U2

At the start of his talk today, titled “PEACE” (I’m not sure what it was capitalised, but it was in the email I got on Monday), Steve played the track Peace on Earth” by U2.

It was really good to stop for a moment, at the start of a busy work day, and listen to something so inspiring. I am a musical person, and songs often have a deeper resonance for me than mere words can. This particular song has long been one that echoes my own internal groaning with regard to the conflict and suffering in our world. U2 seem to be particularly good at writing songs that do that.

In fact, they are so good at writing music that resounds with us at a spiritual as well as an emotional level that their songs are frequently used in church services. There is even such a thing as a u2charist, which was created by the Episcopal Church in the US. I think this is a genius idea, and one I’d love to experience in practice.

Has anyone reading been to one of these? What was your perspective on it?

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Every now and then the powers that be in Oasis gather staff together for ‘input sessions’, which I guess are meant to be times of motivation and inspiration for us as individuals and as an organisation. This morning we had Steve Chalke speaking to us about Peace.

It was a wide-ranging talk, starting with Jesus, diving into 9-11 and international politics, and finishing with how we as individuals should respond to each other in times of stress. I’m not going to try to summarise it all here, but I do want to post up what is a classic Steve Chalke quote from the talk:

Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus ask people to worship him…
…What He does ask is for people to follow Him – which is much harder. It is much easier for us to worship Jesus than it is for us to follow Him

Now, Steve has a great history with the sweeping statement, so I thought I’d stick up another quote from today before I talk about this one

Communication is not what I think I am conveying to you here; communication is what you hear and take away.

Our founder is no stranger to controversy, especially that of the unintended consequences. There was a lot of mention today of The Lost Message of Jesus, a much maligned and little read book. You may well have heard a lot about the Lost Message; if you haven’t read it, please do. I can’t recommend it enough. It is a challenging book about how we should live out our faith in practice, it is designed to provoke your thought and change your behaviour. Its one of those books which is great to disagree with, as long as you think about why.

Unfortunately the message of the Lost Message got drowned out by the unintended controversy concerning one ill-thought-out line in a chapter three quarters of the way through. I guess Steve has learnt a lot about both peacemaking and communication in the last few years…

***

I’m not sure if it’s true to say that nowhere does Jesus ask people to worship Him… He seems to infer His godliness quite a bit, especially in John’s version of the Gospel story. But I think the drive of Steve’s point is totally true: it is far easier to worship Him than to follow Him.

Steve’s context for this point was peacemaking: turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, loving our enemies. Those are all pretty hard things to do in practice, and I wonder how many of those of us who say we worship Jesus actually feel we practice them at all?

But in reality most of Jesus’ teachings are pretty hard to follow in practice. How many of us really view our faith in the terms of ‘taking up [our] cross[es]’? Or are really prepared to give up our friends, our homes, our families?

For a couple of years now I’ve been blown away by the enormity of what Jesus actually says in the gospels, and how different that reality seems to be from the faith I’ve grown up in. It’s not that most Christians don’t have sincere faith; they do. It is that, as Steve says, we are much better at worshiping that we are at following.

Lord, teach us to your servants
How to follow in your footsteps
For the Glory of your name
Amen

Everything Must Change: Emerging, Reformed, and the lack of a Kingdom theology

[UPDATE: Scot McKnight is beginning a series on this which looks a good deal more balanced. He makes clear that the title “Everything must change” is, in context, about the gospel: Jesus’ Kingdom message is so radical it demands that everything must change to accommodate it. I await with interest the other parts in this series.]

Tim Challies has posted up a review of Brian McLaren’s new bookEverything Must Change”. It’s got me a little riled…

For those of you who haven’t come across Tim Challies, he is the writer of Challies.com, which is purportedly the most read Christian blog on the internet. Which says something terrible about Christian blogdom. Tim writes a lot of book reviews, which seem to mostly consist of giving a brief summary and then loudly declaring every theological hole he can find with a magnifying glass. Its not an approach that endears him to me.

Challies.com is not a blog I read regularly, but I do pop along now and then, simply because this is what a large proportion of Christian blog-readers are feeding on, and I think its useful to keep track of such things. Maybe I should stop.

