Faith


During the Willow Creeks Association’s Global Leadership Summit this year Tim Keller spoke from the text of the parable of the prodigal son. He recently wrote a book titled The Prodigal God and I assume much of what he said is expounded upon in the book.

Tim mentioned that the word prodigal also incorporates the idea of reckless expenditure and because this parable involves the reckless expenditure of love by the father (i.e. God) he titled it The Prodigal God. The sub-title (aim) of the talk was to diagnose spiritual deadness and reveal the cure for it.

The parable of the prodigal son was told to Pharisees and religious folk. In Luke 10 we read that the Pharisees and scribes complained because Jesus ate with and received sinners. In the light of this Jesus told three parables, the third of which is the prodigal son.

In the parable we often miss the fact that it was not only the younger brother that was alienated from his father but so was the elder. The younger did not love the father but rather he loved the money of his father and so he asked for his share of the inheritance and goes and spends it. But the elder brother wasn’t much different and his attitude is revealed in Luke 15:29 –

“he said to the father, Behold, so many years I serve you, and I have never transgressed a command of you. And you never gave a goat to me, so that I might be merry with my friends.”

He also was after his father’s possessions though he went after it in another fashion.

At this point Tim mentioned that people try to gain salvation in two ways. The one way is like the younger brother – ignoring God and be immoral and irreligious. The other is like the elder son – be very moral and religious. But in both these ways the heart of the person is not drawn to God but rather what can be gained – salvation.

By the end of the parable it is the elder brother that is outside the house trying to save him. He is lost because of his goodness. This is what religion does. It acts morally in order to gain salvation while salvation is not gained in that manner. Religion says obey and be accepted. Elder brothers serve God to get things from God. In other words doing what they think is expected of them and s getting leverage over God. The Gospel turns it on its head – you are accepted now obey out of love towards the One who accepted you. We get a righteous record because of the Son and then obey because we want more of God himself not what can give us.

Diagnosing Spiritual Deadness

So, diagnosing spiritual deadness – it is caused by the attitude of the elder brother. At one level we believe the gospel, but persistently our hearts go back to religion – we go back to being elder brothers. Elder brothers, and here is the source of spiritual deadness, believe they’re getting leverage over God

  • Elder brothers get angry when their life doesn’t go well
  • When elder brothers are criticized they either attack or are demoralized
  • There is no intimacy in an elder brother’s prayer life – it is about what is to be gained
  • Elder brothers have a sense of superiority because of their good works. Their self image is based on right doctrine and they loath all who disagrees with them.
  • They loo down on people who have or know less as lazy
  • They get merciless – forget from where they themselves where saved

What to do about this spiritual deadness.

  • Get to a new level of repentance.Repentance that means much more than just being sorry for wrong done and confessing it. It goes to the level of repenting for the reasons behind actions both wrong and right. Repenting from that motivation behind our good actions that seeks to gain something from God.Often the elder brother/Pharisee types are even proud of their repentance. It is one more “good” thing to do by which leverage over God can be gained.
  • Break through to a new level of rejoicing.Here Tim touched on something I have never thought about before. The estate of the father was already divided in two because of the younger brother’s request. He went and spent his part of the inheritance so the only reaming part of that estate would then be the elder’s inheritance. At the return of the young brother the father commands a feast must be held and the young brother is given a ring and robe – all of it at the expense of the older brother’s part of the inheritance! Understandably the older brother is furious. Here this squanderer of his father’s possessions comes back and gets all the advantages of the household for which he has not worked and that at the expense of the older brother – scandalous!We however have an elder Brother quite unlike the one in the parable. Our elder Brother brings us back to our Father at His expense – his very life.

    This moves us to humility.

    This is cause for rejoicing.

Teaching values

Whenever we teach about moral values we should press through to the gospel otherwise it becomes moralism and phariseeism. The reason behind what we do, the motivation is not to gain leverage over God. It is not to somehow gain points with God and then get something in return but because we have been shown mercy and acceptance into God’s family.  If we teach morality without this component we will end up with people falling back into the attitude of the elder brother.

