Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Signs that make you Wonder

Let me just say how much I have enjoyed the conversation this week. One of the dynamic elements of a conversational blog is that sometimes that conversation takes longer or goes in a different direction than expected – this is the nature of dialogue (vs. a monologue). I was supposed to write on allegory today but that can wait till Friday – today we get talk about miracles, the supernatural and signs that make you wonder.

It seems to me that there are two main things to get on the table here.

The first is the phrase ‘super-natural’ comes from specific worldview that came to ascendancy in the seventeenth century. It is very mechanistic. It says that God set up the natural world to work a certain way (like a clock) and the debate was really between folks like the Deists who said the God stepped away after creation and is letting it run like clockwork. The other group believed in intervention and held that God did – from time to time – interfere with the normal mechanisms and do something … super-natural. The activities of angels and demons were outside the perceptibility and predictability of the ‘natural order’ and so on.

That is the supernatural and that is exactly what I do not believe in.

Now, I do believe in the miraculous. The miraculous in this sense is that which is extra-ordinary, outside the expected normality of human experience. Since I am a believer, I attribute that to the power of God who is at work in the world in Holy Spirit.

I want to say again that I do not believe in a solely transcendent God who in ‘his’ holiness can have nothing do with fallen matter and thus resides ‘up’ in the heavens and intermittently ‘breaks through’ the veil of reality in order to intervene in human affairs.

The second thing that we need to get on the table is Biblical language repeated so often in the Gospels of “signs”. What we calls miracles are often referred to as signs. I have even heard them called ‘signs that make you wonder’. This is sacramental language – which is why so many of us are not familiar with it.

A sign, by being fully itself, points to something that is beyond itself. Think of a road sign. A symbol, similarly, is something that participates in that which it signifies without being totally that thing. So in communion, we might say that the bread points to the body of Christ while remaining fully bread. Or that the church is not the Kingdom of God even though it participates in the it. It is a sign that points to a greater reality.

What we would call miracles, what the Gospels often refer to as signs, are activities of God’s presence that point to something beyond themselves while – or by – being fully themselves.

Once these two understandings are in place the conversation takes on a whole new set of possibilities. Once you say goodbye to predictable formulas (mechanistic) then you can move to a conception of a dynamic relationship with a living God. Once you move away from a super-natural mentality (which is often superstitious), you can move to a sacramental participation with the natural world.

God is at work in the world. As Christians we say this proudly and confidently. (I understand those in the Enlightenment who rejected the interventionist view of god and who explained away the miracles in the Bible by simply saying that ancient pre-modern people only interpreted things that way – but that is not where I am at).

If you are into Process Theology, there is a whole second conversation that takes you into all sorts of fun places!  But today I just want to point people to Chapter 7 in the Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren called “the Demonstration of the Message”.  It is wonderful.  I will close here with the words he closes with there.

… this is in large part what I believe the signs and wonders of Jesus are secretly telling us: that God, the good King, is present – working from the inside. The King is in the kingdom, and the kingdom is among us here and now – for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. The King is present in the mess and chaos of everyday life on earth, bringing healing, sight, perception, liberation… The incursion of the kingdom of God has begun. We are under a gentle, compassionate assault by a kingdom of peace and healing and forgiveness and life.

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The work of God’s Spirit

This was a post on a blog from earlier this week: Hey Bo!

First, in what ways have you changed the WAY you talk about the Spirit’s work in light of “the 21st century update”? Examples?

Secondly, in what ways do you talk about the Spirit’s work SPECIFICALLY in order for it to be a “subversive danger to the systems of this world” or are these two questions one and the same?

I’d be curious to hear more!

This blog looks great. I, for one, and much more likely to hit it up now that it’s all in one place. It’s a very human thing, but it’s true that we are quite lazy, even in web-browsing! Can’t wait for the return of the POD!

