Sunday, November 30, 2003

There's this huge gap between what happened to the Iraqis and how it's perceived. When the American soldiers came in they'd tell you how grateful Iraqis were that they were being liberated. And the Iraqis that I talked to were a little ambivalent."

The Iraqis had very complex feeling about their 'liberators'. He spoke with a mother who was in the hospital with her 2 daughters and 3 sons who had all been wounded by shrapnel. She was holding a photograph of her 3 year old daughter who had already died, crying.

"I was there asking her questions and she looked at me and she said 'I know what you're doing, you want people where ever you come from to cry, but they don't care, they're not going to cry.' And I just looked at her and I thought you're right, they're not going to cry."

PATRICK GRAHAM, FREELANCE REPORTER from CBC'S Uncensored Stories of the War

Friday, November 28, 2003

John Wimber via Len H.

"Folks, the world knows what this is supposed to look like. Years ago in New York City, I got into a taxi cab with an Iranian taxi driver, who could hardly speak English. I tried to explain to him where I wanted to go, and as he was pulling his car out of the parking place, he almost got hit by a van that on its side had a sign reading The Pentecostal Church. He got real upset and said, "That guy's drunk." I said, "No, he's a Pentecostal. Drunk in the spirit, maybe, but not with wine." He asked, "Do you know about church?" I said, "Well, I know a little bit about it; what do you know?" It was a long trip from one end of Manhattan to the other, and all the way down he told me one horror story after another that he'd heard about the church. He knew about the pastor that ran off with the choir master's wife, the couple that had burned the church down and collected the insurance - every horrible thing you could imagine. We finally get to where we were going, I paid him, and as we're standing there on the landing I gave him an extra-large tip. He got a suspicious look in his eyes - he'd been around, you know. I said, "Answer me this one question." Now keep in mind, I'm planning on witnessing to him. "If there was a God and he had a church, what would it be like?" He sat there for awhile making up his mind to play or not. Finally he sighed and said, "Well, if there was a God and he had a church - they would care for the poor, heal the sick, and they wouldn't charge you money to teach you the Book." I turned around and it was like an explosion in my chest. "Oh, God." I just cried, I couldn't help it. I thought, "Oh Lord, they know. The world knows what it's supposed to be like. The only ones that don't know are the Church."

"When you joined the kingdom, you expected to be used of God. I've talked to thousands of people, and almost everybody has said, "When I signed up, I knew that caring for the poor was part of it - I just kind of got weaned off of it, because no one else was doing it." Folks, I'm not saying, "Do something heroic." I'm not saying, "Take on some high standard, sell everything you have and go." Now, if Jesus tells you that, that's different. But I'm not saying that. I'm just saying, participate. Give some portion of what you have - time, energy, money, on a regular basis - to this purpose, to redeeming people, to caring for people. Share your heart and life with somebody that's not easy to sit in the same car with. Are you hearing me? That's where you'll really see the kingdom of God."

Saturday, November 22, 2003

I forget where, but I remember Todd Hunter making some comment about the fact that for hundreds of years within the Christian church there was no clear understanding of what exactly happened at the cross, but he presumed that people were still getting saved anyway. That comment points to the fact that while our understanding of the atonement is important, it isn't the be all end all to salvation that we sometimes make it. So right now I am reading a book named Keeping Salvation Ethical, by J. Denny Weaver which relates quite closely to the discussion earlier about the lack of connection with Christian creeds to the life of Christ, as it makes a similar point about the later atonement theories and their lack of connection to anything but the death of Christ. First Weaver lays out the three main views of the atonement in the history of the church - Christus Victor, Anselm's satisfaction theory, and Abelard's moral influence theory (in an online article here Weaver gives a short version of what he outlines in the book). Christus Vistor emerges the earliest in church history, while the other two came on the scene over 1000 years later. So the basic thrust of the book is that the Christus Victor theory is the most appropriate because it connects the way of Christ in his life and teachings to the work of Christ at the cross.

