Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thoughts on Jesus and the Church

So, my last post about Mr. MacArthur generated some great offline chats with friends about the situation. It was cool. One of the conversations that stuck out actually happened at the Pan this morning with a couple of bros from the Vineyard. After looking at Jeremiah this morning we were talking about what’s going on in life. One of the guys proposed a question that is getting a little more tread these days (and maybe has for a long time): Would Jesus be welcome in the Church, you know, His Church, today?

I first encountered that question through the writing of one FyodorDostoevsky. If you have read many of my posts, then you may know of my love for all things Dostoevsky. Greatest. Writer. Ever. I’m a total fan boy. If he was alive and the lead singer of a rock band, I would totally be a roadie. Fo rizzles.

Although a lot of people swear by Crimeand Punishment or The Idiot, my book of choice is The Brothers Karamazov. Coincidentally, that was also the book that introduced me to the above question. Without this becoming a book review, let me just say there is a section called, “The Grand Inquisitor.” In it, one of the brothers (Ivan) presents a parable of Jesus coming back during the time of the Grand Inquisition. An interview takes place between the Grand Inquisitor (a priest) and Jesus. It doesn’t go so well for Jesus…at all. The point of Ivan’s tell is that the Church has become so systematic that it no longer has room for that pesky Jesus fellow interrupting things. Fascinating premise.

The thing was, as a 20ish year old I absolutely hated the chapter. I thought it was a blight in an otherwise perfect book. Upon re-reading it some 10-15 years later, I’ve come to realize something—what I “hated” about the passage, wasn’t hate at all; it was actually fear. What I was doing was misappropriating my emotions and preventing myself from seeing that I was afraid that I too had no room for Jesus, that I had built such amazing structures I had no choice, but to quietly discard the experience of Jesus for me today. Now…that may be a bit too confessional for some of you, and I understand that. But I also realize we all have these thoughts. We all have these experiences. That isn’t a problem. The problem is when these thoughts remain trapped in the playground of our mind and are never expressed in the light of community. That is when we get in trouble. That is when we keep those masks firmly in place for fear that if our true doubts were unearthed those we love the most would leave us faster that a buzzard over road kill when it hears a Mac truck.

But…that isn’t really the direction this started. I just thought it gives background to this: Would Jesus be welcome in the American Church in October/November 2013? And the short answer is no…ish. So, though many people have written on this, here is my take on why Jesus wouldn’t be welcome today, for some quite blunt reasons, and some more subtle reasons.

Jesus would probably look more like these two than Brad Pitt.
First, Jesus would probably look like a member of Al Qaeda. Most Americans wouldn’t even want to get on a plane with Jesus, let alone see him in the pews. I know this is a bit forward, some may say archaic and others argue justified, but there are stigmas around “Arab” people. Why do I put that in quotation marks? Because most Americans can’t tell the difference between a Palestinian, an Iraqi, a Pakistani or a Libyan. And whether the man in question is Jewish, Sikh, Muslim or Christian there are certain predetermined thoughts that most Americans have toward him. If you get the chance watch the movie Amreeka. It deals with some Christian Palestinian refugees trying to make it in America. Beautifully done. Kind of informs this part of my argument. Jesus’ appearance is reason #1 we wouldn’t accept him.

Second argument, Jesus was homeless. Obviously those sayings of his are the sayings of mental illness because he has no roof over his head. We would be more apt to put Jesus in a hospital or homeless shelter than in the pulpit.

Third, Jesus is single…and single men are dangerous and a detriment to society.

Fourth, Jesus had extreme views, and we want placidity in the Church. And attached to this, the mental illness thing would probably come into play, or he would at the least be labeled pretty temperamental. If that was the view he would be allowed to come, but only tolerated as that guy who is a little too fervent.

Fifth, he would probably be judged as either gay or a hypocrite because of who he hung out with. I mean, what kind of guy goes traipsing cross country with 12 other dudes…and the only ladies he hangs out with are family or prostitutes? I mean, it’s one way or the other here. Did you know he even hung with a dude that committed treason? His company indicates a flaw in his character. And rather than getting to know him, we’d never approach him.

