An Expedition…

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Over the last few days I have been interacting with folks about a great many things. Something that has struck me is the cavalier attitude toward doctrine. Many of us no longer seem to think that doctrine matters. We say things like, “I am not a theologian, but…”

Here’s the reality: doctrine does matter.

What we believe matters.

It matters big time.

When hardship and conflict come it is what we believe that will determine how we respond. Because, what we believe matters.

I have been heart-sick over the way those who hold a similar theological position as I have responded to a book that came out recently. They responded with polemics and rhetoric (some even before they had read the book!). Most have not responded with discernment or charity but have looked for a way to hang a “heretic”.

I have also been thoroughly disappointed in the way that those from other theological positions have either blindly defended or tried to move themselves away from a position which is the logical outcome of their own.

I am more convinced than ever that what we believe matters.

Then I read David Fitch’s recent post over at Reclaiming the Mission and I understood again why what we believe matters.

David coherently points out the distinctions between a “coalition” and an “expedition”. As I read this post I kept thinking back to a friend’s description of Jonathan Edwards as an “experiential Calvinist” and another concept that has been rattling around my head, the “experimental Church”.

It is sad to me that those who hold to the Reformed view of theology (not Calvinist Baptists like Piper, Driscoll, etc…they are not Reformed and as a result they are not in view here) have struggled to follow Edwards. It makes me wonder if we don’t really believe what we say we believe.

It seems to me that if Reformed theology is true then it demands from us an expedition into the experiential and experimental Church.

Why?

Because if Reformed theology is true then it is unflinchingly pointing us toward Jesus and his Kingdom. This requires us to follow Edwards to the frontier. It requires us to step out and actually act on our beliefs in the sovereign God, the in-breaking Kingdom, and the imputation and incarnation of Jesus.

It is my opinion, that Reformed theology (not Calvinist Baptist theology) is best suited for a post-Christian world, because it necessarily drives us toward the lost, culture, transformation, community, and authenticity.

But, only if we believe it.

But, we will only believe it if it matters.

It matters.

Over the upcoming weeks we will look at how our beliefs drive the mission and as a result help us to understand why doctrine matters.

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What’s Worse? (Part 2)

In our previous post we saw how Jesus engaged the world. He entered in and sought to transform the culture within which he lived. He did so with passion, without regret, and in perfect holiness. He did so to the point that he was called a “drunkard” and a “glutton”. This is our model.

How do we apply it?

The first question that I hear murmuring is, “He was God. It’s different isn’t it?”

No. It’s not different. That kind of reasoning has no place here in the quest for the engagement of culture. It can’t. If it did then we ought to say, “He was God, therefore we shouldn’t disciple, because it’s different.” We could allow this line of thinking to go in any number of directions.

No, it’s better to say that Jesus did it, therefore, we must try.

The next thing I hear murmuring through your mind is, “Not everyone is called to this. What about the weaker brother in Romans?”

I hear your concern. I think in some sense it’s an appropriate one. I don’t think it should rule the day. The thinking becomes similar as the previous statement. The “stronger” brother has a responsibility to help the weaker grow. He should not flaunt his freedom (which is Paul’s concern) but should help his brother grow and become strong. To remain stagnant is not what Paul is arguing for.

How do we engage with a broken culture and transform it while maintaining our holiness?

That’s the question.

I think we first need to realize that we need to start at the place of discernment. We each have different capacities and different amounts of freedom. Some of us will be able to engage in different cultural activities and others will look elsewhere. These differences are what make us the body. Discernment requires us to pray, to study, and listen.

We must not allow discernment to be a vague form of legalism though.

To avoid this we must believe the best in those around us.

This caveat must not be a license to sin. The thing about sin is that you typically know it when you see it.

Along with discernment there must also be engagement. The engage means that we are moving out critically. We are not simply taking in but we are evaluating, critiquing, and seeking understanding. This also requires us to have a “telos” or goal of transformation.

If we are simply seeking to be entertained then we are not following Jesus’ example.

If we withdraw from the world then we are not following Jesus’ example.

If we engage, transform, and then begin to create culture, we are following Jesus’ example.

There is so much we complain about and worry about. What would happen if believers created culture on the basis of the Christian worldview? What about education? Politics? Art?

We would find films rated R, G, PG, PG-13 because life, reality, is represented by all of them. We would find horror films, we would find romance, comedy, action, violence, sex, redemption. We would find these because they are part of the Scriptures and reflect reality.

We engage culture because we are human. We seek to transform it because we image bearers.

