God’s Name is Surprise!

“Forgive me, but I’d like a catchphrase that captures both the responsibility I feel to do good and the freedom I have to get it wrong. Because when I’m feeling stuck, which is kind of a lot, it’s usually because I’m paralyzed by fear of doing the next wrong thing. I need someone to tell me, ‘Do the next most practical thing after careful exploration of the facts, so that even if it turns out to be the wrong thing, at least you can say you made a solid decision based on sound research, and if after a period of evaluation you find out it wasn’t the right thing, then you can try something else. God will handle the rest.”
–The Very Worst Missionary

Christianity is often hard for me, and by that I mean life is often hard for me, since being a Christian is supposedly and understandably a full-time thing. Even sleeping like a Christian is mandatory.

But fundamental to living a flourishing life, a whole, healthy life, is EXPLORING. Deep in a human’s DNA is a desire for a journey, a quest. Why do car commercials take place in the wild, in mountains? All we really need is a vehicle that 90% of the time will be used to get from home to work to home to soccer to Chipotle to home to work, but Ford and Jeep are appealing to (hu)man’s natural need to explore the wild.

It’s no different for worldview/religion. If you go to church regularly or have been passed down a belief system and it stops working for you, congratulations you’ve entered spiritual puberty. Ha. But seriously. If the belief system you’ve been handed down is working for you, and you see no reason to make any changes, then a few things:

1. Great! Carry on with your good, stable life!

2. You may be squashing a spirit that longs to take you into uncharted territory.

3. Is it possible God is calling you to a new place of belief or unbelief?

4. If it doesn’t make you feel alive, if it doesn’t cause your pulse to rise at least sometimes, if it doesn’t inspire you to try new things, if it doesn’t implant in you a sometimes inexplicable desire to sacrifice yourself in big or small ways, maybe it’s not a Christ-y thing.

5. A fundamentally conservative posture towards life (not necessarily politically or theologically) goes against the natural grain of your own human spirit and the God inside you whose middle name is Surprise! In the same way that the universe is expanding, the universe inside you is expanding. God in his gracious freedom has given us the ability to say No Thank You to this natural evolution and growth towards new possibilities, but that means saying yes to stifling. To continue believing the things about God in the same way you did last year or last decade is to lock yourself into the God you believed in when you were four or twelve or twenty-three. But God is more like the mysterious wind than he is like a text to memorize or a list of rules to obey.

Evolution of Sin

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I spent a lot of time as a Baptist.

Baptists love to quote Paul. The wages of sin is death, all that jazz.

That’s interesting, because earlier Jews wouldn’t have understood that. Sin meant something else several hundred years before Paul. But he updated it. That’s because he was speaking to people in his time, in his culture, not people hundreds of years earlier.

The bible describes sin as a weight.

Then it describes sin as debt.

Then it had archery imagery: missing the mark.

But why freeze it? What is sin in 2018?

It’s been described in Jonathan Merritt’s book Learning to Speak God From Scratch as:

“Anything that robs us of the fullness of life.”

“Anything that contributes to less than what God intends.”

“Death dealer.” (Dementor?)

“Life stealer.”

Sin is excessive internet use.

Sin is Netflix binging when your conscience is telling you there’s something else for you.

Sin is wishing you had someone else’s Instagram life and not being able to live your own, the one God graciously gave you.

Sin is saying no to God’s endless invitations to taste and see that there’s something more than that thing you know is robbing you of life.

God is Silent and Nearby

Nah ist und schwer zu fassen, der Gott
Near, and yet difficult to grasp, is God
    –German poet Friedrich Holderlinlauren

 

You could dedicate your whole life to finding, knowing, loving, and sharing God with others, yet deep down inside still have days or years when He seems awfully absent. You know in your head that God is near, but it doesn’t feel like He is, and it doesn’t seem like He is. Author and professor Lauren Winner has dedicated her entire life to serving and knowing God, teaching religion at Duke University and serving as priest at a local church. And yet she says,

“I have never, not once, felt anything at the Eucharist. Not a thing. I have never felt stirred, or joyful, or peaceful, or sad. I have never felt closeness.”

