Friday, October 12, 2007

(The latest on) Why I Like N.T. Wright
As I sat in my class today at seminary, our instructor was reading a quote from Wright (not wanting to dig it up "Wright" now...hehe) about how perhaps picking our "theme verses" and putting them on coffee cups, calendars, etc. seems to contradict our claim our claim that it is the Word of God. By de-contextualizing it, we are trivializing it. What a brilliant point. Some people now have a coherent, defensible reason for why they always found that so irritating:) Yea for you. If that weren't enough, I was reflecting on why I enjoyed Jesus and the Victory of God so much, and I figured it out: Wright's view of Jesus and the Gospels in that book is the Frank Herbert Version of the story. Have you read Dune? (Frank Herbert's master-work, the very definition of science fiction, and likely in the top 50 fiction books in English of all time--about a messianic warrior-king who rules humanity in the bleak distant future--read it!) With Wright, (like Herbert) you get all the machinations, the power-plays, the edgy human story. Jesus--being really human, but not only so--is fully aware of the expectations of the people, the politics of the day, and he speaks his message not over those things but through them, even as he aimed to correct much of it. Wright seems to say, 'Assuming the New Testament is a true accounting of what Jesus said and did, here are the things going on around him that might make us see it differently, and better.' Many have tried this, but frankly, not without a predetermined mission to undercut orthodox Christianity. And that changes the task for the better. Other people--like critical scholars, for example--might accuse him of a 'believer's bias,' but the reply seems to be, 'Don't we owe the authors of the NT text that bias, if we are to respect them as people?' Isn't that the one great gift of that loose collection of deconstructionisms called postmodernism? The NT authors had an aim; so? Is this new? Why is this text somehow more invalid than anything else we bother to study since we saw the flaws in positivism? Could it be because it's Christianity? Pascal's Wager is a little too true right now, eh? There's an awful lot riding on this hand for the non-Christian, and you just went "all-in" with 2-9 off-suit. Bigger problem: Jesus is the dealer, and he just dealt the common cards as 4 Kings and an Ace. His meaning: "I'm the King of all Kings, and if you miss the boat, it's over for you, Ace." I'm willing also to hold fire on Wright's contributions to the New Perspectives on Paul, for the simple reason that Wright's motivation seems to be to combat individualism, a worthy goal, even if I conclude that he's basically wrong. (Seems awfully soon to say anyway.) Remember, many people are asking us to reconsider how we read Paul, some orthodox and some not. As for evangelicals who were freaking out about JVG (I had heard that he denied Jesus' Messianic self-awareness) I went looking for this, and if anything, Wright says the opposite. Ask yourself this question: Who is this audience? It's Crossan, (Jesus Seminar) et al. If he writes such a book like (with the utmost deferrence I speak here) Chuck Swindoll, guess where this 'scholarly' opus will end up. In Mr. Crossan's recycle bin, that's where. (BTW, he was so gracious to Crossan and his book that I must read it; he said paraphrase that D. Crossan was incapable of speaking a dull word or writing a dull paragraph, and Wright wished everyone had opponents as gracious as Crossan. Wow.) I say to my brothers in Christ: What are we afraid of, anyway? We invented scholarship! Unless Jesus lied (um, no) true historical inquiry will vindicate Him. Right? Right? Even More Opinionated Sidebar: Christian college/high school/"Christian education"=probable weak faith. "I'll take 'Anti-Intellectualism' for $1000, Alex!" Homeschooling: depends. How gutsy are you? American Christians want Intelligent Design taught in public schools. WHY?!? We should become experts on Darwinism/neo-Darwinism/latest stupidious suppression of truth, not make others learn our thinly-veiled dogma. OK. Rant over. I've got "Tom" Wright's back for the forseeable future, is all I can say.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I made a boo in that recent baptism post; I did what my professor said not to do: I used the regular dictionary to define a biblical word. But I don't have my own theological dictionary yet, so I exhort you, my loyal reader, (ha!) to back me up on this, so we don't ruin ourselves theologically, intellectually, "ecumenically, grammatically..." (Johnny Depp rules! Please, someone get this.)
I was just thinking about what it's like to be young and Christian in America right now. Doesn't it seem like God is moving in a special way among us? We're finding our voice at just the right time. We do not have to choose between fervent piety and social change, as our parents and grandparents thought. We cannot be silent, and we will not be silenced by anyone or anything. No more waiting for Jesus to rapture us from a hopeless and 'evil' physical world. No more forsaking the truth while presuming to heal the world with our own wisdom and efforts. And we need (and have) our anthems ringing loud and clear to the world lost and hurting. Switchfoot said:

We want more than this world's got to offer
We want more than this world's got to offer
We want more than the wars of our fathers...

