Monday, September 24, 2007

Jesus and His Rank Amateurs

It's about this time that I'd start slapping the disciples up side the head yelling, "Don't you get it, you dufi (plural for dufus)?!" The disciples' dufuscosity was in a league of its own. (I am indebted to David Duncan for the term 'dufuscosity' in his book The Brothers K.)

This Galilean rag tag bunch were in a dither about who was 'the greatest' among them. Like a fight among homeless people about who's going to the CEOs breakfast. In a culture obsessed with rank and recognition, the disciples were clamoring for seats close to Jesus. All of them wanted to be first and none of them wanted to be twelth. A little later on James and John will urge their Mommy to lobby for some chief seats for them.

Jewish culture in Jesus' day was paranoid about recognizing the greater and the lesser in the social order. As a host you never dared to seat a greater in a lesser seat. Pharisees, as you may recall, had a penchant for chief seats. Jesus once said that when you're invited to a banquet, don't take one of the "big" chairs, that is, don't flaunt your social rank. Sit in the back and let the host recognize you.

Notice Matthew rubbing his red, swelling eye? Peter punched him as the argument heated up along the road to Capernaum. I'm pretty sure that Peter thought he was the greatest. When they settled in the house, Jesus asked why they got into fisticuffs on the road. The disciples went mute, embarrassed or ashamed or stubborn, who knows?

I don't think USAmerican discipleship training ever elicits fist fights and the reason is we have trivialized and cheapened discipleship. The best we have is a fill in the blank workbook. For example,

"In Mark 9: 36 what did Jesus use as an illustration of his teaching?"

_____________________ [the answer: a child] Ooooooo. Isn't discipleship fun?

Jesus had something deep and wide in mind; he was out to re-train our whole way of life when he said, "Sit down. I'm going to train you now."

The child was chosen not because he or she was cute, or innocent, or 'precious', or trusting. The child was chosen because the child had no rank in the culture. No influence, no vote, no power, no say-so about who's in charge. Jesus was saying, "If you're going to fight, fight for the lowest place in the social order. Become the slave of all." That's just not in our DNA.

We start out early training children just the opposite. "How many stars did you get for your memory verse work?" "Seven, and Billy only got five! I'm better. I get a chiefer seat!"

But the plot doth thickeneth! "Taking [the child] in his arms, [Jesus] said to them, 'Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.' "


Jesus takes the cultural rank of the little child as well as trains his Twelve to do the same. This can't be. This goes against the whole kit and kaboodle grain! But like the late night cable TV commercial, "Wait! There's more!!" Ponder these words: "...and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."

The one who sent me. "Jesus, you've got to be kidding!" Are you saying, "God takes the powerless, vulnerable, weak rank of the child?"

Welcome to the new definition of "messiah." Welcome to a re-imaging of God.

No wonder we would just as soon fill out our neat workbooks and call that 'discipleship.' Because our discipleship is just the thinnest veneer over our American way of life.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Litigating the Lord

Did you know that an Omaha senator has sued God?

Greg Boyd responds here. Boyd asks which God will take the stand.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"I Brought You My Son."

The church is the presence of Jesus in the world. Let's think about that.

In a startling statement in Mark 9:17-18, "A man in the crowd answered, 'Teacher, I brought you my son... I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not'."

Actually at the time the man brought his son to the disciples Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John, and Moses and Elijah. If I was Jesus, I would have pushed back at the frantic and bewildered father, "What do you mean by saying 'I brought YOU my son'? You talkin' to me? I was not even here, you numbskull!"

But, thankfully, Jesus did not say that.

In the mind of the man, to bring his son to the disciples was equivalent to bringing his son to Jesus. The disciples were an incarnate extension of Jesus. The disciples' failure was Jesus' failure. Later on the father would preface his request with "If you can..." (Mark 9:22). This "if you can" irritated Jesus and he responded accordingly. But the man had some reason to question Jesus' ability in light of his disciples' failure.

