Friday, January 30, 2009

EMERGING VIEW versus TRADITIONAL VIEW (directly from “Everything Must Change”)

I am in a restaurant over Christmas (just before I came back to South Africa) and two friends and I am talking about the war in Israel (in Gaza). My Christian friend comments, “I mean, but isn’t there nothing we can do about that? Isn’t it all going to get worse anyway? Doesn’t the Bible say that the world will get worse and Israel will be on top?”

Good questions. And I love questions. Those questions come from the traditional view which has some unintended negative results which we’ll look at. One of them is a disconnection between reality and God. It’s the reason a leader from Burundi called Brian McLaren (after reading a few of his books) to come and speak to Africans about a gospel that has relevance to the hunger and famine, droughts and floods, war, tribalism, and pain they experience in Africa, not just about the afterlife. That led to this book “Everything Must Change” or was part of it. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two views.

The Human Situation: What is the story we find ourselves in?
Conventional View: God created the world as perfect, but because of Adam and Eve (ancestors) did not maintain absolute perfection demanded by God, God has irrevocably determined that the entire universe and all it contains will be destroyed, and the souls of all human beings (except for those special few who are exempt) will be forever punished for that imperfection in hell.
Emerging View: God created the world as good, but humans have rebelled against God and filled the world with evil and injustice. God wants to save humanity and heal it from its sickness, but humanity is hopelessly lost and confused, like sheep without a shepherd, wandering further and further into lostness and danger. Left to themselves, human beings will spiral downward in sickness and hell. [there are other nonreligious Western ontological framing stories and other nonreligious and religious ontological Eastern views; ontology is the study of what it means to exist and be]

Basic Questions: What questions did Jesus come to answer?
Conventional View: Since we are all doomed to hell, Jesus seeks to answer one or both of these questions: How can individuals be saved from eternal punishment in hell and instead go to heave after they die? How can God help individuals be happy and successful until then?
Emerging View: Since the human race is in such desperate trouble, Jesus seeks to answer this question: What must be done about the mess we’re in? The mess refers both to the general human condition and to its specific outworkings among his (Jesus’) contemporaries living under domination by the Roman Empire and who were confused and conflicted as to what they should do to be liberated.

Jesus’ Message: How did Jesus respond to the crisis?
Conventional View: Jesus essentially says “If you want to be among those specifically qualified to escape being forever punished for your sins in hell, you must repent of your individual sins and believe that my Father punished me on the cross so he won’t have to punish you in hell. Only if you believe this will you go to heaven when the earth is destroyed and everyone else is banished to hell. This is good news. [McLaren calls this an evangelical mainline Protestant view; A Roman Catholic one might be “You must believe in the teachings of the church and follow instructions especially concerning the sacraments and moral sins” A liberal protestant one might be “God is nice, and you should be nice, too.”]
Emerging View: Jesus essentially says “I have been sent by God with this good news—that God loves humanity, even in its lostness and sin. God graciously invites everyone and anyone to turn from his or her current path and follow a new way. Trust me and become my disciple, and you will be transformed, and you will participate in the transformation of the world which is possible beginning right now. This is good news.

Purpose of Jesus: Why is Jesus important?
Conventional View: Jesus came to solve the problem of “original sin” meaning that he helps qualified individuals not to be sent to hell for their sin or imperfection. In a sense, Jesus saves people from God or from the righteous wrath of God, which sinful human beings deserve because they have not perfectly fulfilled God’s just expectations, expressed in God’s moral laws. The escape from punishment is not earned or achieved, but is given as a free gift which can be received as an expression of God’s grace and love. Those who receive it enjoy a personal relationship with God and seek to serve and obey God which produces a happier life on Earth and more rewards in heaven.
Emerging View: Jesus came to become Savior of the world, meaning he came to save the earth and all it contains from its ongoing destruction because of human evil. Through his life and teaching, through his suffering, death, and resurrection, he inserted into human history a seed of grace, truth, and hope that can never be defeated. This seed will prevail over evil and injustice of humanity and led to the world’s ongoing transformation into the world God dreams of. All who find in Jesus God’s hope and truth discover the privilege of participating in his ongoing work of personal and global transformation and liberation from evil and injustice. As part of his transforming community, they experience liberation from the fear of death and condemnation. This is not something they earn or achieve, but rather a free gift they receive as an expression of God’s grace and love.

Whew! A lot here. So many of these Emerging view holders are criticized. I have never seen any deny the deity of Christ. In fact all the ones I’ve read affirm and hold to it. They do downplay the “spiritual” part of Christianity or the afterlife but another way to look at it is a refocus on the usually downplayed here-and-now or social part of Christ’s message. I’ve seen Mark Driscoll criticize people about the existence of hell, but again I have not seen any of them say there is no hell.

Rather you should look at the two views as two extremes. Most people would be somewhere in between, Some lean heavily to the traditional and add bits of the emerging view as fine print. Some lean to the emerging view and grab parts of the traditional view.

The goal of course is to read the scriptures for what they say. Most of us actually come to scripture reading already knowing what it should say, what it will say, what it cannot say, what it will never say, etc. So interpretation says more about the interpreter than it does about God. So many are trying to get at the heart of what it would have meant to people back then and what do Jesus’ words really mean (if perhaps we have some of our own theology and doctrine wrong and have not reached perfection).

But instead I see a lack of unity among Christianity with cries of heresy for any deviation from what is considered orthodoxy. Sigh. I wish we would struggle together and stay connected instead of all this infighting.

I found out that in addition to my pastor rejecting the book “Sex God” by Rob Bell and telling the bookstore manager (who ordered many copies after I told my friend to request one to read) to return them all, the reason my life group did not do a book study last year was because my life group leader did ask about purchasing “Velvet Elvis” (also by Rob Bell) but it was rejected. The pastor said it made good points but was theologically shaky. This, too, disappointed me. It’s hard to see the pastors as the gatekeepers of what can be read and seen and what cannot be. I prefer a more open bookstore as there is much truth to learn from Rob Bell. I feel that what I just said may be true since I’ve seen groups of mainline Christian friends who have read those books and who have been helped in their lives by those books.

Not only do traditionally many Christians hold to the traditional view and believe there are a select few. Some believe God preselected who would be saved before time began (general understanding of predestination, though there are others). There is even a view, held by John Piper, that God did not sacrifice Jesus because of the original sin problem (in other words as a Plan B), but rather God first chose to sacrifice Jesus before the problem arose as it would be the ultimate way to glorify his Son.

I myself read a lot of emergent writers but go to a traditional church (my church falls along Mark Driscoll’s church’s lines; they are considered part of a New Reformed movement which is a just a revival of the Reformed movement normally called Calvinism; one aspect is that God selected who would be saved and there’s nothing we can do to change that, avoid that, or frustrate that plan). When I found out this week my church was Calvinistic like that, I disagreed and felt confused. Of course, I’m fine and I will still stay here (I do believe in unity), but it shows that many of the Emergent writers receive harsh criticisms like heretics but to believe something of the traditional view (which is just another view) is never dangerous. No one would ever name call a traditional view holder. But let’s look at the negative consequences of the traditional view even though there is much to learn from the traditional view.

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