Near, and yet difficult to grasp, is God.

What is Christianity?

Here is something exciting and frustrating: If you ask a hundred people what Christianity is, you’re likely to get 75 different responses. (Which is at least better odds than Judaism; it’s been said that if you ask two Jews, you get three opinions. Maybe Christians are just better at Math?) Exciting because you realize that different people have different experiences with God. Frustrating because sometimes you just want a simple answer.

Some say the purpose of Christianity is to introduce others to Christ so that they escape hell when they die. A ticket to heaven is the point. But when you realize that when the Bible speaks of heaven it refers to “the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life,” as NT Wright says, the get-out-of-hell-free card loses its luster.

One opinion on the whole purpose of Christianity is that the Christian life is a quest to recover our humanity (See Michael Wittmer’s book Heaven is a Place on Earth).

If indeed the Christian life is about recovering our humanity, the Christian can confidently and curiously explore everything the world has to offer, keeping both eyes open to whatever smells like life, whether it’s Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Atheist, or even Southern Baptist. Whatever is good.

Attractive Christianity

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A long time ago in a land far away there were people who believed in God and people who didn’t. The people who didn’t believe in God heard stories about a god in Zion, and they became interested in the activities of this god inside one community’s life, and so they traveled to Israel by choice. Missionaries did not come to them. The people of God were emitting a certain kind of light, an attractive kind of life, and it drew people from darkness.

Missionary activity existed, but it was the life of the community as it embodied the powerful working of a curious Spirit that validated the missionaries’ words.

What does this attractive life look like today? It has to be winsome, curious, seeking, and creative, among other things.

Rob Bell’s Book “Love Wins” and NT Wright on Universalism

Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” was released on March 15, 2011.

Some people think he might be flirting with universalism. Some think he may deny hell. If the latter is true, he’d be going against a New Testament scholar he seems to admire more than any other: NT Wright. In this Youtube video Wright affirms and explains his view on hell. He ends with this:

“The choices you make here really do matter. There’s part of me that would love to be a Universalist and say, ‘It’ll be all right, everyone will get there [heaven] in the end.’ I actually think the choices you make in the present are more important than that.”

If Bell’s view in “Love Wins” is far from Wright’s he may lose a number of supporters who heretofore have largely considered him to be Evangelical.

Related:

Tim Keller: Salvation’s Purpose = Make This World Great

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“I’m trying to overcome a typical, wrong, unbiblical attitude on the part of Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, toward this material world.

There’s a tendency for many Christians to think of this material world – the world we’re in now – as a temporary theater for getting saved so that some day you can escape this material world and live happily in heaven forever.  An awful lot of Christians say, ‘this world is going to die, it’s going to burn up, and while we’re here basically the only thing that’s important is to get people saved, and if they get saved eventually they’ll be able to leave this world.’  So it’s a temporary theater for salvation.

Instead, let’s start at the end.  At the end of time when we actually see what the triune God has been doing in creation and redemption through Jesus Christ, when we get to the very end of the Bible we see not human beings individually rising out of the material world and going to heaven forever.  Instead we see heaven, the power of God, coming down and renewing this material world.  That the whole purpose of everything God is doing in redemption is to create a material world that’s clean, that’s right, that’s pure.  A material world in which there’s no disease and there’s no death and no injustice, there’s no unraveling, there’s no decay.  The whole purpose of salvation is to cleanse and purify this material world.

Jews and Christians believe that this material world is permanent – it’s a good thing in itself.  That an eagle’s flying and great music and the ocean pounding on the shore and a great cup of wine are good things in themselves, because God is not temporarily ‘God is here so someday we’re going to live in heaven’ but the whole purpose of salvation is to make this world a great place.

