Pagan Christianity

Despite my eagerness in reading this book to find out about the origin of many of the practices of the modern church, I must say that book has left me wanting something different. I would have preferred a book that offered the historical developments and then a biblical portrait of what a church could look like. The book delivers well on the former, but fails on the latter. I wound up giving up on the book after chapter three.

I gave up after realizing that the authors were prooftexting their model of what the church should look like, selectively choosing from 1 Corinthians 14:26-33, with no explanation about why they leave out verse 34 from their model (the women be silent verse).

I hope one day to be able to read the other chapters. I think it is interesting to know how practices developed, but the authors are simply too interesting in damning anyone who thinks they can worship or honor God through them. I guess God cannot use cultural differences or developments to honor himself, at least according to Viola and Barna.

“The Pursuit of Holiness” by Jerry Bridges

Amazon link

I’m pretty sure that this book is destined to be one of those that I read and reread over the course of my life. It serves as a good reminder of the depth of sin, the bleakness of it, the need to eradicate it from our lives. Surely such a thing would be obvious to those of us who identify ourselves as Christ followers, who have sworn our lives to serve the One whom we believe died for our sins. And yet it is so easy to forget. I’m not sure why. I just know that, having finished reading this book for the second time (I read it in college for a class), I am newly inspired to pursue a Christ-like life that can be described as pursuing holiness. I want it. And right now, I am even willing to get up at 5AM every day to demonstrate that.

Unfortunately, 11 hours from now will be a real test of that passion, and that’s just sad. That my life is challenged by that, and not defined by that. I am a Christian. A “little Christ.” I am part of His body. A hand or a foot or a little toe or a hair that protects from cold or something – I’m a part of His body. And I don’t live it. I have as my job the training of other members of His body. And I don’t live it.

It takes me a week to read a 158 page book about it, too. Arg.

I definitely need to reread this one once every few years, if not more often.

Multi-Jesi

Or is that multi-Jesuses? My Latin really suffered after the second declension.

After a long quiet month on the blog, Jon and I both make our return on the same day! (I actually decided to post before I even realized that Jon had put up his own entry.) I believe that it is well timed.

I am moving on to chapter 1, but I hope that I will be able to engage our posts on the intro and chapter 0 as I go.

As I started reading chapter 1, “The Seven Jesuses I Have Known,” I hadn’t really even gotten through the first two paragraphs on the first page when I began pondering what Jesus it is that I had met. How would I describe him? Do I know more about him now than I did then? Nearly two years into marriage, I know that my relationship with my wife has to change every day – it has to grow and improve, or it our marriage will grow stagnant and die like a garden plant left without water during a very dry August. I have been what conservative Protestants call “saved” for over twenty years now, and what does that mean? How have I changed since the day I declared my faith? Is my knowledge and relationship to Jesus deeper now than it was? Or is it like the plants outside our back porch – withered and dry?

The scary thing is, I really cannot say that I know. I think the same thoughts during the day, while I plan services of worship or Sunday School lessons for a new class I want to teach. So I used to be able to translate Hebrew sentences, and I could argue successfully that it was supposed to be a genitive of object, not a genitive of source. Yet my faith feels shallow. Like Bilbo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring – thin, butter spread over too much bread. My faith is supposed to be a shining example to those in the congregation, yet I am sometimes appalled by it, admiring those who look up to me. Perhaps that is healthy and a challenge. Perhaps it is something else entirely.

Anyway, I read the rest of the chapter for the second time tonight – the first was a long time ago, after I first bought the book. I have, like McLaren, come to the conclusion that each of these traditions offers some truth about God. And I agree that none of us gets it all right – indeed, I would venture that we do not even get a majority of it right. I look at the table at the end of the chapter, and I find myself immediately attracted to a few of the traditions and repulsed by the others. I have positive thoughts about Roman Catholicism, but the thoughts on the liberation tradition are immediately critical.

In some way, I think it is like the Psalms. There are days when Psalm 150 reigns, and that is the kind of Psalm that I need. There are days when Psalm 42 echoes the deepest groans of my soul – sheer strength of will keeps me in the faith. And rarely could the two fit into the same circumstance of my life. Perhaps each tradition will speak to me in its own course, as it did for McLaren. Perhaps I never reach them all – and do not need to.

Jesus is who he is, and I believe that he reveals us to himself precisely as much as we need to know. And there are aspects of his character that do not make sense to me, and I do not need to know them. These are the unfathomable riches of his grace, the depths of his love that we can never reach.