I started to respond but realized that it was far too big a topic for a little reply so it morphed into a whole new post:

There are three big changes:

  1. I got rid of Dualism (like my understanding of  Transcendent and Immanent) that were both unhelpful and antiquated. I had been sold a bad (simplistic) understanding called the 3 tiered universe.  This change is essential to understanding WHAT is happening.
  2. I brought in an understanding of the Trinity called Perichoresis (or Circuminsession) that speaks of HOW it works.
  3. I have adopted a “relational” model (process) that explains WHY the Spirit’s work looks the way it does.

These three changes have revolutionized both my understanding and my practice.

I will give you an example: at church we often open a service by praying and asking God to “come” and we sing songs about the spirit/grace/power/rain coming “down”. We talk about God breaking “in” or breaking “through”.

Now I understand that this is all just language (theo-poetics) that comes from our PERCEPTIONS. That is fine. But God has already come “down” and is already “in”, God has “come” and IS at work among us.  So I don’t get caught up on the imagery – I understand that it is just how we imagine it.

This has then freed me up to stop looking at things in ‘kind’ and see them in ‘degree’. Continue reading “The work of God’s Spirit”

>Powerful in a different way

>When it come to power, there is no doubt the something has happened to God.  I contend that it is a different kind of power, most go with other explanations.

I need to say up front here that I believe in ‘more than you can see’.  Admittedly I am not a big fan of the phrase “supernatural” because of the worldview that it comes from (as if the power of prayer was not the most natural thing in the world and the way that Jesus worked with nature and wants us to as well).

I need to say that at the beginning because if you did not know it, there will be points in this blog where someone could think that I do not believe in ‘more than you can see’.

Something about God – or a gap in how the Bible talks about power and what we see in our world –  has changed and there are so many ways that people have attempted to deal with it.

  • Enlightenment liberals often take the line of reasoning that God would never break the rules that God originally set up (such as physics). So the change must have been that the ancients only thought that Jesus walked on water  –  or that they were actually talking allegorically or poetically when they talked about such things.  Bottom Line : in this view those kind of miraculous things don’t happen anymore and probably never did.
  • Charismatic or Pentecostals, obviously, DO believe that miracles and acts of power still do – or can – happen. When they don’t  (and often they don’t) then reasons are looked for: not enough faith, not enough prayer, those who pray are not holy or dedicated enough. Bottom Line: This view says that the world works the same way it did in Bible times and God doesn’t change so if we are not seeing God’s power like they did – it must be on our end.
  • Dispensational folks say that God works differently in different periods in history (called dispensations) and after the Apostolic Age ( in the Book of Acts) we moved into the Church Age and miracles are not a part of our age. Bottom Line: in this view, God can do powerful things, has in the past, and will in the future… just not right now.
  • Even Barth (Karl Barth and those who like him) runs into the problem with a lack of power (like miracles). The explanation that developed in the last half of the 20th century is that because God’s fullest revelation was done in Christ then God has no need to do those kind of things since it was a ‘once for all’ revelation. Bottom Line: in this view the only thing that God would do (like in the Book of Acts) is to validate that original revelation. 
  • There are those voices that talk of the Death of God. You understand why this carried so much weight in the 20th century with the two world wars, atomic bombs, death camps, all the way the Bosnian war and Africa’s post-colonial realities (to name just a few). 

Bottom Line: for both the Barthians and the Death of God crew is that outside of emotional worship services or crusades… it was tough for many people to see how or where God was at. God seemed absent when things mattered most and some were left to reason that this supposedly ‘all powerful being’ either didn’t care, was not as powerful as advertised or was dead.

If you study history you can begin to see that something is definitely different.  Either the Ancients were under false illusions, or it is all some sort of Medieval superstition being exposed or there has been a death of ‘god’ power or  that God is choosing to do something a little different because these are the last days and this is all part of the plan. Whichever one you go with, you have some followup questions to deal with.

Fun Example: 
I love talking with Charismatic-Pentecostal believers who focus on the fact the demons and miracles are still a part of pre-Industrial (non-developed) parts of the world. They point to Africa and South America where stuff still happens like it did in the Book of Acts.
The question I ask is “so do demons lose their power when people have electricity ?”

