There will NEVER be a Biblical movie that all “Christians” will like!

Bible-1966-movie-01There will NEVER be a Biblical Movie that all “Christians” will like!

Ok, the news is mixed from professional reviewers, pastors, bible scholars, and bloggers regarding the Noah movie.  Some hated the film…called is “distortive,” “fanatically wrong”…others, a “masterpiece,” or “compelling.”  For the average person, confusion reigns.  Why?  Something that Christian Smith called, “interpretive pluralism.”  Smith, in his challenging but brilliant book, The Bible Made Impossible, tells the “story” of a person(s) we’ve all known (or are, or been at one time or another in our lives) called the “Biblicist.”  Here is a summary of Smith’s definition of a Biblicist…a Biblicist is one who sees the bible as:

1. Divine Writing: the Bible is identical to God’s own words.

2. Total representation: it is what God wants us to know and all God wants us to know.

3. Complete coverage: everything relevant to the Christian life is in the Bible.

4. Democratic perspicuity: reasonable humans can read the Bible in his or her language and correctly understand the plain meaning of the text.

5. Commonsense hermeneutic: again, plain meaning; just read it.

6. Solo [not sola] Scripture: we can read the Bible without the aid of creeds or

confessions or historical church traditions.

7. Internal harmony: all passages on a given theme mesh together.

8. Universal applicability: the Bible is universally valid for all Christians, wherever and whenever.

9.   Handbook model: the Bible is handbook or textbook for the Christian life.

Now, without getting into a debate or “falling into a ditch” as many of you mock me, let me say this…you and me can talk and discuss the authority of scripture all day and I won’t waver – I cherish the Bible.  I have read it, studied it, and sought to apply its transformational, sacramental power to my life and heart.  But the truth is, I’m not a Biblicist.  OK, I’m a recovering Biblicist…but you get my drift.  The PROBLEM that haunts the Biblicist is what Smith points out in his book – what ultimately defeats Biblicism is “pervasive interpretive pluralism.” The Bible says and teaches different things — and many times, the interpretation of the text is up for grabs.  It’s just true.  Have you ever wondered why we have so many denominations?  Interpretive pluralism! Have you ever wondered why we have so many books or commentaries on the bible?  Interpretive pluralism!  Have you ever wondered why one set of Jesus followers will affirm or condemn certain aspects of life while others will embrace them?  Interpretive pluralism!  Have you ever wondered why we have books like "Five Views of Law and Gospel," "Four Views of Atonement," "Five Views of Justification," and "Five Views of Jesus" (and those are just a small sampling of those types of books)?  Nobody can completely agree on what the text means!  Yes, there are some general agreements about the NON-negotiables – the nature of God, the Trinity, Salvation history, among other topics that make up the “core” of Christian teaching.  Even so, many subjects and many parts of the text can still be viewed in multitudinous ways.  People who love Jesus and seek to honor Him in their lives differ in honesty and (hopefully) in love about a variety of biblical subjects and specific texts.  Judaism, by its very nature, has more of a “large tent” view of interpretation of the bible.  They’ve always welcomed “theologizing” on the text…in fact, for many Jews historically, “midrash” or open-ended conversation and exploration of the text was not only practiced but also encouraged.  I wish Christians could do the same. 

That’s what brings me back to biblical movies (viz the NOAH film).  Well-meaning followers of Jesus disagree about the movie.  Some find it exciting and bold…some find it demeaning and destructive.  So, what is it?  I guess it all comes down to an interpretation of “art”…spin a piece of art, a novel or a film around and view it from multiple perspectives and multiple viewpoints will emerge.  That’s why I don’t believe there will EVER be a biblically based movie that will completely please the crowd.  It will either be too superficial, too “western” (in terms of capturing more of western culture than eastern, biblical culture), too “21st century” in terms of social values and ethics, too literal, not literal enough, etc.  If Jesus looks too white or too dark…if he has teeth that look like he just emerged from a Cosmo magazine cover or if he was too ragged (resembling Brennan Manning’s image of a ragamuffin) there will be uproars.  If someone tries to be imaginative with the text, they are accused of inaccuracy.  Yet if accuracy is the only goal, the question becomes, “whose accuracy?”  Or sometimes literalism leads to superficiality because the text doesn’t always tell us details.  That’s where imagination comes into play.  And, trust me, once human imagination is at play, watch out!  Someone’s getting ticked!  Every biblically based movie I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen from Godspell and King of Kings to Jesus Christ Superstar and The Last Temptation of Christ) ALL had their problems.  Every one was in some way called damaging, spiritually shallow, too human, too “other worldly,” or just plain heretical. 

I told my friends to embrace art and, as John Fischer wrote, take advantage of the fact that Hollywood just laid a HUGE gift for us as faith based, biblically centered people by telling a story that WE know.  The Noah movie made 45 million dollars its opening weekend…people are talking about it…others are reading the bible to check its details…isn’t that a good thing?  I’ll tell you this…I’d rather have people taking a shot at trying to capture the life of Noah on screen than see another ridiculous Ron Burgundy film, or hear about another “Hangover” or slasher film.  I have read interviews with both the director and producer of “Noah.”  Put it this way, they took their best shot.  Good for them.  I don’t think there were subversive conspiracies by the filmmakers to attack Christianity or the bible.  Did they see the story in “new” ways?  Yes….some good and some not so good.  But why would any follower of Jesus be intimidated by that!  Remember that section in Corinthians where Paul writes that we take “captive every thought” in obedience to Jesus?  Let’s not be scared of a movie!  Come on!  If a movie is an “attack” on faith, then we are missing the REAL attacks that are much more sinister and purposely and subtly destructive.  Let’s keep our eye on the ball, OK?  Secondly, I want people to engage in culture conversation about biblical topics!  And Noah laid it right down the middle of the plate for those who love God.  What a great opportunity!  For example, at our dinner table on Friday night at a local diner, people all around us HAD TO listen to our lively debate on the movie!  When was the last time that happened to you?  When was the last time you had a energetic discussion in public about the bible without feeling like people were condemining you for trying to shove something down their throats. This movie is a cultural phenomenon for only a short period of time…take advantage of that to start conversations.  Hey, what the movie ultimately talked about was God…powerful and gracious and just. Lastly, I want people to think – I want Christians to click their brain to “on” and engage another person’s view of the bible.  We need to encourage people not to be fortressed or closed off from culture but to redemptively engage culture.   I told people Sunday, I’m not going to tell them to check their brain at the door or prohibit them from seeing something because it could damage them (now, don't go there…I'm not talking pornagraphy and stuff like that).  I want all the people who share in my faith journey to think, to own, to dare to doubt and be challenged as a means of growth.  Putting our heads in the sand will not gain us anything except a mouth full of sand. 

 

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Noah, the movie…captivating, complex, “not your Sunday School Noah”…and that’s good!

4288310_orig“Noah,” the movie – captivating, complex, “not your Sunday School Noah”…and that’s good!

Last night, my wife and a couple of our friends headed over to the local theater to view the “Noah” film. I had mixed expectations primarily because of the fact that there have been a variety of reviews of the film that have flooded the Internet over the past weeks. “Noah” was denounced and praised…something I’ve come to expect over the years when anyone within the Hollywood establishment enters the biblical world. It is interesting to me how many Jesus followers respond to that fact…in other words, there have been smiles but mostly hand wringing over the release of the film. It is difficult for many within the Christian fold to allow anyone other then possibility an unnamed, exclusive few to delve into such a project. Yet, when I read some articles, discovered that both the director and producer had Jewish roots and that the film was stirring up controversy prior to its release, my lips started to smack with anticipation.

