The 2nd post in an ongoing series about attending a “conservative led” church as a “liberal”.
read part 1 here
Last Sunday night, the minister concluded his sermon series on “the sermon on the mount” with ‘blessed are the persecuted…’ Although I disagreed at a fundamental level with his reading of the beatitudes (you can read more about my take on it here entitled “blessed are the truly f**ked up!”) I was challenged and inspired by what he said.
Ultimately his point was to say that if you live out the beatitudes, you will get persecuted and if you’re not being persecuted, then you’re not living out the beatitudes. During his sermon he attacked the rise of liberal theology and ‘liberals’ because they had diluted the gospel to such an extent that they are no longer being persecuted and if you’re no longer being persecuted, you’re no longer living the life that Jesus had intended.
I’m sure it’s not surprise to you that I had an issue with this. It’s a common attack on “liberals” by those that would consider themselves “conservative” and it’s one that does not hold up.
Let me get something straight. My theology is not liberal because I want to please the ‘world’. I’ve not chosen liberalism because I’m afraid of confrontation or judgement. Choosing liberal theology is not choosing the easy way out. And to be honest, I haven’t actually chosen ‘liberalism’ because I don’t believe these categories are choices. These are labels put on people by other people.
These labels are not helpful. They flatten nuanced theology and divide people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ camps. And that’s probably my biggest issue with the sermon on Sunday night. It made everything appear black and white. It made it appear that all believers can be lumped into one or two categories. Labels reduce people to statistics.
It’s easy to write off a whole group of people by labelling them conservative or liberal. Surely, the church is the one place where we shouldn’t be labelled.
In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul wrote these words:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In this statement, Paul called for the barriers between identity, position and gender to be torn down. We are ALL one in Christ Jesus. There is no “us” and “them”.
Writing this post, I do not feel that I am walking the easy path that the minister spoke of. I may not be persecuted by “the world” over certain issues but I do at times feel persecuted from within the church.
I hope that as we, my family and I, continue on this journey we will seek to break down these hurtful labels on both sides and see people for what they are: Humans loved by God.
The following is a short talk I gave at the commissioning service of “Faith in Action” in July.
Faith in Action is a three day social action initiative in South West Scotland.
One of my final preaching opportunities at the church I currently work for (I am finishing up as youth worker there on the 19th of August) is on the 22nd of July where I will be speaking at both the morning and evening services.
In the morning I have chosen to speak on “the (re)newed heaven and earth of Revelation 22 as a symbol of hope in a hope-less world; the title being “God is not finished with you yet”.
I want to to tell a number of ‘hopeful’ stories during my sermon. For example, I’m going to share this story which I read in ‘the week’ this morning:
“when barry eastwood fell over on his way out of a bank in manchester, sending £1000 in cash flying off in the wind, he didn’t expect to retrieve it- especially when a crowd of youths began grabbing the £20 notes. the 54-year-old told his son to find what he could, and went to recover in his car. But then a young man came over and thrust a handful of notes through the window. Another followed…By the end, all but £20 of his £1000 had been returned”.
It’s a great story of hope but one with a challenge. This story challenges our view of young people.
Hope challenges our view of how things are. Hope has to be worked out, by us, in reality.
So, here’s where I need some help. I’m looking for other stories to use in the sermon.
Do you have any stories of hope that I can share? Any stories that bring hope but challenge you on your outlook of things?
I’d be most grateful if you did.
- Moving On (smoorns.wordpress.com)
The Wordlive reading for this morning was Psalm 1. It’s a beautiful (and famous) poem.
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
This week I watched the programme, “I’ve never seen Star Wars” where guests are invited to try new experiences. During the episode, Stephen Fry talked about how he is like a tree. By this he meant that he was stuck in his ways and didn’t like trying new things.
But that’s not what a tree is like.Well, that’s not the whole picture of a tree.
Trees are rigid (the trunk) yet flexible (the crown of branches, twigs and leaves). It is this combination of rigidity and flexibility that plays a part in helping trees withstand in the wind.
So Stephen Fry is right when he is talking about the base of the tree. As we get older, our core belief, worldview or principles (in theory) get stronger and more defined but if we are truly to be like a tree, we must still have openness or flexibility in our thoughts and actions.
This, I believe, is a biblical understanding of being like a tree.
