Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Christ the Teacher

What has happened to make evangelicalism a shell of its former glory? Dallas Willard points to one main reason as the loss of the identity of Jesus as our Teacher.

Salvation by grace through faith is one of the great truths that emerged in the Protestant Reformation. But grace is so misunderstood; we tend to think of grace as the opposite of effort. If effort is involved, then it was not grace.

But this just isn't true. Effort isn't the opposite of grace, earning is. In fact, grace stimulates a ton of effort. Willard cites the great missionaries of the 19th century as examples. But people today misunderstand grace as no effort.

A second factor he mentions is one of the results of the modernist/fundamentalist debates. "Jesus as Teacher" sometimes became liberal modernist code-speak for Jesus is only human. So fundamentalists rejected the phrase. Unfortunately that also meant they eventually rejected the truth--that Jesus is our Master Teacher, and we are to be his disciples or apprentices in how to live life. Evangelicalism by and large no longer teaches that we are to be disciples of Jesus as Christians. Most churches even allow for someone to be a Christian without being a disciple.

Jesus came to do more than help us manage our sin, obtain forgiveness, and escape hell. He came to teach us how to live.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Becoming Self Aware

My wife really gives me a hard time on my book selection. We both love to read (and we're really glad that our kids have the same love!), but the choices are extremely different. She's into John Grisham and the Mitford series, I like John Wesley and A New Kind of Christian series. She likes the deep plots and fictional characters, I prefer the deep thoughts challenging my character.

So it's not unusual for me to be reading something that makes me more self-aware of my junk. It just doesn't normally come from a book about personal organization.

I first read David Allen's "Getting Things Done" a couple of years ago (I have an Aggie friend who calls it the "Git'er Done" book), and I absolutely love the system. Yes, I recommend it, but that's not what struck me yesterday. David published a follow-up called "Ready For Anything", just a collection of thoughts on the system. He was discussing why some people don't really want to get everything they have to do out of their heads and into their system, and wrote this gem:

"If we maintain confusion and amorphousness, we can pretend that we could be smart, powerful, and purposely effective--but never have to prove it to ourselves. 'Oh, I could express much more of my magnificence, creativity, brilliance, and dynamism, but because my importance has me so burdened with the responsibilities it must bear, I just can't demonstrate it at the moment.' What crafty games we can play with ourselves!"

Wow. How many times have I let my own feelings of self-importance get in the way of actually rolling up my sleeves and doing something? When have I looked at a task that Jesus would have done and thought that I was too magnificent, too brilliant, to be wasting my time on something like that?


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The First Day of Lent - Ash Wednesday

I confess.

I have no idea what to do for Lent. Growing up Baptist has left me ignorant about the Christian calendar in general and about Lent in particular. Probably some other things too. I've been reading Thomas Merton's "No Man is an Island" in my morning devotional, and I almost feel guilty for reading a Roman Catholic priest's writings. Okay, not really. I haven't felt guilty since 1989, but I feel like I'm supposed to feel guilty, a Baptist reading a Catholic priest for devotional thoughts.

I have read a few things--Lentin readings, calendars, stations of the cross. I am growing in my knowledge enough to see that the caricatures of Lent, like giving up chocolate for 40 days, don't do it justice.

I want to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

I want to seek God's kingdom above all things.

I want to want to know the Passion of Christ. (not a misprint; I'm not sure I want to, so I want to want to.)

God, reveal yourself to me during my Baptist Lent.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More about Church

If you haven't read my two posts "My Ecclesiology" from October 9th and "What is the Church?" from October 13th to get a little background.

So to pick up where we left off, the Church really is this place where a community of people commit to live together under the rule of God. This rule of God is like a virus that infects their pattern of living, changes their purpose in living, and gives them new reasons for living. Where we have often gone wrong today is that over a long period of time--in some cases centuries--we have taken the outward expressions of that rule of God and systematized them. By this I mean that instead of focusing on developing inward spiritual life as individuals and simultaneously living that life in our relationships with each other, we start with what we think the end should look like in the sense of some sort of church structure/organization and then we try to engineer the people into that structure. And it never works!

