Saturday, September 15, 2012

3 Varsity Players

Five years later, I can finally say I've made a tiny contribution to the GEHS Varsity Football team.  Three of the kids I coached on that 2007 team are now seniors and playing on the varsity team.  They've put in the work, avoided the attrition that took most of their former teammates, spent years on the scout team and they're now finally getting to play in Friday night primetime. 

The fastest kid from that 2007 team, a burner who was unstoppable once he hit the corner, is playing corner.  My favorite kid from that team, our hot-headed and good-hearted fullback, is playing fullback.  The hardest working kid from that team, the son of a good friend of mine with whom I often watch the games, is playing special teams. 

GEHS lost a heart-breaker last night.  After the game, I told one of my former players to keep his head up, though I don't think he heard me.  When I caught the eye of the fullback, his face lit up and he asked, "did you see me playing out there?" 

There are a lot of things I'd like to do in my life over the next twenty years.  Getting a shot to coach football for a few more seasons is definitely on that list.  Whether or not that ever actually happens, I'm glad to have had gatorade dumped on the back of my legs (those kids were short) and to know that I helped with the development of some of the kids playing on Friday nights. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How God Became King

I recently finished NT Wright's fascinating book, How God Became King: The Untold Story of the Gospels.  And as I'm prone to do, I took some notes on some of the more interesting parts.

But I suspect that the Wesleyan emphasis on Christian experience, both the “spiritual” experience of knowing the love of God in one’s own heart and life and the “practical” experience of living a holy life for oneself and of working for God’s justice in the world, might well be cited as evidence of a movement in which parts of the church did actually integrate several elements in the gospels, a synthesis that the majority of Western Christians have allowed to fall apart.

The problem as arisen principally because for many centuries, Christians in the Western churches at least have assumed that the whole point of Christian faith is to “go to heaven,” so they have read everything in that light… The “kingdom of heaven” is not about people going to heaven.  It is about the rule of heaven coming to earth.

For [the gospel writers], God’s great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay.

We have allowed “atonement” to be narrowed down to “forgiving sins so people can go to heaven,” leaving unaddressed the (to us quite different) problem of “evil” as an abstract thing.  That was a dangerous mistake.  What then happened was that when something unmistakably “evil” happened in our comfortable Western world – I’m thinking of course of September 11, 2011 – our politicians reacted as though they could “solve” the new (political) “problem of evil” by dropping bombs on it.
That kind of dangerous niavete could only have arisen when theology, philosophy, and politics had become detached from one another.  We should know by now that this simply  won’t do, but because we haven’t got an alternative framework to offer, we seem unable to break out of the trap.  We still seem to think that bombs and bullets can deal with “evil,” liberating people who, once the “evil” has been thus obliterated, will turn out to be nice liberal Western democrats after all.  This is just one of the many traps into which Western culture has allowed itself to sleepwalk.  I believe the gospels can help us break out of all such traps and to see the world and its multilayered continuing “problem of evil” through new eyes.

[Revelation 1:5-6 and 5:9-10] This vision, of a community rescued by the cross and transformed into kingdom-bringers, follows directly from the story the four evangelists are telling.  It is, once more, a measure of how far the Western church has drifted from those moorings that it has been possible for Christians in our own day to think of bringing “justice and peace” into the world by the normal, disastrous means of bombs and bullets.  Not so.  The implicit ecclesiology of all four gospels is a picture of a community sharing the complex vocation of Jesus himself:  to be kingdom-bringers, yes, but to do this first because of Jesus’ owns suffering and second by means of their own.  The slaughtered and enthroned lamb of Revelation 5 is not only the shepherd of his people; he is also their template.  Sharing his suffering is the way in which they are to extend his kingdom in the world. 

[Colossians 2:15] That is to say, when Jesus died on the cross he was winning the victory over the “rulers and authorizes” who have carved up this world in their own violent and destructive way.  The establishment of God’s kingdom means the dethroning of the world’s kingdoms, not in order to replace them with another one of basically the same sort (one that makes its way through superior force of arms), but in order to replace it with one whose power is the power of the servant and whose strength is the strength of love.

Paul’s meaning of the cross, then, is that it is not only what happens, purely pragmatically, when God’s kingdom challenges Caesar’s kingdom.  It is also what has to happen if God’s kingdom, which makes its way (as Jesus insists) by nonviolence rather than by violence, is to win the day.  This is the whole “truth” to which Jesus has come to bear witness, the “truth” for which Pilate’s worldview has no possible space (John 18:38).  It is at once exemplified, dramatically, by Jesus taking the place of Barabbas the brigand (John 18:38-40).  This is the “truth” to which Jesus bears witness – the truth of a Kingdom accomplished by the innocent dying in place of the guilty.

If the cross is to be interpreted as the coming of the kingdom of earth as in heaven, centering on some kind of messianic victory, with some kind of substation at its heart, making sense through some kind of representation, then the four gospels leave us with the primary application of the cross not in abstract preaching about “how to have your sins forgiven” or “how to go to heaven,” but in an agenda in which the forgiven people are put to work, addressing the evils of the world in the light of the victory of Calvary.  Those who are put right with God through the cross are to be putting-right people for the world.  Justification is God’s advance putting right of men and women, against the day when he will put all things right, and thereby constituting the justified people as the key missiology, including an integrated political theology, and the new ecclesiology that will be needed to support it, a community whose very heart is forgiveness.