Jesus in his last hours would pray for the disciples, "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:20-21). Oneness with Jesus and the Father...that the world may believe that the Father has sent Jesus. That reality is about us--the church. Most USAmerican Christians are "one" with America more than with the only radical Savior for America.

Ponder these words of the glorified Jesus to Saul of Tarsus, ""Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

Saul answered, "I am not persecuting you, Lord. I'm only persecuting Christians here and there."

Jesus said, "Don't you get it, Saul? Everything you do to the Christians you are doing to me!"

Jesus seals the reality that his followers are his presence in the world.

This world, filled with desperate people, has every right to conclude who Jesus is and what Jesus can do based on the life, words and deeds, attitudes and priorities of the church.

God help us. "Lord, we believe; help us recover from our unbelief."


Monday, September 17, 2007

Fun Reading: Ella Minnow Pea

Do you want some fun reading?

Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel of Letters fits the bill.
You will meet Ella Minnow Pea who lives on an island named Nollop after the famous Nevin Nollop who was the creator of the immortal phrase "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Nollop is off the coast of South Carolina.
The blurb from the Philadelphia Inquirer on the back jacket states, "A curiously compelling...satire of human foibles, and a light-stepping commentary on censorship and totalitarianism."
Julie and I both convulsed with laughter reading this "zany book."


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Part 4-- A Community Called Atonement: Praxis

The fourth and final part of Scot McKnight's book A Community Called Atonement is the most creative stuff I've read under the umbrella of "atonement." Even Scot himself writes, "I stand here on the threshold of a doorway that few enter: atonement is something done not only by God for us but also something we do with God for others" (117). Part 4 of the book is titled "Atonement as Praxis: Who does Atonement?"

"We are summoned to participate with God in his redemptive work" (117).

Scot adds this caveat: "But lest I be accused of something worse than heresy, let me make it clear up front: I do not believe humans atone for others and I do not believe humans can atone for themselves. Atonement is the work of God---in Christ, through the Spirit---but God has chosen to summon us to participate in God's work, even though we are cracked Eikons or, to use Paul's words, 'clay jars,' (2 Cor. 4:7)" (118).

The church not only has an atoning message (or Story to tell), the church is an atoning community in the world. The church is God's Spirit-empowered people who bring about healing in human relationships so that people live their Eikonic-purpose: to love God, love others, love themselves (properly) and love the world. All that sin did to crack the image (Eikon) in human beings, God now restores to those so cracked in and through the church--the new society of human beings "in Christ."

Praxis includes justice. But whose justice? "But justice for the Christian is not about freedom or liberty, rights, individualism, or the pursuit of personal happiness. ...Christians can't let the U.S. Constitution (or John Stuart Mill or Karl Marx) define what 'justice' means. We have to define justice in a way consistent with what Jesus meant by 'kingdom'" (124). The ecclesial community is a just community and stands for and extends God's justice in the world.

An ecclesial community (church) sharing in the perichoretic life of the Trinity will be missional more than attractional. "Sent" is a key word (see John's Gospel). Jesus and Paul envisoned the church sent into and engaging the world in beneficiary ways, in Jesus Creed ways---loving God and loving others. And we do so, not with the agenda to get the world "saved" but because that's simply what the Jesus Way means.

"Whenever the Bible replaces the Trinity, we have bibliolatry" (143). This is Scot's way of saying we have a (Trinitarian) God-centered faith, not a Book-centered faith. Scot affirms Eugene H. Peterson's Eat This Book.

Scot concludes section four (and his book) with a brief word about the "atoning" nature of baptism, the Lord's Supper and prayer.

With so much pious junk food for the soul available in the market place, it is good to have devoured A Community Called Atonement and to feel the vitamins and minerals of excellent teaching. Thanks, Scot.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Part 3-- A Community Called Atonement

In Part 3 of A Community Called Atonement "Atonement as Story: Whose Story?" I had the feeling that Scot McKnight was a skillful and knowledgable tour guide taking us to some of the most interesting "places" in the land called Atonement.