“Noah” is a complex, visually stimulating, provocative, and delightful cinema achievement. It may not go down in history of films of this genre as one of the greats but, given its potentiality for sparking discussion and biblical reflection, it should be. The fact is that our little “community” spent over an hour after the film bantering with each other, engaging in lively discussion and revisiting the text of Genesis with our smartphones in a local diner. I couldn’t help but think about how our discussion echoed through the restaurant. My friends and I have to admit, we don’t talk softly when it comes to our passion for this subject matter.

As been universally shared prior to the film, the movie making art is on expert display in the film. Artistry in film is set not just in dialog and character development but also in cinematography and sound. A good film should be like any good art form…it should draw you in again and again for reflection on divergent images and multiplicity of meaning. Another thing about all cinematic (as well as any artistic expression) experiences, it is as much about the filmmakers worldview than it is about the actually storytelling in the film. It was clear to me that the filmmakers reverently approached this subject. Scripture was utilized throughout the film. Using the word, “Creator” instead of just coming out and saying, “God” was actually one of the aspects of the film that I believed was spot on historically. Many people will be thinking to themselves that simply because Noah and the characters don’t say “God” that that alone will condemn the film. What those people NEED to remember is that Jesus followers have been using the words, “Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer” as one of many verbal expressions of Trinitarian theology for centuries. In addition, it just makes sense that those “early generations” would be drawing an effortless comparison between the creature and the creator. In other words, that dichotomy actually was one of the aspects of the film that I believe HELPS the viewer in entering into the BIGGER picture within this picture.

Make no mistake about it; this is a film that does not tell a Sunday school version of the Noah epic. The Noah story is an ancient story…one that is told in multiple cultures in antiquity. It is a story that is not written in the bible like a script for a movie. In typical Jewish form, the story is filled with word pictures and does not give us details about what Noah, or anyone for that matter, looked like, thought about, or felt. The story is meant to communicate BIG ideas…and THAT the film does. There is NO possible way that the viewer cannot wrestle with the justice of the Creator in this film NOR the reality that humanity’s brokenness (what Christians would call, “sin”) causes pain, death, and suffering. The debate among the Tubal-Cain crowd (humanity’s purpose is in dominion and the exercise of his own free will) and the stewardship crowd (humanity’s purpose is to care for the gift of creation within a free will expressed most fully in obedience to the Creator) is explicitly explored. The reality of evil is clearly and profoundly visualized with all its “grit” and destructive power. And the personal complexities of Noah and his family are unapologetically investigated (which is a good thing, trust me). No one can say how one man and his family could have handled the burden of this call from God. The internal struggles of what it meant to act on “instructions from heaven” are bound to be confusing and sometimes maddening. I know that from PERSONAL experience…I have felt that I have heard God’s call and direction throughout my life only to wrestle again and again on its meaning as I question where its led me as I acted on my perceived interpretation of God’s leadings. I loved the fact, really I did, that Noah acts on what he believes the Creator told him to do. He acts consistently in obedience even when the audience of the film wonders about his sanity and his visible, gut-wrenching responses that lead to some of the palatable conflicts in the movie. Make no mistake, how we understand God’s call, how we follow God’s call even when that means doing something horrible or crazy, as well as the fact that sometimes, when following that call, our desire for MORE information from God that sometimes does not happen and that which throws us back on our own choices is again, bravely detailed in this film.

The director and producer of the film WONDERFULLY and imaginatively “play” with the interpretation of the text. For example, NO ONE universally agrees with the short story of Genesis 6 and the interactions between the “sons of God and the daughters of man.” I’ve searched for a consistent hermeneutic (interpretation) over the years and come up empty-handed every time. How the filmmakers act on that…how they envision the Nephilim is actually boldly entertaining in my view. I believe some will HATE that…but look it up…no specificities in that aspect of the story. The inclusion of new characters, extra-biblical storylines and variations in terms of what some might call, “fundamentalist” interpretations, of the text itself will be aspects of the film that will rile specific groups. Unfortunately, their marginalization of the film due to there own non-negotiable expectations ON the story will blind them to the bigger picture of what Noah is attempting to communicate.

The best way to explain what happens in the “Noah” film is that the filmmakers were engaging in an ancient Jewish tradition called, “midrash” (really, do yourself a favor and look that word up on your computer). It is a centuries long interaction tradition with the text that takes seriously the multicity of interpretations as well as explores the broader picture of the ethics and values of the text (over against a word for word taking apart of the text). There are BIG IDEAS in this story that merit our attention and debate including the purpose of human existence, the fact that God values goodness (part of the image of God and His consistent words spoken over Creation of “and it was good”), the pervasiveness and destructive power of evil, and the truth that God never handles evil passively (most brutally and wonderfully exposed in the death/resurrection of Jesus).

As a Jewish man that I respect wrote recently,

“…there is a lesson in Noah about the moral necessity of divine revelation. God created man without giving him a Ten Commandments or any other revealed moral instruction. The only moral code was the one God built in to the human belling: the conscience. Clearly this was not good enough to make a good world. The world sank into evil. This is another biblical lesson that runs counter to the dominant belief in the modern age. The secular world holds that religion and God are morally unnecessary; the individual conscience is sufficient to guide human behavior. The Bible, as usual, knew better.”

Some people won’t like the film because it doesn’t match THEIR interpretation or remembrance of the Noah story…but again, this might not be a biblical interpretation that YOU like but it is a biblical interpretation that is reverently and faithfully handled by the filmmakers. I cannot see anything within the movie where the filmmakers were taking shots at people of faith. NO, no, no! They dealt with a complex story and emerged from the experience to present to audiences another “snapshot” of the vast history of interpretations of this magnificent aspect of the bible. In addition, the idea that God, or better yet, the Creator, would desire to purify the world is consistent with the dialog of the sages of history. Even the word, “Watchers” is part of the Jewish tradition of Midrash in regards to this text. The movie actually gives a vivid picture of redemption when these Watchers come to repentant moments. That alone was fascinating to me.

What will “get under the skin” of some people has to do primarily with how Noah responds to God’s call as the reality of the world’s destruction sinks into Noah’s heart and soul. The filmmakers make a specific statement about how Noah handles that call as time progresses that will make some viewers confused. Yet, remember, the bible isn’t as clear with how Noah responds to this immense responsibility. Whether or not he was really wondering about whether or not his family was to be part of the “purification” process (the washing of the world from the stain of sin, if you will) will spark debate. That is not something I will address here…but the film’s portrayal of that kind of Noah is explicitly within the realm of possibilities. But make no mistake about it, the film ends where you would expect it to end…with an explosion of rainbows and a rekindling of the covenant of God. In fact, as Vicky and I left the theater (I kid you not) a rare occurrence greeted us…a double rainbow appeared over the rainy skies of Monroe. Now, don’t misunderstand me…I’m not talking “signs of God” that were meant to affirm the movie, but it was one way that God underscored in my heart the reality that our God is a God of promise even when we don’t understand all the details.