Sadhu_SundarThis question has been with me since last Friday when I read this blog post about Sadhu Sundar Singh. Now Sundar was an Indian man who cultural surrendered his life to Jesus Christ in 1903 but instead of adopting the customs and dress of the Western Missionaries he chose stay within his culture, dress as a Hindu holy man (Sadhu) and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ by travelling all over India and Tibet bare foot. In the above mentioned post the author makes this claim:

A Sadhu is a Hindu who devotes his entire life to his religion and forsakes all the worldly pleasures.  When one becomes truly born again you will abandon ALL things that are not glorifying to God – you abandon your past.  The things you did before you were truly born again you repented of and you will not go back to them.  Sundar Singh didn’t do that, he kept the Hindu Holy Man name Sadhu and the robes.  The only reason for this was because it was supposedly easier for him to approach people and spread the Gospel.

Now I agree with the part that we must “abandon all things that are not glorifying to God” but does that mean a Hindu, Muslim, San Khoi,  or even sub-cultures must abandon their culture and adopt Westernised Christian culture. Should they dress differently? Learn a new language? Eat differently? Build church buildings the way the west do? Be missionaries like Western missionaries? Should we expect such a person to abandon customs not specifically forbidden in the Bible? Should we expect him/her to adopt customs not mentioned in the Bible? I am not talking here about customs specifically mentioned in the Bible but those that we as Western Christians have adopted as “Christian”.

I think that this notion we as Christians have had over the centuries of a “Christian Culture” have stood in the way of spreading the Gospel in a big way. When we see a person dressed in a certain way we immediately assume certain things about that person and connect that person to a cultural group. That in itself is not wrong but when we then extrapolate from there that a Christian shouldn’t dress that way I think we build a barrier which make it difficult for such a person to hear the Gospel.

Communication is much more than words because it involves two parties, the one with the message and the one receiving it. My experience taught me that the audience’s attitude to and perception of the message and messenger being communicated is just as important as the message itself. If a scenario is set where the audience are feeling rejected or threatened by the messenger the message will be compromised and worst rejected before it was even heard.

By judging people according to their cultural expression influence if they feel accepted or rejected. How the messenger appears to them influences if they feel safe or threatened.

In the light of the above my questions are:

Should we expect people to change their cultural expression when they accept Jesus Christ as Lord?

Should we adopt certain cultural expressions, like Sundar did, when we share the Gospel with other culture groups?

Jesus and His Stories

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells a series of parables and after the first one his disciples interrupts Him asking why he tells these stories. Jesus’ answer gives us a view into his audience minds and expectations.

From verse 11 we read

He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand,
And seeing you will see and not perceive;
15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,
And their eyes they have closed,
Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn,
So that I should heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

O-031-0312

Somehow the majority of Jesus’ audience spiritual eyes where blinded, even the righteous ones. When Jesus spoke plain words they did not understand the plain meaning of it. Why this spiritual blindness? I think if we investigate who these people were and what their expectations of the Kingdom of God were we might get an idea why they heard but did not understand. These people were Jews and the Jews expected the Kingdom of God to come by certain means and liberate them, the Jews, from the yoke of the Roman empire. Some of them expected the Kingdom to come by force (the Zealots), others expected it would come by political means (the Sadducees) and then there were those who expected God would liberate them if they got their act together and acted according to the Mosaic law (the Pharisees). Besides all of their different views all of them expected the Messiah to come with much fanfare and kingly splendor. So for them to hear that the Messiah came from a lowly town, born out of wedlock and He then speaking of walking the extra mile, turning the other cheek, paying taxes to the Romans, mixing with the low life of the time… Jesus and the Kingdom he spoke of was not what they expected. I’m convinced that these expectations they had clouded their understanding so that they could not comprehend what Jesus spoke of. Consequently Jesus told stories that brought them images of what the Kingdom of God is really like. Images have a powerful way of circumventing our expectations and opening the mind to other possibilities.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells a series of parables that He begins with “the kingdom of heaven is like…”. So the focus of these parables is to explain the nature of the kingdom of heaven or as noted in other passages the kingdom of God. The parable of the mustard seed is recorded in three gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke and in all three it is covered by only one sentence. It seems that in the Gospels Jesus had this ability to communicate something profound in very few words and this parable is one such example.

Matthew 13:31
31 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, 32 which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

Mark 4:30-32
30 Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? 31 It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; 32 but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.”

