Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Shift in Authority

I have mentioned in another post about the periodic cultural shifts that have occurred in the Church throughout history. It seems that about every 500 years or so, we have to refigure who we are and how we understand our faith because of fundamental cultural shifts that are happening. I was pondering this as I was rereading (listening is more accurate) the book Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren. His goal in the book is to find a way that we can allow the multiplicity of doctrines to not divide us, but unite us.

That being said, he was pointing out that in the medieval church authority resided in the church. If someone asked why you believed something, you said that you believed it because the church or priest told you. He went on to describe how in the modern time, the authority shifted to the Bible. However, we are now entering time when the focus of the authority for belief will shift again, and I believe I can see a bit of the direction it is taking.

I believe that the focus will shift towards the community of believers. In other words, when someone asks why you believe something, you will not say because the church says so, or even because the Bible says so, but because the community (body of Christ) has consensus. This feeling comes from several places.

One of the more recent developments in church History is the movements called the "waves of the Holy Spirit" From these moments several thriving denominations (though they may not want that label applied to them) have arisen. One of the key differences between these movements and current mainline denominations is their comfort with the revelation of the Spirit over and above (though generally not in contradiction to) the Scriptures. In addition to this is a growing cultural trust in the "Wisdom of the crowd" (think Wikipedia and Digg) which basically says that if enough people agree on something, it is probably right. Combining these in the realm of faith, you get a system of authority that is based on a melding of divine revelation and wisdom of the crowd.

I am not saying that I agree with this idea or even that I believe it is inevitable, but is feels generally correct in where it points. Like it or not, there will be a shift in the basis of authority within Christianity over the next fifty years or so. It would behoove all Christians to pay attention and help guide this to a place that is healthy, sustainable, and relatively orthodox. If not, no complaining when it doesn't go the way you want it to later!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mary, the Garden, and a New Eden-View

I am preaching (or preached depending on when you read this) this Easter Sunday (7am!) on John 20. One thing that I did not (or will not) have enough time to talk about is this interesting bit of the story.

First things first, John is not a haphazard author. He is very intentional about how and where he uses words and details. That being said, there are two interesting qualities about the resurrection narrative that we will miss if we aren’t careful. When talking about the tomb where Jesus is buried John says, “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.” (John 19:41) When Mary is in the tomb chatting it up with the angels, she turns and “thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’" (John 20:15b).

What is the obscure detail we hear? Garden, garden, gardener. John is trying to point toward something. He is trying to paint the resurrection as something far beyond that moment. He is painting it as the birthing of something sown at the very beginning of The Story. It appears that he is announcing a return of the gardener… a return to (of) the garden.

How can that be? Wasn’t the Garden of Eden perfect? If it was, and this is about returning to the garden, then something messed up because we all know that our world is far from perfect. I think there are two possible solutions (both of which could be simultaneously true).

First is the way many would instinctively deal with this. We would say that John was talking about the fixing or returning to a spiritual state that had been broken since the fall of man and can now be mended through Jesus. In other words, Jesus’ death and resurrection allows us to have true forgiveness and a relationship with God the Father.

Another way to understand it has its roots in the Hebrew language. Our understanding of the garden flows from a Greek dualistic view of the world (light and dark, good and evil, perfect and imperfect, etc.). This was not the way the Jewish people viewed the world. Without chasing that rabbit trail, we can recognize that they have a fundamentally different view of some things than we do. Perfection is one of them.

The Hebrew language does not have a word for “perfect.” In fact, the word we generally translate as perfect (tam/tamam) means complete/whole, and is relational meaning suitable/mature. In other words, it is not a static state.

In the Greek understanding the Garden of Eden must exist in a relatively static state of perfection because any change would mean one of the two states was not perfect. However, if we look at it through Hebrew eyes, we see that the Garden was suitable, mature. It was complete in the sense that someone who has completed puberty is a finished with their physical maturing and ready (physically) to create offspring or in the sense that the turkey has completed cooking because the little plastic thingy popped out. The Garden in this understanding is no longer perfect in the Greek way of thinking, but good. (I think it uses that term somewhere in the story)

That changes things. When Jesus rises from the dead, it doesn’t instantly bring guilt and condemnation in a new level because now we can be perfect (again?). Rather, it brings hope that we do not have to continue in a downward spiral. We do not have to fade into the darkness as the stone rolls over the cave. No! We can break out into glorious light as Jesus brings us once again to a place where we can mature spiritually. Where we are no longer stuck in some infinite spiritual adolescence (yikes!), but can get past the voice changes and tripping and get to the real life of being a follower of God the Father.

Like I said, two options. Both can be true. Or either. You must listen to Him, and I trust that the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to reveal the truth to your soul. As for me, I’m always discovering His truth and my own error.