Monday, June 30, 2008

1000 Word Gospel (Narrative Gospel Part 1)

I'm taking a "Christ and Culture" for my grad school program at Lipscomb. Last week's assignment was to write out my understanding of "the Gospel" in 1000 words or less (if we went over 1000 words, the paper was to be returned to us ungraded). We are allowed to go back and revise it later if we need to, but I wanted to share what I wrote:

This Is My Gospel

I want to tell you a story. Telling you this story is a risky endeavor. For starters, I believe that the Gospel contained in this story must be embodied before it can be spoken. If I tell it too early, it can come off as a meaningless fairytale that seems to fit the bill of Marx’s “opiate of the masses”. On the other hand, if I fail to tell it at all, I may rob you of the choice to embrace or reject a hope and a destiny that you may never know of otherwise. All of this is further complicated by the fact that I am massively condensing an enormous amount of material. Think of the story I’m telling you as the movie version of a really great, really long book. Without question, the book is much better than my version of it. Doubtless I will blow certain aspects of it. Unquestionably, I take too much artistic license in places and gloss over parts that are extremely important. Admittedly, some parts of it are more than a little hard to believe. Even so, I believe it. I don’t mean to imply that it has been empirically proven to me. Rather, it is a story that I have confidence in, or rather, that I have “faith” in. It is a story that both requires and is characterized by… hope.

Normally, you begin with the beginning of a story. However, we are going to begin before the beginning. Before the beginning there was God. But this God is somehow a community of three; a Father, a Son, and a Spirit. This community is so unified that the only way to truly capture it is to say “God is One”, or maybe “God is love”.

This God decides to create everything that exists, and He loves everything He creates. In the middle of His creation, God creates human beings “in his image”. They are given a special commission to bear and reflect the image of God to the rest of creation. These human beings live in a state of perfect harmony: harmony with God (he actually is said to “walk” with them), harmony with each other (indeed, it is only in community that they can bear the image of this communal God), and harmony with the rest of God’s creation. Eventually, though, the human beings are persuaded to make an incredibly selfish choice that breaks this perfect harmony, and sends all of creation on a trajectory towards death, decay, and isolation.

But God doesn’t give up on his dream. He begins to enact a plan to restore the broken harmony and make all things new. Time passes and God makes contact with a man named Abram (who’s name is eventually changed to Abraham). Though Abram is old and childless, God makes a covenant with him, in which he promises to create a great nation out of his descendants. They will be God’s people and God will bless them. However, this blessing is explicitly intended to serve an equipping function for a broader mission. These people are to be a light to the world. They are blessed in order to be a blessing to the rest of the world. Abram puts his faith and confidence in this God and begins stumbling down a path toward a God who insists that this faithful stumbler is, in fact, righteous. God is true to his word, delivers on his promises, and a nation is born.

However, as time passes it becomes clear that Abram’s descendants are vulnerable to the same selfishness and self-centeredness that the rest of us are. They are very interested in being blessed, but not so interested in being a blessing. They are very good at pointing out the darkness in others, but not so good at being light. Undeterred from His dream, God takes another step that is as radical as it is unexpected.

God becomes a human being. Not only that, but virtually everything he does in this regard seems counterintuitive from our perspective. God becomes an embryo. He is born as one of us, not in a palace, but in a stable. The heavens open and announce the event first, not to people of great importance…but to shepherds, who are arguably on the lowest rung of the societal ladder of the day. He apparently doesn’t do much that’s worth recording until he’s around 30 years old, and then everything he does goes against our notions of what a respectable God should be like. He pays special attention to the outcasts; to the poor and oppressed; to those who are drowning in their shame. He proclaims something he calls “the Kingdom of God”, which is less like political upheaval, and more God’s dream of harmony that is breaking through into our dissonant reality. Eventually, “the powers that be” make an example of him with a public execution that is as humiliating as it is excruciating. It does not have the desired effect. This man-who-is-God doesn’t stay dead. Three days after they kill him, he is alive again, but he is also changed. He is somehow both physical and eternal. He commissions his followers as a community to be to the world what he was and is to the world, and that is exactly what we are stumbling towards. It is true that we are inadequate for the task, but here’s the thing: After Jesus returned to God’s reality in his new form, He sent his Spirit to live in us, changing and forming us into who we are becoming. We believe that there is a future reality where Jesus returns to us, everything is restored to God’s intention, and all things are made “new”. Our God beckons us from this future to become what we already are from his perspective, and to partner with him in his in-breaking dream for the world. He offers freedom from death, decay and shame. In short, He offers hope.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Video: N.T. Wright on The Colbert Report

