Tuesday, October 18, 2011

World's Funniest Blogger Alert

Ok. The "Whatever Happened to..." award of the decade goes to:

Brant Hansen.

So out of nowhere, I stumble upon a Frank Viola link to the blog in my Facebook feed.  It leads to Brant Hansen's NEW BLOG, called "Brant's Blog." (Actually, how new is this? How long have you been hiding from us?)  People, this is like Christmas in October.  Brant Hansen, the world's funniest blogger, formerly thought to be extinct, IS STILL BLOGGING!!

Check out his recent commentary of Christian video games.  Rare form, Brant. Rare form.

Sidebar, you just got a lot awesomer.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Sweep of the Story

Well Scot McKnight, who I come to admire more the more I read, seems to be getting it right these days.  I haven't read his latest book, King Jesus Gospel, but it's a good bet that I will (aside: a book without airbrushed faces, waves crashing on a beach, or someone with their hands raised on the cover = probably a bit more intelligent than the average reader is going to bother with. Hopefully not, though)  The gist of this recent post is the subject of the book:
Now I want to press this harder: the fundamental orientation of the soterian gospel is about the benefits “I” get if I respond. The fundamental orientation of the Story gospel is not about “my” benefits but about Jesus. Embracing the Story gospel brings benefits, to be sure, but we embrace this Story because we embrace Jesus, not because we get something. The entire soterian approach is shaped by benefits.
If the fundamental proclamation is "personal" salvation-- of any kind (sorry, Calvinism vs. Arminianism has never been the issue here)-- than the life that proceeds from that starting point will be notably and sub-Biblically "personal" in its orientation.  Can you say me-centered? When the Gospel is about Jesus, for Jesus, people will only be found looking at their "saved-ness" when the Story happens to take us there, and even when that does happen, there is no chance that it will leave us there, because it's got a Jesus-saturated conclusion that it's driving towards (listen up, John MacArthur).

What does this mean for the practice of the church? I think, and I'm just being arbitrary here, there could be a lot of things to say about this, but I think it means that Christians will have to (re-)discover an interest in history.  In the unfolding story that includes, for the most part, other people's lives that aren't really dependent on our choices at all, and how they as a whole relate to God in Jesus Christ.  And the slack-jawed wonder that provokes. The Gospel, if it belongs to God (as I think McKnight and others are suggesting) is something that we are not to see as locating itself "in" our lives with us at its center.  IOW, for thousands of years the redemptive, salvation sweep of the Trinity's mission in the world has been surging forward under its own power.  That is, the power of God.  Any time you present people with personal choices to "believe" it, or "make it real for your life," or "get from your head into your heart," you may be effectively suggesting that Moses' deliverance from Egypt for instance, or better yet- Jesus' Incarnation, is dependent on your choice to believe God, or to be good, or to order your spiritual practices correctly, or to walk in the Spirit, or whatever. The absurdity of this thinking is humbling, but it's something a lot of people are going to have to come to terms with.

Stick that in your "apply the Bible to your life" pipe and smoke it!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Rather Long Post On Love, The Law, Mr. ASP, Jesus the Man, Sin's True Nature, and the Lesson From John the Apostle

Well I just read Craig Bubeck's post entitled No Stinking Up God's Place! at the iMonk blog, and I'd have to say that it's a piece worth blaring from the rooftops.  The iMonk himself would be proud to read words like this on his venerated website.  The thrust of the post could perhaps be summed up this way:
Perhaps most significantly, we tend to want to make sin about performance, rather than relationship—we want to exclusively see sin as a verb... The real evil of sin is far more than falling short of rules and laws—it is that anything should be done on one’s own, independent from God. It’s my independent will, not merely my short-falling actions, that deeply offends God.
In other words, the God who hates sin, as we're told, hates it because it is, ultimately, hatred for Him.

Let me say something that will reveal something about my theological position (or whatever), and possibly be the kind of thing that offends people who fancy we ought to "get the 10 commandments back in schools" and such:  I think it's fantastic that God gave Israel the ten commandments, but he sure didn't give them to me.

You heard me.

Perhaps I should have started with what the Law IS: it's a fascinating portion of the Great Story, it's a crucial part of God's self-revelation to his people at the time, it's a fairly low-res picture of the character of God himself and his will for humanity, and it's an interesting commentary on the nature of morality in human society, particularly the human society through which God planned to bless all nations.  But it is not the thing that is set before me as a moral compass.

