hidden Christianity

I remember an interview Johnny Cash had on Fresh Air, as well as another interview about him on that program. There was one thing for sure about Johnny, along with his musical gift. His faith was just a natural part of who he was, so that if you wanted to get to know Johnny or interview him, you would know that his faith in God, and the grace of God in Jesus would be at the forefront, and would be a big part of what you heard. I hear that Hollywood or media outlets want to screen that out. But in order to understand us at all, who name the name of Christ, and seek to follow him, they’ll have to include that.

In some places people either keep their faith to themselves, or suffer the consequences. Martin Scorsese’s film Silence is a powerful reminder of that, but the same problem exists in not a few places today where it is actually against the law to be a Christian.

There are so many things that Christians and nonChristians have in common. It’s not like we can’t enjoy each other’s company and learn from each other, and be friends for life. It’s only that the most important thing about us as followers of Christ will not be so with them. But we can share in each other’s humanity, which in itself is quite good enough. Of course we want to share much more, being of the belief that humanity is being fully restored in and through Jesus in the one people of God.

We don’t do well to live in fear, nor do we proceed without much thought and prayer. But for us who name the name of Christ, it needs to be clear to all that it is Christ who is our life, what life is all about to us (Philippians). Of course we don’t share our faith in a way that will only ailienate others. But our faith is something to be lived, defining us, who we are, through and through. God’s grace in Jesus being the difference for the faith, hope and love we have. Something we want to share with others, as we hope that they see Jesus in us.

the Bible is from the real world for the real world

I’m reading this book (Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well, by Glenn R. Paauw) and ran across the thought that the Bible comes from the real world, reflecting it, for the real world. Like Jesus came into the real world, sharing in its brokenness, apart from sin, of course. And that this strikes against the gnosticism which rears its head in a good number of ways, yes even in the church. A gnostic approach is to somehow avoid the real world with something from heaven that cancels out the earth. But the biblical message is about heaven becoming one with earth, the real earth, the real world, right where you and I and everyone else lives. A messy, broken, and sometimes ugly world. Transformative, to be sure, in and through Jesus, but touching all of life right where we live.

That helps me, because although I’d like to check out and not go through the mess (maybe like on a long vacation somewhere in Paradise), life doesn’t allow that. In the Bible, people are taken through the valleys, not out of them. We do look forward to the great Transformation to come when the troubles of this life will be over, and a new real world will be born. But until then, we are engaged in this good, yet broken real world, and through Jesus somehow that engagement will impact the new real world to come (1 Corinthians 15).

And so I don’t want to shun what might be unpleasant and even ugly. But to address everything through Jesus and God’s good news in him. We live out a gospel for the real world that is for the real world, all of it. It not only impacts it, but it gives an entirely different answer other than what the world gives, in and through Jesus.

That is what I live in and for with others. The only hope I have for myself, for others, and for the world. In and through Jesus.

God’s judgment as good news

In the Bible, judgment mostly comes across as good news, or at least that’s a large swath of its teaching. One sees that over and over again in the psalms: God is going to root out the wicked and destroy them, maybe even in a way which not only brings them shame, but actually causes them to seek his face, whatever that might possibly mean in the hidden scheme of things. The backdrop of this is God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, the bereaved, as well as for his people. The day of God’s judgment, called the day of the Lord (LORD, or Yahweh in the First/Old Testament) is coming.

In the Bible, judgment always precedes salvation. We all end up being judged in some way, but God in Jesus takes the judgment for sin on himself by suffering death, even at the hands of sinners, and through that death providing the way for forgiveness and eternal life for all who believe. When Jesus returns, he will rid the earth of all evil to bring in the full salvation, somehow all of this being a new creation in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

We were raised on the version of God’s judgment as something to fear and even be ashamed of. How could a loving God pour out judgment on the earth? Admittedly some of the lines and passages in the prophets show a passion on this which seems extreme. Though one has to remember the nature of prophetic writing, how exaggeration to make a point is accepted, and not to be taken strictly literally. We in this culture with any knowledge of Christian history remember Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Heaven and hell once dominated the American Christian theological landscape in the Christian understanding within the churches. At least it was a dominant theme.