He talks about the weaknesses of the satisfaction theory, which has been the norm in evangelical and fundamentalist circles during the 20th century:

... These solutions to the atonement question require the essential categories of humanity and Deity, and situate them in the context of legal relationship between God and humankind. However, understanding atonement in terms of a legal construct removes it from our world or places it outside of the historical world in which we live. But it is precisely in that historical world that we discuss how to live in ways shaped by the reign of God. Stated another way, atonement defined in terms of a legal paradigm does not make use of what is learned about Jesus from the story-shaped and story based Christology sketched above...

Then he makes the point that post-Constantinian Christianity became incompatible with a theory of atonement that paid close attention to the life and teachings of Christ, so revised understandings emerged:

... The sword provides perhaps the most easily understood example of this separation of ethics and salvation. The church accepted the sword and acquiesced to the imperial army fighting in the name of Christ and under a banner bearing the cross. In doing so, the church had shifted the orientation of its ethics from Jesus to the exigencies of the social order. The functional question for ehtics was no longer "How can we live within the story of Jesus?", but "What must we do to preserve the social order?" The normative reference for ethics had shifted from Jesus, who reflected the reign of God, to the emperor, whose policy was determined by the needs of his empire. Ethics had become separated from atonement and salvation, and the atonement motifs of Anselm and Abelard fit that context. This argument is not a claim that Anselm and Abelard were unconcerned about ethics. It is rather a recognition that their atonement motifs reflect a church which came to consider the content of ethics and the characteristics of the saved life apart from the teaching and particular narrative of Jesus.

In contrast to satisfaction and moral influence theories, the historicized Christus Victor motif as sketched above anchors the discussion of atonement and salvation in the particular, historical life of Jesus. The story based Christology that also constitutes a statement of Christus Victor uses the life of Jesus as its foundational categories. To be saved means to be located within the particular narrative of Jesus and to have a life shaped by that story. This approach pays particular attention to the life Jesus lived as a human. That life reveals the character of the reign of God, which Jesus embodies.

He goes on to outline what he sees as the strengths of the Christus Victor theory:

... In opening his public ministry at Nazareth, Jesus use of Isaiah 61 poses the reign of God in social and historical terms - good news to the poor, release of the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom of the oppressed - as a contrast to the kingdoms of the world. That it is a clash of reigns is acted out in the expulsion of Jesus from Nazareth. In the course of Jesus' mission, healings, exorcisms, and nature wonders such as a miraculous catch of fish or stilling of a storm indicate the power of the rule of God over the physical and spiritual forces which enslave individuals, as well as over the created, natural order. The confrontation between the reign of God and rule of Satan reached its culmination with the crucifixion. In apparent weakness, the reign of God as present in Jesus confronted strength. Brute force killed Jesus in what appeared, momentarily, to be a triumph for the powers of evil. Three days later God raised Jesus from the dead, displaying the power of God's reign over the ultimate enemy - death. The victory of the resurrection inaugurated a new era for the reign of God in our history.

... this confrontation between church and empire constitutes the historical matrix [ooo, matrix] for the atonement called Christus Victor. This image portrays salvation as escape from the forces of evil, as being transformed by the reign of God and taking on a life shaped within the story of Jesus, who makes visible the reign of God in our history. This view of salvation understands becoming Christian (or identifying with Jesus Christ) and the discussion of ethics (or how Christians live) as two dimensions of the same question.

The language in the last quote so closely echoes Wimber's preaching on Kingdom theology, that it made me ponder a little bit about why so many of us young Mennonites were attracted to the Vineyard. Wimber, coming from a Quaker background, preached a great deal about Kingdom theology and the kingdom of light breaking into the kingdom of darkness. This motif strongly reflects the Christus Victor rendering of the atonement, where "the life of Jesus is understood as a making of the reign of God present in the historical realm". I haven't read the book yet, but do any of these atonement themes come up in Morphew's book, Breakthrough?? Anaways...

I think that to young anabaptists like myself, Wimber added to "peace" and "the poor" the more supernatural side of the confrontation with darkness in areas like healing and the prophetic. Putting them altogether, for me, was (and is) attractive for its complete attention to the life of Christ, but that sort of holistic approach seems to be a rare bird indeed.