What Craig gets at in his post is that the defining factor of sin (and conversely anything we could lump under the label of "holiness") is not the violation of ordinances but in the rejection of a Person.

Now interestingly, I can go to any number of churches and hear a bunch of rhetoric about relationship. That's not rare. I pretty much expect that in the culture of American evangelicalism. What's sadly comical is that I can turn around and the same person who uses the relationship mantra will be found consistently measuring sin using a yardstick other than God in Jesus Christ. Despite that this is the yardstick that he himself used.

Christ crucified. That's right, you knew it was going to come around to this, didn't you? Let's do a case study: Angry Street Preacher at a downtown festival. We have loads of them every year where I live in the Bible belt. They're the talk of the town for the following 2 weeks or so.

The gist of the rant by Mr. A-S-P is that we've  fallen short of God's holiness, and deserve eternal suffering (presumably anyone attending these festivals who is not preaching is summarily going to hell). We deserve hell. We are going there in fact, and quickly, because we've done things like drink too much, or sleep around, or what have you.  The eventual nod is given to Jesus Christ as being the Savior in whom we must trust to escape hell, but more is made of hell than of Jesus. Now, I understand that Jesus saves me from hell. I wouldn't exactly argue that.  Here's where it gets sticky: Mr. ASP has used the Hebrew Law (usually the 10 commandments) to define our sin.  We've coveted, we've committed adultery, we've lied, and therefore we've fallen short of God's requirements-- we're sinners.

What's implicit here is that sin is best described as behaviors.  Bad behaviors, like riding bikes naked through town to protest Republicans and such.  Lustful, idolatrous behaviors that break rules. We were doing just fine, then we sinned, and now we're "sinners." I would submit that this is far beneath what we learn in Scripture.  Break rules we certainly do. But what we learn in Scripture seems to be that God is not really pointing to the violation of his moral code in order to convince us that we're sinners. No, just like everything else we are to be convinced of, he is pointing to his Son, for whom the moral standard is an icon.

That the Son is simply a dispenser of pithy advice or encouraging sound bytes is one of the most devious crimes we commit against him.  Among so many other things, we are convicted of our sin- of its ultimate consequences- by the crucified King.  The passion of Christ has been to bear our sin.  In other words we are, by sinning, extra-temporally hurting him.  This, if we use him as the canonical reference point for every truth in Scripture (as we ought to), is what we truly find when we look at the Law, i.e. the 10 commandments.

The inevitable ASPy outcome of this is a remarkably predictable legalism/gnosticism in which he doesn't go far enough in his condemnation of sin (isn't that interesting?). Christ crucified is not seen as the measure of man's sin...Instead, satisfied with whiny do-right statements and schizophrenic behavior adjustment programs, he will, once given a convert or two, only encourage them to lazily lounge far behind the driving, pulsing drumbeat of the New Testament, that we have crucified God (and that he won anyway), in favor of "what should I do in such-and-such a situation" type questions.

Lets compare the "you broke the 10 commandments" technique with the book of Acts. I'll just hit my observations quickly and let you do any further research if you'd like. In Acts, there is a clear announcement that is going forth from the Apostles. It's something on the order of this:
this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
"This Jesus whom you crucified" it says elsewhere. This is the sin of Israel, and by extension, the world- that God visited us, and we murdered him.  Not only that, but he's so much bigger than our rejection- our murder!-- of him, that the evil we dished out to him didn't really do its job correctly.  (Evil isn't just not good, it's also not very good at being evil!)  And here we come to Mr. ASP's second, perhaps even more serious watering-down of the message. There is no announcement of the triumph of God over the death we delivered to him.  "Amazing! This crucified Christ was raised from the dead? How can this be! A miracle must be afoot!" ...is noticeably not really present, or at least not a major theme, in what we hear at these rantings-into-the-megaphone.  I might suggest something disturbing about this: the implicit effect of refusing airtime to the Resurrection may be that we aren't actually convinced Jesus was crucified...at least not humanly, not in the same sphere of existence as we are.  Not "in our neighborhood" as the Message puts it.

