How “narrow is the door” ?

“Narrow is the door.” The way this verse was often used when I was a kid was that you better get serious about church attendance or you’re toast. This makes this verse essentially into an old call for works righteousness –  get better at your discipleship or you’ll get Left Behind! Sort of an unspoken slogan “My yoke is hard and my burden is heavy!” Alternatively, some have used this verse to indicate that if someone is born at the wrong time in the wrong place, (say southern Africa,  2nd century AD), they are on their way to hell, outside the range of God’s grace. They use it as a proof that no Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or animist will ever be saved. The New Calvinists like John MacArthur make it sound like if you don’t get all your doctrines straight (i.e., believe what they believe – their particular version of Calvinism) you’re lost. This of course means it turns out that your ability to get the answers right on a theology test is what saves you, not Jesus.

But look at the context. The chapter begins with Jesus talking about the impending doom of Jerusalem and his generation’s headlong rush into insurrection and war with the Romans.  Next he tells a story about a fig tree. In the OT, these kinds of parables are about Israel, not individuals. The assumption all around him is that as long as my birth certificate says “Jewish” I’m automatically in with God. Jesus, in challenging his generation’s assumptions about civil religion, nationalism, religious violence, and pedigree, is talking about genuine relationship with God rather than religio-ethnic superiority complexes. If N.T. Wright is correct, this whole chapter is about Israel and Jesus’ call for his generation to follow him down a different Way.

To make this into a restrictive idea that God’s grace is only for the super-achievers spiritually or some other narrow slice of humanity is to fly in the face the portrait of God and his Kingdom that Jesus offers us, not least Luke 13: 18-21 – the Kingdom is a mustard seed grown huge and a leaven working through the whole batch of dough –  the words immediately preceding the ‘narrow door’ comment! If God were interested in making it difficult (narrow) to earn your way into heaven, no need to send Jesus. We already had difficult.  

Somewhere in The Shack, Mack asks “does this mean all roads lead to you?” Jesus replies,
“not at all; most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.”  In C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tale, a man who worshipped a false god Tash kneels before Aslan expecting death. But Aslan says to him “The oaths you kept to Tash I count kept to me…” These modern day parables are images of a God burgeoning with love, seeking people wherever they are. The ways the narrow door comment are often treated picture a God who lays out a tiny escape hatch in a maze for those who can find it. Which picture of God is true?

I’m afraid that the way these words of Jesus are typically used, we get simply one more old picture of a tribal god who only has love for his favorites or the super-accomplishers, not the God who loves all the world and sends His Son to save it. Would you want to love a favorites-only god?  Or would you only serve him out of dire necessity?

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Environmentalism: A Significant Theological and Ethical Concern

Because Earth is not detention hall, because postmodern Christians are abandoning End-times theories of abandonment, because this world is the world of God’s redemptive activity, because man is steward, not owner, of Creation (the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it); because this earth is the one being renewed and restored (Matthew 19:28; Acts 3: 21, Romans 8: 19-25 etc), because this earth is where the resurrection will occur – a trait of postmodern/emerging Christianity is a concern for the Creation, the environment, this place. Recycling is an ethical issue for  postmoderns. Endangered species are part of a theology of creation, an issue of biblical proportions for them. This may sound ludicrous to some modern Christians. If it does sound ludicrous then we are at a point of departure between modern and postmodern Christianity, and I suspect future generations of Christians will look back and consider those modern Christians to be the ludicrous ones.  Postmoderns do not walk around with the primary view of Christian faith being getting me to heaven when I die. The world around them, the Creation here and now, figure large. In fact, if push comes to theological shove, some modern Christians may want to call ‘hippie tree-hugger’ but the postmodern Christian will respond that they are embracing a Hebraic biblical worldview while the modern Christian is a dualistic Gnostic, denying this world and focused on blasting off to a purely spiritual one, implicitly denying resurrection.

Some may not believe modern evangelicalism has been outright anti-environment. It may be that the impression comes from particular political positions evangelicals have been known for. However, pop modern evangelical theology has factored in: an inventor friend of mine, when asked about the environmental safety of his invention, actually said “well, it’s all gonna burn, so who cares?”

When postmodern Christians hear evangelical leaders decry this concern for Creation and the environment it sounds to their ears suspiciously like a Republican defense of big business or Left Behind theology or both. While it is true that this environmental concern is a reflection of societal awakenings that began in the early 1900s with individuals like outdoorsman/ nature lover President Teddy Roosevelt and his crowd, what the postmodern Christians have done is take that concern for the environment and look into the Bible and come to realize “hey! this is part of our mandate!” So while movements in the broader culture may well have sparked the most recent Christian look at the issue, what’s been discovered is that our Scriptures indeed have a direction for us on this subject, and our history has many resources as well.

Bloggers and other de-criers of the Emergent boogeyman hear postmodern Christians speaking about their profound concern over creation and their deep interest in being good stewards of the world God made, and accuse them of being New Age Earth Mother worshippers.  In reality, this is the ‘greening of the evangelical conscience’. It isn’t going away. And it’s in line with a biblical theology of creation. A creation God cares about, evidenced in his discussion of birds, mammals and plant life throughout the Scriptures, especially the Wisdom literature. So: good.

 

Emergent church book titles that sum it up

The “Emergent” conversation within (mostly Western) Christianity has believed for quite some time that we are in the midst of a massive rethink, the coming of an end to one era in Christian thought and practice, and the beginning of another (which has happened several times before of course). This often makes some people who are deeply invested in the current institutions and doctrinal systems of modern Christianity very apprehensive, and even calls down accusations of heresy. But this was the case each time one historic era of Christianity died and a new one was birthed. Look at the titles of these books. Do they give you a feel or sense or idea of some of emerging Christianity’s themes?   These are by no means the only excellent books on the subject out there, but these have titles that are indicative:

 

Signs of Emergence: A Vision for Church That Is Organic/ Networked/ Decentralized/ Bottom-Up/ Communal/ Flexible {Always Evolving} (Kester Brewin, Baker, 2007)

Post-Modern Pilgrims: First Century Passion for the 21st Century World (Leonard Sweet, B&H, 2000)

A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey (Brian McLaren, Josey-Bass, 2001)

The Search to Belong: Rethinking intimacy, community, and small groups (Joseph Myers, Zondervan,  2003)

Jesus Brand Spirituality: He wants His religion back (Ken Wilson, Thomas Nelson, 2008)

The Radical Reformission: reaching out without selling out (Mark Driscoll, Zondervan, 2004)

Church Re-Imagined: The Spiritual Formation of People in Communities of Faith (Doug Pagitt and the Solomon’s Porch Community, Zondervan, 2003)

The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity (Carl Raschke, Baker Academic, 2004)

Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A manifesto for the church in exile (Rob Bell and Don Golden, Zondervan, 2008)

Making Sense of Church: Eavesdropping on Emerging Conversations about God, Community, and Culture (Spencer Burke, Zondervan, 2003)

The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations (Dan Kimball, Zondervan, 2003)

and last but not least, and getting the award for longest subtitle, of course:

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/Calvinist + anabaptist/Anglican + Methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished CHRISTIAN (Brian McLaren, Zondervan, 2004)