Here’s an example.
I don’t enjoy listening to dub step. I just don’t get it. But that shouldn’t mean I am never open to the possibility of liking it.
So this new year, I want to be more like the biblical definition of a tree.
Keep me open God. Open to new thoughts, new behaviours and new understandings.
May we all strive to be like trees in 2012.
I try not to pull other christians down. Especially online. I don’t think its helpful.I don’t think it’s “christian”.
So, this post is not about attacking mark driscoll. There are enough places you can go online if you want to do that.
What I do want to attack his understanding of the notion of love. Or at least offer an alternative view.
The video above is from a sermon he gave on Sunday morning.
Let me first say that I agree with some of the concepts he is saying. He is right that we often cherry pick attributes of God, the ones we like, and drop the ones we don’t agree with. I know that God is loving and God is just. That’s not where I think Driscoll has messed up.
It’s his understanding of the following verse that, i believe, is incorrect.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:7-12
I do not think, in this verse, John is saying “god is loving”. John is not telling us about one of Gods attributes. He is stating something more profound. he is saying that God is love.
The essence of God…is love. At God’s very core; God’s DNA is love.
So every attribute of God whether it be justice, mercy, wrath etc comes out of a place of love. Love is the lens for every attribute of God. Love is the lens that every decision comes from.
That’s why I am deeply concerned with what Driscoll is portraying here. He is painting an image of a God that does not have love at its core.
And i think that leads to all sorts of trouble.
Thanks to Zack Hunt for the heads up on this. Check out his blog for other inconsistencies in Driscolls’ talk.
The teacher informs the class that they have a test on Monday. He tells them what they need to study and the sort of questions they will be asked.
Some of the class are sitting chatting to one another and don’t even hear the teacher talking.
Another bunch hear the teacher and plan to study at the weekend. But as soon as they leave the class it goes out their head.
Others hear the teacher, and also plan to study at the weekend. Saturday evening comes and they sit down to study but they get a text from a mate telling them about a party that’s happening that night. The books gets closed and they forget all about it.
The final group hear the teacher, plan to study and sit down saturday night to do so. They also hear about the party invite but plan their studying around it.
Monday comes along. Who passes the test?
I read this on JR Daniel Kirk’s blog and found it really helpful and inspiring.
In a previous post he talked about how problematic using a theological statement (like a creed) is to define what a Christian truly is. It makes faith very static and turns it into a list of rules rather than a relationship.
Here is the Nicene Creed as an example:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father [and the Son],
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Is that what defines a Christian? What if, as I do, we read through that and do not agree with everything that is written? Does that make us not a Christian?
This type of understanding is known as bounded set theology. A second way of understanding Christian identity is what is known as a centred set and is defined below”
“…a centered set is created by defining a center or reference point and the relationship of things to that center. Things related to the center belong to the set, and those not related to the center do not. Kingship groups… are relational categories.”
It is a relational category. Our Christianity is defined by how close out relationship is to Jesus. Some days we may be close to the centre and other days we may be further away.
Sometimes, by what we say and what we do, we are closely identified by Jesus and at other times we are not.
This makes so much more sense to my understanding of what a Christian is.
Christianity should not be understood as a series of rules that we need to adhere to inorder to be “in”, rather it should be defined as a relationship with God.
In the same way, Christians should not be defined as those who adhere to a set of rules but by their relationship with Jesus. Sometimes we are closer to Jesus and sometimes we are far away but we are always ‘in christ’.
Youth workers, do you agree? If so, how do we communicate this to the young people we work with?
I’d heard people talk on this story many times. But does the story of a king’s fall into adultery resonate with teenagers. I decided to reinterpret the story. My entire talk would simply be the story, re-imagined. David and Bathsheba as two sixth year pupils. It went down really well. You could hear the silence in the room. Afterwards the group broke into discussion groups and many of the leaders afterwards came up to me and said how much the story had affected the young people and how it provoked such great discussion.
I don’t say these things to big myself up but simply to show that the story worked for these young people. Which is why I’ve decided to finally write down a simple draft of the story for others to use if they see fit. It’s just the bare bones of the story. feel free to add to, remove bits from it. do whatever works best for your group. It’s simply the blueprint. I have changed certain situations but I feel that these are still true to the original narrative.