I have had some really fun conversations around this!  It is a fascinating place to launch a dialogue. The most interesting response I have ever heard was by one of my best friends who told me that since believers have been binding demons by the power of the Holy Sprit for 2,000 years – that there just are not as many demons on the earth as there used to be.  I asked if they then congregate in places like rural Africa? After that the conversation got wild…

At the end of the day, however, I think that what all these approaches are addressing is more important that how they address it.  What they are addressing is that there is a gap between how the ancients perceived God and talked about power and what we have seen and experienced in our own world.   Something has changed.

Act 2: here is where I am at on this.  I think that we have a bad understanding of power and how it is that God works in the world.  I am not interested in discrediting people of the past – but neither am i interested in dogmatically clinging to a cosmology and meta-physics from a pre-scientific era. I want to deal with the world as it is. Not as I was taught that it should be and not as people used to think that it was… I am interested in an optimistic (hopeful) Christian realism.

I have bought into a school of thought that says God is in the process with us and that reality is relational. It’s interesting that I believe so many of the same things as I used to but that I think so radically differently about them. 

One example is of God’s power. I believe that God is powerful and I also believe that God is at work in the world.  The difference is that I now conceive of God’s power a little differently. I believe that God’s power is non-coercive. It is more seductive than unilateral. God works with what is. This view of power is more persuasive than coercive.

My favorite way of introducing this idea is a story that Marjorie Suchocki tells.

One day the Sun and the Wind were watching a man walk and decided to have a competition. The Wind challenged the Sun to see who could get the hat off of the man’s head. The man was walking and the wind began to blow and blow in an attempt to knock the hat off of the man’s head by sheer force.
The result was that the man placed his hand on his hat and pressed down with all his strength. In fact, the more the wind blew, the more the wind blew the harder the man resisted and worked to keep the hat on his head.
The Sun decided to go a different direction. The Sun was concerned with heloing the man to want to take his hat off – not simply doing it to the man but wanting to work with the man by helping him to desire for his hat to come off.
The Sun began to shine with great intensity and increased the temperature to such a point that the man became uncomfortable with how hot is was and willing reached up with his hand and took the hat off.

If the wind had succeeded – the man would have viewed it as a bad and undesirable thing. He had worked against it and would have tried to correct it.
The sun succeeded and the man perceived it as a good thing and even participate in bringing it about. The man may not have even been aware of the role that the environment played on his desires – thinking that it was his idea all along!

God is not the wind trying to knock the hat off our head with power.

God is the sun, influencing our environment in order to change our desires – so that God is not doing things to us but is working with us to bring about the greater good (also called the will of God).  

Act 3:  Paul Knitter talks about it in terms of the sail on a boat. Our will is not like a motor but an organized cloth that is anchored at strategic points. We put up our sail in order to harness that which is already at work (available). We can not manufacture it. We do not generate it. We do not direct it so much as harness and navigate it.

The everyday implication for these ideas is that we reframe how we talk about God’s power. The idea of the Puppet master pulling strings from behind the curtain and the unilateral coercion are relics of the past.  I just don’t see how we continue with that language in the 21st century.  I prefer to talk about the Weakness of God (1 Cor. 1:15)  [I have blogged about it here].  God’s power is a different sort of power. God is powerful but it is not a unilateral power. It is not a coercive power. It is a persuasive (more seductive) power. It works with our desires and it begins with what is.

This is why I want to speak in ways that reflect the way things are.

>Crucifying Job’s God

>Act 1: Crucifixion is topic that has been written about for centuries. The first 500 years of Christianity were contentious on this issue and 500 years ago it became the source of a major schism between the Protestants and the Catholics. It is currently being hotly debated again – in the publishing industry, on blogs, and in pulpits.

If you look it up you will find everything from ancient Penal Substitution theories to modern Bloodless theories.
You will find Forensic theories, Governmental theories, Satisfaction theories, Recapitulation theories and everything in between.

They will have names like Christus Victor or Ransom Theory.  But one thing that they will all agree on is twofold:

  1. something divinely significant happened on the cross
  2. Jesus impacted both humanity and eternity by what happened on the cross

I hate that there is so much division and venomous aggression from those in one camp toward those in another.  I do not think that it cast Jesus in the best light nor does it bring Jesus the type of exalted glory that should come by looking at this subject!