Luke 13:18-19
18 Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”

A Few Things About Mustard and Birds

The Mustard seed, like the parable says, is a relatively small seed. The mustard plant is a shrub that grows easily and spreads fast and it can take over a garden in a short period of time just like weeds. In Jewish culture a well kept garden was desirable and allowing mustard to grow in your garden was prohibited by Jewish law in fact it was considered a weed. The mustard shrub could grow to the size of a small tree but is bushy and not what we would call aesthetically nice to look at.

Just a few verses before Jesus was talking about birds of the air and using that image to describe unwanted influences. Birds of the air would most likely have been viewed as a nuisance by an agricultural society like the Jews of the time. Birds would be something you would want to keep away from your fields and gardens. The use of straw men keeping the unwanted away comes to mind.

Why Mustard and Birds?

Jesus was provocative in using these images to describe the nature of the Kingdom. He could have used the image of a lofty cedar tree (which also has a small seed) and of eagles that nest there. Why did Jesus use the images of a weed and birds that made nuisances of themselves to describe the Kingdom of God? My dad loved his Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible and I thought it a good idea to see what Mr. Henry thought of the parable as told in Luke 13:

Here is, I. The gospel’s progress foretold in two parables, which we had before, Mt. 13:31-33. The kingdom of the Messiah is the kingdom of God, for it advances his glory; this kingdom was yet a mystery, and people were generally in the dark, and under mistakes, about it. Now, when we would describe a thing to those that are strangers to it, we choose to do it by similitudes. “Such a person you know not, but I will tell you whom he is like;” so Christ undertakes here to show what the kingdom of God is like (v. 18): “Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? v. 20. It will be quite another thing from what you expect, and will operate, and gain its point, in quite another manner.” 1. “You expect it will appear great, and will arrive at its perfection all of a sudden; but you are mistaken, it is like a grain of mustard-seed, a little thing, takes up but little room, makes but a little figure, and promises but little; yet, when sown in soil proper to receive it, it waxes a great tree.”

Jesus was clearly demonstrating to his audience that the Kingdom of God was very unlike to what they thought it would be. The beginning of it small, like the seed of the mustard plant. No victory brought about by sword and violence, no glorious entrance of a political hero and no heralding of a moral prophet and judge to bring a nation back to obeying ancient laws but a small almost unnoticeable event – the death of a man hung between two criminals and a rumour that he didn’t stay dead*. Then there is the spread of this Kingdom. No disciplined military maneuvers, no political alliances and no getting on God’s good side by being the obeying older brother but unpredictable (John 3:5), sometimes in places where it is not wanted and the people involved in it not the beautiful and famous. The word subversive comes to mind to describe this Kingdom.

Then there are those despicable birds that take refuge in this mustard bush. Could it be that the ones that find this Kingdom attractive are those that the Jews looked down upon? The Samaritans, prostitutes, tax collectors and gentiles?

Our Expectation of the Kingdom of God and His Christ

I think that this parable must cause us to ask some serious questions to ourselves. It is always so easy to see how other people have the wrong idea about the Kingdom but what about us? Will we be able to get beyond our expectations of what the Kingdom of God should be and who Christ should be to be acceptable to us? Or will we stay stuck in our clouded mindsets where the Kingdom should come in a neat way and liberate us from our oppressors with the force of a super power’s army? Should those who find shelter in this Kingdom be the acceptable ones or come already repentant?

May God’s Word become alive to us, transforming our lives to reflect His gory.

* Just to make it clear – I absolutely believe that Christ Jesus rose from the dead. I’m stating here what might have been the perception of the first people who heard the news.

johncrossI have been part of the Learning Community of ekerk/echurch and Missionet since last year. The current LC is made up of a mixture of mainly Afrikaans speaking church leaders and some individuals interested in the church. They come from various denominations: Nederduits Gereformeerd, Herformde Gereformeerde Kerk, AGS(AFM), independent and others. Together we talk and learn what it is to be the Church in the world today. I attended a gathering of the Learning Community (LC) on 17 & 18 February hosted by Mosaiek in Johannesburg, and the many things discussed excited me but also made my head spin. There is much that was said that I do not fully understand yet, but my curiosity has been tickled and that is what the LC is all about.

