Sunday, July 22, 2012

Can Christianity Exist Without the Bible?

I have grown up loving and reading the Bible. I remember starting annual Bible reading plans over and over starting around 5th grade. Like most people who adopt this plan, I became an expert in Genesis and Matthew and had little or no exposure to the minor prophets. Thankfully, I attended a church where my dad was the pastor and he believed in preaching "the Word" so I was able to expand my Biblical knowledge as I sat under his tuteledge up to 4 times a week.

At some point in my professional ministry experience, I decided that I needed to be an expert in at least the content of Scripture as I believed that would allow me to be a better interpreter and expounder of what was written. I proceeded to read the New Testament at least once a month along with Psalms and Proverbs. I read the Old Testament annually. I did this for years and did become very conversant with what was in the Bible and where it was located.

Having betrayed the institutional experession of Christianity (read: Christendom, church) I have been permitted new and refreshing reflections on the nature of what we have as the Bible and perhaps more importantly, I seem to have a greater appreciation for its value and application. Not as the "Word of God", as if it has found its way into the stature of the Divine Godhead, making it the fourth member of a Quadrinity. But rather as a Spirit-inspired text opening my soul to deeper and more realistic applications of faith in my contextual existance.

Today I wonder if Christianity can (and perhaps at this point, should) exist without the Bible. After all, hundreds of years passed before there was a canon and even more years passed before the Bible reached the hands of the community by virtue of the printing press. Christianity, in its best and perhaps purest forms, was founded without the New Testament as we have it today. Yes, there was the Old Testament and unquestionably the early believers relied on it for instruction. But that "instruction" had a new Instructor that was delivered as a gift in the form of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter that Jesus said would teach us all things and lead us into Truth.

Does that not still work the same today? Should it not be the Spirit by being present, that sparks the life of Christ in every soul and guides us into a life designed for every human by God? Could not a life in Christ be lived by the provision of faith and the gift of the Spirit apart from the text of the Bible?

It seems to me that embracing this possibility opens us to a greater understanding of what it means to believe in Jesus and to walk in the faith provided to us by God. It allows us to live instinctively rather than legalistically. It even allows us to read Scripture through a spiritual lens instead of limiting it to a cultural one. Perhaps the Spirit is fully capable of guiding us into very real demonstrations of Christ's life in whatever country, culture or context we find ourselves.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to live with others who share a hunger for the things of God as discovered through time and togetherness and not by seminars and strategies. I believe the life of a believer ought to have the fullest opportunity to realize a God-given destiny in Christ and current Bibliolotry prevents the experience of the Divine Mystery.

It's what the Israelites lost when they embraced the Golden Calf.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Does this Sound Like "Good News"?

In a religiously glutted Christianized culture that throws the term "gospel" around as if we all knew what it meant, try out for size my effort to offer a fresh and perhaps more accurate reflection of not only what it means but how it is lived:

"Our God-created image is free to live the transcendent and cosmic values of God's eternal Kingdom. When we choose to respond  to promptings generated by a gift from God called "faith" by believing in a God who became human in a man named Jesus who lived a full but often troubled human existence and died a horrific death by which he overcame sin and its consequences for everyone, we discover a freedom to live in this life by God's universal design, no longer hamstrung by guilt and the debilitation that guilt and sin bring. We are free to love and be loved."

Does that sound like good news? I would think it is good for anyone who hears it, whether or not they choose to believe.

There are no doubt gaps in this statement and questions that can be raised. But at the very least, it seems to offer inclusivity rather than exclusivity. All are free to believe and choose to live in love but since it is apparent that not all do, those who choose to live selfishly and resist an Irrestible Force find their lives incomplete and empty of the Life afforded to them through Jesus' resurrection.

It is certainly their loss in this life but may not be in a life to come. They may realize after death that what was available to them by God's design was ignored or rejected in the context when it could've been best experienced. Hell may be this realization.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Prickly Prayer Problems, Part 2: What Prayers Should Believers Pray?

I concur that prayer is a vital part of our life on earth with God. What I wonder is how on earth are we to do it? More specifically than how to pray- as I feel any person can pray in any way they want- is the question of what should be the content of faith-full prayer. As a recovering evangelical/charismatic American Christian, I am concerned over the things I have been oriented to pray for as they seem to reflect more of a Westernized narcissism than a biblically accurate representation of citizens of God's Kingdom.

The prickly nature of this prayer problem is centered in praying for what God cares about. In other words, I wonder how much of our praying energy is wasted offering supplications that waste God's divine time. Should not the content of our prayers match the heart of a God that loves the entire world, not just my world?

Part 1 of this topic highlighted my frustration over my community's obssession with green grass to the point of calling a prayer meeting in our town plaza to ask God to break a serious drought. While this event has lingered in my mind and has had a large effect on the deconstruction of what I considered to be a weak prayer persepective, I believed it was also constructing a healthier and more universally transcendent prayer perspective. I was developing a somewhat arrogant theological perspective that actually limited God's interest in the world rather than expanded it.

