Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Who's theology?

What is Theology?

The word theos is Greek for “God,” and -ology which is from the Greek word logos meaning study of or “word.” Most literally then the word theology means "study of God" or “words about God” (not to be confused with the words from God). It is the articulation of an individual's or a community’s beliefs about God.

As such theology will always fall short from a complete & accurate description of the God of all creation. Despite the fact that our theology falls short, and sometimes entirely misses the point, it is still a necessary way to provide an anchoring point. When it is done well it is our humble attempt to explain what we mean when we confess that “Jesus is Lord," and when we say that it should subvert and redefine what the we count as “rational.”

Just as a toddler tries to form sentences, and she can’t quite get her mouth around the words, so it is with us trying to communicate who God is and what the kingdom of God is like. But just as we take great delight in hearing our tiny children talk about things they can not yet understand, God takes pleasure in us, with our halted uttering and incomprehension, trying so hard to grasp the infinite mystery with our finite comprehension.

It is destructive then for us to treat out theology as if it is written in stone. We are at our worst when we fail to to leave room for possible errors in our theology, we risk making our theology an idle. When we build our theology up and act as if it is somehow written by God himself, when we fail to see how our theology falls short, we fail to recognize our own humanness. After all our best guess is probably laughable from God's point of view.

How we develop and treat our theology has massive implications for how we live. Theology is a practice and a craft that is rooted in the other practices of the Church (e.g., mission, evangelism, worship, communal prayer, preaching, hospitality to the poor and the stranger, living life together, service to our neighbor, nonviolent encounter/witness to our enemies...). Our theology should help us to be the church, and it should push us to more faithfully be a community of disciples of the way of Jesus in our time and in this place.

When we as the church are at our best, we recognize that people will always be in process and no one individual's theology will completely line up with our communal theology. We celebrate this diversity as a strength that brings a balance to our understanding of God. Our tradition is a wide stream that allows much room for how we try to articulate our understanding of God.

As such we should constantly be on the look out for new and different ways to speak the message that has been entrusted to us. We should pull words and phrases from our culture and turn their meaning on its head, just as Jesus and the early Church did.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Blessed are the...

We would like invite you to take a fresh look at the beatitudes with us in the hopes that they will lead us to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world".

“(the beatitudes) give us not only a way to see God, but a way to see our world, and they give us something concrete to do about what we see, as they call us to participate in God's kingdom.” -Anne Howard

"Blessed are the..."

Lets stop right there. It is easy to read into something a meaning that is not there, without a proper understanding of the context in which it is said. Or we could say we cannot get a proper understanding of Jesus message if we do not understand what exactly he is saying.

The word Blessed is the Greek word makarios, and it means blessed or happy.

However this makarios is not a word used in asking for or even invoking blessings, such as "Lord I ask that you bless this person," or "We ask God to bless this ministry." That word would be eulogeō, and it (eulogeō) does not appear anywhere in the beatitudes.

Raymond Brown describes makarios as "not part of a wish list and not to invoke a blessing. Rather it is to recognize an existing state of happiness or good fortune."

Kenneth Bailey further adds "We could say it affirms a present reality or it points out a state of spirituality that is already present."

The beatitudes are the first and longest message of Jesus that we have a record of. Up until this point, Jesus has been announcing that the kingdom of heaven was, near and at hand, He had been calling for people to repent to re-orientate their lives. Now, in what could be described as a manifesto of His kingdom, Jesus unveils the foundations and character of life in that kingdom. Here He teaches the ethical guidelines for life in His kingdom; and the guidelines point to the quality of righteousness that characterizes life in the kingdom, here and now as a present reality not as something God left us longing for.

It is not asking for a blessing but neither is the second line a reward for the first line. "Jesus does not say you will be blessed if you..." We could say it like this: "Joyful is my friend Neil because he will inherit his family's business." Neil is already joyful and will eventually inherit the business. There is nothing for him to do. The first statement affirms his joyful state and the second presents a future that allows him to even now to live a life of joy.

Jesus goes on to affirm that these makarios blessed ones make up the membership of the kingdom of heaven, which is already theirs.

With this firmly in hand let us gather together and read Jesus words with a fresh understanding of what kind of blessings we have and what kind of lives we are called to live.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

What you look for you will find (or where is heaven?)