Why did Jesus choose Passover rather than Yom Kipper as the backdrop for his atoning mission? Doesn't the Day of Atonement logically fit Jesus' saving intent? We are treated to atonement in the story created by Jesus, and it is fascinating with some tidbits thrown in about the actual meal Jesus ate with his disciples---a "Passover-like meal." Interesting, indeed. With this excursion into the Jesus story, the vast panorama of atonement captures our minds. Only in Part 3 of the book is Mark 10:45 introduced as crucial.

Question: Why did Paul go a different way than Jesus with his atonement story? Why did Paul not feel obligated to mimic Jesus' details? Why did the Early Church Fathers feel free to create their own stories of atonement and not mimic either Jesus or Paul? Why does Paul haul us into a courtroom? Why is Paul obsessed with "death"? (Scot calls Paul a 'mortician.') We have to know the story that Paul is trying to tell. We get McKnight's take on the theological hot potato called NPP or New Perspective on Paul.

Scot walks us through what I will call the Atonement "hall of fame," that is, the various theories of the atonement. Scot likens the theories to golf clubs. Rather than picking one club as the best or dogmatically asserting only one as "the biblical view," Scot puts them all in the golf bag that he calls Jesus' identification for incorporation. Scot shows how each club is needed and each club is biblical. We must listen to them all if we are going to hear the beautiful and robust orchestration of the music of atonement. Scot values penal substitution, yet points out a couple of weaknesses in that theory which makes it too restrictive to tell the whole story of atoning grace.

Next: Part 4


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Part 2- A Community Called Atonement-- More than "Me" Theology

Part 2--Atonement and Image: With Which Image?

This part of Scot McKnight's A Community Called Atonement I would title "Atonement Theology for Dummies." Scot has a pleasant and peaceful style and a "new kind of scholar's" ability for making complex theological concepts clear and accessible to the rest of us.

In an evangelical culture of rampant individualism..."you [Jesus] took the Fall, and thought of ME above all..." suggests a popular Christian song. Me, me, me. Well, sorry to burst the "me" bubble, but Jesus had more on his mind while on the cross than "me." Scot unpacks the robust scope of Jesus' atoning work. Of course, by virtue of their union "in Christ" individuals do benefit from Jesus' saving life and death and resurrection and the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. Yet, all those aspects of Jesus' atoning work have a community in mind, a specific people--the people of God. "Before another word be said, notice the essence of this act of God: Pentecost comes not simply to regenerate individual Eikons but to recreate an ecclesial community of faith in which the will of God manifests inself in worship, fellowship, and the missio Dei" (75).

In this section of the book Scot delivers us from the horribly reduced and anemic "gospel" testimony that squeaks out, "Jesus died for my sins so I can go to heaven." In place of that withered reduction Scot offers the perichoretic acts of God that invite us into a reality "in Christ" that literally renews the cosmos! We are caught up into something huge, grand, sweeping, and, at times, ineffable.

Scot offers a crux et ("the cross and...") view of atonement. While emphasizing the pivotal and strategic cross work of Christ, Scot shows how Jesus' incarnation (and earthly life), his death on the cross, his resurrection (and ascension) and the giving of the Spirit are all part of the story of atonement. Most of us have been taught atonement only in terms of sacrifice and blood (and those are important features of atonement, yet not the whole story).

Using Scot's controlling metaphor, we need multiple golf clubs in our bag to understand atonement. It surprises many that penal substitution is just one club in the bag.
Next: Part 3


Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Community Called Atonement: Part 1

Scot McKnight, Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University, offers another provocative study. His recent book A Community Called Atonement (Abingdon) invites us to hear the symphonic music of the biblical metaphors for the atonement.

The guts of the book comprise four parts:

1. Atonement and Convergence: Where to Begin?
2. Atonement and Image: With Which Image?
3. Atonement as Story: Whose Story?
4. Atonement as Praxis: Who Does Atonement?

