Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Last Word and the Word After That

Recently (mid-May) I was talking to one of the elders at my church about how much and who we both like to read. I suggested he read the McLaren “A New Kind of Christian” Trilogy. So I wrote out the titles of the three books and just for fun, I wrote my own little impromptu book review (which went something like this).

I highly recommend Brian D. McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christian” trilogy series. Each creative nonfiction novel is based on an imaginary pastor, Dan Poole and his friend Neil Edward Oliver, known as Neo, and a host of other characters. In the first book, Neo introduces Dan to the concepts of postmodernism (which Dan finds as a breath of fresh air in his attempt to understand culture and his place in serving the church and world). The second book, “The Story We Find Ourselves In” deals with science, origins, and the story of God’s love for the world. The third book, “The Last Word and the Word After That” deals with the biblical concepts of hell and the grace of God. Mclaren’s works are excellent, offensive, helpful, shocking, useful, provocative, and down right brilliant (and very confusing).

I finished reading for the second time the 3rd and then the 2nd of these works in mid-May and early June.

“The Last Word and the Word After That: A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and A New Kind of Christianity” (Conclusion to A New Kind of Christian trilogy) by Brian D. McLaren favorite quotes

We have to tell people the good news…that God is even better than we thought, that the gospel is even better and more powerful than the conventional news they’ve been believing and preaching. p.68

“Most of the passages in the New Testament which have been thought by the Church to refer to people going into eternal punishment after they die don’t in fact refer to any such thing. The great majority of them have to do with the way God acts within the world and history. Most of them look back to language and ideas in the Old Testament, which work in quite a different way from that which is normally imagined.” (N.T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship) p.96

…”I’m intrigued by the term post-Protestant. What do you mean by it?”
“Part of it is that we’re done protesting, saying the bad guys over there have it wrong and we here in our little circle have it right. That rhetoric distracts us from spiritual formation, and besides that, it protests injustice.”
There was that word again. “Injustice?” I asked
“Whenever we locate evil ‘over there’ with ‘them,’ we render ourselves innocent and proud. They are of the devil; we are of God. No one is more likely to commit injustice than those than those who think themselves incapable of doing so, those who are certain that God is on their side and vice versa.” p.142

To believe in God is to believe in the salvation of the world. The paradox of our time is that those who believe in God do not believe in the salvation of the world, and those who believe in the future of the world do not believe in God.
Christians believe in the “end of the world,” they expect the final catastrophe, the punishment of others.
Atheists in their turn…refuse to believe in God because Christians believe in him and take no intertest in the world…
Which is the more culpable ignorance?
…I often say to myself that, in our religion, God must feel very much alone: for is there anyone besides God who believes in the salvation of the world? God seeks among us sons and daughters who resemble him enough, who love the world enough sothat he could send them into the world to save it.
-Louis Evely, In the Christian Spirit

Our problem is that we use the idea of hell precisely the way the Pharisees did, exactly the opposite of the way Jesus did. We say everyone not of our elite party—the party of people who believe in certain doctrines, however they’re defined—are excluded and will face not only our rejection in this life but also God’s eternal rejection and scorn forever. We use hell to instill compliance through fear…” p.163

A quote from Desmond Tutu…When the European missionaries came, Tutu said, the Africans had the land and the Europeans had the Bible. The Europeans asked the Africans to close their eyes in prayer. When they said amen and opened their eyes, the Europeans had the land and the Africans had the Bible. But the Africans got the better end of the deal, he concluded, because the Bible then gave them the rationale to ask for their land to be returned and their rights respected. P.167

In my way of telling the gospel, what you call the modern Western way, there were always two key questions:
1. If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain that you’d go to be with God in heaven?
2. If Jesus returned today, would you be ready to meet God?
Jesus is important because he paid for your sins when he died on the cross, so if you die tonight, or if Jesus returns today, you’ll be forgiven and can enter heaven.

But in this new understanding of the gospel, two very different questions come to mind:
1. If you were to live another fifty years, what kind of person would you like to become—and how will you become that kind of person?
2. If Jesus doesn’t return for ten thousand or ten million years, what kind of world do we want to create?
Here Jesus is important because he leads you and forms you to become a better and better person, and the kind of people who truly follow his way will create a good and beautiful world.
The first set of questions, which used to satisfy me, don’t anymore, at least not on their own. I’m realizing that both sets of questions have validity, and the second may be more important. I guess that’s obvious to you, but it’s just dawning on me. P171