Friday, December 23, 2005
There is an overlap of pictures in this image. Both are real but one does not overcome the other in terms of being the "true" picture. My visual sense can focus mostly on one over the other but not completely. The overlap causes this visual conflict.
My recent study of the various interpretations of the kingdom of God brought me to this picture. In many ways, the Christian life is lived in this type of overlap. The overlap is not visual but, instead, encompasses all the person - heart, mind, strength.
The kingdom of God is referenced in two groups of sayings. On the one hand, Jesus message in the Gospels points to an imminent future apocalyptic expectation in Jesus' message (Mk 1:14-15; Mk 9:1; Mk 14:25; Mk 6:10). On the other hand, some sayings point to the kingdom as a present reality or experience in the world (Mk 4:1-33; Mt 11:2-6; Mt 12:28; Mt 13:16-17; Lk 17:20-21).
The tension between these two groups of sayings has led to various theories about the kingdom. 1. Jesus is viewed as an eschatological prophet who (like his contemporaries) expected and proclaimed the Kingdom as an imminent, eschatological event.
2. The 'present' or 'realized' sayings are authentic while the 'future' or 'apocalyptic' syaings are secondary.
3. Jesus was an eschatological prophet who proclaimed that the kingdom of God had been inaugurated in his person and ministry, but with a dramatic consummation in the future. (theories given in my Gospel of Mark class last spring).
The third provides a balance approach that holds the sayings in tension as we live in the overlap of the ages between the 'already' (Jesus' coming, death, resurrection, ascension, exaltation) and the 'not yet' (Jesus' return in power). I believe that the reign of God (kingdom of God) that is present in this overlap of the ages is real but often rejected in favor of a this-world ("realized") focus or other-world (future kingdom) focus.
What do we miss by assuming that this world is all that there is? What do we miss by assuming that God will not reign until Christ's return? We miss the present reign of God where the Spirit has been given and Christ reigns at the right hand of the Father now.
Paul attempts to answer this in light of his urging of the Roman church to offer their bodies as living sacrifices. The "renewal of the mind" of Romans 12:2 is a renewal toward seeing God's present reign as we wait patiently for Christ's return. We must not sleep because our salvation is closer than when we first believed (Romans 13:11-14)... Am I watching? Or do I think that I am left to my own devices to create the kingdom by human hands or do I think that this world is "going down" so I should bury my head waiting for Christ's return?
I'd rather watch and act "decently as those who live in the day" in service of God and others.
My recent posts are reflections that have come flooding into my brain after being able to step back from the unending onslaught of reading/papers. I continue to realize that a lot of my faith assumptions throughout my life have been based on interpretatations that I heard once and then kept without questioning.
My recent posts are swings of the pendulum to the far other side of the spectrum from some of my starting points. I have let the pendulum, however, swing back more toward the 'middle' after engaging the topics. My recent discussion on the end times and current living is another example of this type of pendulum swing. One example of a contributor to this recent swing is my understanding/interpretation of the kingdom of God. I have always been confused as to whether the kingdom was equivalent to heaven or "within me" or related to Jesus' reign overall. Like all theological vacuums, because I didn't fill it with it a theological reflection, something else filled it. In my case, I assumed that the kingdom was equal to heaven. My guess is that this interpretation is strong for many who glance at the topic because Matthew's Gospel uses the description "kingdom of heaven." This doesn't hold true, however, if the word heaven was used in order to avoid using the word God for a Jewish audience (or a Gentile audience interacting with Jewish communties). If Jews couldn't say YAHWEH, then the term God in "kingdom of God" would have been a sticking point in conversations about the nature of Jesus.
If we assume that the kingdom of God refers to heaven then all the references about God's reign are simply jettisoned the far future in another world. Does this capture the essence of Jesus' proclamation that the "kingdom of God is at hand (is near)"? My answer is No. I will write another entry soon on just why that is so. Until then, I wanted to initially capture the pendulum swing that I am undergoing on this very topic...