I had come to conclude that God was only interested in "big" praying- you know, prayers that centered on real and universal human welfare such as poverty, trafficking, disease and the like. Prayers for parking places, manicured lawns and computer problems were not even to be mentioned as they would not only be a waste of our breath, they would be ignored by a God with bigger fish to fry.

I mention computer problems because it was just recently when my "healthy" perspective on what God seems to care about was severly challenged by someone's prayer for a computer problem.

I know a man who at 78 years old has been an avid lover of God and a professional minister for 50 years. He is perhaps the most disciplined believer I have ever known. He arises hours before anyone else and spends at least an hour in prayer and probably another hour reading the Bible. I have known him my entire life and his focus has always been ministry. I would "label" him evangelical/charismatic/fundamental. He puts in the time.

This man recently felt inspired to write a small book and seek its publication. Essentially the book is about how believers can either grown toward God or away from God by how they align themselves under the Lordship of Jesus. Knowing this man and his theology, I can safely conclude the book to be a fairly narrow expression of a point of view firmly entrenched in Christendom. It would appear legalistice and works-oriented. I have trouble accepting this as a publication that God would favor in our time and place of post-modernism.

That being said, this man was having difficulty finalizing some word processing issues on his computer, mostly related to securing the proper margins in order to submit it to the publisher. Not having a lot of computer experience, he solicited the assistance of a friend who allegedly did. Neither of them were able to solve the problem and had come to an impasse. The natural thing for the man to do at this point was to pray.

He admitted to me that in his prayer he qualified its content to God by acknowledging it was not a big deal for God to solve this computer problem. Nonetheless, he asked God to help him finalize the document that he believed had been God's idea all along. He told me that he went back to the computer and indiscriminately stroked some keys and, thanks be to God, somehow the problem was fixed!

Wow. This really disturbed me on a several levels. First, I wasn't sure this book would accurately reflect God's interest in the first place so having this happen really caused me to question what I considered to be God's will. I would've thought that something that prohibited its publication would've been more in line with what God wanted then to cure the computer thus allowing the process to continue.

This, of course, had to make me wonder that if God really did answer the prayer of this man to solve the word processing challenge, then perhaps I did need to rethink my post-modern theology and consider that what this man had written was indeed an accurate reflection of the God of the universe. Perhaps I need to return to fundamentalism and biblical literalism as staple features of healthy faith.

And another level still is that which no doubt was a result of this event: the man's faith and prayer perspective was more deeply entrenched in him. His prayer life and the content of his prayers was reinforced. Why wouldn't he continue to believe in and pray for things that to me seemed to distract from that which I believed must truly be what God wants to pray for?

Going deeper, this event made me wonder why if this man had God's ear for something as trivial as a computer concern that he didn't go ahead and ask for something more biblical, such as justice for the oppressed or fathers for the fatherless?

Perhaps the most disturbing level at which this event concerns me is wondering if perhaps God is only interested in or able to solve computer problems and that the greater problems of mankind are beyond his ability to resolve. Or perhaps there is something to be said for putting in the time with God as this man has which opens up the windows of blessing for things that to most people would appear insignificant. Does this mean that a believer can and should embrace a position of privilege to which the heathen have neither right nor access? Is Club Christianity really what the gospel is about?

I tend to want to betray this perspective in favor of a God that is not limited to or only interested in the apparent petty and self-serving interests of American Chrsitians. After all, would the children I support in Rwanda ever think to pray that their computer would cooperate? What do they pray about?

Maybe my theology needs to allow for a "bigger" God than the one I thought was under construction. By making him too big for American computer operations perhaps I had limited him to only issues of global grandeur. Maybe my theology represented my on spiritual pride in thinking I had uncovered the God of the Bible and any prayer that didn't meet the standard of transcendent human welfare should not only be avoided but it should be called out.

Maybe God is big enough not only to throw the man whose questionable theological perspective and practice a bone of apparent insignificant blessing but also to address issues that are universally grievious. Perhaps what I am learning is that my prayers should certainly include the "big" stuff without excluding personal issues that the God of the universe has room in his character to care about as well.

My recent car problems would seem to support God's care and concern for problems about which most of the world would not be concerned. I was grateful to God for solving the car's mechanical issues in ways that presented very little inconvenience to me but I also had to wonder about the theological perspective that I had developed about God's concerns and my prayers.

I still want and to choose to believe that God is more interested in human welfare than in technological obstacles. I choose to believe and practice a kind of faith that should put transcendent social issues on the top of any prayer list I use. In fact, no faith perspective should be called healthy that doesn't instinctivley evoke an on-going concern which leads to unceasing prayer for such things.

But lest I do to another extreme what the man of God appears to have done, I have to make room for a God that can be interested in what appears to me to be that which is more insulting to the Divine Nature than appealing.