This specific gathering of the LC was dedicated to feedback of the (re)formation conference held last year in Wittenberg and Berlin and further development of ideas born there. For more information on the (re)formation conference visit http://www.echurch.co.za/reformation-blog. In short the (re)formation meeting was organised by ekerk/echurch and people who are in the forefront of the post-modern church were invited to discuss what the 21st-century Reformation might look like. From the booklet we received at the gathering:

“Blending academic and real-world knowledge and experiences, the group will describe how God is bringing life to His Church in various nations, consider what the future Church may look like, and identify steps that disciples and leaders might take to facilitate God’s activity.”

The speakers that presented the subjects of discussion included George Barna, Mark Batterson, Chris Seay, Johan Geyser, Stephan Joubert, Christian Schwarz and Leonard Sweet.

During the LC I wrote half a note book full of notes, and to reproduce all of it here will take me months and will probably unintelligible to most. So here is just a few of the highlights:

Johan Geyser:
Johan Geyser talked about The Movement towards an Integrated Holistic Spirituality. He mentioned movements from a mechanical to a holistic paradigm; from a static to a dynamic world view; from classic to quantum science; from institutional to network structures; from visionary, strategic leadership to spiritual leadership… All this is impacting how spirituality is being experienced today.

The question was then asked: How must the church look like in this new and changing world. He then spoke about the tendencies of the Pre-Modern, Modern and Post-Modern world.

So how should the church look like?

  • Should we go back to the fundamentals, the church of Acts 2? He joked about people saying we should do this but then quickly add that they will exclude the selling of all property.
  • Should we redesign church from the start

OR

  • Should we look back to the roots and then into the future? (Ancient-Future Church)

The last point seems to be happening all over and there is already talk of a collective awareness in the church regarding it.

Johan then talked about how he sees this move towards a holistic spirituality happening for the individual. He mentioned the practice of silence, Lectio Divina, voluntary displacement (liminality) and embracing mysticism. (The mysticism is not referring to Eastern mysticism but that of the Church fathers)

He left me very curious to pursue what he said further.

George Barna:
We watched the session of George Barna at Wittenberg that they recorded on DVD. George is one of those people who seems to know what is happening all over the world, and I guess that is a good thing since he made it his job to inform the church of trends. He mentions 9 things that he sees God doing on the North American church context:

  1. A leadership shift from old to new
    a) Fading leaders of the last 3 decades (nationally known and followed) to…
    b) Baby boom generation leaders – transitional leaders to…
    c) Emerging leaders (locally known and followed)
  2. The leadership mantel is moving from the North American churches to other countries.
    He feels that the American church were not responsible with the blessings they received and had a heart of arrogance rather than brokenness. The American church became fixated on maintenance, is selfish and made a career out of Christianity rather than a calling. (Wow, harsh words!)
  3. God is eliminating the stranglehold of old institutions.
    Seminaries – training models; Institutional churche structures is passing and networks based on relationship is becoming more important.
  4. God has been amassing resources in the American church and it is filtering through to the rest of the world.
    The income of the collective American church is an estimated $50 billion p.a.
    $5 billion of it goes into buildings which might become shopping malls in 50 years time.
  5. God is expanding ways faith can be expressed.
  6. Faith is becoming a controversial aspect of life.
    It’s being discussed everywhere without reservations.
  7. God is stirring a great interest in the need of the poor and downtrodden.
  8. God is shrinking the world through technology to make the church one body.
  9. God is allowing greater friction between world faiths.

After his session we talked about how what is happening in the Afrikaans (mainly white) church in South Africa is similar to that in the American church and we agreed there are many similarities, especially the points about institutions, resources and the interest in the need of the poor.

Chris Seay:
This session was also a DVD recording of the Wittenberg conference. Chris talked about how schism is the spiritual cancer of the church. He quoted a friend of his saying that the greatest schism within the church is between the clergy and the laity. To collaborate with God’s redemptive work in the world is opposite to collaborate with consumerism. The schism between clergy and laity is something that makes religious consumerism flourishes. The church has become so entrenched in this culture of consumerism that it adapted its methods to it to the point that only professionals can do church. The modern church has become what the Roman Catholic Church was before the reformation where the church became a stumbling block for people to connect with God. The modern church teaches people that you can only serve God and relate to Him if you do church the way we say. The church has enriched itself at the cost of the Kingdom of God.