Maybe Jesus should borrow Brad's look?
I could go on and on here, but the truth of the matter here is that our pre-determined views inside the Church would most likely prevent us from seeing Jesus. If Jesus came, depending on your religious slant, you would expect it to be in the form of Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, N.T. Wright, Walter Bruggeman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Tony Evans, Joyce Mayer or Benny Hinn. In other words, we would want him to be successful and that is how he’d influence us. He would obviously either sell a lot of books or have a TV program.

So, I just don’t think we’re ready for a vagrant wanderer to come speak the truth to us in no uncertain terms, calling us on the ways we fake it. Where do I think people would recognize Jesus? Probably, the places like I mention yesterday, shanty villages, red light districts, those types of places. And why? Because they realize their need. Men, women and children there haven’t barricaded themselves from feeling their need. Some of them need literal bread or they will die. Some of them need penicillin or they will die. Some of them need a liberator, or they will die in bondage to sex trafficking. They know their need. So, if Jesus came up to them, I assume, knowing that is dangerous, that they would be able to receive whatever it is he gave. I think this is akin to true poverty…the kind that doesn’t care where it comes from, as long as the help does come.

And the truth is we as the Church have that kind of poverty. Sure, it may not be financial. It may be emotional. It may be intellectual. It may be health. It may be broken relationships, but poverty exists in our lives. And even if there isn’t poverty in your life, there is in the lives of those around you, your community and ultimately your church—the body of Christ.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Thoughts on, well, let's be honest, this is more an emotive rant

So, I haven’t been writing much lately. This was the culmination of several things. First, I got out of the habit of writing when I went to the monastery. Second, I have been editing DMin dissertations like crazy. And third, well, I can be quite lazy when I want to be. What amazing thing breaks the slumber of my inner author? Well…it’s more this dude John MacArthur and some statements that he made. (This comes as no surprise to some of you.) So, here’s the deal. This post is about why I am struggling with JM’s statements, not about the truth of his or my beliefs. So, that is what you are in store for if you choose to proceed. This isn’t a defense of Charismatic/Pentecostal belief (or Catholic belief, since he bashed them too). This isn’t an attack on JM’s beliefs. It is simply processing what elicited such a strong response inside my wee little soul.

So October 21, I am sitting at work and is wont to happen Clint Johnson texted me. I picked it up and saw a rather (I thought at the time) innocuous question: “What do you know about John MacArthur?” I responded, “From what I remember he is kind of a church leadership guru and I think an elder at Church of the Highlands” (***note, this is NOT true, I was thinking of some other Christian leader/writer, who I still think to be a cool guy whoever he may be). Clint responded, “He has a new book out slamming Charismatics and Pentecostals,” to which I responded, “Definitely has nothing to do with COTH then.”

After the texts I looked it up, and sure enough MacArthur was slinging out some very volatile language that hurt quite a few people. Now, I think this is the first point of why I got upset…I started off saying that this guy was pretty solid, and turns out, I was (in my own opinion) wrong. And being wrong, especially in matters of judging someone’s character has a bit of sting to it. That was probably why my mind got fixated on this whole situation instead of dismissing JM’s comments as just another guy opposed to the Charismatic/Pentecostal Church, which let’s be honest, there are plenty of people aboard that train.

But I think what frustrated me the most was the audacity of some of JM’s claims combined with his lifestyle. Because of JM’s standing his tax records are a matter of public record (which I don’t like, but since they are available for public scrutiny, I cite here). One of JM’s claims about the Charismatic/Pentecostal Church was that we all teach the prosperity Gospel. First, not true. Some do, of course, most of us don’t. That claim would not seem audacious if JM didn’t make $400,000 for a 20 hour a week job at his non-profit. That doesn’t include his church job, his job at Master's College (over $100,000 a year), speaking engagements or sales of his books or teaching materials. (***note, if you think I am just making this up, I will be glad to send you a link to the filed tax return which I refer to.)