I really like how Larry Shelton comes at this. In his book Cross and Covenant he surveys them all and suggests using the analogy of golf clubs. If each of these views is seen – not as the totality of truth – but, as an angle or perspective that is useful in certain situations for a specific purpose. I like this a lot.  The idea of gleaning meaning from a collection of metaphors is pretty sweet.

Of course, if you have a collection of golf clubs you are going to need an organizing principle – a golf bag if you will. Here lies the brilliance of his approach: Shelton says that the collecting concept is Covenant. Covenant is relational and it runs from the front to the back of our religion.

Act 2: Here is where I am at on this.

The crucifixion means a great deal to me, as it does to many. To me, the incarnation, the teaching and model of Jesus’ life, the crucifixion, and the resurrection   are the four things that form the core of the Gospel web. Pentecost and the coming of the Comforter launch us into the Acts of the Apostles and the rest of church history.  The importance of the crucifixion would not get much disagreement. What we think happened there, however, would.

Here is the question that I think exposes it. This is the the litmus test that brings it to the surface: where was God on Good Friday?  When you envision the Passion Play, what role have you cast God in?

Let me tell you the three most common answers:

  1. God is off the stage. God has abandoned Jesus and has pulled back from him in his suffering. 
  2. God is with the Romans. God is punishing Jesus for the sins of the world, taking out his wrath. 
  3. God is with Jesus. God was in Christ is a unique way and therefor God suffered with Jesus. This is what Jurgen Multmann calls the Crucified God. The God part of Jesus suffered and died, not just the human part of Jesus. 

I do not believe that God abandoned Jesus or that only the human part of Jesus died.
I do not believe that God was on the side of the Romans. Jesus suffered and died unjustly and God was with him on that cross.
I do not believe in the Puppet Master God who is pulling the strings behind that curtain and causing things to happen to punish us or hurt us or destroy us.

This is why we need to be careful about reading that into Psalm 22 ‘my god my god why have you abandoned me.’  It does not mean that God DID abandon Jesus, but that the separation of sin (a broken relationship) felt that way.

This becomes important when we go through tough times, are assaulted or insulted, and suffer unjustly. Where is God in that moment?
The truth is that God is with you. God is suffering with you. God has not abandoned you and God is not punishing you.
A) God is with you.   B) God, in Christ, knows what you are going through  C) Jesus paid that price and now nothing can separate you from the Love of God.

This is where most people who are into Relational Religion would stop.   
I am going to go one step further.

Let me throw out 2 ideas: 

  1. Is it possible that the “Job view” of God (from the Old Testament) was suppose to die on the Cross. That conception of God began to die when God became a man and “it was finished” when God gave his life – unjustly – for us.  It is not only that Jesus died FOR our sins but also that he died BECAUSE of our sins. 
  2. If one reads Romans 8 as : God works for the good with those who love God and are called.   It is NOT that God cause the THINGS to work for us.  It is GOD who works with us for the good.  This allows us to leave behind the obsession that ‘everything happens for a reason.’

Here is why I am saying this:  When someone wins a football game and thanks God, and when someone drops a touchdown and blames God (on Twitter)…is it possible that neither is God’s doing?

This view of God was suppose to die on the cross. God had not abandoned Jesus. God was not on the side of the Romans. God was with Jesus in his suffering.

Here is why this is important:
A) if we use the old dualism (which I do not like) then it is tough to make the case that ‘god’ is all loving AND all powerful. If ‘he’ is loving then ‘he’ is not all powerful and if ‘he’ is all powerful then ‘he’ is not all loving. These old dualism are a trap! that is why it becomes impossible (under Greek metaphysics) for the Incarnation to happen  IF god is THAT transcendent then it becomes impossible to be incarnate or immanent and thus we chalk it up to “mystery”.