So, I’m heading toward the home stretch here – gather a few friends, DO NOT GO TO THE MOVIE ALONE…use it as a launching pad for a discussion. Have the biblical text with you (on a smart phone or something) and then reread the text with new eyes after the film. If you end up, like we did, reading and sharing for a while after the experience, then the experience WAS worth it. As well as the fact that I believe YOU will be blessed. If you have any explicit questions or comments that you would like to make after seeing the film, email me or contact me via twitter or Facebook and we’ll talk. Remember no film is perfect…this one isn’t either…but it will kick off an entirely appropriate, exciting and wonderfully important conversation about the bible. Isn’t that what we really want biblical movies to do?

Here's the picture of the rainbow that we saw after leaving the movie!  No JOKE!

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Elijah and the SAT – book reflections and encouragement for YOU to read it!

Cover44019-mediumI hate to admit because, according to some of the roles I play in life, I’m supposed to be a diligent and conscientious bible professor. Yes, my discipline is primarily focused on the New Testament, but still…there should be no “misplacing” the incredible story of a character of scripture that carries with him such sweeping and full text significance such as Elijah. Without getting too “windy,” which I’m apt to do, Elijah’s story is filled with mystery, wonderful, power, raw humanity, glorious divinity and applicable principles that transcend time. As I started to read Heather’s delightful book, I forgot how much I missed that old, dusty prophet. Even so, it didn’t take long, as Heather explores the bulk of Elijah’s journey through each chapter of her writing, for me to get reacquainted with my long-time spiritual friend and mentor. What was surprising was how much of his journey Heather mines for meaning, challenge and insight that directly affects not just our individual lives but brings with it a surprisingly pointed (and accurate, at least in my humble opinion) critique of contemporary culture.

Reading Elijah and the SAT was a memorable excursion. I was blessed by the author to be able to receive a Kindle copy, which made it convenient to read the book in multiple locations (due to various Kindle apps on my computer and iPhone). And that I did, stealing peaks at the parking lot at Burger King, rereading sections while waiting in my truck for that darn train to fully pass through our town so I can get back to the office or home, and delving into chapters in my favorite spot to immerse myself in literature, my comfy bed lined with a nice, warm quilt, three throw pillows, my two fluffy Maltese pups and my lovely bride.

I loved Heather’s playful language and writing style. I laughed as I thought to myself, “who knew about Fanny Farmer and what she could have to say to 21st century living!” Heather’s take on one of my favorite book series of all time, Harry Potter (yes, Heather, Lon and I would be good friends), and her utilization of the “Sorting Hat” image in relationship to contemporary education, maturing children and the birth of college prep exams had me at one moment feeling surprised only then to feel righteous indignation for how far our culture has gone in breed debilitating entitlement into the hearts and minds of generations. I could go from chapter to chapter with remarks about how I connected with her illustrations and stories because they were plentiful but I’ll spare you. Oh, one more…I really understand, and all parents will, how one helplessly (at times) witnesses the navigation of our children through contemporary living’s demands…calculated assessment at the expense of true self…ungodly pressure at the cost of personal creativity and exploration. Ok, you’ll have to expose yourself to more on your own. I’ll stop there!

Heather shares much of her life and her family’s validation of CS Lewis’ “law of undulation” in such a way that the focus never becomes self-serving. Make no mistake about it, Elijah and the SAT is more bible study that personal expose and more cultural analysis than familial voyeurism. I’ve read other books of this genre and sense, at times, that the book is more of a forum for personal catharsis than a true exposition of subject matter that is transcendent of specificities in time and place. Heather’s book is the latter…her personal stories illustrate larger truths and act as a springboard to deeper and more relevant cultural reflection.

I started out this blog post attempting to resist my usual style of verbosity. Yet, as you can see, it’s easy to get a bit wordy when you are enthusiastic about something and want to be able to point at the object or experience and say to all who would hear, “THAT was fun, good and meaningful.” So, I’ll leave this post now with the personal encouragement for you to personally feast on Heather’s book. She probably would be the a bit embarrassed that I’m making such a big deal about something that she just simply had to get off of her “soul” but I can’t help it…when I see something and read a book that can be life affirming, spiritually engaging and exposes cultural struggles at their most raw form, I have to say something about it! If you read this Heather, you’ll just have to deal!

Here’s the direct link to the book – for those of my friends, readers, twitter and FB followers and community, family, and students, you will be as delighted as I was to meet Elijah again and see what the heck he has to do with our lives and standardized testing. Who knew?

Oh, by the way, here are some "snippets" from the book that Heather placed on her blog!  Maybe they will help with that motivation issue that you struggle with, OK?

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“I don’t believe in Hell – I do believe in God’s Kingdom” – the message I gave last week – full text

Hell conversation.031Here it is friends. I tried to create some buzz last weekend when I posted some of the conclusions I draw in this message.  Remember, this is NOT a systematic theology of eternal matters.  This is simply an attempt (feeble at times) to ask the question, "on what do we base our lives and our mission?"  Fear or love?  Why is it important to believe in hell?  As I say in the text, I think there is a hell and no one should diminish the fact that the bible talks about judgment (and no sane person who takes these things seriously should minimize the reality of separation from God).  But I see NO reason to dwell on hell.  In the same manner, I don't dwell much on the reality of evil.  I experience it too much in daily life to spend any of my time reflecting on it or staking my life on it. Jesus never dwelt on evil, He confronted and overcame it!  That's why I want to stake my life on and rely on God's Kingdom…period.  I want to see and look for Jesus moving in my life and in other people's lives.  I want to lead with love and let God take care of the details of the rest. So, here's the text.  You can decide on your own:

 

MESSAGE – MARCH 2014

“I don’t believe in Hell…I DO believe in heaven”

Little did anybody know that a man in Florence, Italy in the 13th century would still be having such a profound impact on the way we see life and especially death in our contemporary world

When Dante (Durante degli Allighieri) was around 35 years old, he composed an extended poem – “La Divina Commedia” (The Divine Comedy) which was published in 1317

He was in exile for his political instigations

The Divine Comedy set in stone human imagination as well as imagery that continues to shape our interpretation of the bible

Dante inspired Michelangelo – the Sistine Chapel has a stark dichotomy/polarization of images inspired by poetry regarding “Paradise” and what Dante labeled, “The Inferno”

The Divine Comedy – describes the poets journey through Hell (the Inferno – 9 circles of hell), Purgatory, and Paradise

I didn’t know why he called it the “Divine Comedy” because talking about these types of things is no laughing matter…until I realized that there was more of a classic definition of the word that came out of the Middle Ages

A “comedy” means to believe in an ordered universe in which events tended toward not a happy or amusing ending but also are influenced by Providential will that moves everything toward a common and ultimate God…in other words, God makes all things good in His time (in other words, the “comedy” of life is that when it appears the bleakest, God has good in mind) – hey, it’s the middle ages!