He told the following parable to illustrate his point:

He has four children. Imagine his eldest was very successful at sport and became very famous and rich because of it. He has multiple mansions with more rooms than he has children and grand children. Each house has multiple garages with exotic cars filling them. He spends his money on all kinds of indulgences. Now imagine his other three children extremely poor. They have no opportunity for education and neither have their children and grand children. They live in the most terrible circumstance imaginable where they have to drink the same water they bath in. They do not have enough food and are starving to death. The eldest brother knows about this but does nothing about it. How will he as father feel about his eldest son? He will surely tell him that is not the way he was raised.

How does God feel about the church spending its blessing on indulgences when their brothers and sisters are starving? What is God saying in the Bibe about our brothers and sister that are suffering?

Conclusion
I went away convicted. I must rethink the way I live and what my priorities are… I made the following resolution:

I want to move closer to God and want to move with God in fulfilling His purposes for the church. I will do this through all means currently at my disposal. I will investigate new ways of experiencing God where He can transform me to what He intended me to be from the start.

Psalm 98 (NKJV)
1. Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.
2. The Lord has made known His salvation;
His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.
3. He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
4. Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.
5. Sing to the Lord with the harp,
With the harp and the sound of a psalm,
6. With trumpets and the sound of a horn;
Shout joyfully before the Lord, the King.
7. Let the sea roar, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell in it;
8. Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord,
9. For He is coming to judge the earth.
With righteousness He shall judge the world,
And the peoples with equity.

I read this Psalm in my devotion time some months ago. This Psalm speaks of some really extravagant celebration. Just look at this:
Verse1 – Sing a new song. It takes time and commitment to write a new song. Before it is performed a LOT of work needs to be done – ask any song writer or arranger.
Verse 4 – Shout joyfully. Shouting goes with celebration. Just think of any sporting event – loud, joyous, and extravagant.
Verse 5 – A band playing along. Again this speaks of time consuming planning and rehearsal, not just haphazard, spur of the moment, let’s have a small get together. No this is serious partying!
Verse 6 – More shouting. Joyful shouting!
Verse 7 – Creation gets invited to this party. This is not a localised, house party. This is a global event. This has the characteristics of a new year’s celebration complete with rock bands televised across the globe and fireworks at Sydney Harbour, Moscow, Paris’ Eiffel Tower, London’s Millennium Wheel, New York’s Time Square and all over the globe. We talking about the biggest party one can imagine.

But what struck me about it was not only the extravagant celebration that is portrayed here but also the reason for it. Verse 9 says the following: “For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, And the peoples with equity.” Now this is where it got to me. Judgement is not normally associated with celebration, especially when God is involved. When God’s judgement comes up in conversations things get tense and voices get that serious tone to them not associated with a party. Our understanding of judgement is that of the law courts. You have the plaintiff or state attorney, the accused and their lawyer and the judge. When this law process is done then there is a judgement of guilty or not guilty. If guilty, then there is a penalty with not much reason for celebration, even the plaintiff will normally just state that they are “satisfied” that judgement went their way, but nothing to throw a global party about. If, however the judgement is “not guilty” there is normally much joy and, if South African court cases can be taken as an example, much celebration.

This Psalm says that God is coming to judge the earth and that is the cause of much extravagant celebration. I contemplated about this for some time now (more than 4 months actually). Then I read and discussed the following verse with some friends:

1 Colossians 1:19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (NKJV)

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned- 13 (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the offence. For if by the one man’s offence many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offence resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offences resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man’s offence death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
18 Therefore, as through one man’s offence judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

Wow! This good news, truly GOOD news. God the Father reconciled all things to Himself through Christ Jesus. This is extravagant grace! Jesus God’s free gift of grace is given to who? All? Really all? Can you believe it? ALL! WOW! Grace is true for all! Now this is reason for a global, extravagant, loud shouting, fireworks shooting party. This makes me want to shout with Darlene Zschech:

Shout to Lord all the earth let us sing.
Power and majesty, praise to the King.
Mountains bow down and sea will roar
At the sound of Your Name.

I sing for joy at the works of Your hands
Forever I’ll love you
Forever I’ll stand
Nothing compares to the promise I have in You

May this GOOD NEWS reach into your heart and fill your entire being:

You have been reconciled to God.
You have been forgiven.
There is nothing that stands between you and your Maker so come and reconcile yourself to Him and come into this wonderful relationship with God your Father.
Come live your life in this glorious place of reconstruction of your being.
Accept Christ Jesus as lord over your life, not Caesar, not Obama, not Robert Mugabe, not crime, not dependency on anything or anyone.
Jesus promises freedom and ultimately new and eternal life.
As for the Accuser’s case against you – you are found “NOT GUILTY”!