What’s Worse (Part 1)?

As we near the end of this discussion on engaging culture a few concluding points need to be made. Primarily we need to discuss which is worse, sinful thematic elements, or subtle deconstructions of worldview. This is something that we struggle to figure out on a principled level in every aspect of our lives as Christians.

For us to get our minds around this reality we must first look at the life of Jesus to give us a glimpse of how we ought to live. To do that I think it will be helpful to take a look at Luke 7.

This section of Luke’s narrative begins with the story of the Roman Centurion. The Jewish context of this time was varied and it is hard to necessarily pigeon hole the average Jew into a group. However, there is one thing that we can be relatively certain of, and that is the basic distrust and dislike of the Roman occupation. This was understood to be an extension of exile. The average Jew would not have associated with Centurions. The leaders of Capernaum apparently did because this particular Centurion built the local Synagogue.

This story is remarkable because of Jesus’ statement, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

That is an abrasive statement, at best. That would be like a U of M football coach saying that OSU is the greatest football team ever, at a pep rally on campus at U of M. This simply does not happen.

But it did.

From here Jesus raises a widows son from the dead. He displays the justice and compassion of God.

Then we encounter a remarkable interaction between Jesus and John’s disciples. We couldn’t possibly enter into a full exposition of this passage, however, I want to point out verse 34. Jesus says, “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’”

Consider what Jesus is saying here. He self-identified with the immoral and broken of his culture. He did this to the point that the religious people called him a glutton and a drunk. Jesus stepped into the sinful world and engaged it so fully that he was challenged as to his own morality.

This section closes with a sinful woman, a city prostitute, forgiven. Jesus allowed her to touch him and caress his feet with her hair. She made him ritually unclean. Jesus didn’t care. He forgave her and sent her away in peace.

Jesus engaged the lost world and transformed it.

This is our model.

How do we apply this? That’s the next post!

Observations on the Conversation

There have been a few (and by a few, I mean more than you can shake a stick at) posts by people responding to a book by a Christian famous pastor and author.  It’s reaching epidemic proportions.  Almost to the point of being annoying.

I am not going to write about the pastor or the book (I haven’t read it, actually it was sold out at my local bookstore, so I couldn’t buy it).

What I do want to write about is the nature and tone of the conversation.

I am appalled.

I am appalled by the tweets, facebook posts, and one liners.

Social media is short form and is not the proper place for the kind of interaction that topics like this need. There are some topics that require more than 140 characters. Issues of Heaven and Hell certainly fall into that category.

This hit home for me last night after a weekly conversation called, Coffee/Doubt.  We spent an hour dealing with this topic and barely scratched the surface.  The questions were real and powerful. There was discomfort and passion.  The conversation could have gone on for many more hours.

As we dive into the depths of what it means to be human and what it means to interact with the divine we must realize that the conversation will necessarily be long form.

I appreciate the long form critiques that are taking place on a few blogs.  Sadly, blogs are typically group-think factories (this one is no different and yes I get the irony).  You don’t necessarily interact with the blogs of those you disagree with. The comments of a dissenter are typically annihilated with polemic, by the readers, not usually the author.

This is the kind of conversation that needs to take place around the table where representative people can really talk through it.

This has always been the chasm. Scholarly papers used shoot past each other without either being read or digested.  Books would be published and not really interact with one another.  Magazines would publish response pieces that were inflammatory so that the magazine would sell.  The bloggers preach to the choir. The tweeters condense it all into 140 characters.

My only solution is for the Church to engage in real dialogue. Face to face. Person to Person. That was the beauty of the ancient councils.  The Church leadership would gather, dispute, worship, pray, teach and decide.

I like social media.  I like blogging.  I think they both have a place. But, I think they fall short as mediums for theological dispute (although I think blogging done right could be fantastic, a synchroblog on this issue could be worthwhile and helpful).

Garden State: Good or Bad?

In our second to last post exploring how to engage with culture we will be evaluating the film Garden State

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. Remember the four key questions that we use in our evaluation:

  1. What does this tell us  about God?
  2. What does this tell us about man?
  3. What does this tell us about man’s greatest problem?
  4. What does this propose for the solution to man’s greatest problem?

From here we would then compare those answers to the Biblical worldview.  Let’s dive in…

What does Garden State tell us about God? Not much.  God does not make an appearance in the film.  It would seem that there is no sense of a divine presence.  The characters in the film are apparently on their own to figure out the world.

