that I've read in any book in a long time. I'll quote a few chunks, but first I'll say that the chapter has to do with Hellenistic vs. Hebraic approaches to Scripture. The basic goals of the one in nearly exclusive use(Hellenistic) is called into question by the approach Frost/Hirsch call us back to(Hebraic). I must admit, I've had sneaking doubts about the approach to the text that dominates most of our reading and interpretation. I've found myself applying my knowledge to Scripture rather than vice versa, reading Scripture instead of "letting Scripture read me." Here's a common discussion pattern found among Christians, especially in debate, goes as follows:

Christian A: The Bible says God_____________. Therefore we should__________.

Christain B: No that's not true, after all Romans says ____________.

Christian A: Yes but what about in Hebrews where it says________?

Christian B: Isaiah chapter 40: __________

Christian A: You just don't understand what the Bible says...

Exactly who is making any worthwhile points here? This kind of discourse could go on for days with no one actually citing anything that gives their flippant use of Scripture any weight. The problem is, with the widely understood "way of knowing" that we use, nobody's wrong here. This is a perfectly acceptable discussion, even though it leads nowhere. Cite a passage, draw a conclusion, "apply" it to life. Of course, this pedantic, less-educated version of the problem is an easy target, but arguably what many studied and acclaimed scholars do is similar- citing a Biblical text, giving the Greek scholarship along with the sentence construction and historical context, and move from text to conclusion in order to make an abstract point about Christian theology or practice that is divorced from the actual narrative and persons and history that are the substance of what the Bible actually communicates. While the tools of scholarship are valuable, I believe Frost/Hirsch are arguing that we have to ask "who is reading who, here?" Are we coming to the I Am and applying our knowledge to judge who he is, throught the matrix of Scripture, or are we being judged by the Unchanging One himself?

According to Jacques Ellul, at some point theologians began to

regard the biblical text or known revelation as points of departure for philosophy... Very soon the developments in philosophical thinking became stronger than the biblical truth that they sought to retain. The theologians had forgotten the essential point that God does not reveal himself by means of a philosophical system or a moral code or a metaphysical construction but rather enters human history and accompanies his people.

Frost/Hirsch continue the thinking:

The history-anchored worldview values the action and word of God over a philosophical construct of his character. It also requires obedience in order to truly comprehend what is being revealed...Under the new Hellenistic worldview, the Bible is approached differently. God's revelation was interpreted as the climax of the teaching of Socrates, and the Bible was interpreted by the intellectual tools of Greek philosophy. The Torah, for example, is seen merely as a moral code, not unlike the Twelve Tablets, a Greco-Roman legal code. What resulted was of decisive importance. Instead of listening to the text as it was, theologians tried to draw from it a coherent philosophical system, whether modeled after Plato, Aristotle, Heraclitus, or Epicurus. It all came to the same thing. The biblical stories were treated as myth from which one had to draw some abstract, universal thought. And so the Christian theological tradition empraced a philosophical approach alien to Jewish epistemology(ways of knowing). the Hebraic framework for the true comprehension of revelation was thus discarded in favor of the Hellenistic.


Some will tell me that we have no option but to use our available tools of knowledge even to understand a history. This is true. But I reply that Hebrew thought had its own tools of knowledge that are fully set forth in the language. We should bow and submit and convert to these instead of forcing God's revelation into the strait jacket of Greco-Roman thinking.

This really has jaw-dropping implications if I'm reading it right. Essentially, what many philosophers-turned-theologians(which is all of us who read the Bible in the Hellenistic tradition, btw) do is treat the text as if its purpose is to make metaphysical statements rather than communicate the history of God's interrelation with his creation. The inevitable result is essentially the doctrinal equivalent of what Judaism did with the Talmud- to endlessly qualify statements, split interpretive hairs, and forever add on labrythine abstractions in order to get to the real, objective meaning. The effect is that there ceases to be one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus(1 Tim 2:5).