But we do much better to let that recede, and what actually is in the wave of biblical teaching appear. It may not appeal to the world, or to those coming up with some kind of new theology, but it will deal forthrightly with things as they are by a God who is completely good and pure love. As we remember the salvation provided in Jesus from all of the destruction to come, to bring us into the goodness of God’s judgment, both for ourselves individually and for the world in and through Jesus.

biblically based? yes, but…

In this year of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, though I prefer to think of myself as simply Christian, and one with all who name the name of Christ, though my heritage, beginning with the Anabaptists- Mennonite, falls more along those lines, I don’t hesitate to say that I try to be biblically based. Like most things in life, that’s complicated, and doesn’t mean at all that the church doesn’t have authority, nor that the ultimate authority isn’t God himself. It does mean that a certain kind of practical authority is invested in the Bible, but only when read contextually, and as a whole. And that opens up another important set of questions.

One of the keys in Christian thinking is to attempt to end up reading scripture the way Christ did. Jesus saw himself as the fulfillment of scripture, and not only with reference to a copy and paste approach, which highlights passages in the Old Testament about him, but in terms of being the completion of God’s working in bringing in a reign that is saving both from and for. And so while we need to read all the scriptures as if in their original context, insofar as that is possible, we also need to think of them in terms of their fulfillment in Jesus. Seeing how he fulfilled them in an abundant, overflowing and to some extent even unanticipated way.

A key aspect to remember in the First/Old Testament is that while the groundwork was indeed laid, some of its aspects were provisional for that time, and I think in a sense, an accomodation. But to think that somehow lessens its authority is a failure to understand the Final/New Testament. Jesus again refers to the First Testament as speaking of him, and Paul wrote that all of the First Testament was written to instruct, warn, and encourage us. So we need to read the New/Final in light of the Old/First.

And so, I remain a Bible person from which I want to understand the gospel, God’s good news in Jesus, the heart of it, and all that proceeds and goes out from it. The church by the Spirit is very much a part of this. To do so, we have to go back to the Book again and again. Asking for God’s help. And believing in its message to us, as the very written word of God. Everything in and through Jesus.

faith as allegiance

I am more than a little bit averse to easy constructs in theology to describe the whole of what is going on in scripture in the story of God. But I ran across a post, worth the read, which I think provides a good summary of one important aspect of faith, from a scholar, Matthew Bates. I wish he would describe things more in a way which puts the cookies on the lower shelf. If you read him, you may have to use a dictionary and work at thinking through what he is saying, which really is not a bad exercise in itself. Here are three points Scot McKnight draws out of Bates’s thoughts about what faith is:

  1. Mental affirmation/intellectual agreement: certain enough to yield.
  2. Professed fealty to Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9-10).
  3. Enacted loyalty to the king, as in the obedience of faith.

I do think this point made of scripture making faith to be at its very basic, allegiance, does reflect what scripture actually teaches when one considers faith in the context of Jesus, and again, the post admirably sets that forth. I also want to see faith as somehow basically family-oriented, in that we are children of God through faith in Jesus, and that the faith of a little child is required, if one is to enter into the kingdom of God. So yes, allegiance to King Jesus the Messiah, as Lord, but also faith within the context of family, as God’s children. Of course we need scripture to fill out all the parameters of what allegiance to Jesus and living as God’s children in God’s household means.

Faith as allegiance to Jesus as Lord, and trust in God as Father is important in becoming our orientation in the rough and tumble of everyday living. We do things not out of some personal, self-centered goal, nor thinking that it ultimately depends on us. Instead we do everything out of loyalty to Christ, trusting in the Father to bring good out of everything, and to meet all of our needs together with others. All of this in and through Jesus.

learning the lesson of continual basic trust in God

It is probably breathtaking just how much we take for granted even in matters which amount to life and death. We may even be thankful, but we might get into our cars day after day, month after month, year after year without so much as a thought of asking for God’s traveling mercies, though we might do that for trips. Or for God’s help at work, since we are skilled (yes, from him) and can take care of that ourselves.

But every once in a while God might send gentle if not uncomfortable reminders of our utter dependence on him for safety, help, and blessing. Of course the blessing of God results in much more than just getting the job done in front of us, but includes how we do it and why. But first things first.

We need to really commit everything to God, whatever it might be that we’re doing: the nuts and bolts of it all, and all that underlies that. I remember someone taking me home from work, since I needed a ride that day. They did what they always do before driving, they committed in prayer the trip to God, short as it was (a half hour at the most). My guess is that their father did that as well, so that they learned that from him. Or maybe they started it themselves, perhaps under someone else’s influence.

I remember at the time, while appreciating it, kind of seeing it as a bit much, maybe a little on the super spiritual side, though this person puts on no such airs at all. But I think there’s wisdom in that. It won’t necessarily save us from a bad thing occuring. But it is an acknowledgement of our utter and entire dependence on God. And a good practice of faith, that we might do well in the faithfulness of God, and see the difference needed in our lives in and through Christ.