What does Garden State tell us about people? It has much to say here.  Zach Braff paints for us a crystal clear image of the fallenness of humanity. All of the characters are deeply flawed. One is a liar, one a thief, and the other on a quest to finally enter into reality.  We see the darkest realms of humanity through the quest of the characters.  The low point of the film is a journey through the heart of a hotel where you can see people behind closed doors, we witness the depths of depravity. We also learn that humanity is capable of great love.

What does Garden State offer as man’s greatest problem? Quite simply the problem is humanity itself. We find that those who are rich are just as awful as those who are poor.  We find that those who are loved well are just as broken as those who are unloved.  Humanity itself, Garden State proposes, is its own problem.

What is the solution to man’s greatest problem? The film offers the solution of forgiveness and sacrificial love. The turning point in the film is when the three main characters arrive at “The Ark” and meet the caretakers of the “Abyss”.  They find that they are content, happy, and satisfied because they love one another self-sacrificially.  It is here that the characters come to a turning point and are radically changed in their quest. The film ends by the thief sacrificing his ill gotten gains, the liar speaking truth, and the one looking for reality finally dying to self on behalf of another. All this is in the context of forgiveness given and received amongst the three and others.

There are many more themes and threads and similarly to our review of the Lion King (see Rob’s comment there) this barely scratches the surface (there are many connections to the Illiad, many sub themes, etc…).

Are there any bridges or connections to the gospel? I think there are many. This film is a great portrayal of original sin and the need for love and forgiveness.  It is imperfect in communicating these things, yet, it provides a grid for some very real and clear conversation regarding these themes.  There is not a single perfect character and every character needs love and forgiveness.  I would suggest that this film provides a fantastic jumping off point for conversation and discussion of the gospel.

There are some thematic elements (drug usage, alcohol abuse, sexual situations) that are inappropriate for young viewers and should be discerned.  However, as a presenting worldview it is significantly less harmful and may even be helpful as compared to the Lion King. That discussion is for next week.

A UM Fan Not Happy About Jim Tressel

I am a pretty big University of Michigan sports fan. I enjoy it when that school down South loses and I hope that they are the first number one seed to lose to a sixteen seed in the NCAA tournament. I like it when they mess up in big games and lose their Bowl games.

I really do.

Today we learned that Jim Tressel would be suspended for two games and fined a good deal of money for lying to the NCAA (these were OSU’s penalties, more may be coming from the NCAA).

In this, I took no pleasure.

In this, my heart was saddened.

I have made many a crack regarding the man whom I refer to as the “Sweater Vest”. I even sent out the following tweet the moment I heard about Chris Robinson and Dan Wetzel’s article:

“This just in the Ohio State University cheats. #shocked”

As the story unraveled and more information was brought to light, I became less amused and more saddened.

By all accounts Jim Tressel is a man who pursues Jesus. He is, therefore, my brother. When a brother stumbles and falls it is heartbreaking. Tressel made a poor choice, lied, and got caught. This is not a football problem, it is a sin problem. I am prayerful that “The Vest” has men in his life who tell him hard things and that they are drawing alongside him now.

It is in these kinds of situations that those of who are called “Christian” must determine where our allegiances ultimately lie, with the body of Christ or a football team. If you are a Christian and a Michigan fan I hope that you will refrain from making light of this or taking shots at Tressel. If you are a Christian and a Buckeye fan I hope that you refrain from making light of this and overlooking the sin.

Friends, what we have here is a brother in Christ who sinned in a public way. Let us respond with truth, love, forgiveness, and mercy.

Do the Lenten Twist

This morning as I watched my Facebook and Twitter feeds fill up with what people were giving up for Lent a thought struck me. It was simple and profoundly un-original.

I began thinking about what Jesus did during those last forty days. The Scriptures don’t really give us a blow by blow. However, I think what we see is that Jesus did not give things up. Jesus drew closer to his disciples. He spent more time with them.

All this was in preparation for his death. We know now that he lives. Death could not keep him.

So, I think for Lent instead of giving up something, we ought to think about picking up something. Why not take the next forty days and draw close to Jesus? What would it look like if we did this? What if, for the next forty days we spent time in prayer, study, and community?

Oh, wait…it turns out that is exactly what Lent is supposed to be about. It’s not about giving up candy, coffee, or pop. It’s about taking a season of our lives each year to significantly focus our attention, to twist our thoughts to Jesus.

For forty days will you focus? Will you join me in doing the Lenten Twist (I know it’s cheesy, but hey, I like cheese)?