Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Living into the biblical story

"Grace & Peace in the name of Jesus Christ" is how I concluded a Facebook message to a Kenyan friend today. I was honored to be able to use those words in the closing of the message.
A handful of years ago I was introduced to several people who then became friends, and they are Catholics. As we conversed, the idea of the biblical text being an open document --- that the story continues to live on and we embody it --- really intrigued me.
Fast forward a few years... sitting on a dock while in Glorietta, New Mexico... I mentioned to Doug Pagitt that we should be able to take the upper hand with the biblical text. By this I meant: For all of those who stand opposed to new things (new for our generation - I am aware that 'nothing is new under the sun.') that are happening within the Church of Jesus Christ in 2009 & beyond, there is no doubt that the biblical text supports our efforts as we are led by the Spirit.
So, the biblical text is not our weapon. It is not something we defend in our attempt to protect God. It is a living and breathing document that calls us into the biblical story. The Apostle Paul writes that the Spirit of God lives within those who find themselves within this story.
And for those who find ourselves within this story as well as within the emerging church happenings, we have no qualms with the biblical text. We live and breathe and have our being with the belief and hope that this story is the story of God among us, the story of Jesus Christ, and we are but a small part of the continuing story of God with his people.
Our qualms are few actually. The viral responses to how the Spirit has led us are not often coming from us. I have yet to find a co-conspirator who will call another follower of Jesus a heretic or even heretical. While we may not agree with our critics, we believe the biblical text: It is not our place to judge the eternal salvation of another. Jesus was plenty clear on this matter. We can choose to submit to Jesus on this issue or not. It is really that simple. Either we ask Jesus to be seated on his left and right, or we allow the Father to determine these matters. Jesus had plenty to say on this sort of questioning.
Perhaps our biggest qualm is that the kingdom message is forgotten or in some cases simply an afterthought within much of American Christianity. When Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God is at hand (aka kingdom of heaven), he wasn't suggesting that we simply follow him to the cross so that our sins would be forgiven as long as we continue to pray for such. When we follow Christ to the cross, we are doing more than having a hope for a life after this one.
If we simply settle on salvation as some esoteric thing that will happen after we get old, get cancer, or get in a terrible accident, we are missing much of the point of the gospel. When we follow Jesus to the cross, we are not simply kneeling in the shadow of the cross; we are acknowledging that Jesus hanging on the cross IS humanity as it is intended to be.
Jesus on the cross is the embodiment of what it means to fully surrender oneself to the ways of God -- to give everything -- to do what the Creator of all things calls us to do. Jesus on the cross followed what was expected of him. This is not to suggest that there is not some sort of atonement also happening with the cross, but that is only part of what is taking place on the cross.
While the disciples did not fully understand what was taking place with the death of Jesus, the moment we take the cross as only a symbol of our salvation that destines us to another future reality, we miss so much. We miss the hope for today, for tomorrow, for messed up drug addicts, people living in tent cities across America because they have no home, and we miss the hope for those who can't call a doctor when necessary.
With the death and resurrection of Jesus, we must realize that something significant has happened... something more significant than simply Jesus Christ again having breath in his lungs. We need to realize the words of Jesus - that the kingdom of God is at hand. While we can talk about and acknowledge that the kingdom is not fully at hand at this time, it is perhaps the gauntlet of the gospel.
Without Jesus proclaiming that a new reality is at hand, we are simply left with a gospel message that offers little hope to the brokenness, emptiness, and pain among God's creation -- pain that lives in the hearts, minds, and bellies of billions of people who populate this planet.
So, let us get to the task at hand and proclaim the gospel with our lives, with our minds, with all that we are and do. Let us speak and write to one another using such language as "grace & peace to you." Let also expect it in return... probably not from our critics, but for this we can also hope; for the kingdom of God is at hand.


Anonymous said...

Did you mean to say that atonement was only part of what was happening on the cross?

I would say that the atonement lies at the heart of our hope for the next life and our transformed hearts and lives in the present life.

Jonathan Dance

randy buist said...

I am not discounting the atonement, but it is only part of the story. When we look at the gospels, Jesus doesn't really talk much about the atonement. It's obviously a part of the story as we get it so often from the Apostle Paul.

With that said, Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, about a different way of being human. Things significantly change with the arrival of Jesus, and it is't just the forgiveness of sins.

It's my take that most evangelical Christians 'get' the atonement thing, but they fail to 'get' the kingdom thing as having any sort of present reality.

If we are true to the words of Jesus, it isn't simply the death and resurrection of Jesus that matters. Following Jesus requires that we have align our lives to the ways of God as taught by the Son and the Spirit.

Caring for our neighbor becomes central to the ways of Jesus when we 'get' the kingdom. When salvation is about our sins begin forgiven, we still give ourselves the permission to bow to other gods.

Honestly, if our hearts were chasing after the things of God in terms of this health care debate... I don't care how we would get it done, but as followers of Jesus we should all agree that doctors should be accessible to 'our neighbors' as defined by the biblical text rather than starting the conversation by talking about money...

So, I'm not convinced that people who get the atonement necessarily get what it means to live in the kingdom/under the lordship of Yahweh.

Anonymous said...

On the atonement issue I think you missed my point. I agree with what you said about Christ bringing the reality of the Kingdom of God into this world here and now and that we as his followers are to do the same. That is not what I am questioning.

My point is that our/my ability to follow Jesus is rooted in the atonement, in redemption (of my own soul and of all of creation), in the death and resurrection of Christ. If Jesus didn't die and rise, how can I hope to die and rise? That is, die and rise through physical death and resurrection AND through the death and resurrection which opens my heart to others, to their needs, and to the live God calls me to live.

Splitting the calling of follow Jesus in this life apart from the atonement is a false split. The atonement lies at the heart and root of this life and the life to come.

J Dance