In fact, there was an exchange at Acheivable Ends that illustrates this quite well. Bill Kinnon answered one commenter who stated that "the foundation for ministry is sound doctrine" by saying no, in fact "the foundation for ministry is Jesus." To which the commenter replied "which Jesus? Doctrine defines what we believe..." At that point, if the commenter is right, he needs to go all the way-- doctrine according to whose interpretation of the text? If we agree on an interpreter(let's say Calvin) whose interpretation of Calvin's words are correct? And what if this new interpreter's words are vague when we apply them to current we need yet another way of showing what this "copy of a copy of a copy" really means for us now(think the bee-wathcer). Down the rabbit hole we go, canonizing the words of whoever we please the entire way. What the "which Jesus" question might actually betray is a distrust of the Holy Spirit, and an unwillingness to let the individual Christian with a Bible go to God without any mediators but the Christ of Scripture himself. You end up at the conclusion that no one but scholars and people who have access to what scholars are saying can "get" the word of God. This is why the reformers repudiated the necessity of "Popes and councils" in interpreting Scripture for the "mere laity." Only now, doctrine replaces the Pope. God comes through Christ, comes through doctrine, comes through so-and-so, comes through so-and-so's reading of so-and-so, and feel free to continue adding so-and-so's as you like.

Of course, doctrine will happen, but if you start saying "doctrine" where you should be saying "Jesus" things go awry. Scripture understood rightly, which is to say as the Hebrews did when they were writing it, is a text to be read as a story, populated with persons, who had certain experiences and interactions with the chief character, God himself. We then allow ourselves to be located in the text(not the other way around) and be shaped by the story(not the other way around). This of course guarantees a subjective reading of the text. That's not a problem. Because the endless search for objectivity is futile when inherently subjective beings pursue it.

I believe Eugene Peterson has been saying these things for quite some time, but I don't know how well I got it until now. There's a lot more to be said here, but you'd better go read the book. ReJesus by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Jesus Manifesto

And also....I would like to sign my name at the bottom of this.

Repent and Believe the Gospel

The tagline of this blog is the first statement Jesus makes in the book of Mark. "Repent and believe the Gospel" is, I believe, the framework for Jesus' entire ministry- the basic point, if you will.

There is a common sentiment I've been hearing/reading a lot lately, that I'm sure is not new. That's that grace minus repentance equals license. "You can't just believe the Gospel, you have to repent of sin and 'turn away' from it." Sometimes this effects the person's view of salvation, other times it's just a strong recommendation for how you should live after you accept the grace of God in Jesus. Either way, the underlying assumption is, we can't have a bunch of immoral Christians running around, and this methodology(of preaching a qualified gospel) is supposed to take care of that.

Remarkably, this may miss the most important thing in the whole issue. It's that to believe the Gospel is a repentance. We are all born humanists, so to speak, and the basic repentance that needs to take place is the change of paradigm from "I can be good," to "I need Jesus to be good for me." In other words the initial faith in Jesus is not possible without repentance, when we understand the word "repentance" correctly.

So my issue is that Jesus, in the first chapter of Mark, says "repent and believe Gospel" not "believe the Gospel and repent." I'm guessing this is because he is a wily psychologist. He knows that the paradigm shift that it takes to believe the Gospel is the same shift that is necessary to produce the "turn" away from sin. Could our lack of understanding here be the reason that we keep saying things like "now that you've accepted the grace of God, you need to, additionally, repent and turn away from your sin," as if they were in separate categories? Which, in turn, consistently produces converts who accept Jesus as a matter of "getting right wth God" or "going to heaven when you die" but not disciples who continue to bask in the glow of his grace in such a way that drains the desire to return to addictive, self-serving behaviors. Pretty much because they've been taught(implicitly, by the command "now that you're saved, you should also repent") that it's possible to believe without repentance. And thus simultaneously(I see this all the time) act and talk moralistically about others' lives and see no change in their own destructive behaviors?

Just some thoughts. Conversation welcome.