Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Christianity Worth Believing 3

Chapter 14 was short and sweet. The main point I gathered from it is that all of us are at some point no longer integrated with God because that is what comes along with the territory of living life on earth but we should not be defined as people by the misdeeds we do and our disintegration from God but we should live to be fully integrated with God, eradicating any sin that springs up in our lives because we can.

As I read this chapter over again I see so much Tapestry of Hope stuff in it. On page 169 he says, “When we think of sin as disintegration, as the unraveling of life and goodness, we hold on to the hope that there is healing and integration, that a life can be woven back together from the threads that remain.” YEAH! I fully believe that. Going to church with registered sex offenders, a guy currently out on bond on a sex crime charge, pornography addicts, and alcoholics, I have seen God do just that. He has taken us, and not only woven my threads back together, his threads back together, and her threads back together, but he has woven my threads with his threads and her threads and we as a faith community come together as a marvelous display of God’s beautiful restoration and creativity.

So, once again I really like where Pagitt gets with this chapter (the main point as I gathered it) but I still don’t see why depravity theology gets kicked out. I think depravity theology is straight up theology from David in Psalm 51 and from Paul in Romans. I'm not one of these guys that believes in the five points of Calvinism or the million points of Calvinism (a la John Piper) but this is one of those things that seems to me to be too straight forward to ignore.

On 163 Pagitt says that hope is missing from the legal model. Whenever he talks about the legal model I think about the metaphor of the judge who steps out from behind the bench to pay our debt. I totally see hope in that. I hope in the fact that because I am an adopted son that the judge is my father and he actually already has paid the price for my sins when Jesus went to the cross and I don’t have to do anything to get him to come out from behind that bench. All I have to do is accept the payment and I get to live a life of freedom. That sounds pretty hopeful to me. If one is seeing (in that metaphor) that the payment is not being made until after we die and are in some kind of cosmic courtroom waiting to see if we are really going to make it into heaven and escape the flames of hell then I think that person is really missing the point of the gospel. I, unfortunately, thought like this for years but like I said in the last post, Jesus didn’t come to give us a get out of hell free card. He came to be a savior once for all and today. He came to give us a live life to the fullest invitation.

Pagitt, you make me think. On page 165 he says, “We were talking about how the story of fallenness would suggest that Alice, even in her sweet little four-month-old body, was capable of only evil because she had not been baptized, but that Laura, who had been baptized and was an active believer in Jesus, would be thought of as the one who was less influenced by sin.” On first reading I thought, “That is ridic! I don’t know anyone who thinks like that!” But I read it again and actually that is certainly how our boy Augustine put it and it seems to be the way it gets taught a lot today. That is a good one for me to chew on. I immediately think of how when the Israelites rebelled in the wilderness only the ones over 18 were sentenced to not enter the Promised Land. So, somehow the evils committed by children are not as offensive, or at least don’t get the same punishment, as evils committed by adults? I have been thinking here for a while and this is a pretty big hairy deal. Basically the way I see it is that I am created in the image of God but because I am a son of Adam there is no way I am not going to be disintegrated from God, no matter where I live or who I grow up around because I am sinful from birth.

I don’t see babies as full of evil and myself as freed from sin and growing in goodness. Obviously Jesus saw children as a role model of faith so there is something that even believers can look up to in children. The thing I disagree with is the thought that we could possibly avoid a kid being screwed up by sin. I believe we are screwed up by sin from birth. The systems, hurts, and patterns of our world do create FURTHER disharmony with God and one another but I think we are already in disharmony with God from the time we are born. Illness and sin are here and get more and more prevalent as we continue to live our lives in our decaying bodies but I don’t think living life on earth creates illness. Certainly it can but illness is found even in babies before they are born.

I love everything in the rest of that section (166 and 167) and I love the stories about Chico but just because I still see some truth and worth in the judicial model and I believe in the fallenness of mankind doesn’t mean that I think it is unchangeable or that humanity should be pitied. The legal model doesn’t drive me to despair and self-loathing or improper fear of God(I do think there is some proper fear of God. Is it because I hold to some of the legal model and some of the disintegration model that I feel that way? Am I cherry picking the legal model and therefore think it’s not all that bad?

