If you have seen the movie “Forest Gump,” you will remember the scene where Forest begins to run. He runs…runs…runs…and runs some more. Along the way, he gathers other folks who begin to run with him.
And then…one day…suddenly, and without warning…he stops. Stops cold. And with no explanation, he turns around and reverses his journey. In some sense, he had to run, but in an equal way, he had to stop–to stop now. Abrupt, but a necessary clean break. For to keep running would only take him farther and farther away from home.
Forest’s experience mirrors those of historic reformers–men and women who ran in a particular direction for a long time. And then…the Spirit said, “Stop! Stop now!” We are here because of their willingness and courage to do so. We are here because they listened to the Spirit.
I believe (as others do) that we are in another period like this–in a time when God is calling the Church to another great emergence, but one that begins with God saying, “Stop! Stop now!” I believe that a fresh Wind of the Spirit is blowing, and God is challenging us to raise our sails and move in the power that the Spirit provides and with the guidance the Spirit gives.
But before we can hear God’s “Go!” we must first hear God’s “Stop!” It comes to us in one word: repent. The word (metanoia) fundamentally means to change. It includes the confession of sin, but it is broader than that. Essentially, God’s call to repent comes to us in this question, “Are you willing to look at life in a new way?” It is the question God is asking us, individually and collectively, right now.
If you received a “For the Bride: Inevitable Vantage Points” post last evening, it came by mistake. It is actually scheduled for November 14th, and fits into the stream of writings at that point.
It has been moved to that date, and you will see it again in its proper time frame. So, stay tuned for the reprise of the post. It will make more sense in its correct location.
Don’t let the word throw you. It simply means to rotate, spin, or dance in some kind of coordinated fellowship. Gregory of Naziansus (late 4th century a.d.) is believed to be the first to use the term in relation to God, but theologians over the centuries have either used the term or the idea to talk about the nature if God as Trinity. Jurgen Moltmann and Miraslov Volf are two contemporary theologians who do so.
Another one to use the idea is Leonard Sweet in his book, ‘So Beautiful.’ Sweet unites theology and science through DNA, the helixical nature of life as two distinct entities rotate /spin in a coordinated fellowship around a third fixed axis.
As I have pondered this complex idea (and without the expertise of scientists and theologians who can go far deeper than I can), I have found myself increasingly fond of it. On the scientific level, the perichoresis of DNA may hold promise for tangible evidence that bears witness to the divine Being–something the late physicist, Victor Stenge, said could not be found in creation.
But I have to leave it to the geneticists and astrophysicists to figure that out. For me, perichoresis opens me to the realization that life is a dance, and with that primary image I can go on to think of life in terms of things like meaning, joy, goodness, purpose, etc. I can be in a place to hear God say, “Let’s dance!”
Read: In Over Our Heads
One of the things I like most about Brian McLaren is that he makes me think, without ever demanding that I agree with him–which, ironically makes me more likely to agree with him. But even when I don’t, I do not feel judged the way I do when I read or relate to those who position themselves as so “right” that anything other than agreement is “wrong.”
I start in this way this week because I have not studied the role of stories in ancient cultures enough to be able to track his presentation as carefully as I would like. Like McLaren, I have struggled with God and God’s actions in some of the Old Testament narratives–and I (again, like McLaren) have done so as early as the Great Flood story, especially (as both Genesis and McLaren note) that it does not solve the problem of sin in the human race. Hmmm.
But rather than try and make all this fit together and make perfect sense, and do so in the span of one chapter of the book, I take away the importance of reading Scripture in order to get the Bigger Picture that may not emerge in respective details.
For example, why does God send a flood to deal with a problem the flood itself does not solve? Even Genesis doesn’t tell us, so I surely don’t require McLaren or myself to know. Instead, I think McLaren leaves us facing in the right direction this week–facing in the direction of a God who takes sin seriously, deals with it decisively, but does so with the last word being “redemptively.” Even when we cannot make sense of some details, these ancient stories tell us that God is always at work to effect goodness (as per the repeated word in Genesis1) on the earth.
I have intentionally entitled this week’s post with the title of Philip Yancey’s new book that will be available on October 21st.
I find it interesting that this highly-esteemed and long-respected writer has concluded that our problems have increased in the Church as grace has decreased. I look forward to learning how he describes our peril. He has always been a valued mentor, and I expect that he will be again.
But we do not need to wait for Philip Yancey to speak up. The Bible already has, the Spirit moving Paul to write, “where sin increased, grace multiplied even more” (Romans 5:20, CEB). And what we take away is the clear revelation that when the level of grace is higher than the level of sin, there is hope! It is only when grace vanishes that the Church ceases to be the Church.
As a Christian in the Wesleyan tradition, I recognize Wesley’s desire to see Methodism be a grace-filled community–a united society of people who interpret theology in relation to the story of grace, calling that story an order of salvation.
We are in a confusing time–in a time when calls for the increase of grace are rebuffed by mistaken allegations that such calls are “soft on sin.” But the fact is, the restoration of grace–the reversal of vanishing grace–is not peddling cheap grace; it is the proclamation of amazing grace! Grace is the key word God expects the Church to use in understanding its nature and its mission.
If we view orthodoxy as a single point, our ego will easily convince us that we are standing on it. Other points will necessarily be judged as closer to, or farther from, the truth.
But if we view orthodoxy like a circle, our ego has to yield that the point where we stand is but one vantage point on the circumference of an array of perspectives. What holds us together is the Center, Who is God.
And it appears that God has used upwards of four thousand years of Judeo-Christian history to create and place multiple vantage points on the circumference. In Christianity we broadly speak of them as Roman, Orthodox, Protestant, etc. And within each cluster, a wide variety of segments further represent orthodox belief.
This means that church is plural, not singular–at least theologically speaking. It means that God has distributed truth rather than putting all of it in one place. And recognizing that, we see that the call is to come together with the truth our vantage point contains, offer it, receive what others have to offer, and find the glory of God in the community, not the individual–the greater Light in the candlelabra, not the candle
Read: The Drama of Desire
One of our formative experiences is to begin with original righteousness, not original sin. The first two chapters in Genesis show us, however briefly, what God intended, and how the world is supposed to be.
It was a world of congruence, with each dimension reflecting the glory of God and fulfilling the purpose God had in mind. It was a world of beauty and harmony. Far from being bland or boring, it was a place where desire existed. The communion between God and humanity was one of joy and fellowship. Ordered in relation to God, our desires were passionate, pleasurable, and proper.
And then….sin. Summed up in the single word ‘egotism.’ Desire for God deteriorated into humanity’s craving to be gods. Our orientation shifted from God-glorification to self-gratification. And if two or more people are on this path, there will eventually be blame and rivalry–the collision of egos. And that is exactly what we see in Genesis 3 and following. There can only be one ego in charge where sin prevails.
And so it has been ever since. Whether the one ego is personal or corporate (e.g. “group think”), there is only room for “me.” The originating sin produces a host of things–all having to do with the exaltation and preservation of the false self.
McLaren rightly weighs into this by emphasizing that the problem is not eliminating desire, but rather restoring it to the place that it had before the Fall. The God who desired to make the world desires for us to desire to be co-creators in the ongoing making of it, and to do so on God’s terms, not ours.