Thursday, July 25, 2013

Writer's Block & Alan Hirsch

I have, yet again, been floundering for words; too busy with life to stop and process.  Ironically, the thing that takes up most of my time when I'm not at work,

I've been reading Alan Hirsch's The Forgotten Ways and literally been stuck on Chapter 1 for months.  I honestly don't like his writing style, it's stuffy and hard to get through, like he's writing a paper or thesis.  It doesn't have the polish that more mainstream, edited books might have.  But it's solid and thought-provoking as I continue to wrestle with the church.

Specifically, in chapter 1, I would read the last couple of pages and then set it down for a week or two.  Then I would read the pages again and set it down.  A couple of weeks ago I punched through the wall and kept reading.  I got to chapter 3, entitled "The Heart of it all: Jesus is Lord" and kind of rolled my eyes, thinking, yeah, yeah...but as I worked my way through it in my room one night at Barksdale Air Force Base, it really impacted me.  Hirsch is putting into words one of, if not THE, reason that church as I'm experiencing it is not working; why I feel more and more strongly that the way we 'do church' and 'see church' in the U.S. and most of the Western world is not only inefficient and bloated, but it actually makes it HARDER for disciples to be made and equipped.

To that effect, I've included some notes below, some highlights from Chapter 3 in case you don't have time to read it.  Plus, it helps me digest it better by typing it out.

The Forgotten Ways
Chapter 3 Notes
'The Heart of it all: Jesus is Lord'

1 Corinthians 8:4-6
We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.  For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth...yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

What is necessary is faith.  What is needed is the kind of faith which uniting a man to Christ, sets him on fire.  Roland Allen, The Compulsion of the Spirit

And it all starts with Israel's basic confession, called the ShemaYisrael (Hear, O Israel) based on Deuteronomy 6:4.  (See The Shaping of Things to Come, chs. 7 & 8)

(Christian movements)..."are maintained throughout by what he calls 'white hot faith' brought about by a rediscovery of the place and importance of Jesus."  (Addison, "Movement Dynamics", ch. 2)

Persecution drives the persecuted to live very close to their message - they simply cling to the gospel of Jesus and thus unlock its liberating power.  One of the "gifts" that persecution seems to confer on the persecuted is that it enables them to distill the essence of the message and thus access it in a new way.  But in order to survive in the context of persecution, they also have to jettison all unnecessary impediments, including that of a predominantly institutional conception of ecclesia...they have to condense and purify their core message that keeps them both faithful and hopeful...something else is unleashed in the recovery of simplicity, namely, the capacity to rapidly transfer the message along relational lines...but in order to distill the message in our context, we need to once again appreciate its core, namely, that of the primary theme of the Bible: God's redemptive claim over our lives.  (*This is precisely how Paul can plant a church in a week and then say that they have no need for any further instruction because they received the gospel in its fullness (Acts 17:1-9; 1 & 2 Thess., Acts 16:11-40)

The belief that God is One lies at the heart of both the biblical faith and that of the remarkable Jesus movements of history.

(as opposed to a polytheistic worldview)...Rather, Yahweh is the ONE God who rules over every aspect of life and the world.

"When God invades man's consciousness, man's reliance on 'peace and security' vanishes from every nook of his existence.  His life as a single whole becomes vulnerable.  Broken down are the bulkheads between the chambers which confine explosions to one compartment.  When God chooses man, He invests him with full responsibility for total obedience to an absolute demand."  (Minear, "Eyes of Faith"

It is thus (the Shema) a call to covenant loyalty, rather than being a statement of theological ontology (nature of being).  (Ontology is the philosophical concern with the nature of "being" (ontos).  In the hands of the Christendom church, influenced as it was by the Hellenistic/Platonic thinking, theology is more concerned with metaphsyics (the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time and space) rather than with physics and is therefore highly speculative by nature.  Ontological theology, therefore, focused on God in his eternal Being - his innate nature - rather than on his existential claim on our lives.  It is almost impossible to find anything of its kind in the whole of scripture, and yet it became, and still is, the chief concern of theologians in the Western tradition.)