B) This idea of God being ‘in control’ … it that like “sovereign”? Because a King is sovereign but not IN CONTROL of all that goes on in his kingdom…

C) So the reason that I say Job’s god dies on the the cross – actually I have been writing a big essay on that – but here are my quick thoughts (5 of them)
#1 God does not cause people to catch or drop touchdowns. That is not what God does. God is not pulling the strings behind the scenes.
#2 God is not doing things TO people. This idea is dead. God partners with or calls to – this is not coercive but is instead persuasive – it is more seductive than dominant.
#3 The idea that God is making deals with the devil to make people (like Job) cry “uncle” dies with Christ on the cross. Jesus died unjustly!! which leads to …
#4 not everything happens “for a reason” Jesus did not only die FOR our sins but BECAUSE of our sins. We have to get rid of this obsession of ‘everything happens for a reason’. It doesn’t. Unless you mean sin, that explains somethings. But stop blaming God.
#5 WWII: The Christian Germans and the non-Christian Japanese make it impossible to draw clean lines between the “Good guys” and “Bad guys”. Victims and oppressors got all messed up in the 20th century. The Christian Orthodox Serbians in the Bosnian war would be more contemporary example.

Act 3: I was introduced to an idea on this topic that was brand new to me. I was listening to a presentation a while ago and something jumped out woke me up. The presenter said that the crucifixion not just opens a way for God to forgive us – but for us to forgive God.  Essentially saying that once Jesus unjustly endures what he does in the flesh, that humanity can not be angry at God for the injustices of life and the cruelty of existence.

God died for us. We can forgive God for not rescuing us from harm, for not stopping assaults, and for not preventing genocide and other atrocities. Jesus is a victim of injustice. Jesus was killed unjustly by the military powers of a foreign occupier.

In that moment of violence, God is not with the strong. God is with the weak and those that have been victimized. Just as in the Exodus story, God is not with the Pharaoh, God is with the slave. But this time… God is the victim. Jesus died unjustly.

This opens the door – not only for God to forgive us – but for us to forgive God.

Final Thoughts: I know the idea of forgiving God may rub some people the wrong. Others may get upset by the idea of a concept of God dying. I have gotten in trouble over the years on the podcast for saying that Jerry Falwell’s god is dead.

Try to think of it this way: Gods die all the time. No one worships Thor or Zeus anymore.  At least Job’s god died for a good cause!  Jesus opened the door for us to have a new relationship with God. This is not the Puppet-Master God, this is God as Parent Perfect and loving friend. Then, we were given the gift of Holy Spirit – that Christ could abide with us always.  I don’t know why christian keep trying to save the old God’s life and keep the Job concept around on Life Support.  We should just let that concept of God die it’s natural death (for Christ’s sake). Or, if we really wanted to, we could be more proactive and put it out of it’s misery by crucifying it … the final nail in the coffin as they say.

>Relational Religion

> There are three significant implications for reading the Bible relationally. 

The first has to do with prayer. 
The second has to do with the original sin. 
The third has to do with Pentecost.                  by Bo Sanders

Prayer is a relational thing. We pray for people that we know. This is a good thing. That is how it is suppose to work. We need to be praying for the people that we know.
It is tough to pray for someone you don’t know. Let’s take two examples: letters in the mail and hiring a pastor.  

When a church wants to hire a pastor, they do not hold a prayer meeting and ‘discern’ a name and phone number out of thin air and then call that person and say “God told us that you are suppose to be our next pastor”.  That is not how it works. They look over resumes, they do phone interviews, they call the person in for the weekend to candidate and then ‘discern’ based on relational cues. 

When god lays on somebody’s heart to write an encouraging note, send a gift, or to make a phone call, it is always to somebody that we know. God works in and through relationship. If you want to send a check for $100 to help someone out, you don’t write a random name on an envelope and make up (or pray and discern) an address and then put it in the mail. You send it to someone you know – someone that you are in a relationship with. That is what God leads us to do. 
Can you imagine writing a check to Jackson Bolaliber, making out the envelope to 765 Kings Highway in Jacksonville Kansas and then making up a zip code (98126) and putting it in the mail?  I don’t even know if this person exists. I don’t know if Kansas has a town called Jacksonville. I don’t know if that zip code is even for Kansas or if it exists anywhere.

