Thursday, January 08, 2009

Jesus Wants to Save Christians

I just finished reading Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto For the Church In Exile, by Rob Bell and Don Golden.

My primary reasons for reading it were: 1) I agree with the title; viz., that there are a lot of Christians who have not been sozo-ed yet; and 2) what Rob Bell has been saying is important for the church to hear.

Some thoughts, as I give the book a browse and look at my notes...

1. Bell and Golden (B&G) work out of a "New Exodus perspective" and attribute it to theologian Tom Holland. I don't know anything about Holland. I wonder how influenced he is by N.T. Wright, who uses the exodus event as a hermeneutical key to understanding Jesus and the kingdom of God.

2. "For a growing number of people in our world, it appears that many Christians support some of the very things Jesus came to set people free from." (18) I agree. American "Christianity" is largely far, far from the Jesus story.

3. "The Ten Commandments are a new way to be human." (34) I like what B&G say about this.

4. "God measures their faith by how they treat the widows, orphans, and strangers - the weak - among them. God's desire is that they bring exodus to the weak in the same way that God brought them exodus in their weakness." (35) I agree. But here's where I find B&G's book incomplete. What B&G's book lacks, for me, is a presentation of spiritual authority (exousia) and power (dunamis) in the kingdom work of setting captives free. In this regard, for me, B&G's work is too human. The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power. I need to see more of this. Precisely because I read of it in the Exodus story. (This is also my personal problem with Shane Claiborne and Brian McLaren when they write about the kingdom of God. I want, George Ladd-like, both the proclamation of the kingdom and the demonstration of the kingdom in signs and wonders. As I'm reading through Charles Taylor's brilliant A Secular Age I can't help but now think that B&G, Claiborne, and McLaren work out their theologies within our disenchanted world.)

5. B&G write: "Jesus speaks of a new kingdom as he shows what its like to be human in this new reality. He heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, helps the lame walk... Power is flowing through Jesus to the broken, blind, and lame..." (82) Of course. Today Jesus wants to save Christians from the disenchanted world we live in. Of course the message that the true church is not a consumer church but spends its resources on the poor and needy and marginalized is central to the message of Jesus. I would add - people are delivered from demons and healed of diseases. In our secular age talking about Jesus' preferential option for the poor is palatable (even if not actually practiced), while talk of demons and healings is mostly weird. Personally, I'm interested in opening up the entire kingdom package.

6. Sometimes B&G make connections I just don't get. My not getting it could be due to ignorance on my part. I confess to not understanding how they connect the early church's "drunken" behavior with Jesus' first miracle at the wedding and then connect the Levites' killing of three thousand with the three thousand saved at Pentecost and somehow tying all this together with Sinai and the Exodus. I read all of this pn pp. 98-99 and confess to not even wanting to try to figure this out, and just kept on reading.

7. "The gospel for these first Christians is an economic reality. It's holistic and affects every area of their lives." I agree. Sozo is a holistic thing.

8. The Bible is an "oppression narrative." (121) I like that.

9. "Human history has never witnessed the abundance that we consider normal." (123) Indeed. That being true, what's the deal with "Christians" on TV whose messages are about how much more we can have if we only "sow some more seeds?" What a disconnect!

10. "Followers of Christ missing the central message of the Bible? It happened then, and it happens now. And sometimes the reason is, of course, empire." (131) Agreed. I'll add that Christians doing theology and biblical interpretation out of the current empire's disenchanted world (cf. Charles Taylor) is to inevitably miss an essential aspect of the central message of the Bible. Where I live good theology doesn't set captives free. It's all talk, no power. That's the empire of darkness.

11. I just don't know what to do with B&G's analysis of the book of Revelation. (131 ff.) But I do agree with this: "Were the people in John's church reading his letter [Revelation] for the first time with Roman soldiers right outside their door, thinking, 'This is going to be really helpful for people two thousand years from now who don't want to get left behind"?" (134) Of course not. And, very funny in a sad sort of way.

12. "How do kids who are surrounded by more abundance than in any other generation in the history of humanity take seriously a Messiah who said, "I have been anointed to preach good ews to the poor"?" A great, guiding question. And I'll bang my drum loudly again: How do kids swimming in the waters of philosophical naturalism take seriously a Messiah who turned water into wine and rose from the dead?

13. "It is very dangerous when a church becomes known for being hip, cool, and trendy." (156) B&G have some good things to say here. I'm thankful they are saying them.

14. "A church is not a center for religious goods and services, where people pay a fee and receive a product in return. A church is not an organization that surveys its demographic to find out what the market is demanding at this particular moment and then adjusts its strategy to meet that consumer niche." I think that's true. Thank you B&G for saying this. Even if we make some qualifications re. the doing of demographic analysis I think it can be said that such analysis has some God-validity if it allows us to better incarnate the kingdom message in culture, but does not have God-validity if we become the "consumer church," as Eugene Peterson calls it (=, for Peterson, the "antichrist church").

15. Uh-oh... "The church says no to the animating sprit of religious empire, the one which leads Christians to look no different than the world around them. Churches can easily become centers for assimilation, where the seats in the sanctuary are eerily similar to the seats in the cinema, the website offers all of the programs to met your specific needs, and the coffee in the hallway is just as good as in the shops across the street." (164-165) And all the seeker churches came tumbling down... I mostly, if not entirely, agree with B&G here.

16. I'll end with this. "The church is the living, breathing, life-giving, system-confronting, empire-subverting picture of the new humanity." (169 Truly. And not without the Holy Spirit's power. Otherwise we might as well start waving candles and singing "Imagine."