Monday

Tim Tebow, Dallas Willard and the Failure of Christianity

My husband Mike wrote this on his blog and I wanted to feature it on mine because I thought it was really good. We are both reading the Dallas Willard book (I highly recommend this author):

Here is an interesting excerpt from "The spirit of the disciplines: understanding how God changes lives":

... Christianity can only succeed as a guide for current humanity if it does two things.

First, it must take the need for human transformation as seriously as do modern revolutionary movements. The modern negative critique of Christianity arose in the first place because the church was not faithful to its own message -- it failed to take human transformation seriously as a real, practical issue to be dealt with in realistic terms. Fortunately, there are today many signs that the church in all its divisions is preparing to correct this failure.

Second, [Christianity] needs to clarify and exemplify realistic methods of human transformation. It must show how the ordinary individuals who make up the human race today can become, through the grace of Christ, a love-filled, effective, and powerful community.


Author Dallas Willard wrote that in the preface to the book.

It strikes me that Willard's 'many signs' are embodied in large part in the emerging church movement. Author Scott McKnight says of the emerging church movement:

Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. This definition encompasses nine practices. Emerging churches (1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities.

I thought that was what the church(es) have been supposed to be doing all along, but clearly, they have not, as we see by the declining numbers in America's conventional churches. There is too much hatefulness in these conventional churches; they have too much in them that is contrary to what Christ teaches. They may 'welcome the stranger', if the stranger is socially acceptable; they say they identify with the life of Jesus, but the most cursory examination shows they do not.

Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has ignited the flames of controversy with his public worship and praying. It even has a name: 'Tebowing.'

Personally, I think young Tebow is sincere in his faith, and his demonstrations are merely a manifestation of that sincere faith. I cannot find any reason to agree with the multitudes of sports writers, analysts, announcers, and so on who have ridiculed him for his demonstrations. These are the same characters who have no problems in ignoring or winking at the criminal shenanigans of any number of professional athletes who, were it not for their favored status, would be candidates for a good stretch in the local prison system. Their ridicule of young Tebow is, however, another manifestation of the failure of Christianity to show '... how how the ordinary individuals who make up the human race today can become, through the grace of Christ, a love-filled, effective, and powerful community.'

Nonetheless, through his public displays, Tebow is divisive. First, how does he reconcile his demonstrations with Matthew 6:5: 'And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.'

In that statement, Jesus is not questioning the sincerity of those whom he is addressing. Rather, he is telling them not to behave like those who lack sincerity. That's how it reads to me. So why does Tebow go against the teachings of Christ? He is, isn't he? I don't think he is a modern-day Pharisee, so why would he want to demonstrate like one? What's the point? What is he hoping to accomplish?

How is this creating division? Most of us have seen the chain emails flashing around the 'net, like the one that has a picture of a group of Muslims praying in New York City or some other American metropolis, captioned, "Why is this OK?" It isn't a photo of crazed Islamic fundamentalists hanging dismembered bodies from bridges, or beheading a bound and gagged hostage. It's a photo of Muslims in America, praying peacefully. A second photo is of Tim Tebow 'Tebowing', and is captioned, "And why is this not OK?" At best the message is that Muslims, simply by being Muslims are committing a wrong by the simple act of praying, and at worst, simply by being Muslims, are evil, murderous creatures undeserving of the freedoms inherent in those truths we Americans supposedly hold to be self-evident.

Why is it OK for Muslims to pray in peaceful manner in New York City? Could it be because this is the United States of America? Why is it that the Christian Right just doesn't get this?

And who says it isn't OK for Tebow to 'Tebow'? A collection of media maggots? Has Tebow been stopped? Has anyone dragged him off the field for his demonstrations? Has he been imprisoned for it?

It's Christians passing this around.Evangelical Christians. People who claim to 'identify with the life of Jesus', yet who in their pathetically childish question, 'Why is this OK but this isn't' put the lie to Christ's New Commandment, in John 13:34-35:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”


How do these emails and their ignorant hyperbole fit in with John 13:34-35? The short answer is that they do not. And so the senders and forwarders of these things are hardly 'identifying with the life of Jesus', so when they get up at church on Sunday morning professing to be one with Christ, they may have credibility with their like-minded brethren, but they do not have any credibility with the unchurched, or with those of the church who ask, 'how does this fit in with a commitment to living a life for Christ?'

It doesn't, and that is why we have an emerging church movement, and a continuing drift away from the established church. Embracing Christ and his lifestyle is without doubt one of the greatest of human transformations, yet by using Tebow's public demonstrations of faith to take cheap shots at other 'ordinary members of the human race' who have done no one any harm is certainly no testimonial as to why one should become a Christian.