In the end, I believe that we are more than our misdeeds and struggles. We shouldn’t say that humanity sucks because we were made in the image of God and God said it was very good. We all need to remember what it feels like to be the sad and the bad and minister from our wounds. Through Christ I can be who I was originally created to be – the wonderful, valued, image-bearer of God.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Christianity Worth Believing 2

So, I wake up this morning and see that I have a response to my blog post from last night. Either Mr. Pagitt himself has somehow found my blog or someone is playing a great trick on me. Wow, what an honor to have the author of the book I am blogging through comment on my blog. I guess I found a couple of people to dialogue with. Thanks.

I am just going to jump right into chapter 13. You aren’t going to understand any of this if you aren’t reading the book yourself. I'm not taking time to set up my comments for those who aren’t reading the book. Here goes…

“There is a debt to be paid, so Jesus comes along and pays it on our behalf. This blood atonement is the restitution laid out for our crimes. For many Christians, this is more than just a metaphorical way of understanding sin; it is a synopsis of the gospel” (150).” That is a really unfortunate place to be in. When we put rules over relationships like the Pharisees did with the Sabbath, we have taken God’s law and made it into a rod to beat people down rather than something to revive the soul.

I agree with Doug on page 151 when he says that he is not convinced that the judge stepping out from behind the bench metaphor is the best model for understanding the way sin affects the relationship between God and humanity. But I ask if we should totally get rid of it. For starters, I don’t see that it hamstrings God. Different from judges in America and different from city councilmen, the laws God is following were created by him, one who has infinite foresight into the future outworking of these laws and infinite goodness so that he is not making these laws for the benefit of some and the detriment of others like so many zoning laws do. Really, I don’t even think God is following rules. He is just being himself but we can’t understand someone being himself and being that unchanging because the only time we are that straight is when we are following the rules perfectly. So, we assume he is following some cosmic rules that are above him when he in reality is just being himself. No doubt that some people, even though they would never say they believe this, are living in theological constructs that are outworkings of a thought that makes God subservient to some cosmic rules. I can totally see the danger Doug is talking about here. If the gospel I am preaching starts and ends with God as a judge, then I am not giving the whole gospel. I am leaving a lot out. I love the quote from Willard about vampire Christians who need Jesus for his blood and nothing else. Christianity as a pessimistic, evil-obsessed religion of sin management is not Christ centered, God partnering, life at all. In fact, it is very self-centered. At our church, we say all of the time that Jesus did not come to give you a get out of hell free card. He is a savior once for all and today. I love the way a video (Welcome to our church) we show sometimes says it. That video says that Jesus didn’t come to give us a get out of hell free card but that he came to give us a live life to the fullest invitation.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is suggesting a different way of living for his followers but I don’t see it as having nothing to do with the legal system I think it is showing us that following God’s laws is about what is going on in the heart because what happens in the heart is what dictates what happens in the hands. This doesn't negate the legal system but gets us to the roots of our problems before they become full blown ourworkings of our hands. The religious leaders in Jesus' day (and today)were so worried about what the hands were doing and they paid no attention to what the heart was doing. When we focus totally on what the hands are doing is when we begin to get out our point scale for sins and this is where things begin to really get nasty.

When people talk about point scales for sin (making some sins count more than others) I think they have gone into the territory of the Pharisees, thinking that some people are beyond God’s usefulness and forgiveness. But this is where I begin to see beauty in the doctrine of depravity. In it, there is no point scale for sin. It’s not the individual sins that make us enemies with God. It’s the fact that we are sinners that makes us enemies with God. There is no point scale for sin. No matter what the sin is, no one is ever beyond God’s usefulness or forgiveness. I think Jesus hung around the prostitutes and tax collectors for many reasons. He wanted to show the Father’s compassion on people that the Jews seemed to have little compassion for. He was living out Micah 16:8 by showing justice, mercy, and humility. Among many other reasons, I think a huge reason he hung around them so much was that they were crying out that they needed God in their lives because without him they were hopeless wrecks.

I think that one of the metanarratives of the Bible is that we are hopeless wrecks and we need God’s help and grace in our lives. I see this especially in Genesis 3. Humanity had one rule. ONE. What did we do? We broke it. We are helpless to do it on our own. We need God.

On a separate point, what do we do with Romans 5 saying that we were once God’s enemies? I think humanity was created to be God’s partners but we became God’s enemies. God was not slow in showing us that we had become his enemies but just as quickly as he showed us that we were his enemies he showed us that we didn’t have to stay that way. He offered a way for all of humanity to be blessed and he used Eve to give humanity that blessing. There is a relationship between God and humanity that is not broken. The Holy Spirit works on our hearts to pull us closer to him. The Holy Spirit shows us our sinfulness but he also shows us the path to righteousness and life in the kingdom of heaven.