Brian McLaren, for those who don’t know, is writer of A Generous Orthodoxy (a book with one of the longest subtitles in non-academic literature), one of the founders of Emergent, and is considered by those outside of the emerging church to be one of its foremost leaders and writers.  I’m going to confess right away that I haven’t read a Brian McLaren book yet (although I want to, just so I know what the fuss is about), so I have no way of pretending to be remotely authorities on what he thinks. So this post is going to be one of those badly-researched, ill thought out rants that the internet is famous for. Sorry.

***

According to the Tim Challies review, Everything Must Change seems to be an attempt to widen the scope of Christian thinking to include a response to the profound socio-political and economic issues of our world. It is a suggestion that maybe the message of Jesus included a response to those oppressed by political regimes, or trapped in poverty and hunger. i.e. “What are the global crises and how can Jesus provide a revolution of hope?

McLaren seems to argue a need for a new “framing story” or understanding of how our faith encounters the problems of the world. As a radical polemicist, McLaren overemphasises his new way of thinking and exaggerates the issues he sees with ‘traditional’ Christian thinking. Challies quotes a McLaren reframing of the Magnificat which shows his issues with this way of thinking:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my personal Savior, for he has been mindful of the correct saving faith of his servant. My spirit will go to heaven when my body dies for the Mighty One has provided forgiveness, assurance, and eternal security for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who have correct saving faith and orthodox articulations of belief, from generation to generation. He will overcome the damning effects of original sin with his mighty arm; he will damn to hell those who believe they can be saved through their own efforts or through any religion other than the new one He is about to form. He will condemn followers of other religions to hell but bring to heaven those with correct belief. He has filled correct believers with spiritual blessings but will send those who are not elect to hell forever. He has helped those with correct doctrinal understanding, remembering to be merciful to those who believe in the correct theories of atonement, just as our preferred theologians through history have articulated”

[Compare to the ‘original’ here]

McLaren states that the reality is:

“Mary celebrates that God is going to upset the dominance hierarchies typical of empire so that the nation of Israel can experience the fulfillment of its original promise.”

Challies deplores this approach, in fact McLaren’s whole way of thinking, writing off the entire book as a completely false gospel. I’m not going to go through all the details of this battle, but Challies’ closing remarks are telling:

“It seems increasingly clear that the new kind of Christian McLaren seeks is no kind of Christian at all. The church on the other side of his reinvention is a church devoid of the glorious gospel of Christ’s atoning death. It is a church utterly stripped of its power because it is a church stripped of the gospel message. McLaren’s new gospel is a social gospel, a liberal gospel and, in fact, no gospel at all.”

***

I want to make clear that, from the quotes I’ve read in this review, I don’t entirely agree with McLaren’s viewpoint or theology. But I can see validity to the point of the book, which is to widen our viewpoint away from the idea of a solely personal gospel. I take great umbrage to the comment “a social gospel [is] …no gospel at all”. A solely social gospel is deficient, but then so is a gospel based entirely on substitutionary atonement.

Jesus’ message was a holistic one, for all levels of community and society. It was a gospel of hope and transformation for the whole world. Yes, it was a defeat of sin and death through the cross. But it was also a radical new way of living; a reissue of the Genesis message that we are all, equally, ‘made in the image of God’; and an instigation of a community of transformation that was intended to express “God is Love” to the whole world.

I have issues with the way McLaren seems to talk here, in the same way that I have had with Steve Chalke. But those who try to push us into new ways of thinking often settle on provocative means of doing so, simply because they are the most affective in the short term. If someone gets your blood up, you at least have to ask yourself why!

Can somebody tell me, does the Reformed tradition have any understanding a Kingdom theology? Do they have any concept of what Jesus was saying (before His death and resurrection!) when he declared “the Kingdom of God is at hand!”? Do they have any answer to verses like Micah 6:8 and James 1:27?

Of course Jesus came to deal with the ‘problem of evil’. He came to ‘reconcile man to God’. But he also came to bring comfort to the poor. Read his mission statement, and tell me if, somewhere in amongst all the rhetoric, McLaren might not have a valid point.

Rant over. I’m off to find another book reviewer.