I like Jesus that way. True to himself, and exactly what I need. True to himself, and exactly what you need.

Enough nonsensical rambling.

A Generous Orthodoxy – Intro and Chapter 0

Just in case you thought I wasn’t reading…

I’m of two minds in some ways about Orthodoxy. In one way, I’m captivated by McLaren’s idea that orthodoxy – which is translated “right belief,” but has actually come to mean a list of doctrines that defines a group – should not be a “least common denominator.” This is a stingy orthodoxy, keeping to itself and keeping out those who don’t believe correctly. A generous orthodoxy, however, seeks understanding and inclusion – the admission that none of us has the answer, and that we rely on the Spirit speaking to us through each other in order to gain a larger picture of God.

 

On the other hand, I’m inclined to throw out orthodoxy all together. It has been the cause of arguments, disagreements, persecution and killing… all because someone doesn’t “believe right.” And it leads me more and more to think that we’ve made a god out of doctrine so that we can ignore “right practice,” (which some had called Orthopraxis). How else can we explain the fact that we Christians argue ceaselessly about things like biblical inerrancy and homosexuality (which are only referenced in Scripture a handful of times), while completely ignoring the needs of the poor in our own towns, the alien in our lands, the oppressed around the world (which are mentioned ceaselessly and directly in the Bible)?

 

These, as McLaren points out, have become “weapons of mass distraction” used to divert our attentions from the things that – according to the Prophets, anyway – God REALLY cares about. At some point, we decided that Christianity was about “believing” just the right things, and that believing and acting were somehow in different realms.

 

Of course, if we threw out doctrine all together, we’d end up in a completely different place – one that would be just as difficult and off-balanced. But how can we find balance between these two things? To me, it’s in the definition of the word we call “faith.” Faith alone is what saves us. Faith is God’s gift to us. Faith is a mysterious thing repeatedly mentioned in the Bible.

 

Faith is not just believing in God and in Jesus as his Son. Faith is not just some theoretical transaction of receiving a gift that God offers us. Faith is “belief in action” – it is both the things we believe, AND the extent to which we let those things transform us and live through us. Can we honestly say we “believe” Jesus is God’s Son if we refuse to follow his teachings?

one plus one equals ten?

Upon rereading this post, I found that I had made a gross error. The post was originally called “One plus one equals eleven?” I referenced the binary system and did some incorrect additions. All is now corrected below.

Now begins the original post, with the correction to my binary addition.

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I must admit that I have already read a pretty good portion of McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy.  I picked up a copy of the book shortly after it came out and immediately dove in. It left such an impression that that part of my brain died, and I remember nothing of what I read. Very sad.

I hope to do much better this time around, and it is starting with the very title of the book. I appreciated John Frame’s foreward much more this time around than I did the first time I read it. I have matured some and read more broadly, giving myself a firmer foundation (is that okay to say in a postmodern conversation?) for understanding the background of the book. So as I was reading the foreward to the book, I really started to ponder the title, A Generous Orthodoxy – as I said, something that I had not done before. And it struck me.

Orthodoxy can be generous. And generosity in belief can be orthodox. And everyone CAN live together and sing Kum Ba Ya. Okay, so I’m a cynic, too. But that does not change the magnitude of my reflection on generous orthdoxy. Hans Frei’s term really is groundbreaking.

I grew up Southern Baptist, and of what I know of foundationalism (which is to say enough to know that if I thought about using it in a philosophical conversation, it would be better for me just to assume that my thought is wrong, silly, or completely in an alternate unverse), that’s pretty foundational. And Southern Baptists have a way of not being very generous in their orthodoxy, especially in the last couple of decades. If you happen to believe wrong (differently) on a particular point of minutiae – say that perhaps Paul had a wife (or not) – that could be grounds for accusing one of being liberal and clearly NOT saved.

So the idea of allowing orthodox faith to be flexible, to be a 2-d defined area instaed of a 1-d line of thought, is new. And I am not quite sure whether I like it or not. I certainly like the IDEA of it. But it is so ingrained in me that orthodoxy is believing the right thing, and that there can only be one right thing. 1+1=2, and that is always true. And then we learn about binary system where 1+1=10, which really isn’t different mathematically, but it sure looks different from our decimal point of view.

I guess I am saying that the idea of generous orthodoxy is refreshing and frightening, and I am not so sure that it really is safe ground. I am not sure that salvation is found there. I WANT Christian faith to be more than intellectual assent to all the right things. But it is so different that it might as well be saying that one plus one equals ten.