May 26, 2019

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

I know it’s Sunday and all.

But it has been a long, hard, exhausting week, and I have been needing a laugh.

It came from a place I have found to be a most trustworthy source for humor.

Here’s the report from the Louisville Courier-Journal:

The owner of the life-size replica of Noah’s Ark in Northern Kentucky has sued its insurers for refusing to cover, of all things … rain damage.

Ark Encounter, which unveiled the 510-foot-long model in 2016, says that heavy rains in 2017 and 2018 caused a landslide on its access road, and its five insurance carriers refused to cover nearly $1 million in damages.

In a 77-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Ark Encounter asks for compensatory and punitive damages.

The ark itself was not damaged and the road has been rebuilt, according to the suit.

The park is open, said Melany Ethridge, a spokeswoman at the attraction’s Dallas-based public relations firm, who only laughed when informed that Ark Encounter had sued over flood damage.

“You got to get to the boat to be on the boat,” she said.

• • •

Read Chaplain Mike’s classic essay, “The Disney-ization of Faith,” which was written when the Ark project was being announced and promoted.

A Better Kingdom Vision

A Bigger Kingdom Vision

At The Gospel Coalition, Jeremy Treat has written an article called, “The Kingdom of God in 8 Words.” It begins like this:

The number-one thing Jesus talked about is the kingdom of God. It’s everywhere in the Gospels and impossible to miss. But if the theme of the kingdom is so significant, then we need to make sure we know what it means. A good starting place is to have a solid working definition.

Here’s one: The kingdom is God’s reign through God’s people over God’s place.

I think that’s not bad. Let’s see how Treat develops it.

First, he emphasizes that the kingdom is about God’s reign. He critiques much “kingdom” talk these days as imagining utopian human dreams of “making the world a better place.” This is a kingdom “with a vacant throne,” Treat says, and cannot be identified with the kingdom scripture envisages.

God is king, and he reigns over his creation. But in a world marred by sin, God’s kingship is resisted, and the peace of his kingdom has been shattered. After Adam and Eve’s rebellion, God’s reign is revealed as redemptive. He’s the king who is reclaiming his creation. His kingdom is not the culmination of human potential and effort, but the intervention of his royal grace into a sinful and broken world.

Second, this kingdom is about God’s reign through his people. Treat begins with a statement I heartily endorse, one which I think captures the creational vocation of humanity as portrayed in Genesis 1 quite well: “Adam and Eve were commissioned as royal representatives of the king, called to steward his creation and spread the blessings of his reign throughout the earth.”

One thing that Treat misses, however, which has led a lot of Christian theology astray, is that the human vocation included the call to overcome the chaos and evil that was already present in the world.

God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ (Gen. 1:28)

Treat, however, in good Reformed form, blames the “fall” of creation completely on human rebellion in the persons of Adam and Eve, “which shattered the goodness of his creation.” As a result, he takes the next logical leap, and posits complete discontinuity between the original creation design and the story that follows.

Ever since sin entered the world, God’s kingdom project has at its heart a rescue mission for rebellious sinners, drawing them into his renewing work.

This theology neglects the vast majority of the Bible, particularly the story of Israel. If this is the way the early chapters of Genesis work, then we might as well just jump to the New Testament, the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection. If this is the story of the Bible, if the message of the Kingdom is as Treat says it is — Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation — then we could just as well skip over the rest of the Hebrew Bible, understanding it all as mere preparation and prophecy for something to happen in a couple thousand years. Can that possibly be?

But perhaps the early chapters of Genesis are not just the beginning of the common Christian metanarrative. If instead they primarily introduce the story of Israel, then the “creation-fall” theme comes out looking quite different. Adam and Eve’s failure becomes not a singular event that changed everything, but the first account in a long chronicle of blessing-failure-redemption stories that characterize the history of the people whom God called to represent God in the world.

God, throughout the entire story, expects people (all people!) to fulfill his original creation mandate of living in his blessing, flourishing throughout the earth, overcoming evil, and exercising stewardship over creation. And time and time again, God intervenes with redemptive activity when humans fail in their calling. However, Jeremy Treat’s emphasis on a divine “kingdom project” that is solely focused on “redeeming sinners” through Christ basically throws out all human vocation, responsibility, ability, achievement, and progress over the course of history except for that which a few “redeemed” souls are able to accomplish.

Jeremy Treat gets some elements of “Kingdom” theology right, and in the third part of his post, he correctly identifies the location of God’s reign as the new creation, not some “heaven” that we leave this world for. But I think he seriously misunderstands and downplays the part humans — all humans and not only the ones he calls the “redeemed” — play in preparing for this new creation.

The whole purpose of Jesus’ incarnation and passion was to create a redeemed, Spirit-filled people — in continuity with the people of Israel but then extending throughout the whole world — who will actively participate in planting seeds that will bring about a great harvest in the new creation. Fulfilling the original creation mandate. Those who trust and follow Jesus are to lead the way, but also to work alongside all humanity (God’s representatives too!) in moving this world in that direction.

This is no mere utopian dream, dependent on human effort and leaving out God. This is taking seriously what God called us to do in partnership with him. It also takes seriously the responsibility and contributions of all humanity in fulfilling the creation calling of God.

Another Look: Outsider Lessons

Another Look: Outsider Lessons

Back in 2014 I wrote a Wilderness Update post called, “Square Peg Syndrome,” which resonated with many people. I wrote this as a follow-up to that piece. I’ve updated it for today.