Doubt this?  How often do we come across ideas of the cross that are so epic-ly divinized and spiritualized that they generate a near fairy-tale image of Jesus in the mind?  Jesus the super-human dying to work some sort of magic, or to present us with a cosmic choice, or perhaps to represent the broader theme of human suffering and redemption mythologically, or perhaps literally dying, but only to accomplish some sort of theological feat...Jesus with a strange glow about him and angels flying around.  No wonder Todd Bentley got a footing. What need is there for a resurrection when your image of the Son is that he "theoretically" died on some cosmic plane, as many of these scenes suggest? This is not what happened, folks.  The slaughter of the Lamb was just that, a slaughter.  It was a heinous crime committed by somebody, against somebody.  Somebody who, were you to see a photo of him a few months before, you would not have thought remarkable at all. That's because he was perfectly human. Likewise, the Resurrection was not some sort of ghostly, spiritual, energy reconstitution that we "take part in" when we do as we ought to- it was the body of a dead man that became alive again.  This is the glad announcement of Easter- that God raised Jesus from the dead, vindicating him as the victim of mad injustice, source of forgiveness and salvation, and worshiped King for eternity!  Death has died! Why would I worship anyone else? Unless I never really hear about the Resurrection...

That Jesus is a man, the True Man, may be one of the most implicitly ignored realities we've been given, and to our own peril.  The church has discovered this the hard way a number of times in her history, and it's nothing short of stupidity to remain aloof from it- let gnosticism in the door, and you'll soon be dealing with personality cults, body-spirit dualism, fabricated tales of wild phenomena, super-spiritual narcissism, and the rubric for every kind of indulgence the flesh can dream up.  And all while your street preachers are "preaching against sin."  The irony is so, so thick. 

Now, what does all this have to do with my original point, that I'm really not interested in being measured against the 10 commandments? Or of Craig's declaration that sin is a violation of love, not behavior standards? 

The key is in the Man- that the law is summed up in love, and that Jesus is the embodiment of the one we ought to love, the one we rebelled against. Therefore the conviction, and the reversal, must come from Jesus himself.  He is now the measure of sin, and of obedience.  The effect of faith on the conscience is not really to fix our eating habits or to keep us from making babies when we shouldn't.  At least not until we see these things as decisions driven by the engine of love.  It's to convince us of our complicity in the crucifixion of the One sent to us, and to change our minds, and to provoke thanksgiving that he would submit to such a death in order to reach across the divide and reunite man with God.  In other words, to love Jesus is to obey, and thus to keep the Law. 

Is it really a surprise that John the Apostle is the one who declares this to us in technicolor? That "this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." After all, who was it that stood at the foot of the cross (out of all the apostles) and saw his master die?  Who was it that tore across the field to the tomb where his dearest friend was laid, finding it empty?  Who stood with the Human one, Christ, ate with him, was washed by him, learned from him, was rebuked by him, watched him bleed and suffocate, witnessed him risen, and finally watched him depart to be with the Father? It's no accident that John is the one who was considered Jesus' closest friend, that he is the one who watched him die, the one defending the fledgling church against gnosticism, the one summing up righteousness and obedience in the word love. To future readers of John's story, the cause-effect connections here will be clear as a bell.  God-as-Man provokes a human reaction, and it's by this that our holiness, or unholiness, is measured.  

This revelation is at least three things. It's good news to anyone who has heard that obedience is law-keeping, the meeting of a list of extraneous requirements which endlessly compound themselves on one another like Rabbinic midrash. That diets, datebooks, and debt payoff are the essence of the good life. It completely up-ends the notion of holiness as winning, getting rich, maintaining comfort, garnering approval, becoming more spiritual/religious, "staying pure until marriage," or being more doctrinally informed.  It's good news that the privilege and life of the believer is to know and love the Jesus who bothered to show up. That the only requirement is that which we knew all along was the most satisfying thing we could ever have.  Thank God!

Second, it's devastation for anyone who has built the church's "house" of wood, hay, and stubble. In fact, it's the torch to the pyre of deeds that are designed to do anything but glorify the Risen King.  Glory is not shared, it is all his own, and the works of the law will be reckoned with lawless ones.  Only love will survive.

And may I suggest that, lastly, it's an excuse look once again at Jesus. To discover him afresh, to find that the True Law himself is really as interesting, as gripping, as lovely to behold as all the old hymns tell us he is, and much more.  That the stretch of history lies within him, that the smell of sin is swept away by his fragrance, and that his love is something into which angels long to look.