My focus is not going to be heaven or purgatory today – those are subjects for another day

I want to spend my time talking about the Inferno – in other words, hell

• The Inferno – included 9 circles of suffering…all increasing the further one went – all coming from or as a result of a person rejecting absolution/forgiveness of sin

• In fact, at the “door” above the 9th circle, Dante said were the words, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”

• Dante – starts his picture of the Inferno with what he calls, “Limbo” which is a place for the unbaptized (a deficient form of heaven)

• After that, a serpent named, Milos, judges a person to one of eight lower realms of hell – lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud/treachery – all bathed in horrifying images and imagery over the centuries

• Here’s the point of our trek through history – Make no mistake about it friends, most of the imagination that you/me carry around with us about the afterlife shaped more by Dante than the Bible itself – in fact, all of our views on what happens at death, most of them, shaped not by the bible but by a weird coming together or blending of philosophies, some pagan and some otherwise

Why I’m tell you all this – Jesus in the text today (Matthew 24:42ff) – talks about judgment – that is a hard read for many people – that phrase alone brings up pictures for people or surface fears or questions about what happens beyond the grave

So I thought I would roll up my sleeves this week and dive head on into that pool I think you will find this journey helpful and hopeful

Prayer time

Here’s how we are going to break this down today:

  • Part 1 – Popular views of what happened after death in antiquity in and around the time of Jesus
  • Part 2 – The Jewish view that Jesus would have inherited
  • Part 3 – lastly, some conclusions we can make based upon what we can see from what the bible does say…OK?

Part One – Popular views of what happened after death in antiquity

Generally speaking, outside of the Jewish faith – no one believed in a resurrection

Death – Dreamless sleep in Greek Mythology

1. Apollo tries to bring a child back from the dead and Zeus punishes both with a thunderbolt

• There is SOME underworld that is not necessarily clear in these myths but the main emphasis of this materials is that the “sons of the gods” are lifted up to the heavens…who knows what happens to the rest of humanity

• Homer – said that the dead became “witless shadows in a murky world” – this is prior to Plato • Homer said that the dead are ghosts or phantoms living in Hades under the rule of the underworld’s god and his dreadful wife

• Hades was a place of gloom, dreariness, and terror – there was no hope for anyone unless you were a demi-god (birthed from a strange relationship between the gods and humans – Genesis has a story about that too prior to the Noah in chapter 6)

2. Another view in antiquity was the idea that the dead were disembodied but otherwise fairly normal in a world similar to ours

• This came from the Egyptian culture – they would bury a loved one with all the stuff they would need in the world to come (household goods, charms, jewelry). The wealthy would have slaves, animals and even wives in the tomb with them

• They believed that there were no boundaries between this world and the next – in fact, the dead would be re-embodied in a different place that was much like this world

• Now some have said that the Egyptians believed in some sort of resurrection but it was rather, “going out into the day – a new day” to hang out with Osiris (the god of the dead and the husband/brother of the goddess Isis)

3. Plato believed that the dead were souls finally released from prison

• Plato believed the that “true self” is the soul – a non-material aspect of being, in fact, Plato believed that the soul was the only part of a human being that really mattered

• In fact, all true reality, in Platonic philosophy, is “soulish” – the soul existed before the body and will exist after the body is gone

• Platonists believed that the soul is happy to shed its skin, so to speak

• After death the soul goes to Hades – but in this case, Hades is not a place of gloom but delight, a place of great knowledge and pleasing activities

• In Hades, a soul was to face one of three judges (one from Europe, one from Asia, and one Appeals judge) – that panel would divvy out justice for eternity

• The virtuous would head to the “Island of the Blessed” – Roman caveat added that the virtuous went on to become a star or a god

• Vespasian on his death bed, “oh dear, I think I’m becoming a god”

• The wicked went to a place known as “Tartarus” – dungeon of the wicked – torment and suffering (Titans were housed there as well)

• Now, as you might guess, the idea of Tartarus doesn’t appear in the bible but interestingly enough the word, “tartarou” does in 2 Peter 2:4 (it is translated “hell” by most translators but it doesn’t mean hell, it means Tartarus – that’s interesting)

• One parenthetical statement here – the Romans fine tuned this soul released from prison view by putting a divine spin on it

• They said all souls are eternal – some creator pours a soul into either a “superior male” or “inferior female” (not my words but theirs) – if the soul lived virtuously, the soul would become a god – if not, the soul would come back into a human body in the form of an evil person that matched their evil soul

• Now, again let’s stop at this point and underscore, none of these beliefs and philosophies mention something we call “resurrection”…a great many things happened to the dead but resurrection wasn’t one of them

Part Two – Jewish thinking about death that Jesus would have inherited

The Jews had diverse ideas about death and what happens when a person dies and we must know, that all the biblical images (even NT ones) of the final judgment and death are richly metaphorical and specifically using “picture” language

In other words, if you are looking for consistent CONCEPTS about what happens after you die, you won’t find consistency in scripture

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to you because the ONLY person who knows about death and what happens when you die is Jesus and He came back to life and CHOSE not to talk about it – look it up – all we know is what Jesus did and said post- resurrection is in all four gospels and they don’t mention a THING about what Jesus said about his death experience – He could have but He didn't

Jews had divergent views:

1. The dominant word for what happened after a person died was that the person went to “Sheol” (60x mentioned in OT)

• After death – a person when into nothingness – the bible uses words like “going into silence,” “you are but dust and to dust you shall return”…actually the OT talks about the fact that after death, the breath of God that brought a person to life returns to God

2. The Jews also had places that they talked about when it came to death – these regions where darkness filled with gloom, despair and that which was devoid of God’s presence – all of which represent the dead as experiencing shades of shadowed reality or sleep

• Sheol, the grave – all places of sleep – we can see that in phrases in the OT like, “he slept with his people,” or “he slept with his ancestors”

• When a Jew died – body placed within a tomb – once decay happened the family would collect the bones and place them in an ossuary

Bottom line – Jews didn’t see death as a happy release from life – they didn’t see it as an escape from the body’s prison Basically – death was the opposite of the gift of life – opposite from the goodness of life – in fact, death is the ultimate expulsion from the Garden of Eden

3. Now, there was HOPE – hope because of the covenant with God, hope because the people had experienced an Exodus at one time in history and they anticipated a future Exodus led by a Messiah but this hope

• Hope of the Jews @ the time of Jesus was NOT found in an individualistic type of manner but was focused on the community of God’s people as a whole – hope was a promised land for the promised people

• In other words, the current world more important than the world to come in most of Jewish thinking which runs contrary to the myth that we hear all the time in our times when we exclaim after a person dies that, “they are in a better place”…no good Jew at the time of Jesus would have said that

• Yes, there was hope that the Lord’s love would be known…that they would be delivered and have an Exodus from sleep – they would be awakened and their dry bones would be brought back to life – there would be a time when all sleepers would no longer be asleep – but that’s about as specific as we can be

• In Jesus’ time – Pharisees believed in life beyond the grave but they too started to become influenced by Platonic philosophy where the dead would become disembodied souls that were resurrected in some way and rewarded for Torah observance

Part Three – What can we say?

First of all, let’s start out with a word that you may not have heard before but is important in this talk about what happens after we die – “TRANSPHYSICAL”

Just like Transrational is one way of talking about spiritual mysteries that are beyond our knowing (reality of the Trinity as well as others) the word Transphysical helps us to know with one word that life beyond the grave is beyond our current physical existence – it is something physical because we can see what the risen Jesus did (he ate, talked, touches, etc.) but it was also something MORE (being in rooms without walking through doors, suddenly appearing, etc.)…that's why these things are STILL a mystery,

We don’t like mysteries but it is just the way it is…if we are looking for certainty in terms of guarantees, there are none – we all rely on the grace, mercy, love and promises of God that have NEVER been systematically laid out for us in a manner that we would like…that's why we need to be people of trust and dependence upon God (even in Hebrews 11:1 where the NOUN of faith is used it is used with the words, Hope and unseen).  Isn't faith, as a act in and of itself, NOT about certaintude but trust and dependance?