Thursday, December 22, 2005
I continue to actually listen to the questions that are being raised during my meditation on scripture and the readings from my studies. Admittedly, my brain is theologically drunk right now as I try to pray through and process the ideas that are challenging my faith and my understanding of the church. A recurring theme is "What you believe is how you live." In particular, I am exploring what this theme means in conversation with a person's understanding of what happens when they die and the emphasis that this understanding plays in the present moment.
What sources are intersecting on this theme?
1. My meditations in Romans - the real influence of apocalyptic thought in Paul's writing even in this epistle
2. Readings on eschatology in systematic theology
3. Brian McLaren's The Last Word and The Word After That
4. Previous experiences with those who pushed hard for premillenialism
5. My Christian experience as a conservative, evangelical, borderline (if not complete) fundamentalist.
The following argument is still underdeveloped but I want to get some thoughts out. The idea of how we live now according to what we know about what God has done and will do is seemingly basic. On one side of the spectrum, some live in fear of judgment because they are unsure if God truly has forgiven their sin. On the other side, some live without any fear due to the security of their salvation in Christ. What about the present time? What role does God play now in our lives as we live every day?
For most of my life, I have to admit that I have lived my life without any urgency for living out God's commands because of my "assurance of salvation." Is this what God intended by sending His Son to rectify the relationship between creature and Creator? How are we to live in this time between Christ's resurrection/ascension and Christ's return? What is the significance of the Son reigning at the right hand of the Father right now and the promised Holy Spirit at work right now? Is this life only meant to be a waiting room for the next where at best we view our life as a sanctification chamber? What does this type of relationship with God look like?
I had a conversation today with a friend about this very topic. During the talk, an idea that my friend Jon Chiu brought to my attention years ago came to mind. He posited that a 4 spiritual law approach to salvation without any other background was similar to having a person sign a Hallmark card with a generic note - "Hope your birthday's GREAT! Sincerely, Jeff" What is more sincere? 1. A personal note that is addressed to a specific person at a specific time based on a real relationship 2. A Hallmark card with only a name signed at the bottom.
A third possibility is a combination of both, a personal note that expands the generic statement/poem for that person. Either way, the most personal and important decision (to commit to being a follower of Christ) shouldn't be like merely signing your name and nothing else to a Hallmark card, should it? If it is, then the temptation to simply feel content that the card was sent will leave us without any urgency for cultivating that relationship further... right?
I was in Panera Bread a few days ago and I witnessed a somewhat hilarious event.
A guy squawking on his cell phone with his cool new bluetooth device stuck in his ear. This guy, like many individuals who do not care about anybody else in the world, was talking loud enough for the whole place to hear his great sales pitch to his potential client. A woman sat down at the next table over and quickly became visibly annoyed. I watched a real live "boiling point" episode as she started to squirm. After a few mere seconds, she turned to the guy and said, "Excuse me, please shut the hell up!"
Here's my question, who was more inconsiderate?
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
The classic statement about seminary (besides calling it 'cementary' due to the death of faith) is that seminary is a place where a person's faith is deconstructed. My response to that statement coming into my time at Princeton Theological Seminary was that I was not going to let "that place" deconstruct my faith. What I didn't consider was the possible advantage of deconstruction.
Questions like these were not on my already-defensive mind -
"How is my understanding of God limited?"
"What have others who have gone before me wrestled with?"
"How is my theology impacting my ministry and where does God want to deconstruct my assumptions and rebuild them?"
I have come to see how my faith coming into PTS was what many would consider too other-worldy in terms of salvation. If Christ died for our sins and we are justified, then what is the real incentive for caring about others in the here and now? Bonhoffer's Discipleship challenged me last year in this area and I continue to be challenged by my studies of Romans and eschatology in my system theology class. I will post more on these specifics as I process what I have crammed into my head throughout this semester. Overall, I see more clearly than ever that what we believe about God impacts how we live in the present moment as well as where we stand with God for eternity. It is both, not just one or the other.