And those wars are from within, and without. But God has won the victory in Christ, and it is no less true than in the past. In spite of all the evil we see, we have not lost hope. I heard another song not long ago that went in part:

O simple faith, where have you gone?
I'm getting old, and I need something to rely on...

But we found out that it wasn't just a hunger for simple meaning. We did more than find our way, we found the Way. We know now we're in a fight--with ourselves, with Satan, with the powers and principalities of this world. But Jesus has won that, too. And an old song reminds us again:

For not with swords loud clashing
Nor roll of stirring drums
But deeds of love and mercy
The heavenly Kingdom comes.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Word About Worship Music, Mariah Carey, and God’s Communicative Condescension (in liturgy)
[I noticed this post lacked the title I wrote, which ruins the humor of the first few lines.]

A title like that, on account of its sheer pomposity, had better be about something important. But how could it be? “You just placed God’s communicating with us in the same phrase with Mariah Carey,” you protest. And it’s risky, I know. But stay here; I think I’m going somewhere. (As an aside, this blog and its owner’s music collection might be “MC” Fan Central. I own all but two releases. Therefore, please allow me to theologize in some manner consonant with my cultural context. Translation: Back off!) The other day, I found myself listening to Ms. Carey’s 1993 release, Music Box, and specifically, the title track. Musically, it’s beautiful, the very essence of 1990s vocal-pop/R&B; it is written to display those uncommon vocal talents, which, in 1993, were at their peak. As the words go, I hate it. Here you go. You can sense worship music possibilities here—and that’s exactly the problem. American contemporary worship is going bad. You can’t tell if we’re worshipping God, or singing about how much Mariah loves her boy. We’ve been so focused on how we feel that we’re missing the point. (The funny/sad part here is that when I Googled this song, there was an ad for worship music ringtones right there, I kid you not.) But I can’t just say that; I must back it up. What are we doing when we gather as Christians on Sunday? We’re not scoring points for heaven, for one. We’re probably not aiming to be entertained; I’d just as soon watch the Packers if that were the case. (We ought not aim for that, at least) The short answer is that we are worshipping God in a special way on that day because He is glorious, deserving of our worship, and as the Father would have it, the God-man, our Redeemer Jesus, was raised from the dead on a Sunday. Also, that’s as good a time as any for most people to take their Sabbath rest. Jesus even promises to be with us as we meet to honor him, and carry out our task. The assembly of God’s people (Greek, ekklesia) should naturally begin to know that He is their God, by virtue of His presence. Indeed, these Scriptures speak most clearly. Therefore, it’s not a place or an occasion for the individual to spiritually re-charge (though learning one’s place within the body is very rewarding) as it is God renewing his covenant with us, and us with him. If that is true at all, then we will draw the lost to Christ when we are absolutely clear who we are as individuals, and as the body of Christ. Why do we modify what we sing or what we say to reach people, when the obvious result is a loss of clarity as to our identity as the Church? How misguided! I’m not saying all modern worship music is bad; there are shining examples of great “contemporary” music. But where did we get the idea that we had to trick people with catchy songs to bring them to Christ? More importantly, where did we get the idea that weekly Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/Communion (at least) would make us stale? Only an American could come up with an idea so stupid. Did Jesus not say this? That’s what I thought. And maybe that zeal to have the Bible expounded in long sermons (not knocking the preaching of the Word) has led us to stretch a few of our pastors beyond their skills. The longer one talks off-the-cuff, the more error comes in. And a pressure to be ‘relevant’ and interesting or funny has caused problems. What I’m saying is that I want and need a shot of God, not a God-tinged foo-foo drink. Can I get a witness?