Incidentally, the book was a good read in light of an essay I wrote some time ago on my thinking on the atonement. From what Weaver says, I suspect my thoughts were roughly a re-stating of Abelard's moral influence theory, just with more of a connection to the life of Christ perhaps.
Good post via Jeremy Olson:

The first Great Commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind"

The second Great Commandment: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"

Doesn't it seem weird to anyone else that Jesus was only asked by the lawyer what the greatest commandment is, not the two greatest? Here's my guess as to why he gave two answers. Jesus knew that one who loved God would naturally serve others because the two ideas are intricately linked so much that it is impossible to do one without also doing the other. The second is the fruit of the first. If someone is not doing the second, I would argue (and it would seem that Jesus is hinting at it), that the first is not being done either. Trying to do the first without doing the second is void of meaning...

Friday, November 21, 2003

I had a dream that guys on motorcycles started getting run down by police cars coming in the opposite direction...

...cue Twilight Zone music...
The effects of living in a wrong story are devastating to our churches. Countless thousands of well-intentioned pastors are left to try to disciple people who have no intention of ever seriously following Jesus or practicing their religion. The church is in serious trouble when discipleship (apprenticeship to Jesus) is viewed as extracurricular or optional.

Todd Hunter in A Tale of Two Gospels

And an interview with him that I hadn't come across before.

Update: Cool! And on the same site, an email by fellow blogger Linsay Martens who tells about what he learned about "evangelism" through his visit to a mosque.
Well, it has been a busy week almost entirely devoid of blog posts, but I still have a response to one of the comments that I scribbled furiously on a napkin at a low moment at work last week, and there's no way I am going to do all that scribbling and then not post it, even if just for my own records. I want to get some of these ideas down now to develop a little better later...

So anyway, Mitch and I were talking about ruler's and their relationship to a Christian witness. Mitch had this to say:

My view of the atonement is that Christ's mercy is for everyone, even political and military leaders who have to enforce laws and put down rebellion, even with the sword. When the Centurion came to Jesus to ask for his servant's healing, did Jesus tell him to lay down his sword and resign his office? Did Peter say this to Cornelius? Did Paul suggest this to Felix or King Agrippa?

And so my very late but still applicable response is:

Arguments from silence are a dangerous way to form the principles that drive our practice because they can lead us a long way from the things that Jesus did say very clearly. It is a risky thing to live your life according to what Jesus didn't say. We might note that Christ was also silent about Zacchaeus' life as a corrupt tax collector, but was overjoyed when Z understood the implications that Christ had on his life, and made a change. Might it have been the same with the rulers and soldiers you mention?

But while we are drawing arguments from silence, perhaps a more compelling one is that at no point does Christ (or Paul) qualify or add conditions to their words on the radical call of living out Love. At least in the case of divorce Christ says it is wrong "except for marital unfaithfulness". But when it comes to loving enemies there is no hint of "love your enemies, unless you are a ruler or a soldier, in which case this is of course impossible". It is a common argument that Paul's words on governments being instituted by God is a case of this, a place where, as the argument suggests, Paul makes service in an army just a matter of obeying the government God has put you under. But do we really dare include within that obedience to authority cases in which our government calls us to violate the teachings of Christ? According to such reasoning, a WW2 German Christian joining in on the killing of Jews would be completely off the hook, as one who was simply acting in obedience to the goverment.

Whether it is Jesus saying, "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you," or Paul saying, "for though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does," the call is universal; every believer is invited to at least try to join Christ in the impossible task of loving enemies. Is that journey more difficult for the rich and the powerful? Jesus words to the rich young ruler would seem to say yes. And maybe that is why Jesus spoke of his gospel as "good news to the poor" - because the call to give up your power and your money sure ain't good news to the rich.

So I agree, grace is for everyone, but entering in to Christ's grace has big implications on how you live your life. It has to, otherwise the life and teachings of Christ are irrelevant to how we live now, and the atonement becomes an "atonement of death", as Todd Hunter puts it, little more than a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Monday, November 17, 2003

I was alerted to the fact today that the previous design had no permalinks, and that just wouldn't do. So I began by trying to install them myself on the old design. That is an hour of my life I will never get back. But the good news is I am getting pretty quick at changing the blogskin altogether. And if I stay up a little later, i might even change the color scheme... though maybe Andrea should be here for that...

Update: Bloody hell. The permalinks don't work. What did I do wrong??