Grace is true for all. Let the celebrations begin.

the-shack

Me and writing reviews

I find that I am not very good at writing book reviews so if you want to read a good review on The Shack read this one writen by my friend Chad Holtz. If you would like to know what I think of the book then read on…

Why I read such a “blasphemous” book:

My wife was given The Shack, writen by William P. Young, as a present and because of all the noise that has been made about it on some discernment blogs I decided to read it and see what all the hoo-ha is about. I strongly believe never to make up my mind, comment or speak my mind about something I have not investigated myself, so I decided to read it.

What is the book about?

Mackenzie Allen Phillips (Mack) is married to Nan and a father of three boys and two girls. During a camping trip with three of his children the youngest, Missy, is abducted and evidence found in an abandoned shack suggests that she is brutally murdered. After some years he gets invited back to the shack by a person named “Papa”, the name by which Mack’s wife calls God. At the shack God reveals himself in three persons to Mack. Papa, an African-American woman (The Father); Jesus, a Middle Eastern man (The Son) and an Eastern woman named Sarayu (The Holy Spirit). During his conversations with God and experiences Mack receives healing from his inner hurts to the point where he can forgive his father and the man who killed Missy.

So… What did I think about it?

I must say that I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed reading the book. It is well written and engaging. It leaves one with that feeling that everything will be ok.

Young touches on a few controversial subjects and I think it is these that get him in trouble with the fundamentally minded folks.
The first subject is the sexuality (or rather the non-sexuality) of God. When God the Father reveals himself as a woman to Mack, Young challenges our premise that God the Father is male. Though Scripture refers to the Father in the male form I think there is a cultural (the patriarchal nature of the ancient cultures) reason for that. I think Scripture makes it clear that God neither male nor female.

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (NKJV)

John 4: 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (NKJV)

I think Young challenges this common idea in a very creative and respectful way. Later in the book, after Mack was able to forgive his father, God reveals himself as an older man to Mack explaining that Mack was open to relationship with God the Father thinking of Him as a male father figure.

 

The second subject is the fairylike, mystical nature of the Holy Spirit and given the name Sarayu in the book. Some people claim that the name Sarayu means goddess of the wind or something like that. I googled the name and this is what I came up with:

From Wikipedia:

The name is the feminine derivative of the Sanskrit root सर् sar “to flow”; as a masculine stem, saráyu- means “air, wind”, i.e. “that which is streaming”).

And from behindthename.com:

“Sarayu” is also a Sanskrit name of India which means “moving fast”, and also “air; wind”.

Then I searched the meaning of the word “pneuma” the Greek word used in the New Testament for the Spirit.

From Wikipedia:

Pneuma (πνεύμα) is an ancient Greek word for “breath,” given various technical meanings by medical writers and philosophers of antiquity, including:

Pneuma, “air in motion, breath, wind,” equivalent in the material monism of Anaximenes to aer (ἀήρ, “air”) as the element from which all else originated; the earliest extant occurrence of the term
Pneuma (ancient medicine), the circulating air that is necessary for the systemic functioning of vital organs, according to various medical writers of antiquity
The connate pneuma of Aristotle, the warm mobile “air” that in the sperm transmits the capacity for locomotion and certain sensations to the offspring
Pneuma (Stoic), the Stoic concept of the animating warm breath, in both the cosmos and the body

Pneuma also refers to:
The pneuma or “spirit” in Gnosticism
Pneuma, a concept of Christian pneumatology

Using the name Sarayu for the Holy Spirit is not that far off from the Greek word used in the New Testament, so I find no problem with that.

 

The third subject that strikes me is the nature of the relationship between the Trinity. On pages 121-124 Mack has a conversation with God:

(p121) “I mean,” Mack hurried on, “I have always thought of God the Father as sort of being the boss and Jesus as the one following orders, you know, being obedient. I’m not sure how the Holy Spirit fits in exactly.”