I agree that its not the breaking of some code that is the problem of sin. It is the twisting and distorting of humanity’s relationship with our creator that is the problem. Like Switchfoot says, “We are meant to live for so much more.” It is because God is not distant and far off but intimately calling me by his Spirit that I know that. The point made on 158 – 160 is beautiful stuff. We can envision life without sin and that is why it frustrates us so much. I never thought of it that way. This is it. Life as a Christian shouldn’t be thinking about punishment for those who we have fractured relationships with and who have fractured relationships with God. Life as a Christian should be about seeing how God is going to use me to repair relationships with others and repair their relationship with him.

That’s funny. I like the overall point Doug is got to in chapter 13 but I don’t like some of the things said on the way there. Doug seems to be fine with the end result of the desperation for God created by the theology of depravity but he doesn’t like some of the things done along the way (and hey, I'm with you. I don’t like some of the things in the heavy Reformed circles either).

A Christinity Worth Believing 1

I just finished page 144 of A Christianity Worth Believing. Pagitt says some wonderful things and some things I really have questions about. Hopefully I can find someone who will dialogue with me about this book. It seems like the main point of this chapter is to leave “the depravity” version of the creation story (The version taught by most Protestant churches, the more Reformed the more prominent, that says that because of Adam’s sin we are separated from God and out of relationship with him) and embrace the hope filled version of the creation story that he sees (God created man in his image and lives in relationship with his creation, longing to see them partner with him in his work in the world and that did not change after Adam and Eve ate the fruit.)

As he talks about what did happen as a result of the fall he says on 135 “Their state of being did not change; their DNA didn’t change; they were as naked as ever, but suddenly they saw it as a problem.” If their state of being did not change then why does Romans 5 talk about the rest of humanity being screwed because of Adam’s sin? If noting changed inside of them then why are they now going to die a physical death? I think humanity’s state of being is very different than it was in the Garden of Eden. I don’t think God is on the other side of the chasm waiting on me to come to him either. I fully believe that God is using all kinds of people, even people that do not want to be used by him or even believe in his existence. It feels like Doug is saying that I cant believe that all humans still have the image of God just like Adam and Eve and still believe that we are seriously flawed and messed up and different from Adam and Eve before they ate the fruit.

I am also very concerned about this whole language of partnering with God. At firs it was ok but as he continued to hammer it in chapter 12 it looks more and more like business partners with equal investment and power. I believe that all in the kingdom of God are to be carrying out God’s mission in the world (being creative, spreading his love, sharing the fruit of his Spirit). I just believe that it is not me + God doing these things but God through me doing these things. It is God carrying out these wonderful things. Not me. Romans 15:18, 19 and 2 Corinthians 2:14 seem to be clearly teaching that it might be my physical mouth or hands doing a good deed but it is actually God who is doing it.

He says at the end of the chapter that chief end of man is to live like God. He says this in opposition to the statement that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Is living like God different from being like God? It seems as if Adam is banished from the Garden because he is being too much like God. Too much and not enough at the same time. Even so, I still see living like God as a means to the end of glorifying God. I agree that we need to be like God in many many ways. We are living as his sons and daughters. I don’t think God would use that metaphor to describe our relationship if he didn’t want us to grow up to be like him.

So, I have said these many ways in which I question the point Pagitt is getting to but I do want to say that I am really enjoying this book so far. He is saying some really beautiful things and he is saying some really insightful things. I am really excited about the Church Basement Roadshow coming to Birmingham. In case you don’t know, it is Saturday, July 26 at Disciple’s Fellowship. It is 10 dollars in most cities but it is being underwritten in Bham so its free!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Light of Christ in the Darkness of the Restaurant Industry 1

For years I have been struggling to live as a Christian in this world, especially in the particular industry I have chosen to make a living in while I go to school, the restaurant industry. We are a different kind of people. Most of us stay out late, party a lot, drink a lot, and do a lot of drugs. Notice the consistent use of the word a lot there without much variation. The movie “Waiting” pretty much sums it up. It doesn’t matter if it is Macaroni Grill where we had 30 servers or Brocks where we have five servers, we are pretty different from your average 9 to 5 bunch. Scott, one of the chefs I worked under at Brocks, said that the restaurant work is one of the toughest environments to stay pure. I am not quoting him exactly but I wish I was. He was such a quotable guy. In my first week of work there he said, and I do quote this from memory even a year later, “There are some necessary evils in the world and my mouth is one of them.” I laugh out loud again just thinking about that day.