It doesn’t upset me that JM makes $500k+ a year. Good for him. He found a way to do the church thing and make a lot of money. It does bother me that he slams Charismatics and Pentecostals, who, as a general rule are a lot poorer than most of their Mainline, Evangelical and Catholic brothers and sisters, yet rakes in over half-a-mill. The part that bothers me isn’t the hypocrisy, we’re all hypocrites; it is the perpetuation of Church leaders as scummy profiteers to those who already wave their fingers at us for being terrible people. If I didn’t whole-heartedly succumb to the teaching of Jesus to love His Church, I would run to their side and wave a finger right alongside them.

And I think that is what gets me folks. A buddy (who will at least for now remain nameless) emailed me to say it isn’t worth my while to get upset about JM. He had a run-in with him at one point and got to see firsthand the dirty underbelly. I have no reason not to trust my friend. Is his story colored by the interaction? Sure. But, that doesn’t discount the facts of his situation, which make a lot of sense. So, even with my friend’s advice, I still find myself upset. It’s partly because he came after my tribe, my people. It’s partly because we’re easy targets. But here is the final thing, and where all these little ramblings were headed from the beginning.

My biggest problem is that JM represents the bad side of Modern Christianity. I mean that in the sense of Modernity/Postmodernity as opposed to current. JM represents the introduction of the overpowering arm of reason over faith. To put it scripturally Christians are to, “Love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Modernity embraced loving the Lord with all of your mind and strength, and to an extent your soul. But a strange thing…modernity vilified the heart. There is some good reasoning there. We can misunderstand our emotions in situations as our true heart. We can be wishy-washy. But the heart, well, Glen Hansard says it well:

We were speaking earlier of the head and the heart. Actually, the heart got a bad rap in my last spill. Because, actually your heart is the thing that’s (whistles), Nature. Your heart is your nature the head is your culture. The head is responsible for all sorts of madness. The heart (blows his lips)
“There’s a cliff coming.”
“@#$% the cliff.”
“But we’ll be killed.”
“I don’t care.”
You know what I mean?

This elevation of the mind over the heart, the exaltation of the rational being over the emotional, responsive one, created a problem that isn’t new, but I would say was more pronounced: Man considered himself equal with God. Now, hold on there, JM would never say he is equal with God. Sure, but would you really admit some of your weirder thoughts? No…you say it in a different way to convince yourself that it isn’t so bad. No Christian worth their salt says they are equal to God, but when we determine that we alone, and those who believe like us, have figured “it” out, we say that we alone truly understand the heart of God. And that my friends, seems more akin to heresy than some little old lady speaking in tongues. Sure, we Charismatics believe some crazy stuff. I personally believe some stuff that defies my own reason and understanding…things that my mind is like, “You’re an idiot,” but my heart says, “This is real. And this is where reason isn’t enough any more…and you realize that God truly is higher that you, and his ways above yours. These are things you believe because you believe them, not because they can be proved by any rational sense of the being." It's probably one of the few times the Apostle Paul and I can be buddies.

And that’s it friends. That is what bothers me. Sure, the pursuit of our hearts should be sanctification of our souls and the likening of our lifestyles, beliefs and thoughts toward that of Jesus Christ. I agree. And I say, yes. But what I, 35 year old James Love, currently of Tuscaloosa Alabama, attending a Vineyard Church, having some oddly strong Catholic leanings, find so difficult about JM’s comments is that he can so firmly say, “The way of God is for those who listen to songs on the organ (which was invented way after the NT was written), who meet at 11am on Sundays and work in upper-middle class suburbia. That is the Gospel.” When the truth is the trash dump villages of Egypt and Brazil, the swamps of Louisiana and the prostitute-lined streets of Bangkok are more akin to the Gospel picture I see in Scripture.

And don’t think I’m making myself out to be above JM. I avoid these places like the plague. I need to do better. It’s just the true power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is mind-blowingly terrifying because we cannot contain it. It tells us our petty grabs for power are for naught, our righteous living potentially in vain (because it is pharisaical) and yet our attempts of grasping faith entirely worth it…when lived in the context of community, striving to love one another, those “lesser” than we, and in loving servitude to God. Faith is then an act of the heart (in concurrance with the mind, soul and strength).
And...rant over.