Many teachings on atonement get right to a specific text like Mark 10:45, for example. Scot wisely resists that urge. In Part 1 Scot begins with Jesus (of course!) and with Jesus and the kingdom of God.

But, wait! Like the cable TV, late night commercial, there's more! Scot goes on to present six significant converging realities that lead up to the symphonic sounds, the multiple images that present the atonement. Let the reader, read.

"Thus, atonement is not just something done to and for us, it is something we participate in---in this world, in the here and now" (30).

Next: Part 2


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Jesus: Do You See Who I See?

Have you heard of a stereopticon?

Neither did I until I read a brief description of one in The NIV Application Commentary: Gospel of Mark by David E. Garland. (Garland was quoting an essay by Walter Wink.)

A stereopticon allows a person's brain to receive two different images, one from each eye, at the same time. Like the huge lenses that your optrician uses to test your eyes, the stereopticon projects the two images. Two groups of people, Latin Americans and USAmericans, with stereopticons were simultaneously shown images of a bull fighter and a baseball player. The Latin Americans "saw" only the bull fighter and the US citizens "saw" only the baseball player. The point? We are culturally-conditioned "to see" what we see.

Scot McKnight over at Jesus in "Which Jesus will it be?" suggests that various "Jesus scholars" see a Jesus in the Gospels that they set out to see. Some see an historical Jesus as a failed prophet, or a pious theological Jesus, or a Second Temple Judaism Jesus, or a projection of the early church Jesus, or a Jewish Cynic Jesus, etc. Like the old TV show, I want to say, "Will the real Jesus please stand up!"

A contingent of evangelicals (decreasing monthly I hope) are still holding to "the myth of objectivity." They seem to think and speak and write as if they are above the fray and are not at all culturally-conditioned. In the ghetto of their minds they find safe haven. As far as they are concerned, they come to the Bible with pure, uncluttered, unconditioned, unbiased, untainted minds. Thus, their pronouncements have the tone and inviability of bomb-proof certainty. You get the feeling that not only is the Bible inerrant, but each of their statements are, too. How can they be wrong since they are so "objective"? They, and they alone, have "the biblical position" on whatever the topic is at hand. They are clueless to the condescending arrogance they project. Nit-picking sawdust out of others' eyes as they haul logs in their own. It's silly really.

But, John, this just leaves us with relativism! No one knows all the truth and everyone has some of the truth? Where will that get us? Only confused, right?

Not necessarily.

Imagine that I am talking with some friends about my lovely wife Julie. I am a devoted witness to her. Some friends think that Julie is a native Michiganian, not knowing she was born in Dallas, Texas. Some think she married me for my knock down good looks (and they may not be too far off), some think she, as a pastor's wife, is omnicompetent for all things local church. Some think she is the coolest grandmother alive. I can defend her honor, be a good apologist for her character and abilities, build bomb-proof evidence of her interesting history and on and on. Yet, the best thing I can do is introduce her to my friends. "Friends, here's Julie. Talk with her. Get to know her."

Jesus is more alivethan Julie, so to speak. Do we really believe this truth? Relational knowing is "true" knowing. Do I know Julie personally? Yes. Do I arrogantly presume to know all about her? Even after 38 years of marriage, the answer is "No." Yet we have some evangelicals presuming to know God fully----everything there is to know about God they know. Don't dare "to know" anything differently about God than they do. (The irony is that they keep repeating Luther and Calvin as if all good theological work ended with the Reformers.) Those who disagree with them may end up being labelled hairy ticks.

Some USAmerican evangelicals seem to think the Great Commission is "Go, and tell the world how evil it is [especially if it's liberal Democrat] and slam your Christian brothers and sisters, too, if they disagree with you."

Gandhi said, "Live now the way you want the world to become." That's "gospel" even according to Jesus.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Shaping of Pastors to Come

A friend informed me of the latest ecclesiological technology.

Click here.