Benjamin Corey, at his blog, Formerly Fundie, wrote a similar article called, “A Few Things I’ve Learned as a Christian Outsider.” He wrote it for those who, like him, “feel like outsiders– out of place everywhere, at home nowhere. . . . exhausted, and on the margins of faith.”

Here are a few of the lessons Corey said he has learned as a Christian outsider:

  1. I’ve learned to get my identity from Jesus, not the tribe.
  2. I’ve learned that the key to happiness is contentment.
  3. I’ve learned who my friends are.
  4. I’ve learned to forgive– not out of desire, but necessity.
  5. I’ve learned that sometimes theology becomes more important than people, and that I don’t want to ever be on the wrong side of this equation again.

He concludes with these words:

Sometimes I think that those of us who feel like outsiders focus a little too heavily on the negative, so these are some positive things that I’m learning– things that are helping me feel like I’m slowly finding life again.

What things have you learned from life as a Christian outsider?

Good lessons. Good insight. Good question for us. If I were to answer, what would I say? How about you?

Let me share three simple lessons, then it will be your turn to respond.

1. I’ve learned that “church” (as we generally do it) means different things to me in different seasons of my life.

In our culture, church as we have organized it is primarily a young person’s place and an activity center for families. Especially in more suburban settings. Especially in larger churches. Keeping a lively program going for families, children, and youth is essential in the competitive ecclesiastical atmosphere where I live, just a few notches from the buckle on the Bible belt.

Therefore, I don’t feel at home at church as much as I used to when I fit the demographic. Now I want depth, silence, beauty, an emphasis on formation and contemplation, respect for tradition, leisure for conversation, questions, and reflection. I don’t care so much about action, and when I do, I would prefer meaningful missional works that actually accomplish some good in the community around us, not mere Christian activity or events.

But you gotta pay the bills, right? So we keep bringin’ ’em in and meetin’ their needs.

Now, don’t simply mark me down as a curmudgeon. I know the church exists as a family for all generations, and I don’t resent the activity and programming that younger people and families may need. I’m merely suggesting that the church has lost its imagination for anything else but that, and that there are entire groups of people out there longing for something more attuned to where they may be in different seasons and circumstances of life.

2. I’ve learned that what I really understand church to be is a group of people with whom I share a common life in Christ and who share a common humanity with our neighbors.

When I was a parish minister, especially in congregations where we lived in a parsonage near the church building, we were seeing people from the church every day, having conversations, aware of what was happening week in and week out in each other’s lives. I really miss that about being a pastor . . .

Believe it or not, what happens for me here on Internet Monk is as close to that as anything I’ve experienced in quite a while. So much so that, when we visited Ted’s home in Maine, I felt like I was meeting someone with whom I shared a true bond. Same with Randy in New Hampshire. Dave Cornwell has become a good friend here in Indiana, and Mike the Geologist has become one right here in town. Same with the other writers and colleagues over the years such as Dan, Denise, Jeff, Lisa, Damaris, Joe, and others that I may see infrequently but keep up with through this forum. I used to say regularly, “This is not where I live.” Now I’m starting to think that cyberspace can be as personal and communal as we make it.

Since moving last year, we have more regular contact with the people in the congregation where I preach and serve during the winter months. Living in the country, in a rural community, puts us in the midst of people with roots, with country habits and long-standing community ties. When combined with the fact that we have lived in this area longer than any other location in our lives, and that our children and grandchildren are close to us and we have been involved with the people around here for many years now, it’s good to say we feel at home, with a strong sense of place.

The problem people have complained about for years with regard to “community” in the church does not represent an ecclesiastical issue at heart. It’s a problem that has arisen because much of the contemporary world moved on a long time ago from the kind of slower-paced, face-to-face world that provided a grounded culture of community as the bigger context in our lives. It’s not “spiritual” connections we need, it’s human ones.

3. I’ve learned that the God of the church is too small, too tame, too provincial to deserve propping up any longer.

By the “God of the church” I mean the God we have largely created so that we can feel comfortable in our church cultures. As the modern prophet A.W. Tozer once said:

The God of the modern evangelical rarely astonishes anybody. He manages to stay pretty much within the constitution. Never breaks our bylaws. He’s a very well-behaved God and very denominational and very much one of us, and we ask Him to help us when we’re in trouble and look to Him to watch over us when we’re asleep. The God of the modern evangelical isn’t a God I could have much respect for.

This is, I think, what many of us feel when we say, “I’ve outgrown the church.” There is a sense, of course, in which that is impossible, and such a statement teeters on the edge of pride and disdain for others. But I don’t mean it that way at all.

I mean that, as one who long ago became an outsider (and felt like one for much longer than I would admit), I have seen a bigger God. I have seen the Father’s love at work in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in ways inaccessible to those who hide behind church walls and separate themselves from “the world.”

There is a parochialism, a separatism, a Pharisaism, if you will, that keeps people from seeing Jesus in any setting outside what they deem “holy.” But there are aspects of creation, common grace, wisdom, and the imago Dei so powerful and real in the most unlikely and unexpected places all around us every day! I hunger to explore them, but they have no place in the constricted imagination of our holy huddles, so one must become an outsider to access them. And once you have tasted the feast which God prepares for us in the midst of the everyday, the thin gruel of what passes for “Christian” thinking and good works in many of our churches can almost seem repellent.

No, I don’t think I’m “too good” for the church. But on the other hand, I don’t think a lot of churches are doing anyone favors by conducting business as usual. Michael Spencer found himself in the same wilderness, and urged us all to avoid “Mere Churchianity” like the plague.

Anyway, I may not be a total “outsider,” but my edges are still far too square to fit most of the places I see around me.

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