The sole sovereignty of God is realized only by stern struggle with other gods, with all the forces that oppose his will...Christian belief does not consist in merely saying, "There is One God."  The Devil knows that.  Christians respond to God by faith in his deeds, trust in his power, hope in his promise, and passionate abandonment of self to do his will.  Only within the context of such a passionate vocation does a knowledge of the one Lord live.  And this knowledge necessitates rather than eliminates the struggle with the devil and all his works.  Only in unconditional obedience, spurred by infinite passion, infinite resignation, infinite enthusiasm is such "monotheism" wholly manifested in human existence, as for example, in Jesus.  -Minear, Eyes of Faith

God will simply not share us with false gods.  But it is because idolatry will damage and fracture us, not because God "feels jealous."  

God is ONE and the task of our lives is to bring every aspect of our lives, communal and individual, under this one God, Yahweh.

All of life belongs to God, and true holiness means bringing all the spheres of our life under God.  This is what constitutes biblical worship - this is what it means to love God with all our heart, mind and strength.

See "Rethinking God", a section in N. T. Wright's "Paul: Fresh Perspectives."

 At its very heart, Christianity is therefore a messianic movement, one that seeks to consistently embody the life, spirituality, and mission of its Founder.  We have made it so many other things, but this is its utter simplicity.  Discipleship, becoming like Jesus our Lord and Founder, lies at the epicenter of the church's task.

I use this as an example simply to highlight how deeply dualism, including as it does the idea of the sacred/secular divide, penetrates our understanding, and how biblical monotheism helps us to develop an all-of-life perspective.  Dualism distorts our experience of God, his people, and his world.  People involved in dualistic spiritual paradigms experience God as a church-based deity, and religion as a largely private affair.  Church is largely conceived as a sacred space: the architecture, the music, the liturgies, the language and culture, all collaborate to make this a sacred event not experienced elsewhere in life in quite the same way.  In other words, we go to church to experience God, and in truth God is there (he is everywhere and particularly loves to abide with his people), but the way this is done can tend to create a perception that is very difficult to break - that God is really encountered only in such places and that it requires an elaborate priestly/ministry paraphernalia to mediate this experience (John 4:20-24).  This dualistic spirituality has been called a number of things, but perhaps the idea of the Sunday-Monday disconnect brings the experience to the fore.  We experience a certain type of God on Sunday, but Monday is another matter - "this is 'the real world,' and things work differently here."  How many times have we professional ministers heard variations of that phrase?  "You don't really understand.  It's just not as easy for me as it is for you.  You work in the church with Christians," etc.  The two "spheres of life," the sacred and the secular, are conceived as being infinitely different and heading in opposite directions.  It is left to the believer to live in one way in the sacred sphere and to have to live otherwise in the secular.  It is the actual way we do church that communicates this nonverbal message of dualism.  (Emphasis mine)  The medium is the message, after all.  And it sets people up to see things in an essentially distorted way, where God is limited to the religious sphere.  This creates a vacuum that is filled by idols and false, or incomplete, worship.

If we fail to do this (embrace an all-of-life perspective to faith and committing all of our lives under Jesus) then whilst we might be confessing monotheists, we might end up practicing polytheists.  Dualistic expressions of faith always result in practical polytheism.

All this results from a failure to respond truly to the One God.  This failure can be addressed only by a discipleship that responds by offering all the disparate elements of our lives back to God, thus unifying our lives under his lordship.

Syncretism effectively dilutes the claim of the biblical God and creates a religion that merely diminishes the tension of living under the claim of Jesus and ends up merely affirming the religious prejudices of the host culture.

What does all this practically mean for those seeking to recover Apostolic Genius in the life of the community of God?  For one, it will involve (re)engaging directly the central confession of "Jesus is Lord" and attempting to reorient the church around this life-orienting claim.  It will also mean simplifying our core messages, uncluttering our overly complex theologies, and thoroughly evaluating the traditional templates that so shape our behaviors and dominate our consciousnesses.

Is the real Jesus really Lord in my community?

In order to recover Apostolic Genius we must learn what it means to recalibrate, to go back to the basic "formula" of the church.