Monday, May 28, 2007

the mystery of faith...

"Sometimes it feels like pure make-believe... I have faith. I lose faith. I find faith again, or faith finds me, but throughout it all I am grasped by the possibility that it is all true: I am in good hands; love girds the universe; God will have the last word. Believing that, I interpret my life and the life of the world in a different way."
- Barbara Brown Taylor

Friday, May 18, 2007

Jesus: the bigger picture...

Some of you are probably familiar with Mars Hill Church, the large, "interdenominational" mega-church located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. They have grown extensively over the last 10 years, and now have several "satellite" locations as well in the Seattle metro area. This is due in no small part to the fiery preaching of Mark Driscoll, who founded the church and is their primary teaching pastor.

Driscoll has been a source of controversy ever since the church's beginning, with his "edgy" and sometimes antagonistic methods of communication, and his penchant for combining cultural progressiveness (i.e. cussing and tattoos are ok) with a strict conservative reading of Scripture (i.e. women should not be pastors, etc). The latest flap is over an apparently unintended lightning rod in the form of a video on church planting. (if you are interested, you can watch the video here.)

I have struggled over the past few years with the proper way to respond to Driscoll's teaching, and to Mars Hill in general. There are many points where I disagree with his interpretations of Scripture, and I think his ways of speaking are often reckless and unnecessarily provocative. But I also recognize that many people, including several of my friends, attend Mars Hill and their relationships with Christ have grown as a result. So I try to temper my frustration with the recognition that God is at work in that community.

I guess what bothers me most about Driscoll (and the last 4 minutes of the video is a good example of this) is that he often paints an incomplete picture of Jesus. He loves to rant on about how Jesus was not a "herbal tea loving, yellow dress wearing, hippie..." But his own portrait of Jesus seems to be equally lacking: Driscoll imagines Jesus as a sword-wielding warrior, who has the physique of a body-builder and only eats steak medium-rare. This "Jesus-as-tough-guy" image fits in nicely with Driscoll's own agenda, which is to build up an army of young Christian men who are warriors for Christ, poised to take back the world from the forces of darkness.

There is certainly an aspect of Christ as "warrior-king" that Christians must pay attention to, and I am glad that Mars Hill is trying to reach out to the many disenchanted young men in our city. But Driscoll is still painting an incomplete picture of Christ. By downplaying Christ's compassion, patience and humility, and focusing only on Christ's toughness, Driscoll is presenting his listeners with a one-sided view of Jesus. Driscoll's Jesus may be appealing to those who desire a faith that will be bold and unapologetic. But Christ himself remained bold and unapologetic while still gently caring for people in a way that seems absent from Driscoll's image of Jesus.

Furthermore, it concerns me that this incomplete picture suggests an implicit approval of Driscoll's own behavior, rather than challenging the militancy and insecurity that seem to be at the root of so many of his statements. Is Jesus really at the right hand of God, sharpening a sword, getting ready to come down and slaughter sinners, and then laugh as the Christian warrior-men bathe in the blood of the heathen? Anyone who views Jesus even remotely in this way needs to pick up the Bible and re-read the Gospels. I also wonder whether Jesus is really worried by the fact that Christians are having fewer children, or really excited that Mars Hill has grown so large in such a short period of time. We all like to assume that growth of a ministry equals God's blessing. No doubt that is often true, but we should be careful not to infer from church growth that our methods and ideas are sound. Having a huge church is not an excuse for offering a false image of Jesus.

I believe that Mark Driscoll and all the leadership at Mars Hill love Jesus and desire to bear witness to the Gospel. What worries me is that, in their efforts to develop their ministry, they have settled for an image of Jesus that is incomplete. But I am thankful that God is working in each of us to daily draw us into a deeper, fuller knowledge of who Jesus really is. I pray that God would continually make me aware of who Christ really is, and I pray that for Mark Driscoll as well.

Friday, May 11, 2007

poor proof-texting strikes again!

I'm getting really tired of people using Romans 13:1-7 out of context, especially when it seems quite clear that they haven't carefully examined that passage of Scripture, and are just grabbing for a verse that props up a particular political agenda. The latest example comes from CNN's Lou Dobbs, who, in a recent op-ed, stated the following:

"A new coalition called Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform Wednesday will begin lobbying lawmakers with a new advertising and direct mail campaign on behalf of amnesty for illegal aliens.

The Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine put it this way: "If given the choice on this issue between Jesus and Lou Dobbs, I choose my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ."

But before the faithful acquiesce in the false choice offered by the good Reverend, perhaps he and his followers should consult Romans 13, where it is written: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."

Now, obviously, the immigration issue is complicated and there are good points to be made on both sides of the issue (surprise! Jim Wallis isn't always right!), but SERIOUSLY: Romans 13 has nothing to do with immigration! Has Dobbs even tried to put the passage in its proper context?

Read along with the rest of Romans, Paul isn't praising the government, he is merely pointing out that God has allowed them to be in power, and that Christians should seek to live peacefully in the land, paying their taxes, and not attempting to mount any armed insurrections. Paul is NOT saying that Christians should blindly support their governments, he is simply pointing out that Christians should not attempt to overthrow the government by force, because Christians are first and foremost citizens of a kingdom that transcends all governments, and that kingdom requires our allegiance above all else.

What's ironic, however, is that Dobbs' comments re: Romans 13 are implicitly anti-American, since, after all, our country was founded on the notion that no governing authority should have the final say without the consent of the people. Given that the majority of the people in our nation have always professed Christianity, if we were to follow Dobbs' logic and blanket use of the passage, the founding fathers should have acquiesced to the British monarchy instead of standing up for a free nation based on "liberty and justice for all."

Of course, I doubt Dobbs meant to imply anything like this. But it just shows the danger of taking a passage of Scripture and haphazardly applying it to whatever suits our purpose. This is a lesson that many people dealing in the political realm, Christian and otherwise, would do well to learn.

Friday, May 4, 2007

first sermon...

Yesterday I "preached" my first sermon ever, for my homiletics class. I guess it went well, but - as most people pointed out and I sort of already knew - it came across much more like a speech than a sermon.

The professor said I have a great way with words and can make a strong case for my ideas but I need to practice making it more receptive to a hearing audience, i.e., more simple, personable and palatable to the common man.

Good points, but at this stage in the process I think most people realize that my strong suit is probably teaching, not preaching. Not that there isn't a lot of teaching involved in preaching, but some people can speak in ways that are "sermon-esque", and some (like me) just have to work a little harder to stop using big words and trying to turn everything into an essay... hehe.

There are some really good preachers in my class though... great at creating a vivid picture and really pulling you into a story.

On a totally different (and more interesting for me!) note: I am also currently working my way through "Christianity and the Postmodern Turn", a book of essays written from various perspectives and rebuttals to those essays. It's interesting to see the tension built up between those who want to rationally defend the Christian faith (typically "modernists") and those who want to allow room for the possibility of different paradigms (typically "postmodernists") -- both sides make some good points, but at the end of the day, I think holding onto either side too tightly will result in frustration or defensiveness. Humility is always called for.

Maybe I'll post a review of the book sometime.