So, hopefully this will be the first of many posts about what life is like trying to follow Christ as I work in the restaurant industry.

I was listening to Rob Bell, one of the most fantastic preachers I have heard, from his sermon posted on iTunes on 4/26/2008 and just got smacked. It is good when God smacks you with something good like this. I recommend this sermon to all of my Tapestry people (because this is just great Gospel driven stuff) and all of my Beeson friends (because it is great Gospel driven stuff and I think he is preaching up your alley), especially those who like to throw my boy Bell under the bus. Mars Hill Bible Church MI is going through the book of Philippians, VERY SLOWLY. Its great!

In this particular sermon, Rob is preaching on Php 2:3-4 - Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. He is hitting on some great stuff, but at 28:30, after talking about the trinity loving together and being in harmonious creativity inviting us in, literally pulling us into it, he starts really getting into this word, “others.” He says, “Its not look to those and serve those who you like, those you normally hang with and its kind of fun to serve them. Essentially the flow of the argument Paul is making is that the one soul, spirit, love, and mind will be encountered in orienting yourself around others. If the trinity orbits and encircles each other and serves each other, then we should serve others in the same way. We should mimic this serving in the trinity by serving others.” He then throws out the name Karl Barth (this guy can hurt your feelings, or simply make you have a man crush on him) and quotes him as saying, “What Paul is getting at here is that the strange, the different, the unintelligible, the subjective aspect of my neighbor, is the garment in which the one thing meets me.” As Rob goes along, he asks if I have anybody in my life that matches the words strange, different, the unintelligible (the person who drives you barking mad), the subjective aspect of a neighbor (man you have to be a German to use a word like that. This person doesn’t know how I set things up to operate and does not function objectively how he universe is supposed to work).

Immediately someone from work pops to mind. There is this guy who I feel like makes it his personal goal for that day to make me wish I had never come to work and maybe wish I had never come to life. Its always something with him. He talks about me nonstop and nobody can or does do anything about it! He breaks down teamwork more than anybody I have ever worked with and he drives everybody crazy. And to top it all off, this guy’s name is the name that Becki wanted to name our first boy. Get that for irony. But then, it hits me. Ugh. Rob explains, “The one thing he was referring to is God’s grace. If you want to truly understand what it means for God to have enveloped you in his grace, peace, forgiveness, hope, and light, then orient yourself around the strange, the different, the unintelligible, the coworker, the person who absolutely sends you out of your gourd. Circle around them and in your frustration and pain of trying to serve them and love them well you will be face to face with what it means for God to have embraced and loved you in all of your strangeness, difference, and unintelligibility. That person who most gets under your skin may in fact be the garment of God’s grace that is coming to you to bring you more fully into the love of God. If I could actually even learn to take one step to circle the interests of that person it would be a step into understanding more fully what it means for God to love and accept me. If I could learn to not hold their past against them, maybe I would come to understand what it means for God to not hold my past against me. Maybe if I could take one lap around them with all of their flaws, I would better understand the God who embraces and loves me in spite of all of my flaws. The OTHER, the one in your midst who most rubs you the wrong way may in fact be the grace of God coming to you, saying I drive you nuts and I am an invitation for you to understand the Trinitarian nature of the universe all the more fully my friend.”

Rob continues to quote Barth, “The claim my neighbor makes on me, on my patience, attention (“oh not again”), consideration (“I would prefer to ignore this”), on my love, is the claim of the one thing. We discover respect for each other, not on this ground or that, perhaps without any grounds, counter to every ground, simply because we are bidden when looking at our neighbor to think of the one thing, of grace.” Rob says, “It is the most frustrating and maddening dimension about this person that is God’s invitation to enter more fully into the grace and peace that God has extended to me. The degree to which this person draws out of me and demands of me things that absolutely infuriate me may in fact be the claim of the one thing and may be God’s grace.”

Wow. So, there it is. The big old gauntlet thrown down by a one two punch of the Holy Spirit brought to me complements of the tag team of Rob Bell and Karl Barth (those two should never be allowed to team up again). There is unmistakably a person in my life who is my “other” to a T! So now I start praying for God to allow me to show him mercy and grace and for me to get the benefit of experiencing his mercy and grace more fully. I have some more thoughts on how this is going but I will save that for my next work post. Surely we can change something.