Generous Orthodoxy and the End Times

January 31, 2006

Planet Preterist is running this interview of Brian McClaren, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors, on the subject of the whole “end times” debate. I especially love Brian’s concluding thoughts:

That would probably be my advice to those seeking “a new kind of Preterism.” Don’t get stuck in small arguments about details, as important as arguments and details may be; step back and catch the big picture of the whole Biblical story – and try to convey the beauty that you see. The good news is truly good, and our world truly needs it!

There is a beautiful story being told in scripture about where God is taking mankind and, ultimately, all of creation. Like Brian, I am more interested in finding ways to get people “into” that story than I am in proving that a particular “end times” view is correct or not.

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The Kingdom and the Law: Truth, Justice, Ambiguity, and Redemption

January 30, 2006

In the previous post in this series, I talked about how our judicial system is centered on a justice narrative, which is the notion that people are good or evil, and that good people need to be vindicated while evil people need to be punished. There is nothing wrong with this narrative per se. It certainly finds its way into scripture. But the redemption narrative, which is an even stronger idea in scripture, is completely absent from our system.

As a result, litigation becomes a no-holds-barred, every-man-for-himself environment where spiritual and emotional healing are virtually unknown.

At this point, its important to understand that, even within this framework – which is completely inadequate to address real human situations – the civil litigation system doesn’t function at a high level of efficiency in dispensing “justice” (arguably, the criminal system does somewhat better because of the way it is set up – but that is outside my area of expertise). Here is why:

Most lawsuits end up boiling down to conflicting testmony between witnesses. Here are a few examples:
1. Driver A says Driver B ran a stop sign. Driver B denies running a stop sign.
2. Consumer C says contractor D said they would properly fix his house. Contractor D denies that he agreed to fix that particular problem.
3. Injured person E says he hasn’t worked in his yard in six months. Witness F says he saw E working two months ago.

I could go on, but you get the idea: two people say two different things. In a civil lawsuit, the job of a jury is to decide whether either story is credible, and – if both are found to be credible – to decide which one carries the most weight.

I’m convinced that it isn’t always the case that someone is lying. When the pressure’s on, and particularly when there is a lot of money or a reputation on the line, people have a tendency to begin to rationalize things – and as they do that, their “memories” of events tend to change. Its just human nature, particularly for those who have been forced to play a role in a justice narrative.

The problem here is that we don’t have a time machine. As such, there is often no definitive way to know what was really said, who did really run the stop sign, or what someone really was doing in their yard two months ago. We end up leaving these issues to juries.

Juries are usually comprised of conscientious, intelligent folks. But they aren’t God. They don’t really know what was said or what happened, and they are ultimately called on to do the same thing anyone must do in their situation – guess.

Sometimes, the jury gets it right. Sometimes, people that are particularly good at either (1) lying or (2) believing and selling their own rationalizations can manipulate the system (there is another word that I won’t use for “rationalizations” in the interest of keeping this space family friendly). Its that simple.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m not advocating the wholesale trashing of our system. To the contrary, all societies must maintain on a justice system and proscribe procedures procedure for ferreting out truth in order to avoid social and economic chaos. And I’ll talk about why that is the case in the next post.

My concern here is to convince you that human civil justice systems are incapable of reliably producing consistent, appropriate results, because they are – well – human. Our faith that the world can be made right, therefore, needs to be placed somewhere else.

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Science and Scripture

January 28, 2006

On several occasions, I’ve blogged about the relationship between the modern worldview, which emphasizes science, math, categorization, etc. as ways of finding truth and the subtle ways that our view of scripture has been coopted by that viewpoint. has a great paper on this issue that can be found here. This paper is definitely from the academic realm, so its quite difficult to get through if you’re not used to reading that sort-of stuff, but – based on a quick review – I think the author does a pretty good job of demonstrating how Christians have been misusing scientific methodologies to interpret scripture in a way that makes our faith seem more credible under a modern worldview. In particular, this paper discusses the development of dispensationalism, but the same idea could be applied to any number of other concepts.

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Enough Megachurch Bashing Already

January 26, 2006

It seems like more and more people are jumping on the lets-bash-megachurches bandwagon these days, and I’m starting to think its getting out of hand.