That is not how it works. That is not how God works. God works in relationship. God lays on our hearts to send encouragement notes to people that we know. To dial phone numbers that belong to people that we are in relationship with. 
Have you ever said “God give me 10 single-digits that make up a phone number of somebody that you want me to call and encourage.”  No.  You call somebody that you know and encourage them. You may even be led to call them because you know of something going on in their life and that they need encouragement.
I’ve said this before, when we pray for the people of Haiti, we are not asking God to fix the situation “from Heaven” – we are a) asking God to send the people that will fix the situation and b) making ourselves available to God for whatever situation God might want to use us in. 
Prayer prepares our hearts to participate with God in God’s world and work. God is relational. Therefore God’s work is relational. And thus, prayer is relational. 
The original sin
I believe in the original sin.  I do not believe in Original Sin. I believe in the original sin, but I do not believe in what has been the dogmatic teaching that children are born full of sin – that the cells of the body are corrupted or depraved and that unless they pray a prayer to Jesus or are baptized by a priest or belong to the right church (which is sanctioned by the State) they are “fallen” and will not go to heaven. I do not believe in that kind of original sin. 
The concern over Substance (corrupted) and Status (fallen) are not the concerns of the Bible and come to us via Greek philosophy (both Platonism and Aristotelean thought).
The concern of the Bible is relationship. That is the power of the original sin – that it broke relationship.  There were three types of broken relationship in the Garden of Eden narrative.  
But before we get to that … and while were are on the subject –  there is no such thing as the fall.   Look it up. The Bible never talks about a fall.  Adam and Eve did not fall.  Humans are not fallen.  If you look up ‘Fall’ in most biblical concordances you will see six verses listed. Not one of them uses the word fall.  It was a concept – a construct- that was added later – because of philosophy.
What happened in Eden is not a fall. It is a breaking of relationship, and it impacted three things. 

The first relationship that was broken was between God and humanity. They were afraid of God and they hid. The relationship was broken. 

The second relationship that was broken was between between humans – some focus on the split between the genders, some on the relationship between husband and wife, I prefer to look at the simple  human to human brokenness. 
The story of Cain and Able illustrated the brokeness of both of these first two levels – with God and between each other. 

The third relationship that was broken was between humans and the earth. It changed from a care – partnership – providing connection to a hostility (the earth to us) and domination (us to the earth). 
Good News: This is what Jesus comes to restore! Jesus heals our broken relationship with God. Jesus enables us to have restored relationships with other humans around us. And Jesus brings us into a new awareness of the earth beneath us.
I draw it this way: the Circle was broken in Eden. Three circles were broken in Eden. Living in Jesus restores those broken circles – repairs the brokeness and reconnects the unity of the circle. 
Living in Jesus connects the circle above us in a restored unity with God. It also connects us to those around us in the circle of community. Lastly, it connects us to the earth below so that we have restored appreciation and partnership with the dust from which we came and to which we will return. 
This is the idea of Shalom. It is peace-restoration-connection-wholeness. Living in Shalom is a circle running North-South above and below and another circle running east-west connecting us to those around.  This is healthy connection, mutual care and edification.
There was an original sin but there is no Original Sin. There was no Fall but there is restored relationship and connection.*
     As long as I am laying it all out I might as well say this: reading the Bible relationally changes everything.  Look at it this way – the Incarnation was Jesus taking on flesh and opening a new way for humanity to to relate to God. Jesus gives us a new relationship with God.
Many people that I know who self-identify as Christian live as if Jesus never came – reverting to a set of rules, regulations, and religious rituals. 
When Jesus dies, the veil in the temple is torn in two. God’s presence comes out into the world. God is no longer kept behind closed doors and God no longer lives in buildings built by human hands.  The Religious presence of God had come out into the world where the Natural presence of God had always been – but this was now in a new way. 
This move came to its culmination at Pentecost and God’s spirit – the Spirit of Christ – who is Holy Spirit now indwells us as the people of God. In the Hebrew Testament God’s Spirit would fill one person at a time (like a Judge or a Prophet) for one task or a specific time. Now, after Pentecost God’s spirit resides in every believer for all time.
God is with us. God is here among us. Christ’s Spirit is at work in the world and is with you – to guide you and use you and change you. 
God wants to guide you. 
God wants to use you. 
God wants to change you. 
This is why God gave Holy Spirit to the world as a gift. We are the people of God. We are the House of God. God dwells in us each of us and among us as a community. 
When you pray, you are not projecting your voice past the heavens and trying to get the attention of a God who lives on the other side of curtain – begging and pleading for God to ‘come down’.  God already came down – and died on a cross – that is when the veil was torn in two and God’s presence came out into the world. God is here with us now. God is at work among us. 
God didn’t write a best-selling book and then retire to the far corner of the universe leaving it all up to us to do what was said in the book. That book is not an instruction manual or a constitution or a rule book. It is a story. In that story God gives his own Son who dies for the world – to repair a broken set of relationship and restore us to right relationship – three new relationships. Then God gives his Spirit to the world as a gift so that we may have a new connection (Shalom) with God, a new connection (Community) with those around us, and new connection (edification) with the world that we inhabit.  
* My mentor Randy Woodley has given me a wonderful understanding of Shalom and he did his Doctoral Dissertation on the Harmony Way understanding of this concept by native American communities. 