His ways are not my ways.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Prickly Prayer Problems (Part One)

I have wondered about what prayers God is or should be interested in. Having grown up as an American in an evangelical/charismatic environment, I learned to pray for a variety of issues that in retrospect were generally self-serving and certainly non-transferable to other parts of the less-privileged world. I truly appreciated when a song would come on the radio that I could attach to God blessing me in that moment. I valued as a sign of God's favor when car troubles occurred in ways that didn't inconvenience me as much as they could have. I'm sure there are countless other events that occurred in my life that without batting an eye I attributed to being a Christian. The result of such an interpretation undoubtedly inspired gratitude and solidified my commitment to the God of the (my) universe.

Was this bad? Should my theology embrace a God who would encourage my narcissism if in fact it cultivated deeper worship and discipleship on my part? And did I mention that my evangelistic fervor was heightened as I sought to share my "testimonies" in hopes that other favored Americans could likewise discover joy unspeakable and full of glory.

As I continue on my chaotic journey of faith, I find myself challenged with an Americanized theology from which my spiritual system is being purged. This process has included musings on what believers should bother God about with their prayers. A few years ago our community was experiencing a severe drought. Naturally, it was a topic of conversation and concern in almost every setting and interaction. It was an inevitability for the Christians to look to God for relief.

The church I attended was no different and prayer for rain was a part of our weekly liturgy. A local Christian "celebrity" decided to invite concerned people of faith to a community prayer event at the local town square to beseech God to break the drought. This event attracted a goodly amount of attention. The local newspaper was quick to make it front page material. It was especially noteworthy when ten minutes before the scheduled prayer meeting we received a brief cloud burst that was over before the prayers of those congregated at the plaza were able to ascend.

Needless to say, people fell over themselves in the rush to glorify God and their prayers for the rain. It would appear that this apparent answer to the desperate prayers of a community whose grass was drying out had the effect of strengthening faith, discipleship and congregational morale. I had issues with this, however, and I was pretty quick to voice them to my fellow Christians, starting with the motives of this prayer event.

There appeared to me that the driving force behind why anyone really wanted rain was the fact that indeed our yards were looking horrible and we were only allowed to water once a week. Otherwise, nothing else was affected. We could still drink as much water as we wanted, we could shower as much as necessary, and toilets still flushed. It didnt seem to me that God should give attention to prayers for greener and fuller grass in our suburban sprawl.

But then I was told by a fellow Christian that she knew of a family that could lose their farm and livelihood if it the drought continued. On the surface, that sounded like a very worthy reason to pray for rain since we would all aggree that God wouldn't want a family to starve or suffer. But I challenged the statement with what appeared to me to be a more God-worthy reply. Since we cannot be sure that rain will or won't come, and since we have no ability to control meteorological events (and quite possibly at the risk of sounding Deistic, perhaps the weather is something that simply happens as a part of God's initial and natural design), what does God expect from those who claim to be a part of the Kingdom that transcends earthly events and parameters?

In the case of a family about to lose everything because the weather won't cooperate or worse, because our prayers have failed to motivate God to intervene, it seems biblically appropriate to suggest that the community of faith would surround and support a family in crisis. Did not the first century church operate in this manner when they naturally cared for anyone who had a need?

It seems to me that we hope that God will rescue us from what is clearly our responsibility. If we can pray and ask God to manipulate barometric pressure so that we can have an abundance of rain, then we are off the hook to have to intervene ourselves. We want and expect God to rescue us from what it appears is ours to do. Perhaps our tangible involvement is a better direct representation of God than any drop of rain could be.

This "push back" to my believing friend further entrenched me in a way of thinking about prayer and what God cares that we pray about. I boldly asked why if a scheduled prayer meeting by a local celebrity that by all estimation produced the desired result (albeit small and relatively insignificant in light of the larger need) was there not a daily prayer meeting at the town square until the drought was over? In fact not only were there no more scheduled town prayer events for rain, there was no more rain the entire summer! You'd think that if the initial event had the effect for which the entire community was spiritually aroused, and that it appeared to be clear and convincing evidence that those who gathered had the ear of God, why wasn't there rabid follow up?

Perhaps more disturbing was the fact that since God apparently was listening and eager to intervene into areas of our life such as lawncare, why had the same celebrity (or anyone for that matter) not suggested a prayer event to seek God's intervention on behalf of human trafficking around the globe?  Since they had God's attention, why not go ahead and ask for something that might really matter? I wonder if anyone would have cared enough to show up.

When I offered this scenario to my fellow believers, I was told that the difference would be because human trafficking isn't on the front page of our paper like the drought is. To which I say, why isn't it? Is it because alleged citizens of God's Kingdom fail to share God's transcendent perspective? Somehow we have concluded that what is important to us is what is important to God and our myopia has reduced our amazingly transcendent and globally involved God to the dispenser of narcissistic answers to prayers that most of the inhabited world would consider insulting to waste as prayer.

On the other hand, perhaps God is about such mundane and Americanized concerns and my theology needs to accept this as the way God is.

I'm not done with probing prickly problem with prayer. Part 2 will delve into another testimony of God answering a prayer that raises more practical and theological issues.