So, where does the NT come down on what happens after we die and what are we supposed to believe?

Let me repeat something I said earlier, the final judgment, final days, death, etc. are talked about in richly metaphorical language (trumpet sounds, meet in the clouds, marriage feast of the Lamb, sea of glass, book of life – those types of things)

So, we need to be careful about drawing HUGE conclusions – let me say this:

• Death and what happens after is something that we can’t control anyway

• We have faith…that is a gift…we believe in, entrust ourselves to the hope of life eternal

• The Kingdom of God (KOG) starts here in a life in Jesus…it starts here and now as Jesus said it would…and death becomes a door to more of what we experience in Christ on this side of death

One more thing – the idea of judgment, that Jesus talks about, assumes that evil will finally meets its end and that the good purposes of God will finally be accomplished

But again, here’s the clincher – we have to admit that our ideas of hell, well, it is more of a western thing – these “equal and opposite destinations” are shaped more by Dante than be scripture and often, with that imagination, we read back INTO the text to affirm what we already believe (looking to affirm OUR theology not the bible’s – that’s the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning and bible study)

1. The most common word in the NT that is translated, “hell” is the word Ghenna

Ghenna was a place not just an idea – it was a rubbish heap outside of the S/W corner of Jerusalem – where things and people were “cast away” (“cast away” is a phrase often used in the NT for judgment)

2. Understand this – there are three views of hell that have permeated Christian history (see attachment below for more information on these views) – each view has sufficient scriptural backing and sufficient footing throughout the centuries:

Download Hell Discussion

  1. Christian Universalism – supports the view that one day God will reconcile all people to himself
  2. Eternal torment – supports the view that the lost suffer eternal suffering
  3. Annihilationist – is the view that those who choose self, God will show ultimate mercy and not condemn people to eternal torment (this could be the “second death” mentioned in the book of Revelation)

3. Here’s where we can stand on this issue:

• The bible says one day there will be a great sweeping of God’s mercy and grace throughout the cosmos – a "healing" of the nations

• Astonishing vision of a renewed heaven and earth – KOG will be and is the rule of God that (Ephesians 1:9ff) ) talks about us being in unity with God and each other

• There will still be some “outside” of that renewal…a group that is said to be “thrown into the lake of fire” but the PREVALING IMAGE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT is one of life, peace and healing

• And all these are STILL mysteries in the bible – we can’t make them into simplistic formulas – we can’t declare who will be sitting by the “river of life” and those who are “bathing in the lake of fire”…and if we think we CAN MAKE THAT CALL, it is the most arrogant thing a follower of Jesus can do – in that instance, we are judging by the criteria of "works" (what we can see or hear about another's life, viz that negative aspect of Phariseism that Jesus constantly challenged).  I believe we have to trust God fully in terms of justice.

4. The New Testament’s big idea is this – God is going to set things right, sooner or later

• Whether we are instantly with God after death (Jesus alludes to that with the thief on the cross) OR whether we sleep and at the next moment of our consciousness we are sitting by the river of life (which the bible, especially Paul alludes to)…WHO KNOWS!

• I believe in Jesus – my life is with and in Jesus

Look at these pictures

Hell conversation.026

Hell conversation.027

Hell conversation.028

Make no mistake about it – every person has choices (rights, if you will) to choose whether to worship the creature/creation or the Creator

• If we worship the creature and creation that’s a life where WE do what we want and that ends in death – and that’s a dead end

• The God who loves and created us in His image gives us that choice and freedom

• The bible says SOMETHING awaits those who choose the path of self rather than the path of worship

• Remember, if you want HOPE beyond the grave you need to understand that Jesus alone is our LIVING HOPE

  • God is utterly committed to set the world right – but I find it quite possible, biblically, for there to be ultimate condemnation, ultimate loss to human beings to whom, as CS Lewis put it, God will eventually say, “thy will be done”

Conclusion

Here’s something I have to say – I tried to grab some Twitter and Facebook buzz this weekend by posting this and it caused some confusion, so let me clear it up)

• I don’t need there to be a hell – that’s God’s business!

• I do believe in God’s Kingdom – THAT shapes my being, my identity, and my living – that’s my faith in action, so to speak

• The fact is I don’t BELIEVE in hell  (see below on thinking vs. believeing) – but most importantly, I DO believe in heaven – and that is where God is…Jesus is the one that brought heaven and earth together…that’s the place (or better yet, the "Personhood of God") where the KOG is present – Jesus said that heaven, in many respects, starts now – that is what is really important to me and for me to believe in NOW, there’s a reason I say that – take a step back for a moment and let me explain:

• There is a difference between believing and belief – one is a NOUN and one is a VERB

• “pistis” the Greek word used for FAITH as a NOUN is best translated a “proper, persuaded, confidence, trust as in authoritative trust” – it is used 243 times in the NT and is usually used with a pronoun (his faith, her faith, our faith) this is a faith that is grounded in intellectual fortitude – objectivity

• “pisteuo” is the Greek word used for FAITH as a VERB and is best translated as “entrust, live out, reliance on someone or something, support, hang on, fasten self” – think about a Barnacle or jumping into a wheel barrel and having someone push you around as you trust them to do it right without hurting you – it is used 244 times in the NT and is usually used in the context of relationship – it too is grounded in objectivity but, in this case, it is LIVED OUT boldly (faith in action, or some would say, "faith-ing")

These are vastly different ideas of faith – that’s why when I say, “I don’t believe in hell,” I’m really saying I don’t want to or will I ever stake my life or rely on hell – I never want to put "hell" into action – Why? Because that’s not my gig…that's not who Jesus has made me to be

• Do I THINK there is a hell? Yes I do, but ultimately what God does with that is His business

• Do I KNOW WITH CERTAINTY that there is a hell? No I don’t – I've never been there…I see it around all the time, so I see what evil does…but will evil and hell be eternal?  Again, that’s God’s business…what God chooses to do or how God's justice deals with evil is His business

There is a BIG DIFFERNCE between “I think” and “I know” and to BELIEVE in something is a significant, personal statement – to think about something is different – why? I think about things all the time – so do you – some crazy things and some not so crazy – but to rely on something? That's another story…so let’s get that clear!

  • Why would we want to put our trust or embrace or rely on hell (that’s what the word, the verb, believe means)? The only reason to do that is to be motivated by a desire to be the ultimate judge and jury in someone else’s life – to desire revenge or to play God and make no mistake, that’s not our role
  • I want to embrace heaven – and you know what? I want you to do that same…I want to live for heaven NOT for hell
  • If there’s a place for people who don’t trust God in their lives because they purposely exercised their free will – that’s fine, I guess – any compassionate person filled with the love of God would have mixed feelings about that reality
  • But, on a day to day basis, that shouldn’t be my focus and it shouldn’t be yours!

I have a hard enough time trusting heaven in the real moments of my life – I have a hard enough time embracing and living in the reign of or rule of or presence of God in my life – why waste my time with hell?

Let me show you some pictures

Hell conversation.032

I could show you these things all day:

• Pictures like this are meant to frighten, to scare people into accepting God – a lot of people have used these, in fact, I used them too years ago…but does that really communicate to a world already hurting and confused about God what we want then to KNOW ABOUT GOD?