>Follow Up to Relationship

>    I was talking to a new friend who works with minority inmates transitioning into society in the final year of their sentence.  My friend runs a farm so that A) there is a revenue stream and B) the inmates develop practical skills for employment after they are released.

    We were talking about the struggles to raise money and the irony that the bigger the church is, the less likely they are to give financially to a ministry that is not housed with them (I have heard this from a number of people).
    It was an educational conversation on many levels.

    There was one story that really got my attention. It was about a preacher on the radio (this preacher would be well known to almost everyone reading this) who was talking about some of the conflicts in the Book of Acts.

    The preacher was saying that even in the early church (and all throughout church history) there has been all sorts of conflict about opinions over behavior in living out the faith. Food was an example – opinions about who could eat when and what someone else ate that you wouldn’t be o.k. eating. Same with drink. Some are o.k. with drinking some things that others think they shouldn’t be drinking.

    Side note: This is always an interesting conversation with someone from a different background, from a different culture or of a different race.

    Then the story turned (as my friend reported it to me). The preacher then said “its like people who don’t have a house being critical of christian leaders who have two or three houses. That is none of their business. They shouldn’t have an opinion on that.”

    My friend was somewhere between flustered and perplexed. We got talking about economic theory, the nature of conservatism, and current excesses in capitalism.

    I said “It’s even worse than that … what the preacher did!”

Stop: take a minute and think about how you feel about christian leaders having 2 or 3 homes and if you object, why you object.

My Take:  I use to think about this in a “status” way or even “substance” way by trying get down to the possible motive behind buying 3 houses.

    Now, I try to look at it through a Relationship lens. In that light, the preacher switched the conversation. He changed the categories.   When you are talking about eating with someone – you are talking about being in relationship. SO if I eat something that offends your conscience, then it effects our connection – our fellowship.

    The difference is that if you have a big house (or multiple houses) and you go there – it can takes us out of relationship. It does not have us in fellowship. You going to your house is the opposite of us coming to the table together. They are not the same thing.

    My point is that eating together brings us into relationship. You have 3 homes that you can go to and me not having one takes us out of relationship.

    If you try to address this through Status language or attempt to analyze this through Structural constructs (like Economics) then you may miss why two christians eating together and religious leaders owning 2 or 3 houses are not the same thing.

