Friday, June 18, 2004

World's Greatest Dad: More a Challenge Than a Description

As I write these words, we are barely over a day away from Father's Day. This day always conjures up a mixture of emotions within a community. Some grieve the loss of a dad, either to death, desertion, or estrangement. Others celebrate a wonderful--and continued--relationship with this special guy. I'm one of the fortunate ones in this regard. My dad remains with us, healthy, energetic, and one whom I deeply love. Since I'm a minister, I rarely have the opportunity to be with my dad on this special Sunday. Despite our geographical disconnect, I hold him close in my heart and soul.

On Father's Day, though, there is a deeper, inward mixture of emotions for me. These center around my own inward conflict. Through the years, my kids have given me a range of gifts and cards, often inscribed with something like "World's Best Dad" or "Greatest Dad." The most moving gifts on this day are the thoughtful notes from our kids when they just were learning to write. Riddled with misspelled words, and backward letters, these notes convey a sense of their naive, adolescent affection for dear old dad. I will always cherish them.

So, what's the nature of my conflict? It's the age-old internal battle between who you want to be and who you really are. I want to be the World's Greatest Dad for my kids, and appreciate their expressions to that end. I know, however, that I fall entirely too short of such an epithet. It's the very same struggle that Paul confessed--That which I would do, I do not, and that which I would not do, that is what I do! The answer to this frustrating cycle is not in trying to will ourselves to "do better." Strangley, such an approach does not free us from this downward spiral, but gives it even greater strength over us. We are caught in a vicious cycle of "vowing never to do again," and the numbing shame of stumbling into the same infraction. Paul's--and our--answer must center in Jesus Christ. Not in a system that bears His name, but in a dynamic relationship with the risen Lord that opens us up to His righteousness--and power. To be the World's Greatest Dad then, strangley, begins with admitting our human inability to perform this awesome task. Only in such humility can we point our kids to the only One Who can free them from themselves--our Father God. If I can at least point my kids in that direction, while "World's Greatest Dad" would remain entirely too optimistic an epithet for me, I will have done the most important thing a Father can do for his kids. Guys, I hope you will join me in that fatherly goal.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

An Ancient-Future Message

Yes, I admit the title of this blog derives from Robert Webber's book Ancient-Future Faith in which Webber challenges many assumptions about "doing church" in today's postmodern culture. There appears to be fresh winds blowing over the landscape of our Western culture that threatens many of our ecclesial presuppositions. For some, these winds are devastating, stressing the fabric of time honored sails that have transported the church over many turbulent seas. For others, these same winds are refreshing, blowing away chaff that for too long has obscured the kernel of authentic Christianity.

In any paradigm shift, there are dangers to avoid and benefits to enjoy. While postmodernity offers its own challenges to the Christian message (e.g., radical ecumenism; unqualified pluralism; decontructionism; etc.), it equally provides an appropriate critique of modernity that long held the church in its dogmatic grip. Strangely, in an attempt to wiggle free of modernity's grip, the church embraced the very assumptions of it's would-be captor. Such is the basic thesis of a powerful little book that I've recently re-read--The Worldly Church by C. Leonard Allen, Richard Hughes, and Michael Weed.

Though written in 1988, this little book is refreshingly timely. These writers boldly claim that the Church, in response to an increasingly ego-centric culture, developed a prudential gospel--a message that attempted to provide utilitarian reasons for becoming a Christian. Often, people are persuaded to come to Christ so that their marriage might thrive, that their business might prosper, or that they basically can enjoy a peaceful life. While the authors recognize these are possible by products of the Christian faith, they rightfully argue that such is not the call of the gospel. They write:

The call of Christ is not to personal success and peace of mind, but to brokenness, suffering, and service. Neal Plantinga put it well: "We are intended to please God--not the other way around--and the idea that Christianity is something we adopt for what it will pay us in happiness and personal mastery is an idea which must be explicitly discouraged" (p. 61).

In an equally powerful critique of the prudential gospel, these writers correctly remind us:

The scandal of the gospel today is that the gospel speaks only of a God-made person, while our culture glorifies the self-made person. The scandal today is the gospel call to surrender self, to offer self to God and his service, when the world calls only for self-enhancement. The scandal is that the heavens are open; that the sovereign God comes to rule this world and all who live therin; that salvation is by divine power, not human achievement or technique. The scandal is that we must be confronted with the depths of human evil and deceit before we can know the heights of grace" (p. 65).

In my conversation with many postmoderns, this type message seems to resonate. It appears that the up and coming generation, while also struggling with their own expressions of egocentricity, is looking for something authentic. Not a utilitarian-oriented message of self-help and self-enhancement, but one that challenges those leanings. The radical call of Jesus to self-denial is an ancient-future message whose time has returned. The question now is, can churches who have built their very identity around a prudential gospel speak--or even hear--this truth?

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Books Worth Reading

I've recently read, and re-read, a couple of books by Gregory Boyd: God at War and Satan and the Problem of Evil. While at times, it's easy to get bogged down in Boyd's philosophical discussions, the book is a refreshing--and fascinating--read.

Basically Boyd writes from an Arminian perspective, but does so with sensitivity to Calvinistic leanings. He argues against the Augustinian blue print world view in which God controls everything that occurs within our world. In such a model, then, our struggle is to determine the good that God is formulating through tragedy--even the most brutal expressions of it.

Against this Augustinian blue print model, Boyd proposes a Trinitarian warfar theodicy in which free will, at least in a finite sense, implies that beings, both human and angelic, have the capability to temporarily thwart the will of God. Boyd argues then, that the question of evil involves more than just humans and God, since our world is inhabited by a host of non-human beings, all of whom have free will. From this perspective, Boyd argues that expressions of evil are not necessarily the result of God bringing about some good. Contrarily, rebellious beings can bring about evil in our world simply because they have the freedom to do so. Not everything, then, according to Boyd, is in harmony with God's purposes. While God's sovereignty is established, it constantly is being challenged by opposed forces, i.e., Satan and his hosts. And, though God ultimately, and completely will triumph over evil (which is guaranteed by Jesus' victory on the cross and resurrection), we live in a virtual war zone in which defeated foes continually attempt to regain that which was lost.

The Christian life, then, is to be primarily viewed from a military perspective. God is at war; we are at war with him. It, therefore, is important for us to be faithful to our post. Boyd, I think, does a good job of fleshing out this perspective, making for a fascinating and provocative read. This is a perspective that the church needs to re-investigate, especially in our largely politically correct North American culture.