Friday, November 14, 2003

Corporate sponsorship a boon to church budgets

In the wake of declining tithes and offerings, churches from coast to coast are partnering with corporate sponsors to supplement their budgets, in exchange for high profile if controversial ad placement.

Isn't the Vineyard at home doing this with KFC??

Here is Andrews quoting Gandhi, and his take on Christ. In light of 1 John 4 where it says that "anyone who loves is born of God and knows God", or Romans 2 where Paul states that "even when Gentiles, who do not have God's written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong", this sounds pretty right on. C.S. Lewis also hinted at such ideas which I have discussed previously and don't desire to write out now.

Mahatma Ghandi, the great Hindu sage, suggested that if Christ could only be unchained from the shackles of Christianity, he could become "THE WAY", not just for Christians, but for the whole world:

"The gentle figure of Christ, so patient, so kind, so loving, so full of forgiveness that he taught his followers not to retailate when struck, but to turn the other cheek - was a beautiful example, I thought, of the perfect person."

He said he thought of Christ as "a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice", and of the cross as "a great example of Jesus' suffering", and "a factor in the composition of my underlying faith in non-violence, which rules all my actions".

"I refused to believe", he said,

"that there exists a person who has not made use of his example, even though he or she may have done so without realizing it... The lives of all who, in some greater or lesser degree, been changed by his presence... And because Jesus has the significance, and transcendency to which I have alluded, I believe he belongs not to Christianity, but to the entire world; to all people , it matters little what faith they profess."

"Leave Christians alone for the moment," he said. "I shall say to the Hindus that your lives will be incomplete unless you reverently study... Jesus. Jesus did not preach a new religion, but a new life" said Ghandi. "Jesus lived and died in vain if he did not teach us to regulate the whole of life by the eternal law of love."

This is the challenge of Christi-anarchy - to find a way to live "the whole of life", in the light of "the eternal law of love", embodied in the shining example of the person of Christ.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Sorry, posting the content from the comments box is easier than thinking up a whole new post :-) This is from Mitch and I talking:

I still think if we compare the different creeds we'll see that they have 80% of stuff in common and disagree on the rest. That 80% is important though and shouldn't be redefined. The rest we can pick and choose as long as we still love one another :-)

Hmmm. Actually, I didn't intend to be re-defining the creeds themselves, but what place they take in our life of faith. In fact, I can honestly say that I can agree with every point in the Apostles creed (I even went over to Rob's site to check - though you gotta admit, the bit about the holy catholic and apostolic church is a bit of a stretch for both of us;-), but I don't think that agreement is what makes me right with God, what brings salvation. So I probably don't consider "the 80%" as highly as you do. To me Christ linked salvation to a heart transformed by the kindness, compassion, and freedom that he demonstrated and taught. Believing in a creed doesn't necessarily get us there...

But as i was pointing out previously, I don't really consider this to be making a mockery of "Church" history either, as throughout history, there have been groups inside and outside of what historically has called itself the Church (from the Franciscans, to the Waldensians, to the Bogomils, to the Anabaptists) who thought this way. Codes and creeds tend to be favoured by the ones in power, but there is no reason why we should assume, again going from Christ, that the ones in power were the only ones who could legitimately be called "the Church".

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

More from Andrews:

As we move towards the centre, Christ, we can move beyond the scriptures, creeds, rights, rituals, ceremonies, and even religions that divide us. 'One, greater than the Bible, is here,' Jones says:

"We love the Bible, honour it, assimilate it, for it leads us to his feet. But the Bible is not the revelation of God. It is the inspired record of the revelation. The revelation we have seen in the face of Jesus Christ. 'You searched the scriptures, imagining you possess the eternal life in their pages - and they do testify to me - but you refuse to come to me for life' (John 5:39 - 40). Eternal life is not in the pages; it is in Christ who is uncovered through the pages."

'One, greater than the creeds, is here,' Jones says:

"The creeds attempt to fix in statements what we see in Christ. We are grateful for these attempts - grateful but not satified. A fixed creed becomes a false creed. Christ is ever beyond us calling us to new meanings. Hence our creeds must be eternally open to revision - revision towards larger, fuller meanings."