Or are these pictures better?

Hell conversation.033

You know, I’ll take the arms of Jesus any day…I “believe” and stake my life on those types of images for my life here and for eternity.

I KNOW I SAID A FEW MORE WORDS ABOUT THE LOVE OF JESUS.  AND THAT’S WHERE I ENDED THE MESSAGE PURPOSELY – I WANT YOU TO CONSIDER THIS – ORTHODOXY ISN’T ABOUT BELIEVING IN HELL – JESUS’ GREAT COMMISSION AND GREAT COMMANDMENT DO NOT INCLUDE WORDS OF HELL – GOD IS ABOUT LOVE – OUR MISSION AS IS GOD’S IS ABOUT GRACE – EVEN THE CLASSIC CREEDS OF THE “CHURCH” DON’T INSIST ON A SPECIFIC BELIEVE ABOUT HELL. CHRISTIANITY HAS ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT JESUS. THE GOSPEL IS JESUS NOT WHAT HE WILL DO TO THOSE WHO DON’T FOLLOW HIM. TO BE FOCUSED ON THE “RIGHT” IDEA OF HELL IS, AT LEAST IN MY HUMBLE OPINION, NOT NECESSARILY HELPFUL IN BEING A FOLLOWER OF JESUS IN TODAY’S WORLD. ASK YOURSELF THIS, “HAVE I EVER LED SOMEONE TO JESUS BY LEADING THE CONVERSATION WITH HELL?” YOU KNOW, I HAVEN’T. PEOPLE AREN’T MOVED BY CONDEMNATION BUT THEY ARE BY LOVE. SO ALTHOUGH HELL NEEDS TO BE IN THE CONVERSATION ABOUT A PERSON’S DESTINY, OUR DESTINY IS BEING SET HERE AS WE EITHER FOLLOW GOD OR SELF. LIKE I SAID, I'LL LEAVE THE ETERNAL DETAILS TO GOD AND USE MY TIME TO SHARE HIS LOVE AND PRESENCE AND LOOK TO JOIN HIM IN HIS REDEMPTIVE WORK IN THE WORLD.

NEXT WEEK, I’LL POST MORE ON THIS AS I SHARE WITH YOU ABOUT THE “NOAH” MOVIE. WE’LL TALK MORE THEN ABOUT GOD’S JUSTICE!

Feel free to email me rdugall@apu.edu about your thoughts!

This is a powerful statement about the “shift” occurring in local church leadership

1This article is worth your reading (especially if you are active in churchworld).  It states an obvious, but often unspoken truth, that the paradigm has shifted and what used to be necessary, sought after leadership skill sets for local church ministry has changed to a completely new paradigm demanding new praxis.  This isn't a "wake up call" because these issues have been discussed for some time…but what it does underscore is that SOME PEOPLE need to wake up and smell the changing world and start leaning into new thoughts, new strategies, and new hearts.  That's it from me…you can take a look on your own!

Here's the link to tha actual article in leadership journal!

For those who have grown up around an attractional church, it’s a totally different set of metrics for success. It’s a different way of thinking about what it means to be a successful pastor. Attractional churches tend to attract very different leadership personalities than a “missional” expression of church. A different kind of pastor thrives in each.

It can be disturbing for a pastor who’s developed his or her whole identity around having people come to church rather than sending them out. The attractional church is about getting people to buy into and serve the pastor’s vision. It’s not all bad, but church should be about the pastors (plural) serving the vision that God has put in the people, as described in Ephesians 4:11-12: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”

That requires a fundamental shift. Are we getting people to help us do our thing, or are we figuring out how to equip and empower people to live their calling?

Five years ago we would have defined a successful pastor as somebody who works their butt off and has people with them constantly. Now we gauge it by asking, “When was the last time a nonbeliever asked you over for a beer? Did you get invited to Christmas parties in the neighborhood last year? Is your family healthy? How many missional communities have you started? Have many people have you released to do stuff outside of the church? Are you cultivating people’s understanding of their vocation and calling?” It’s a different metric system. And it’s deeply disturbing for most pastors.

I think one of the reasons that the church is so non-missional, is because pastors are typically non-missional. We are often the most insulated, sub-cultured people in the world.

What a great post by someone who KNOWS the Church…

1Willow-Creek-CC-logoMany of you probably don't know this…that's why I'm going to share it.  And frankly, I do so boldly and joyously.  I subscribe to Shawna Niequist's blog.  You wouldn't recognize the name unless you knew her "maiden" name, Hybels.  More on her blog in a moment.  Permit me to get some things off my chest.

For most people that I know, the mega-church world is something to be envied, demeaned, and denagrated.  I've read so many articles written by what I initially thought were well-meaning people but who, in the end, were simply bitter, misguided or ignorant.  People have accused Willow of being shallow, theologically heretical, and driven by satanic forces.  Many of the innovations (mostly inspired by the Spirit, I believe) that Willow brought to the 20th and 21st century Body of Christ have been negatively labeled and then marginalized.  Many people that I know believe that Willow stands for what is wrong with American expression of "Church"…big, individualistic, narcissistic, ego and celebrity driven, superficial, entertainment focused, etc.  Because Willow has been around for so many years, the numbers of insults have piled up for decades.  Everytime I read them or talk to somebody about Willow, all I can do is reflect back on my own expereince and say to myself, "no, you don't understand."  

I was an attendee at the 2nd Church Leadership Conference that Willow held.  I can't remembe the year but I can't remember much beyond yesterday most days.  The church was in the original building at that point doing what God has laid on their heart…doing missional work in a different manner, mind you, but still building relationships and discipling people.  It was called, "Seeker driven" by some which soon spawned a series of labels of churches who were categorized as everything short of ecclesiastical faithfulness.  But my experience was profound and life changing.  It was at that conference where I was inspired to see beyond the "Church" that I had grown up in…that yes, there were other followers of Jesus taking God's Word seriously and willing to take whatever risks necessary to do Kingdom work and be Kingdom people.  That first conference led me to many more.  I took other pastors that I knew to future CLC's.  I attended Music, Arts, Children's Ministry and Leadership Conferences at Willow through the decades.  I grew to love Chicago, went to some Cubs games, ate some great pizza and hotdogs, and had great conversations with Willow staff members and formative leaders.  Many of the books that Bill, Ortberg, Belzekian, and others have written are still on my bookshelf.  Even now, when Bill or one of the many other teachers that were part of the Willow journey write a book, I'm still one of the first to order and read them.  I watch and listen to many of the podcasts and still carry a soft spot in my heart that, if I were in Chicago again for whatever reason, Willow would be one of the places where I would visit.  

Friends, Bill Hybels was kind to me when I was a younger pastor struggling with churchworld in a rapidly changing society.  We exchanged notes of encouragement for a year or so.  I was even invited one year to give a seminar prior to a conference on what became the foundation of my doctoral dissertation.  Some of my friends throughout the years cut their "teeth" in Willow's ministry.  But believe me friends, as you will read in Shauna's blog post, no one is overtly blind about Willow's shortcomings. One of my friends, Troy Murphy (now pastor of Green Bay Community Church and chaplain to the Green Bay Packers) has a lifelong appreciation for what God did in HIS life during his Willow years.  He, and others, are not blind to Willow's "issues."  As Shauna says in her blog, EVERY institutional church has issues…home churches have issues…missional communities have issues…denominational churches have issues…the bottom line is that if you are human even though inhabited by the Spirit of God, issues come with the territory.  So, as I say to myself sometimes, "deal with it."  Thank God we don't have to do that alone!