It also demonstrates that the church has a long way to go in correcting its failure.
What do you think?

Friday

Reflections on the Christmas Story

When I was a child I was a "Little House on the Prairie" book series expert. I had read every book and was quite excited when the television series started. However, the more I watched, the more the series disappointed me because it really strayed from the story line of the books. This affected my enjoyment of the series. Had I not been an 'expert' because of my exposure to the books, the series probably would have been quite enjoyable standing on its own. But the longer the series continued, the more it drifted from the experiences of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the thoughts and views she expressed in her writing about those experiences. The series was an imposter.

Most people feel that books are better than television or movie adaptations. TV and movie writers have to cut things out because too many details interfere with the visual flow of the story, and time constraints - and budget - limit the options. The only way to do a really well-written story justice in video format is to present it as a mini-series, or as a main production followed by sequels. Hollywood productions of the Christmas story are no different, and the book is definitely better.For the 2011 Advent season, I wanted to concentrate on the chapters in Luke and Matthew that dealt with the birth of Christ. I didn't bother with the genealogies. I concentrated on Luke 1 and 2 and Matthew 1:18 through 2. I read these chapters in sections and tried to put them in order as best I could. I then wrote in my journal detailing my thoughts about the scriptures. It was a great way to spend my devotional time for the month of December. Next year I want to research and add the prophecies, but that's for later posts.

To begin my study, and the Christmas season, I decided to watch a recently-produced DVD of the Christmas story called "The Nativity Story." The film is pretty well done as far as presenting the cultural milieu of that time. I really like the scenes before the birth of Christ; however, when it does get to the end of Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem and to the birth of Christ I find the movie drifting further and further away from what biblical scholars tell us was a more realistic and more likely flow of events. In the video story, the writers had Mary in labor as soon as she and Joseph reached Bethlehem. That same evening, she was in the stable, delivered Jesus, and lo and behold, there were the shepherds, who must have really had their sandals flapping as they hustled to town after the angelic visitation! Meanwhile, on the day Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, the wise men were visiting with King Herod. They arrived at the stable almost as soon as the shepherds, with the screenwriters posing the group in such a way that it looks like an on-screen Christmas card. I found that to be a bit much, if the truth be known.

The wise men arrived just in the nick of time, with gifts that would help Mary and Joseph travel to Egypt that very night. In this film, Herod apparently figures very quickly that the wise men have tricked him, rather than determining this after the sages have made their trip to Bethlehem and back. So, that very night, when baby Jesus is not even 12 hours old, the old tyrant hands down his edict to slaughter male babies under two years of age. So in a mad rush, the script writers made everything that scholars tell us probably took quite a bit more time - years, possibly - in the scriptures happen in one night. And we can't point only at this video for this; most versions of the Christmas Story are very similar in sequence and timing of events.

If you like the movie I'm talking about, that's fine. I like it up until the very last scenes. However, if your kids or grandkids watch it I think there is good opportunity for discussion with them. They need to know that the real nativity of Christ and the events that took place surrounding it did not happen in a mad Hollywood rush. God actually took his time in allowing his child to be born. Luke 2:6 says, "While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son ..." It does not say "as soon as they arrived ...". The Holy Family also stayed in Bethlehem a while. Luke 2 says that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to be circumcised on the eighth day like the Law required. The chapter also describes how Simeon and Anna told everyone within hearing distance that baby Jesus was the Messiah. Even though Jerusalem isn't that far from Bethlehem, we find that the Holy Family traveled to the Temple and returned to Bethlehem without interference from Herod. In fact, Herod had no clue that the Christ-child had been born until the wise men told him. Then, the wise men visited Mary, Joseph and Jesus in a house - "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him ..." Matthew 2:11. Matthew also refers to Jesus a child, not an infant.

The point at which the wise men actually visited either Herod or Jesus is difficult to determine, but the fact pattern presented in the Bible clearly does not point to this happening on the day and evening of Jesus' birth. As far as the timing goes for the flight to Egypt we cannot be sure. However, given that Herod's orders were to kill every male child under two years old, it would seem that Herod did not issue those orders the same night of Jesus' birth, and further, that Herod - and the wise men - were unsure of exactly when Jesus had been born.

These are details that may seem nit-picky, but I think they greatly affect the flow of the story, and the dynamics of the relationships of the players involved. The story really is about the birth of a child who will be the salvation of humankind - as well a threat to the established order within the existing religious structure, and culture, and to the power of the Roman empire - and all the drama that unfolds as these things become known throughout the land.