One greater than our rights, rituals, and ceremonies, is here, says Jones: 'no right, ritual, or ceremony of any kind is essential for salvation. We are saved by Christ.'
A lot of the ideas in that last post came from my recent re-reading of Dave Andrews' Christi-anarchy. For background sake, and because I just like him so darn much, here are some quotes from the book.

He starts out without a historical snapshot of the incredible evil that has been perpetuated in the name of Christ. He revisits the idea that in the evolution of the Church from Christ to Constantine, already the church as an institution has become contrary to the teachings of Christ:

According to A.N. Wilson, the Nicene Creed, to which all Christians now subscribed on pain of banishment, notably 'contained not one jot of the ethical teachings that Jesus had once preached.' Not for the Emperor was a Jesus who called upon his followers to 'love your enemies... love them, not hate them... bless them, not curse them... turn the other cheek... take up your cross and follow me'; but the 'unthinkable, impossible, perfectly ridiculous ' imperial Christ 'riding a fiery white stallion... and shouting - "Heigh! Ho! Forward charge!"'

From that time onwards no one Christian territory has been safe from Christian tyranny imposed in the name of an imperial Christ. Jaques Ellul laments the fact that 'freedom finds little place in church history'... He says - as we have witnessed for ourselves - that 'whenever the church has been in a position of power, it has regarded freedom as the enemy'.

I have found myself increasingly coming to believe that when Christ says things like "those who Love me will obey my teaching" and "many will say Lord, Lord, but I will say 'I never knew you'", it means that what we look back on and call the Church may be completely different from what Christ sees as his Church throughout history. I have come across various groups in history who were very deliberate about living out the teachings of Christ, and most often they were labelled heretics by the "Christians" in power, as their lifestyles subverted the rulers' power. Andrews touches upon some of these groups and deals well with the power-laden use of the word "heretic".

Another big point that Andrews gets into, which I think is pivotal to changing the way we view our mission as followers of Christ, is the view of salvation as a "bounded" versus a "centered set". Bounded set is the one where we all know the rules plain and clear and the prayer you have to pray to get "in". In that view, we come to believe that the "rules" are so clear that we can pretty much look around us and judge who is in and out just as well as God can. From there we can really go get our condemnation on. The centred set is not quite so clear about the rules, and leaves the judgement up to God:

Peterson assumes that the only way to have a boundary between 'not being saved' and 'being saved' is by having a set boundary. Thus salvation can only be understood in terms of a Bounded Set. However, though there are no set boundaries in the Centred Set, there are still boundaries. And one crosses the boundary, from 'not being saved' to 'being saved', by choosing to follow in the footsteps of 'the Saviour'. In the Bounded Set, the boundary is in the same place for everyone, no matter where they are coming from. However, in th Centred Set the boundary is moving all the time to accomodate anyone who makes a move toward the centre, whether they cross a set boundary or not. The gospels show that 'being saved' depends on choosing to 'follow in the footsteps of the Saviour', but that may mean 'different paths for different people', depending on where they are coming from.

Christ called everyone to follow in his footsteps. But he expected one person to leave home (Mt. 8:22), while he expected another person to go home (Mk 5:19). His expectations of them were exactly the opposite of each other, based on their personal circumstances at that particular time and place.

Christ challenged everyone to give generously to the poor. But while he expected one person to sell all that he had to give to the poor (Mk 10:21), he expected another person to sell only half of what he had to give to the poor (Lk 19:8-10). His expectations were not 'set' standards, but variations on a common theme.

This all sounds a lot like C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity.
I noticed that the Evangelical Theological Society is discussing the need to kick out Clark Pinnock for his views on open theism and the whole debate just reinforced to me how far I must have strayed from the evangelical fold. The need to enforce conformity with a list a mental assumptions doesn't get to the top of my list any more, and within evangelicalism, it seems like a foundational point. I guess what is striking me in this instance is the passion, energy and time dedicated to the dispute over various doctrines. As Evangelicals we hold these doctrines to be of paramount importance, so important that we organize something like the ETS to keep everybody's thinking in line. Now I agree that assent to a given doctrine can be useful as an intellectual foundation for the acting out of our faith (though I have also seen that this is not always necessary) but I am increasingly aware that many of the doctrines that we consider vital for "orthodoxy" have little relation at all to the action that God in Christ considered of primary importance - Love.