I am forever grateful for what I learned in Willow's ministry.  The songs I learned to sing, the staff of Willow and their openness and friendship, the teaching I received from Bill and others, the people of that congregation who served me and 1000's of others selflessly…I could go on and on and still I would have more thanks to share for what God has done in my life through that faith community over the years.  My posture is this – anyone taking shots at Willow doesn't understand Willow.  There is a depth in that community that transcends the outer shell that appears, in many people's eyes, to be a cultural sell out.  But believe me, just like you know when someone is lip synching in music vs. hearing the real thing, Willow is the "real thing."  Bill Hybels is the "real deal."  The staff and people of Willow love God and want to make a Kingdom difference.  That's the bottom line.  Whatever you think of Willow is essentially irrelevant unless you can answer the question, "what are YOU doing to make a difference in this world to God's glory?"  If you can't answer that question without first taking shots at somebody else, than it is time to not say anything more.  What Willow is about is God-honoring to the core.  So, with all that said, why don't you read Shauna's blog post and get a unique take on one woman's experience:

She’s not a Megachurch. She’s my Sister.

SHE’S NOT A MEGACHURCH. SHE’S MY SISTER.  By Shauna Niequist

When I was three, we lived so close we could walk to the church my parents started. When the first building was being built, we’d walk over every evening to watch the construction. We had little hard hats, my brother and I, and we’d check every day what had been done, what new beams or walls, what new electrical or plumbing.

I know that my church’s name is shorthand for all manner of things—seeker movement, megachurch, modern evangelicalism, whatever.  But those words don’t tell you who she is.

She’s my sister. She’s less than a year older than me. Here in Chicago, we call that Irish twins. She was my playground, my safest place, my home more than the house I grew up in. I’ve worked there, cried there, stood in weddings there, witnessed funerals there. I fell in love there, working alongside the man who became my husband.

People ask what it’s like to be a pastor’s kid. I don’t know the difference. What’s it like to be anyone else’s kid?

What I know is that the church is my family every bit as much as my aunts and uncles are. What I know is that the very best parts of who I am today were nurtured along by that incredible community—by Sunday school teachers and junior high small group leaders and mentors and friends who walk with me still.

I know it’s a thing. I know people write about it, rage against it, have strong opinions about it. But I’m not talking about all that. I’m talking about who she is.

If I could reach through the computer and take you by the hand, I’d walk you through the hallways and tell you stories of confession and redemption. I’d show you where I learned to read God’s word, where I learned to listen for his Spirit, where I gave my life to him and to his purposes here on earth.

I’d show you where I got a concussion in junior high, and where I was standing when a boy reached to hold my hand for the first time. I’d show you where I was baptized, where I was when I watched the Twin Towers fall on September 11th, where I sat trembling just before I preached there for the first time, scared out of my mind.

I’d introduce you to Casey, who I met in 6th grade, who is one of my dearest friends to this day. I’d sit you down to talk with Dr Bilezekian, my Dad’s mentor, a man who’s been like a grandfather to me. I’d introduce you to men and women who’ve been volunteering there for more than thirty years, holding babies or packing up groceries in the care center or sweeping up, long after the services are over.

My church isn’t perfect. Sisters, of course, know each other’s faults better than anyone else. But being a sister also means you get a front row seat to the good, the beautiful, the fiercely loving and thoroughly grace-soaked best parts of it all. The view from here is breathtaking.

For a long time, I didn’t write much about my church. I needed, for a long time, to talk and write about other things, to make a way and a voice for myself that wasn’t only defined by the pastor’s daughter part of my life.

But this church of mine, this sister: it’s not only the church of my childhood. It’s the place where I pray, sing, confess, take communion now. It’s the community that shapes me, walks with me, instructs me, holds me now.

I’m not little anymore, and neither is she. But she’s still my sister.

You learn all sorts of things growing up the way I did. And one of them is this: the labels never suffice. The articles and blogs and books and outside opinions never will capture the real thing. They’ll reduce it to policy, numbers, data.

They fail to capture what a church actually is: real live actual humans, showing up day after day, year after year, building something durable and lovely over time, together, with prayer and forgiveness and love.

They forget that it isn’t an institution. It’s a family. She’s my sister.

Every follower a “Sacrament”…a visible revelation of the grace and mercy of god

6a00d8341cb54353ef01348878d327970cEvery follower a Sacrament…(a post from last year that still rings true)

Early in the morning two years ago, I walked into a hospital room…surrounded by a loving family was the small bundle of a baby. What should have been a room filled with smiles and joy was rather immersed in contemplation and watchful sadness. It was not a tense situation, don't get me wrong. The room had the air of hope but also had been saturated with a life-altering reality - the baby was stillborn. Instead of anticipating days and moments of life, the mom and dad and their extended family were embracing the wrap of swaddling clothes that encapsulate a lifeless, their lifeless, child. I looked at little Olivia and I didn't see those newborn's eyes that are searching, trying to make sense of their new world…I didn't heart the groans, coos, and squeaks that normally accompany such joy-filled seconds of new life. What I beheld was that of a lifeless body…that "look" that is unmistakable – death.

As I walked into the room, I thought to myself, "why am I here?" What possibly could I bring to this situation and to this grieving couple and family? What words of hope? What action of love? What presence is needed? As you might imagine, it is at moments like these that a follower of Jesus depends on only one thing – the love and grace of God. It dawned on me as I crossed the threshold of the room that I was going to have the honor, the humility soaked, spiritually called and privileged honor, of being a "means of grace" to this couple and to these moments of their lives. Yes, it occurred to me as it has escaped my consciousness and awareness before that I was brining something into that room that was definitely of God's heart – His presence, His mercy, His love, and the potentiality of transformation and hope. No, it wasn't about me…it was about what God wanted to do through me…to tell you the truth, I didn't even know how and what the Spirit was going to do…all I knew is that I had the awesome responsibility and call to be His means of grace and hope in those moments.

That brings me to the "bigger picture" that is the subject of this post. Ok – so here's some things I've been thinking about…I've been teaching a bit on the sacraments while I've been helping families prepare their children for the receiving of communion in worship. Yeah, for some of you, you have no idea what I'm talking about…but that's OK. Let me school you for a moment:

A classic definition of a Sacrament is this (straight out of Martin Luther's Catechism, mind you):  "A Sacrament is a sacred act – instituted by God Himself; containing certain visible means connected with His Word; by which God offers, gives and seals unto us the forgiveness of sins…essentially a sacrament is a means of grace"

Also, another quote on the means of grace (these from the Book of Concord – yeah, look that up too if you need to, the BOC is a collection of confessional documents that provided and provide the doctrinal framework the historical Lutheran expression of Christianity) "a means of grace is a way God creates faith, bring about conversion, justification and sanctification."