When you picture heaven what do you picture?
Go ahead and close your eyes and try to visualize it now...

You may think of Angels floating on clouds playing on harps (because everyone loves harp music). Or you may think of a place where dis-embodied spirits float to and fro, perhaps you envision mansions and streets of gold. But these fanciful images are placed into our collective mind by culture not by scripture.

"Think of all the jokes that begin with someone showing up at the gates of heaven, and st. Peter is there, like a bouncer at a club, deciding who does and who doesn't get to enter. For all of the questions and confusion about just what heaven is and who will be there, the one thing that is the generally agreed-upon notion that heaven is, obviously, somewhere else. And so the questions about heaven often have an otherworldly air to them."-Rob Bell

Where and how you begin the story, and where and how you end the story, shapes and determines the story you’re telling.

One way to look at the big picture of the Bible is to see how scripture follows a story-arc, we call this narrative theology. It traces through the bible building as it tells the story of God and his creation which was broken and he how seeks to restore it. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is one story of the Kingdom of God coming near and it culminates with Heaven and Earth merging into one when God and humanity dwell together in the Resurrection.

But this is not how we tend to tell God's story. We tell a story of brokenness and sin. We talk about how this world is broken and marred by this "original sin." We tell our story of being "born into" this sin. This has become the dominate way to tell the "Christian" story.

There is nothing wrong with telling the story of how sin entered the picture, and how it effected all of creation. Indeed it is important to acknowledge the fact that sin still infects creation to this very day. But, when we begin with sin when the fall is the starting place, and the death of Jesus on the cross is the ending, then our story becomes one of escape instead of restoration.

The story begins in Genesis 1 NOT in Genesis 3. The story begins with a good and loving God creating and stepping back and declaring "it is good." And then this good and loving God then creating us in his image. Our story starts in the Garden, with everything just as God intended it to be, with God walking with the man and woman...


The story does not end in some sort of tribulation period and great climatic battles...

The story ends in Revelation 21
"Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth,'for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”

If you took out sin from the Bible you’d have a four page pamphlet, kinda like a Gospel tract. But, unlike a tract it would be a story we would want to read. You’d begin with Genesis 1 and 2 and end with Revelation 21 and 22. You begin with a perfect garden and end with a perfect city. Genesis 1 and 2 paints a picture of a participatory lifestyle where God and man co-habitate the same time and space.

Revelation 21 and 22 paints a picture of a participatory lifestyle where man engages with God and they co-habitate the same time and space. There’s no distinction between heaven and earth in Genesis and the fusion of heaven and earth at the end of Revelation leaves no distinction between the two.

All things have been made new, and the story ends here….on earth, the same place it began.

A story that begins with Genesis 3 begins with sin, and if you start with this premise in your story then your goal is the removal of sin. To get rid of the problem. But a story that begins at Genesis 1 the goal is “how do we get back” to shalom and restoration and peace. What is the larger story that you are telling? Is it just how to get rid of sin?

"A proper view of heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in heaven." - Rob Bell
Heaven is where God is storing Earth’s future, bringing hope not rooted in escape but engagement, not evacuation but reclamation, not in leaving but in staying and overcoming.

Or to put it another way materiality is not the issue, rebellion is the issue.
"When Isaiah predicted that spears would become pruning hooks, that's a reference to cultivating. Pruning and trimming and growing and paying close attention to the plants and weather they're getting enough water and if their roots are deep enough. Soil under the fingernails, grapes being trampled under bare feet, fingers sticky from handling fresh fruit... For there to be new wine someone has to crush the grapes. For their to be no more war someone has to take the sword and get it hot enough in the fire to hammer it into the shape of the plow." - Rob Bell
So go back and read Genesis 1 and 2 and then read Revelation 21 and 22 and think of what heaven will be like. Read the prophets when they reveal glimpses of what God has in store for the world:

"By the way when the writer John in the book of Revelation gets a current glimpse of the heavens, one detail he mentions about crowns is that people are taking them off, chapter 4. Apparently, in the unvarnished presence of the divine a lot of things that we consider significant turn out to be, much like wearing a crown, quite absurd." - Rob Bell
Now what do you think heaven will be like?
Final note
"On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there." Revelation 21:25 .

What are gates for? Gates are for keeping people in and/or out... Hmmm