216. you say you want a revolution?
Okay, so finally I’m getting around to blogging about the stuff I’ve been reading about in the books, The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren and Simply Christian by N.T. Wright. And I’m glad I read the two together because they illuminate the same subject but from slightly different perspectives and it really helped me work through the ideas they were presenting. I’m looking forward to diving right back in to the books again because I know I missed a lot the first time around.
Anyway, what follows is my take on what I got out of the books which is slightly different from what the books themselves say about Jesus and his gospel so if you think what I’m saying is crazy or wrong or unorthodox, don’t hold it against the books.
The phrases, “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God,” are used throughout the gospels. Most of Jesus’ parables reference this kingdom and it’s all over his Sermon on the Mount. Indeed, in Luke 4:43 he says, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
There’s not a lot of explanation as to what exactly this kingdom is – at least not an explanation of the factual sort. When describing the kingdom, Jesus says things like, “it’s like yeast, like seeds, like a pearl, like a party, etc.” He used metaphors and stories when talking about the kingdom, and while that can be frustrating in today’s information age, I think it was deliberate.
See, I don’t think a comprehensive theological understanding of heaven and salvation was what Jesus was after. When Jesus came on the scene, there were at least three major schools of thought when it came to the Jewish understanding of the scriptures – the Pharisees, the Saducees and the Esenees. Each had their own detailed way of parsing scripture, each backed up their reading with examples, and each thought the other groups were sorely misled. In other words, it’s much like what happens today between various Christian denominations.
If Jesus wanted to set out a clear doctrinal position on scriptural issues, he certainly could have done so. And in a way, he did that, but in a way that the scholars of the day didn’t expect or recognize or want. What I’m trying to get at is the idea that the use of metaphor and parable was the only way that Jesus could make his kingdom recognizable to us. And by keeping things open to interpretation, I think he was trying to tell us that it’s not about the specifics as much as it is about the general idea.
And I think that he meant for there to be variations in the way his message is interpreted because if the world that he created is any indication, God loves variety and diversity.
And I don’t want to come across as saying that you can believe whatever you want to believe. There are limits as to what one can believe about the message presented in the Bible outside of which one can no longer be called a Christian, but I think these boundaries are a great deal more expansive than we think.
Calvinism versus Armenianism, baptism by immersion versus baptism by sprinkling, the elements of the Lord’s Supper as the actual body and blood of Christ through transubstantiation versus the elements as symbols representing the body and blood, once saved, always saved versus the possibility of losing one’s salvation, charismatic versus conservative, Catholic versus protestant, dispensationalism versus preterism versus amillennailism, old earth creationism versus young earth creationism versus theistic evolution versus intelligent design. And on and on and on.
I just cited a bunch of debates off the top of my head and there are lots that I left out. And there are Christians who are very passionate about one side of one or more of those debates. Some of these Christians believe so passionately about their side that they claim that those who do not hold their view are not really saved or if they are saved, it’s only by the skin of their teeth and by the grace of God.
Everyone seems so set on defending their little piece of the truth that they forget that there’s a big, wide world outside the church that doesn’t care one way or the other – they just look at us bickering Christians casting stones at one another, pulling splinters with logs sticking out of our eyes, and they wonder why anyone would want to sign on to be a part of such a group.
What if we treated one another with love? What if we agreed to disagree on the specifics and got on with the business of treating a lonely, hurting world? What if we learned to see the differing ideas within Christianity the way a botanist sees a garden – as a thriving system of bio-diversity? What if the truth of the matter exists in the space between competing ideas rather than on one side or the other?
What if Jesus used metaphor and parable (as opposed to facts and definitions) as a way to encourage this variety, this diversity? What if the question, “who’s right” is irrelevant? What if the real question is, “who’s making the world a better place?”
What if instead of trying to figure out the right model of church, we tried to figure out the right model of society. What if instead of trying to reform and redeem culture, we put forward an entirely new vision of what culture should be. What if instead of merely feeding the homeless, we also went on to dismantle the patterns that perpetuate poverty?
What if we saw our mission as more than just saving individuals? What if we saw saving culture and nations as part of our mission (because Jesus called us to make disciples of nations, not just individuals – Matthew 28:19)? What if we stopped imitating the art the world makes (“redeeming” it by grafting on Christian messages) and started creating art that the world has to follow?
See, I think Christians have been on the defensive for far too long. I think we have settled for far too little. And I think we have focused too much on saving ourselves and not enough on saving the world. People flocked to William Wallace in the movie Braveheart because he offered them a better future for their lives as well as the lives of their children. Same with our forefathers and the American revolution. Same with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.
What is it that we Christians are working towards? What kind of society did Christ want to establish? These are the kind of questions that are tugging at my heart right now because I want to be part of a revolution, not a renovation.