(p122) “You know what I am talking about.” Mack was a little frustrated. “I am talking about who’s in charge. Don’t you have a chain of command?”
“Chain of command? That sounds ghastly!” Jesus said.
“At least binding,” Papa added as they both started laughing, and then Papa turned to Mack and sang, “Though chains be of gold, they are chains all the same.”

(p122 Sarayu speaking) “Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us, only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command or ‘great chain of being’ as your ancestors termed it. What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. We don’t need power over the other because we are always looking out for the best. Hierarchy would make no sense among us. Actually, this is your problem not ours.”

(p122 Jesus speaking) “It’s one reason why experiencing true relationship is so difficult for you,” Jesus added. “Once you have a hierarchy you need rules to protect and administer it, and then you need law and the enforcement of the rules, and you end up with some kind of chain of command or a system of order that destroys relationship rather than promotes it.”

I agree with Young that there is equality in the Trinity, though from my understanding of Scripture there is some form of authority within the relationship of the Trinity and this comes from the following scriptures:

John 8:28 Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. 29 And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” (NKJV)

Here Jesus says that He only does what the Father tells him which for me refers to some kind of authority that the Father has.

John 17:1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. (NKJV)

When Jesus says that the Father gives the authority it implicates that the Father has the authority to give to Jesus.

I however think that our understanding of authority is tainted by our fallen nature and we mostly misuse authority to lord over other people, getting them to do what we want. This is not in line with biblical authority which Jesus came to show us. He ruled with a towel (John 13) and through service gained authority. Biblical authority only comes through relationship and it is never forced onto someone, but rather a choice of submitting under authority like Jesus chose to submit to the authority of the Father.
Young also touches on the theme of Universal Restoration which has become a theme that I think a lot of these last few months. I am still gathering my thoughts on this subject and hope to write something about this new journey I find myself on very soon.

My conclusion

I think Young did an excellent job of telling a story of pain, forgiveness and healing. He presents God as approachable and ultimately good. As far as the theology that is presented through this tale, I do not agree with him on every point but he is no heretic

Mine must be higher...

Mine must be higher...

Doctrine – the explication and officially acceptable version of a religious teaching. The development of doctrines and dogmas has significantly affected the traditions, institutions, and practices of the religions of the world. Doctrines and dogmas also have influenced and been influenced by the ongoing development of secular history, science, and philosophy.

And from the American Heritage Dictionary:

Theology –

  1. The study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions.
  2. A system or school of opinions concerning God and religious questions: Protestant theology; Jewish theology.
  3. A course of specialized religious study usually at a college or seminary.

 

(In this discussion I often group the concepts of doctrine and theology together and refer to both when the word “doctrine” is used except when noted otherwise.)

We humans are limited, God is unlimited; our knowledge limited while God is omniscient. We form theologies to try to understand an infinite Being and doctrines to try to explain how He relates to us and how we should relate to Him. Because we are limited in our knowledge these doctrines and theologies fall far short to describe this wonderful unlimited Being we know and recognise as God almighty. Yet we claim our doctrine or theology better and more perfect than the next person’s. We group ourselves with others with the same doctrine/theology and the more people we assemble around the same the more perfect we claim it to be. If someone dares to question some small part of our sacred doctrine we launch out in full attack and claim their doctrine to be at worst heretical or best erroneous. We are like children building towers with building blocks and the highest claims to be best. When another threatens to be higher we’ll throw a tantrum and try to knock theirs over.

We have an inherent need for God and try to reach out to Him and His perfection (Acts 17:27). With these doctrines and theologies we try to reach the perfection of God just like the people who built the tower of Babel.  We try to reach to the heavens.

Genesis 11:4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (NIV)

Now here is the catch. God stooped down from heaven, became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, walked among men, died on a cross and rose from the dead. All that is needed to reach out to God is belief in Christ Jesus and submitting under His Lordship. That is it. Nothing more than this.

In building our towers of doctrine higher we are missing the point. God is not to be found somewhere up there where the highest, most perfect tower can reach. He is to be found in the humility of surrender.

Doctrine and theology is useful because it help us understand (to a certain extent) what we belief. It is useful in figuring out how we should live out this submission to Christ and conduct ourselves while we do not know in full (1 Corinthians 13:12). But it is not essential for salvation.

My prayer is that God will knock us off of our towers of doctrine and that we will fall into His grace that is able to save and restore.

 

 

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