I suppose we place so much value on these doctrines because we think assent or non-assent directly affects our salvation. If you believe in the Nicene Creed you are in the orthodox category and are numbered mong the "saved". If you are a JW or a Mormon and you don't hold to some of those ideas about God, etc, you are outside the fold and are unsaved (well, from the Evangelical perspective anyway - for the JW's and Mormons I supposed it would be exactly reversed). But my problem is this notion of saved/unsaved doesn't really line up with anything we see in Christ. Christ was so vague about adhering to a set of beliefs, yet so clear about what brought salvation. For him, a person's conversion/ acceptance into the Kingdom of God has to do witha heart transformed by Love that consequently manifests loving actions.

Look at the story of Zacchaeus. The moment at which Christ declares that salvation has come to him has nothing to do with doctrine. There is no sinners prayer, no assent to the deity of Christ, no agreement with the notion of a triune God. Rather, he decides that he is going to give away a bunch of his money, and that single act is indication enough that a heart has changed and Zacchaeus has crossed over from death to life.

Same with the rich young ruler. He has been a good boy, been keeping the commandments. But when he asks Jesus what he must do to really get it right, Christ's answer again has no relationship whatever to mental assent to doctrine. Instead, it again points to the truth that when a heart changes, a turn from selfishness results in loving action, and that is what God requires.

I suppose Matthew 25 would also fit into this category (the sheep and the goats). Again, entry into paradise is dependant on the loving action that reflects a changed heart (it should be noted that this loving action isn't one of the heavy, duty-driven, I-have-to-do-this-because-God-demands-it variety, as the sheep don't even realize that they have been touching Christ as they reached out in compassion. They were only doing what happen naturally when a heart comes to be motivated by the kindness of God...)

How about this idea? I think much of our desire to hammer out creeds and codes to assent to is control based and has much to do with the freedom/law question of a few posts back. It is much easier to check off a list of beliefs to reassure yourself of your own right-ness with God, rather than living within the "gray area" of Love, where you must continually interact with God, and reorient yourself in his direction. We seem to want to kow for sure who is "in" or "out". But is that even in our job description? This is one area where I am firmly with the Eastern Orthodox in their belief that it is no one's job to judge salvation except for God himself. But then, what is the job description? I would say that it has a lot less to do with enforcing doctrinal conformity and a lot more to do with making the focus of our faith the acting out, the demonstration of the unconditional Love of God.

...more on this later....

Monday, November 10, 2003

Man, do I agree with that:

For some, transformation means getting the word out there and letting it do its work. To me, that approach seems too mystical and magical. I've become a bit of a pragmatist in my old age. I doubt the power of a 25 minute lecture to effect change, no matter how good the preacher.

Even moreso the fifty minute variety...

From Len H.

Friday, November 07, 2003

I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon in an electronics superstore, so you better go check out:

The Japan Cool New Technology Update

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Tired of that heavy guilty feeling associated with all those illegal mp3 downloads? Well, how about this:

I was asked where one could go to pick up the CD, Think Again, that I put out a couple years ago. The answer is, with me in Japan, basically nowhere, because all the CD's are sitting in my basement at home, along with all the other projects that went nowhere. So, if you are interested in some free music (though I warn you, it may be possible that this CD went nowhere for a reason) I will make it available for download here, thanks to the web space of the very talented (really, you should hire him) Chris at upsidedowndesign.

So here it is: Think Again. Oh, and a review of Think Again (see, he liked it)...

Throw It Away

That's What I Want

Take Me Away

Merciful God

Take My Heart

Not Good Enough

Love Like This

The Wall

Mary Jane

Need of a Saviour

The Greatest Thing

You Lead Me

Tell your friends... :-)

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

For contrast sake, in Japan the WWJD bracelets (the real deal, with the story of how they changed lives somewhere in Michigan...) are sold in the sports department next to the other sports accesories that Allen Iverson wears, like "finger guards", wrist bands, etc.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Ok. Comments back. Everybody happy...
K. I thought the new skin would be a little more readable, but now I lost the comments...