Today's churches, even the really good ones, tend to first create or assume certain structures. These structures can be based on theology, denominationalism, heirarchy, or whatever, but they most often in our 21st century western society come about because they outline the power structure of the church.

I recently found a new writer I like: Frank Viola. Viola is in the emerging church movement, but from a different perspective than some others. Here's a great article where he answers a question about how he differs from another of my favorites, Brian McLaren.

To End All Wars

I watched yesterday "To End All Wars", a movie a friend recommended. It may well make it onto my all-time fave list, although I may not ever want to see it again.

It is the story of several WWII POWs captured by the Japanese and forced to build a railroad through the Southeast Asian jungles. The story is told from the point of view of Ernest (Ernie) Gordon (played superbly by Ciaran McMenamin, who also narrates), a young lieutenant with the Scottish Argyles, which sounds similar to our American Green Berets. The unit is captured by the Japanese and taken to a pow camp. One pow already there is seen in a makeshift church. Dusty is played by Mark Strong and makes an incredible portrait of a Jesus-follower, although I'm not quite sure that the name of Jesus was ever mentioned. Dusty quotes Jesus on several occasions, and eventually befriends and mentors young Ernie. Ernie had always wanted to teach, and at Dusty and several other pow's encouragement, starts Jungle University, teaching Platonic philosophy and a number of other things to the men there. At first it is done in secret, but eventually the Japanese guards are so impressed with the gospel transformation in the men and their ethics, their work, their sacrifice, that they allow the classes to happen in public.

The anti-hero character contrasts greatly with the teachings of Jesus transforming these men through Dusty and Ernie's characters. Major Ian Campbell (Robert Carlyle) watched his captors murder his colonel, and he wants revenge. He is constantly battling Ernie and Dusty on the meaning of justice, with several great references to Jesus' sacrifice. Ian is recruiting men to his cause throughout the movie, but many defect from him to Ernie because of the love, the mercy, the hope, found in those men.

The night of the graduation ceremony of Jungle U. Ian and his small band kill 2 guards and try to take over the camp. They are caught and stopped, and the next day Ian watches his men be shot to death. The Japanese officer who killed his colonel is about to behead him with a sword, when Dusty comes forward and offers himself to suffer in Ian's place. We are left to debate whether he does this for the Japanese man's sake or Ian's sake or both, but regardless, the Japanese accept his offer and he is crucified while Ian goes free.

If this was the typical Christian propaganda flick, Ian would have at this point converted to Christ on his knees and spent the rest of his life preaching on some street corner somewhere. But the reality of the mix of redemption and sin, mercy and judgment, is palpitable in this movie. Ian is unmoved, in fact, even more enraged. For Ian, mercy will forever be for cowards.

Ian is contrasted by Lt. Jim "Yanker" Reardon (Kiefer Sutherland). Yanker is a blatant capitalist, manipulating everyone and everything he can to make money in the camp. He works all the relationships, guards, pow's, locals, and more to ply his trade. One night Ian rats him out to the Japanese and he's caught. The captors string him out along the ground in sun and rain for days. He is broken through the experience, and profoundly changed. At one point later in the movie he even sacrifices himself to save the camp from being punished, becoming paralyzed in the process.

I don't know that I have ever seen a better portrayal of the messiness of mercy and redemption mixed with the sin of the world. I will warn you that the movie is a graphic presentation of war and violence, but in contrast with the mercy and hope found by those who follow the teachings of Jesus, it is incredibly truthful and artistic. And redemptive.

Some questions:

  • Are we supposed to really follow the teachings of Jesus like turning the other cheek and loving our enemies?
  • If so, how do they apply in times of war?
  • Someone recently forwarded me an email stating that the goal of Islam is to rule the world, and that "The history of the world is the history of civilization clashes, cultural clashes . All wars are about ideas, ideas about what society and civilization should be like, and the most determined always win . Those who are willing to be the most ruthless always win . The pacifists always lose, because the anti-pacifists kill them." How does following Jesus' teachings fit into this idea?

Keep the dialogue going...