I love stories. And I think one of the greatest things we can do for the biblical stories is to refresh them and to orally tell them in ways that resonate. I believe that this is one way to tell the story. Later this year, I’m going on a couple of storytelling workshops and I hope to begin translating some more of the biblical stories into good oral stories that reflect the culture of the young people I work with.
Let me know your thoughts on the story.
The Story of David and Beth
Let me introduce you to a guy called David. He’s a sixth year at the local secondary school. House Captain, prefect, good at sports, maths, english. You get the idea. The best thing about him is that he doesn’t boast about anything of it. He’s a good guy to know.
David’s two best mates are James and Beth. David and James have been friends since they started school. they’re inseparable. Beth started hanging out with them at secondary school when James started dating her in 2nd year.
When James was seven, his parents split up and so every second week, he goes to visit his dad down in Portsmouth. One Friday lunchtime, after James has already left to go see his dad, Beth and David sit round the back of the school lying out on the grass. It’s another heatwave. It’s been like this the last few days. Too hot to anything. So they just sit on the grass, talking.
David looks round at Beth. The sun makes the skin on her legs glow. She glances round at him and he looks away. David’s always fancied Beth. He’s been out with a few girls but none of them ever hold up the vision he has of her. The truth is he’d ask her out in a second if she wasn’t going out with his best mate. If only he’s met her before James started-
“you okay?” beth asks. his thoughts are broken by her question.
“yeah I’m fine.” david replies.
“what you going to do tonight?” she enquires.
“was thinking about going out for a few.”
“depends whose out. why, you wanna come?”
“I shouldn’t. James said he’d phone later.”
“Oh gone. just for a couple.”
She should have said no. That would have been the end of it. But she didn’t. They agreed to meet at 7.30 at the bar in the centre of town. They sit and have a couple of drinks together. But that soon turns in a few and before they know it, they find themselves stumbling out of a club just after 2am.
They’re giggling and laughing. Beth falls back and lands up against a wall. She feels David’s breath on her neck. She’s too drunk to think any better. They have sex there against the wall, in the side street. Afterwards, they stumble home, ashamed of what they’ve done.
It’s weeks later. David and Beth have tried to act like nothing’s happened but things aren’t the same. there’s an awkwardness around them. A sense of guilt. David betrayed his best friend.
David’s in his room on facebook one night when Beth messages him. She says they need to talk. can she come around. What could it be? has james found out? He panics.
Later, there is a knock at the door. David goes down to answer it and Beth is standing there.
“Come on in”, David says. They go up to his room. He shuts the door.
“I don’t know how to say this David. I’m pregnant.”
“How do you know? Is it James’?”
“It’s mine? How can it be mine?” How can you be sure?”
“You’re the only one I’ve had sex with”.
“And you’re sure?”
“I took three tests.”
David panics. What’s he to do? His life will be ruined. He’ll lose his best mate. The teachers will be disgusted with him. he’ll lose the respect of everyone at the school.
“You need to get rid of it.”
“No, I’m not going to kill my baby”.
“Well I need time to think.”
Beth leaves. David thinks about it for hours. What is he going to do? Then he has an idea. An idea that will clear them both. If Beth tells everyone that james raped her when they were both drunk, they’re saved. Beth won’t be known as a slut and David’s reputation will be saved.
David goes round to see Beth and tells her the plan. She is appalled by it and refuses to go along with it. But David persists. What will her parents think? What will the school think? This is a way for both of them to be free from it. And James will get out in a couple of years. It won’t be so bad. So she finally agrees. there’s no other way.
The next night, when Beth’s parents are out, she invites James round and they both get horribly drunk. James passes out. He wakes up to screaming. Beth is on the floor, her shirt torn. He can’t quite make out what she’s saying at first. Rape. Is she saying rape? He doesn’t remember anything. He wouldn’t have done that would he?
The case goes to court. James pleads guilty. he doesn’t remember what happened but Beth is so sure. He can’t believe he would do a thing like that but Beth wouldn’t lie about it. James gets three years.
Beth has her baby and goes to college whilst her mum looks after her little girl. David goes to Cambridge, far away from everything that happened. Some nights he cannot sleep. the guilt bears down on him so hard sometimes that he cannot breathe. But he still has his reputation. It was worth it wasn’t it?
- David & Bathsheba (hhce100.wordpress.com)