God sees this world as not a temporary means to an end of salvation, but actually salvation is a temporary means to an end – to the renewal of creation.

Saving souls is a means to an end of cultural renewal.  Does the Christian church understand that?  I’m not sure.”

Tim Keller: Salvation's Purpose = Make This World Great

keller

“I’m trying to overcome a typical, wrong, unbiblical attitude on the part of Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, toward this material world.

There’s a tendency for many Christians to think of this material world – the world we’re in now – as a temporary theater for getting saved so that some day you can escape this material world and live happily in heaven forever.  An awful lot of Christians say, ‘this world is going to die, it’s going to burn up, and while we’re here basically the only thing that’s important is to get people saved, and if they get saved eventually they’ll be able to leave this world.’  So it’s a temporary theater for salvation.

Instead, let’s start at the end.  At the end of time when we actually see what the triune God has been doing in creation and redemption through Jesus Christ, when we get to the very end of the Bible we see not human beings individually rising out of the material world and going to heaven forever.  Instead we see heaven, the power of God, coming down and renewing this material world.  That the whole purpose of everything God is doing in redemption is to create a material world that’s clean, that’s right, that’s pure.  A material world in which there’s no disease and there’s no death and no injustice, there’s no unraveling, there’s no decay.  The whole purpose of salvation is to cleanse and purify this material world.

Jews and Christians believe that this material world is permanent – it’s a good thing in itself.  That an eagle’s flying and great music and the ocean pounding on the shore and a great cup of wine are good things in themselves, because God is not temporarily ‘God is here so someday we’re going to live in heaven’ but the whole purpose of salvation is to make this world a great place.

God sees this world as not a temporary means to an end of salvation, but actually salvation is a temporary means to an end – to the renewal of creation.

Saving souls is a means to an end of cultural renewal.  Does the Christian church understand that?  I’m not sure.”

Saved But Not Whole

“What happens when it all becomes about some other life is we end up being very fractured, broken people. I began to discover that you could be a Christian in a nice Christian church and be saved and be singing all the right songs and actually be miserable. And to have anger and rage and people you haven’t forgiven. I discovered it’s possible to be a super-Christian and yet salvation hadn’t even begun to (be) a part of your life. It’s possible to lead a church and to be like a shell of a person. I want to be the kind of person who’s pursuing wholeness and allowing every single area of my life to let the light get shone in, and let God make peace where there wasn’t (peace) before.”  –Rob Bell

“Though today some Christians believe that Jesus came to enable us to escape this creation and live eternally in an otherworldly and heavenly dwelling, such an understanding of salvation would have been entirely foreign to Old Testament prophets, to first-century Jews — and to Jesus himself.  Salvation is not an escape from creational life into “spiritual” existence: it is the restoration of God’s rule over all of creation and all of human life.  Neither is salvation merely the restoration of a personal relationship with God, important as that is.  Salvation goes further: it is the restoration of the whole life of humankind and ultimately of the nonhuman creation as well.  This is the scope of biblical salvation.” —The Drama of Scripture

What is Mars Hill About?

There’s risk in pointing out to the world one 15-second snippet of a 30-minute teaching.  There’s more risk when that teaching comes forth from a specific community rooted in a specific geographic location with a specific history.  And there’s even more risk when that community is often criticized either fairly or unfairly.

That being said, there are some people who are genuinely curious about what kind of place Mars Hill (Grandville) is.  The teaching from yesterday by an elder, David Livermore, gives an excellent, albeit brief, peek into what’s going on amidst the Mars Hill Community.

“Mars Hill is not first and foremost an edgy, cool, hip, trendy church.   Mars Hill is not first and foremost about Rob Bell.  Mars Hill is not first and foremost about our wonderful staff or our faithful volunteers.  It’s not first and foremost about some great guest speaker that we might have come in.  It’s first and foremost about Jesus.  Last I checked Jesus is still on the throne.  Jesus is still working here.  Jesus still has good things for us to be about.”

The entire podcast can be downloaded here.