This video clip represents one of the biggest fan-boy geek-out moments I've ever had. For me, the only thing that would have made it cooler is if Batman and Iron Man walked out at the end.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

(relatively) Hallowed Ground: My visit to Alexander Campbell's Home

One thing that I really wanted to do before I moved from West Virginia was to visit Bethany. For those who don't know, Bethany is this historic homestead of Alexander Campbell , who is, in some sense, the/a founder of the American Restoration Movement (Churches of Christ, Independent Christian Churches, and Disciples of Christ). This post may not have relevance to you if you do not share my particular religious heritage, but I wanted to share my experience.

Bethany is about 2 1/2 hours from where I lived in West Virginia, and I thought it would be sort of a shame if I didn't at least visit the place...after all, I've grown up in this tradition, and actually have done a bit of historical research on our movement. About a week before we moved, my friend Matt Wilson came to visit, and my friend and (now former) co-worker Joe Spivy (who had been to Bethany several times before) agreed to go with us and act as a sort of guide. I don't think that Matt or I were prepared for how the experience would affect us. I'll let Matt tell you his perspective on our pilgrimage(?), but as for me, it was a profound moment in my life. Campbell's house and study are still standing, and its quite amazing how much has actually survived. As we walked through the house and as I stood in Campbell's study, this profound sense of being a part of a story came over me. I kept thinking "This is real," which is silly on one level, because I already new that. I guess it's more that it became real, or maybe tangible to me. We went to a church that Campbell actually regularly preached at, and the archives containing historical documents at Bethany college, where I saw Thomas Campbell's personal copy of the "Declaration and Address," with his handwritten notes in the margins. It was an experience that I'll treasure for the rest of my life. Alexander Campbell, and his father Thomas Campbell were attempting to be Jesus to their world in their time. Deeply embedded in both modernity and early American culture, they effectively engaged their culture with the Gospel. They spoke prophetically where they felt that Scripture called them to do so. Being fallible human beings, they made mistakes, but their lives and legacy are inspiring, none the less. I felt a renewed sense of a calling to be faithful to that legacy. As we enter into a post-modern age (whatever that may wind up meaning), I want to be faithful to the legacy of these men who effectively engaged their culture with the message of Jesus. To simply emulate their forms, constructs, etc. would be unfaithful to this legacy. To unquestioningly accept the status quo would be a betrayal of it. To constantly go back to Scripture and wrestle with faithfully translating the faith and practice found theirin for our time, is the path that they cleared for us. May I follow them as they follow Christ.
Here are some pics I took with a camera phone:

This is a bust of Alexander Campbell

This is Alexander Campbell's personal study/library

This is the Inscription on Alexander Campbell's tombstone

This is a floorboard from the Brush Run Church Meeting House

This is Alexander Campbell's personal writing desk

This is Alexander Campbell's...ummmm....toilet chair ;)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Back to the Blog...

We are settling into our new home, and after an extended absence, I have returned to inject my random thoughts and opinions into the blogosphere. Additionally I plan on launching a new podcast of my sermons and stuff in the next couple of weeks.

As for us, we are settling into our new house and it is starting to look more like a home and less like a warehouse full of unopened boxes. Dana is amazing in her ability to turn our house into a home (among many, many other things). Emma and Chloe have been enjoying visits from various grandparents, who are excited that we are close enough to visit more frequently. The church has been amazing in making us feel welcome and in making us feel like we are already a part of their family. A large crew of them was there (with coolers full of cold water) to help us unload the moving truck, which they accomplished in no time. Yesterday was my first official Sunday as the "preaching minister", and it felt really "right".

This summer I am taking a web-based class for Grad School on "Christ and Culture". It should be really interesting.