Again, from a historical perspective, there have been debates denominationally on how many sacraments there are and what specific acts are defined as sacramental (or if sacramental theology even is relevant because in some denominations, it is not). Even so, I've come to the conclusion, after having a plethora of conversations and debates over the years, that I am not only one who proactively embraces this whole notion and deep theology of how God reveals Himself sacramentally to the world through and in the acts of ekklesia (that being the gathered faith community, i.e. baptism, communion and the Word of God) but also that those who follow Jesus, in other words, the WE of the Body of Christ are sacraments. Oh, I know that there may be a few naysayers out there…so hear me out. Look again at the definition of sacrament – realize that God created you and me…that not only has God created us but God is always the initial "mover" in terms of a relationship with us. In other words, the only reason we can know and love God is that God is the one who made the first move…He INITIATED and INSTITUED our relationship. Ephesians reminds us that we are "chosen" and called by God…established in a new identity because of new life in Jesus. In fact, the whole Body of Christ idea…the whole discipleship thing…the whole mission and purpose of living our lives in and through His Spirit? God's idea! So, we are instituted by God…secondly we, as people who love and follow Jesus, are a visible means that God uses to communicate the truth of His Word. In other words, when you think of "visible means", you think of the word, "incarnation." Jesus Himself was the incarnation of God's love, will, purpose and heart for His world. Jesus was God with skin in the "game" of the world…He was God made flesh and He who "moved into the neighborhood." Now, through the Holy Spirit, who is the contemporary "incarnation" of the presence of the Lord? You guessed it…we are! God is alive in and through us…we are the "temple of the Lord"…we are the hands and feet of Jesus today. WE are the Body of Christ in the world…that isn't just some mysterious, mystical definition but His Word made truth and made real in our lives. So, second sacramental issue spoken to…how about the third? Have you ever read about us being "God's ambassadors (2 Cor. 5)?" I bet you have…we are agents of reconciliation…we offer the love that Jesus gave to us to others…we love because He first loved us. We love "one another as I (Jesus) have loved." We forgive each other…extend God's healing hand through prayer…oh, the list goes on and on.

Just to underscore…read about the sacraments sometime – they are "outward signs which have God's command and promise" – isn't that what our identity is to be all about as followers and lovers and children of God? "The chief thing about sacraments is God's Word" – isn't it true, that this Kingdom deal isn't about you and me but really all about Jesus, the Living Word? "Sign of the covenant of grace" – aren't we called as followers of Jesus to embody God's covenant? Light and salt to the world…a city set on a hill…go and do likewise…those are words of Jesus given to challenge and encourage you and me to bear His Word and will into our world. When we talk about the “real presence” of Christ in the sacraments, aren’t we also declaring that the “real presence” of Jesus is in the world? Isn’t it true that, through the Holy Spirit, the real presence of Jesus lives in us and through us in our relationships and bridges we build in our communities. I don't know…I don't want to make TOO BIG of a deal of this, but it is making more sense to me as I go along. I don't think God uses only a handful of means to communicate and reveal His grace to the world…He uses a multitude of expressions of Himself and His love through people who are part of His Body…you and me. I underscore, this doesn't mean that WE do the actual work…we just bear the presence of the ONE whose work has been, is being and is going to be done in our lives. Jesus is the one who saves, justifies, and sanctifies…His work alone.

So, I've been coming to this conclusion…we are a means of grace. In fact, the more you think about, the more sense it makes. The classic definition of a sacrament actually helps you and me (if we are followers of Jesus) to embrace our God given purpose and call…we are "sent" to the world to "go and make disciples." We are a means of God's grace in and through our mission…in that way, every follower is a sacrament…every person who loves Jesus that which is poured out, broken, bringing the washing of new life that only comes through Jesus into the presence of the relationships in which we have been blessed.

How's that for clarifying who we are in Jesus? We (as the gathered community of faith) not only handle the means of grace, we ARE a means of grace! Every follower a "sacrament"…I don't know, it seems to work for me.

“We now want to return to the gospel, which gives guidance and help against sin in more than one way, because God is extravagantly rich in his grace: first, through the spoken word, in which the forgiveness of sins is preached to the whole world (which is the proper function of the gospel); second, through baptism; third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar; fourth, through the power of the keys and also through the mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters.128 Matthew 18[:20*]: “Where two or three are gathered…" Smallcald Articles

Languaging the Faith – reprise!

1Wide_Mouth_Open_SmileLanguaging Faith reprise…

I think we all need to "gather" together for a Workshop, more than a Seminar, on how to language our faith in an every changing culture.  As many adaptive challenges, I don't think anyone is an expert in this subject.  I've met some fellow disciples who are learning along with me how to talk to people in a Post-Christendom, Post-Church/Institutional and Post-modern culture.   It seems to me that the more I think, the more I have written and studied this topic, the more questions I have and the more I need other voices to help me process this new world.

Part of my continuing kingdom work and academic journey is to learn the difference between pure pragmatism (all the "how to's) and theologizing (which is essentially open source theological exploration).   The Main Issues that we as Jesus followers face today have to do with the fact that the world has changed and as people who live in the flow of Jesus following, we find ourselves increasing separated from culture.  In many respects, we’ve lost our voice in cultural discourse.  In some ways, our culture is like a poker game and we've been dealt out.  We’ve lost our ability to communicate the world.

Let me say what I've experienced – the culture does not care about the Gospel.  It knows the name "Jesus" – knows about God (though both pluralism and syncretism reigns).  They don’t care about what happened in the 1st, 4th or 16th centuries.  They don't know about the differences between the Great Awakening and the Great and powerful Oz.   Much of the public doesn't even know who the VP is, much of what we as a nation are built upon (the USA is a Republic and not a pure, majority rules, Democracy), or what's really going on in the world beyond the home page of their smartphones and tablet computers.  And what's happening while everyone is narcissitically distracted?  The family is being redefined, transitions are happening in gender identification, and community is not being built upon shared values but entertainment.  In many respects, it is ancient Rome redux, "Bread and circus" and, as author John Kavanagh writes,  choice reigns!  We live in a "carnivalesqe" culture of self-promotion, popularity idolization, and superficiality.  The language of culture is narcissistic, consumeristic, secularistic, and leaning toward relativistic truth-telling – everyone sees himself or herself as the center of the universe.  WE are ruled more by brands, whether it is the brand of Obama, Corporations, NFL, Google, and even the NSA, than we are by aspects of real humanity.  In addition, Globalization and the rubric of acceptance without judgment or polarization reigns.   Spiritually has been individualistically redefined. Knowledge has been replaced by experience.  Truth has been replaced by pluralism  and relativism (because you can’t believe something that offends anyone).  And most definitely, the stories of our bible are NOT known by anyone.  We are losing the battle for cultural attention.  Losing a place in public discourse.  And the Culture has convinced Jesus followers that talking about faith is abusive or bigoted or not sensitive.

So, as a result we have seen a massive resurgence in the privatization of faith.  Usually in the past, privatization was a staple, reserved and preserved by more stoic denominations (ethnically organized in their formative stages in the 19th century).  In the skyscraper landscape of conversations occuring at any given moment, you'd be shocked to know that not too many people are talking about Jesus.  

So, revisiting this issue is important to me!  I've made some new friends who feel as I do.  There are a number of us attempting to do more than have language that only insiders understand.  We are attempting to up the ante and invest ourselves in real time investigation relationally in addressing this issue.  Below is my original "Langugaing the Faith" article that I posted over a year ago.  All I can say now is, "who's in?"  And how do we continue the conversation about finding again our place at the table of cultural discourse for the purpose of Kingdom influence in love.  

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