Saturday, February 17, 2007

Final Worm on the Subject (Exiles #6)

This is it – I swear – the final utilization of worms as a pictoral metaphor whilst I wax expressive on Michael Frost’s worthy tome, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. This book rocks and should be in the Top 10 list of must-reads.

That being said, some parts drove me up the wall and halfway across the ceiling, inspiring an earlier reaction of:

“Frosty, I’m gonna drag you by the ankles over shards of broken glass before dumping your sorry carcass into a shark-infested pool of iodine …”*

*overwrought attempt at a comical metaphor 

Allow me to explain.

The final two chapters of Exiles are dedicated to singing the “dangerous songs” of the Kingdom. Frost continues to provoke us to live beyond a “Sunday go to meeting” faith, and he takes a hard look at sappy, self-indulgent, and theologically insipid worship.

Hearty applause: Frost and I are on the same page when it comes to ridding ourselves of safe and uninspiring ditties.

Standing ovation: Frost rejects converting “worship services” into evangelistic events, concerned that this will water down our worship.

But then Frost dives into the “feminization of the church” pond, and I find myself scrambling for my hip-waders.

I find it curious (and disturbing) that so many in the emerging/missional stream seem determined to pit God’s transcendence against His imminence. I’ve covered this before in Near/Far and Near/Far: 2nd Iteration, so I wont go over all that ground again. But I’d like to point out a couple of places where Frost seems to be playing fast and loose with Scripture when defending his point of view.

Frost makes the case that our current view of Jesus is so transcendent and doctrinal that we’ve lost sense of His humanity. I have no argument with his observation, but then Frost claims the early creeds “domesticated” Jesus, over-emphasizing His divinity.

Frost writes:

“Jesus isn’t romanticized in the earliest creeds. He is presented in flesh and blood, very real and very dangerous. Sadly, the early church was quick to move beyond the very earthy, actional description of Jesus in the Gospels to a more ontological one in the creeds ... I can’t help but wonder which came first: the impulse to sanitize and tame Jesus by encasing Him in abstract theology, thereby removing our motivation for discipleship, or our natural repulsion toward discipleship that forced us to domesticate Jesus to let us off the hook.

Respectfully – shards of glass metaphors aside – while I agree with Frost's basic point, it makes zero sense to me to suggest the early creeds were intended to “domesticate” Jesus or downplay His humanity. Any student of church history knows that the creeds were written to affirm and defend the reality of the Incarnation. The Gnostics and Docetists were the ones trying to purge the idea of Jesus as fully human and fully divine. Why Frost tries to assert the opposite is beyond me.

In the closing chapters of Exiles, he does something similar with Biblical passages on worship. Frost chafes at the “24/7 worship” view of heaven, and tries to debunk the idea by quoting Revelation 21:1–4, which speaks of the justice and societal equity found in heaven, as foretold in Isaiah 65:19–23.

However, he neglects to mention that the fourth chapter of Revelation describes, in great detail, an impressive worship concert which includes creatures that appear to exist for only one purpose: non-stop, 24/7 worship. I found Frost’s selective use of Scripture disappointing.

In the final chapter, Frost denounces “Jesus is my boyfriend” worship songs. I don’t like sappy worship, either, but there’s a difference between sugary and simplistic love ballads, and songs of spiritual intimacy. Frost disagrees, and suggests that song lyrics that speak of “loving” Jesus are “sexually charged” and therefore inappropriate for worship. Frost prefers to substitute “loving” Jesus with “obeying” Him, citing John 14:15, 21, 23–24 as proof.

I’d agree that loving Jesus includes obeying Him, but I wouldn't make the two synonymous. For example, a teenager may “obey” their parents by taking out the garbage, but love may have nothing to do with it. A self-serving recognition that obedience = car keys on Friday is an equally plausible explanation.

Ideally, we obey Jesus because we love Him. Thats not true to everyone ... fear of divine retribution or a desire to twist His arm to answer our prayers could also be the root of our obedience. Equating love with obedience is inadequate.

Another selective use of Scripture that jumped out at me was Frosts repeated appeals to the exilic passages in Isaiah (41:13–14, 43:1–6, 49:25–26, 61:8–9) about God’s care and promised redemption of the Babylonian exiles, while ignoring the Psalms that talk about our love for God (Psalm 13:5, 18:1–3, 25:7) and God’s love for us (Psalm 36:7, 48:9, 57:10).

Worship is, as A.W. Tozer called it, a multi-faceted jewel, and many times we’ve over-emphasized some things while neglecting others. But we need to be careful when balancing between imminence and transcendence, devotion and action, intimacy and reverence. The same God who said “Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)” also declared "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice … (Isaiah 58)?”

And that is my final worm on the subject.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A Fifth of Worms (Exiles #5)

I didnt anticipate writing an entire Series of Worms out of my reading of Frosts Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. Id probably advocate this book as being near the top of any list of books to read about the emerging/missional church. Exiles provoked, at various times, a range of reactions:

Deep thought,

Hearty agreement,

“You're reading my mail” resonance,

“I’ll have to think more on that” reflection, and

“Frosty, I’m gonna drag you by the ankles over shards of broken glass before dumping your sorry carcass into a shark-infested pool of iodine.”

Any book that evokes such a wide range of reactions qualifies as a good read. I’ll explain my last reaction in a later post. In today’s post, I’ll comment briefly on Frost’s chapters on justice, the poor and persecuted, and on the inclusion of ecology and environmentalism in our stewardship of Creation.

Frost cranks out a lengthy and devastating list of human rights abuses around the world, horrendous depictions of the torture and murder of Christians, observations and predictions on the ecological rape of Planet Earth …

Whew – by the end of these two profoundly disturbing chapters, I felt overwhelmed and useless. The implications for Christian responsibility in every one of these areas are mind-numbing and soul-sucking in their enormity.

Where to even start? I’m just a blogger. I suppose I could post links to justice-oriented websites, but the longer I thought about it, the more pathetically childish the idea seemed.

What I finally came around to was simply this:

Pick one.

Poverty. The persecuted church. Environmental responsibility. Racial injustice. Homelessness. Immigration reform.

Just pick one. Do something. Anything. Don’t let the enormity of it all overwhelm you.

Pick one.