I think that it is important to think about this for its relational component.

add a comment here and let me know what you think.  or you can jump over the website where the conversation is underway 



I posted this quote on Facebook this week “ The Faith began as a relationship. In Athens, it became a philosophy. When it went to Rome, it became an organization. In Europe, it became a culture. When it came to America, it became a business.” 

my friend Russ Pierson (who has started a world traveling Dmin of Global Leadership at George Fox) and I had an interesting conversation about Ecology. He had asked the twitterverse why the giant split between Theology and Ecology.  I replied that  i thought it was a natural consequence of the Greek Dualism inherited by western European thinkers and over the centuries morphed into the present worldview. 

my friend Nathan Detweiler (who just started a Mdiv at Alliance Theological in Nyack – where my dad teaches) and I were talking about the Didache – or Teaching of the 12 –   and we were both gobsmacked at how much Christianity changed after the year 300. (Tony Jones wrote an accessible guide to the Didache if anyone is interested [link])
my friend Joe Paprone (who just so happened to recently begin a world traveling  Masters in Global Mission with Fuller)  and I were catching up after his return from Big Tent Christianity and the  topic of the Gospel’s relational nature came up.
when I talk or email with friends and family from Albany to Alberta, from Kalispell, MT to Claremont, CA … this theme of relationship in the gospel comes up over and over again. 

    I have heard Dr. Larry Shelton (my first seminary professor) say that it is “relationship all the way down” . This has impacted me greatly.  Shelton’s book Cross & Covenant: Interpreting the Atonement for the 21st Century Mission [link] is a tour de force on the historical development of thought and direction for the future. 
   I have a number of quotes that I thought about using here 
– but let me get right down to it: 
Stated in the Positive:  Here is why I think that Relationship component of the Gospel is so important. I am convinced that relationship is essential (it is central) to Gospel. I am suspicious that the gospel IS relationship. 
Stated in the Negative: after 300 C.E. the focus of the Gospel seems to have moved from relationship and shifted to A) substance and B) status.  This was the Greek & Roman  shift (influence) on Christian thought. 
    Let me just say that it is not my intention to be critical of the Greco-Roman period  but simply to point out that 1) it is very different than what came before it and specifically the  Hebrew influenced writings of Scripture. 2) That if one, in the Post-modern conversation , wanted to return to a more relational reading of the scripture that person would not be unfaithful to Christianity. 
    Without getting bogged down in heavy arguments and endless details (that will come in subsequent weeks) let me just point out four examples: the Trinity, Jesus, communion and salvation. 
Trinity: after 300 there is great concern to get straight the Order & Structure of the Trinity. Who comes first and who is the origin of who.  This is Status.  But this does not seem to be the concern of the writers of Scripture who, in fact, didn’t even use the world Trinity. In fact, their concern seems to be the relationship between the divine actors and the form is narrative – not creed or formula. I think that this is important. The Bishops and Councils of the threes, fours and five hundreds seem to want much cleaner lines and much clearer flowcharts than the writers of scripture provided in the narrative. (If you want to see how important this turned out to be – just look up the Filioque [link] in a Church history book and look at the brew-ha that followed.) 
Jesus: after 300 there is a great concern over the Ousia – the substance of Jesus.  Was he of the same substance “homo-ousia” as the Father?  This is where our classical “Fully God – Fully Human” formulation comes from.  That’s fine.  I just want to point that the Gospel writers seem much more concerned with Jesus’ relationship to God than the nature of his substance. 
Salvation: the whole Calvinist – Arminian debate , besides being exhausting and endless, is a product of a set of questions that the Bible does not seem to be concerned with and thus does not even attempt to answer.  In what way is God sovereign? and how does that mix with Human free will? can someone lose their salvation (status)? and what is the nature of someone who is saved in this life but continues to sin (substance)?  The reason those are debated round and around is that the writers of the Bible are not concerned with them.  They seem to be concerned with a believer’s relationship to God and relationship to others. 
Communion: Notice the modern fascination with what is communion (substance) and who is allowed to take it (status) and who is allowed to serve it (status & substance). The Bible never says.  In fact,  Jesus actually has the meal with someone that he knows will turn on him.  But Jesus invites him to the table and breaks bread with him – in relationship – seemingly not concerned with his status or his substance…. 
    My only point in all of this is that even if someone did not want to go all the way intoRelational – Process thought [link] like my school does, they are not going against traditional Christianity to step away from focusing on Status and Substance and instead focusing on Relationship.  They are just getting back to their roots. 
Like I said I am not advocating a new type of Christianity, as much as  I am acknowledging that  Christianity is always being made new.  Well, in this case – everything old is new again. 

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