Are megachurches places where people are being given overly-formulaic ideas about Christianity? Probably. Are there problems with the pressure to generate lots of attendance so that these churches will appear to be successful? Certainly. Is the “CEO” model for a church leader the best one? Not always. Do all people want to go to church in a Wal-Mart like envirnoment? No. Do megachurches tend to create pseudointimate environments where authentic spiritual communities struggle to form? Yeah, I think so.

But the Saddlebacks and Rick Warrens of the world aren’t antichrists either, folks! They are people who – for the most part – genuinely love God and who are gifted ministers. They are serving a large population that – though not in the most ideal ways – is connecting to its own spirituality in a megachurch environment.

It may feel like McChurch. It may not be for you. It may not be for everyone. It may not even be ideal for those who are a part of it. But its not all bad, and I don’t think the answer to the problem is to declare an open season on megachurch leaders.

Lets all back off a little, why don’t we?

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Age to Age

January 22, 2006

I seem to be getting drawn into lots of conversations about heaven lately. And I mean lots of them.

I don’t know if it is because Sheila and I are doing this series on Revelation or what. Maybe it just provides a comfortable way to make conversation with me (as I’ve said before, I’m not always the easiest person to engage in small talk). But one of the things that I inevitably end up talking about is how my perception of what scripture says about the “age to come” is evolving.

Even if you set aside, for the moment, the Left Behind phenomenon, which I know is pretty influential these days, my still developing perception of what the next age will be like is a little different from the ideas that were presented to me in earlier years.

In short, here is the end-times sequence that was usually presented to me:
1. At an unknown, completely unexpected time, Jesus will appear in the sky.
2. All of the living will be “raptured” at the same time as a resurrection of all the dead.
3. The earth is destroyed, never to be seen again.
4. At the threshold of heaven, all living and dead are judged. At this time, all peoples confess Jesus as Lord, although it will supposedly be too late for most confessors. (Won’t get back into that one right now!)
5. Those who are not “saved” (this is a loaded word, especially in modern evangelical circles – I’ve blogged about it before) are sent to hell, where they are punished for all eternity because they rejected the Lordship of Jesus.
6. Those who are “saved” spend eternity in heaven with God and their lost loved ones.

One of the things that is missing from this sequence, to me, is adequate respect for the “goodness” and glory of the physical universe itself. The presumption behind this model is that evertyhing we now know will end, so to speak, and we all then spend eternity in a completely different “place.”

Jesus and Paul, in particular, seemed to be concerned with understanding that there is a “present” age and a “coming” age. During the present age, the Kingdom of God is manifested (and witnessed to) in a fallen creation and people are being made new. The Kingdom of God is present in a mysterious way, and signs of it can be seen as the presense of Jesus is manifested thorugh his disciples, who speak his words and live as he did.

In the coming age, the “newness” of those in the fallen creation somehow ushers in a renewing (as opposed to the destruction) of God’s creation. Thus, the earth in which we live (and the heaven about which we now know very little) is made into something glorious, wonderful, and more akin to the “good” thing it was to begin with.

Do we, then, end up “living for eternity in heaven”, as the phrase goes? That is a question to which we don’t fully know the answer – but a lot of scripture suggests to me that the answer is “yes” and “no.”

“Yes” in the sense that, in the coming age, heaven and earth are no longer separate places with little interaction, a condition necessitated by the fall of man. Don’t forget, at the end of Revelation “heaven” (i.e., the New Jerusalem) descends into earth and becomes the hope and light of the new creation. “No” in the sense that our current, physical reality will apparently not “go away” to be replaced by something completely different. In other words, we will (again, apparently) still have some connection to an “earth” (whether it be “new” or “renewed”) that is not completely unlike the one we are in now.

Plus, I know this sounds weird, but I’m not so sure we should think of ourselves as being “non-physical” beings in the coming age. We have glorious, resurrected bodies, according to Paul, but they are bodies to be sure – and bodies which inhabit a creation that is described as a “redeemed” version of that which we inhabit now.

If these blatherings make no sense to you, a better way to get a picture of what I’m talking about is the last two or three chapters of The Last Battle, which is the final book in the Narnia series. Lewis’ description of existence in the next age is better than anything I’ve experienced anywhere else.

Why does this matter? Actually, it makes quite a difference. For example…
1. Investing in the Kingdom of God here and now becomes worthwhile. We are invited to become a part of the process by which creation is ultimately renewed. Its not just about being “good” so we can get a ticket through the pearly gates. It is about being a part of the process by which God and man can again be reunited. We are bringing more of heaven to earth every time we do the work of Jesus.
2. How we treat the earth matters. It is important to God, since he seeks to renew – rather than destroy – it.
3. The things we invest our lives in don’t ultimately go to waste. Death and hades will be reversed. The day will come when our “work” now in this earth – though short lived – can be continued in a glorious way. (I’ve hinted at this a little, when I wrote about discipleship and work last summer).

All of this is, of course, ultimately a great mystery. There has been little agreement among Christians throughout the ages about how all of this will “work.” Every generation gets a different idea, it seems. Probably we are ignorant about it because what will really happen is too wonderful for us to know.

But thats the best I can do with it at the moment.

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Empire at War

January 21, 2006

The Star Wars franchise has historically enjoyed some incredible success in the world of video and PC gaming. Among others, I’ve had a lot of fun playing games like Battlefront, Battlefront II, Knights of the Old Republic, and the Dark Forces first person shooter games (and I’m not normally much of an FPS guy…) I’ve even enjoyed a little of Star Wars Galaxies, a massively multiplayer RPG.

But the PC strategy genre, my favorite style of game, has been cursed with an unspectacular series of average to crummy Star Wars titles. Among the losers that I have slogged through during the last few years…
Force Commander – a failed effort at real-time strategy using an original game engine. The pathfinding was just horrible, and everything seemed awkward and imbalanced.
Galactic Battlegrounds – built off of the Age of Empires II RTS engine, this one was a little more engaging, but it ultimately felt more like a mod of AOE2 than Star Wars.
Star Wars Rebellion. This conquer-the-galaxy style game seemed to have lots of promise in its underlying mechanics – but it quickly became a confusing, carpal-tunnel inducing click-fest. Also, the graphics weren’t that engaging. My hand and wrist would literally ache at the end of a Rebellion session because I was having to do so much clicking and scrolling.

But now, there may be hope…

I’ve just finished a couple of sessions playing the demo of Empire at War, which is due out next month. This one looks polished, original, and fun.

At its lowest level, the game is a very nice little RTS, similar to the concept in Force Commander, but (much) more engaging. At its “higher” levels, it is a strategic game in the tradition of Star Wars Rebellion, but I don’t think it will require a hand/wrist surgeon after 10 hours of play.

Add to that all of the multiplayer options that will come with the full game, and – with any luck – there will finally be a worthwhile Star Wars game in the PC stragegy genre next month.

Can’t wait.

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Question-Avoidant Behavior

January 19, 2006

I’m finally getting a chance to read Frequently Avoided Questions: An Uncensored Dialogue on Faith, a book that I’ve been wanting to get my hands on for a long time.

In short, the authors survey fourteen questions that are being posed to Christians by people in postmodern culture, which they believe aren’t being adequately addressed. “Old school” answers to these questions – answers that were credible with lots of folks fifty years ago – no longer seem to have much meaning in postmodern culture. As such, in each chapter, they challenge the reader to re-think the way that he/she goes about interacting with others on these issues.

Here are the questions:
1. Why the Bible?
2. Do I have to go to church?
3. Do I have to “sell” God?
4. Can Christianity be reduced to steps or stages?
5. Does God speak outside of the bible?
6. Is forgiveness real?
7. What makes the Christian experience unique?
8. Are Christians the morality police?
9. Do good people go to hell?
10. Does the bible contradict evolution?
11. Am I supposed to hate the world?
12. Are there gay Christians?
13. Is it wrong to take a job at a bar?
14. Where is your God?

For the last year or so, I’ve strugged, often in my posts here, with several of these questions (3, 4, 8 and 9, for example, have been big ones). On the other hand, I’m still trying to come to terms with how to dialog with people on questions like 5, 13, and, especially 12. How about you? Are there any questions in this list that you hope you can avoid answering? Any questions outside the list?

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