November 20, 2017

Wednesdays with James: Lesson Ten

Nun & Orphan

Wednesdays with James
Lesson Ten: The Old “Faith & Works” Debate — Completely Unnecessary

We continue our study in the central section of the Epistle of James today. In the body of this encyclical, the author takes up the three themes he introduced in chapter one, addressing them in more detail and in reverse order. The first theme James discusses is, “Faith Works through Impartial Generosity.” Last week, we explored the “impartiality” part of the theme, today we look at what it means that faith works through loving generosity.

That brings us to the most famous text in this epistle.

What use is it, my dear family, if someone says they have faith when they don’t have works? Can faith save such a person? Supposing a brother or sister is without clothing, and is short even of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; be warm, be full!”— but doesn’t give them what their bodies need— what use is that? In the same way, faith, all by itself and without works, is dead. But supposing someone says, “Well: you have faith, and I have works.” All right: show me your faith— but without doing any works; and then I will show you my faith, and I’ll do it by my works! You believe that “God is one”? Well and good! The demons believe that, too, and they tremble! Do you want to know, you stupid person, that faith without works is lifeless? Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by his works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You can see from this that faith was cooperating along with the works, and the faith reached its fulfillment through the works. That is how the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called “God’s friend.” So you see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she gave shelter to the spies and sent them off by another road? Just as the body without the spirit is dead, you see, so faith without works is dead.

• James 2:14-26, KNT

Peter Davids puts his finger on why this passage has proven controversial, when he writes:

The problem with James arises because he stresses the results of commitment to Christ and uses much of the critical theological terminology in a way different from Paul.

In particular, James’s use of “faith,” “works,” “save,” and “righteous/righteousness” appear to respond to such Pauline texts as Romans 3:20 — “No mere mortal, you see, can be declared in the right before God on the basis of the works of the law,” and Galatians 2:16 — “But we know that a person is not declared ‘righteous’ by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah [or, through faith in Jesus Christ]” (Kingdom New Testament).

Based on texts like those, the common evangelical interpretation boils down to their understanding of the Pauline perspective: A person cannot be saved or declared righteous by God through works, but only through faith in Jesus Christ.

But then they run into a problem when they read James, for James says that Abraham, for one, was “justified by his works.” He also indicates quite clearly that you cannot so quickly divide faith and works, for they are part of an organic whole when it comes to being “saved” and being “righteous.” The question then naturally arises: Do Paul and James contradict each other?

I happen to think this is a completely unnecessary debate.

  • James is not addressing Paul’s teaching.
  • James is addressing a completely different situation.
  • Paul’s concern is the inclusion of the Gentiles into the community of the Messiah. “Works” in that context mean “works of the Jewish law,” as N.T. Wright’s translation above shows. Gentiles can be included in the community of the Messiah (and thus, saved, declared ‘righteous’) apart from having to keep the requirements of the Mosaic law, such as circumcision, food laws, and sabbath. They are accepted solely on the basis of “faith,” which usually refers to the “faithfulness of Jesus.” In shorthand: Gentiles do not have to become Jews to become Christians.
  • When Paul (or a “Pauline” author) does expand beyond this specific concern of the inclusion of the Gentiles and speak of faith, works, and salvation in a more universal sense, his message turns out to be the same as James (we’ll come back to this in a moment).
  • James’s concern is to convince his Jewish-Christian readers that genuine faith leads naturally to loving deeds. In the context of this letter, he is expanding upon an issue he introduced in chapter 1. In times of testing, it is easy to turn inward and forget about serving those who are truly vulnerable. In our study on 1:22-27, I put it this way: “James reminds these communities that there are needy, vulnerable people among them who need loving care. What good is it to keep myself pure if my brother or sister is suffering and I do nothing about it? So, James says, don’t stop at receiving the word which means your own salvation. Instead, practice the love that God’s word everywhere commends. Guard yourselves, yes, but even more, love your neighbors. …When you consider that James is writing to communities who find themselves under severe trials, the task becomes even more daunting. When under that kind of stress, folks, no matter how strong their faith, can easily become selfish, withdrawn, impatient, angry, snippy with others, and forgetful of those in their midst who have it much worse.”
  • And so James speaks here in chapter 2 about the duty to care for poor brethren who have insufficient clothing and food, and he reminds them of Abraham, who was under a test and faithfully did what God had told him and Rahab, who met another test with faithful care for others.
  • In other words, this is one of those instances where James is applying teaching that his Jewish readers would have known from childhood, “Torah” about the moral and ethical life that comes forth from fearing and trusting God. Those who so trust and those who so live are known as “the righteous” throughout the Hebrew Bible. They are people whose professed faith shows itself in a life of loving deeds, especially toward those in need. He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
  • James has already magnified the grace of God as that which saves us and brings us into God’s family: “Don’t be deceived, my dear family. Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes down from above, from the father of lights. His steady light doesn’t vary. It doesn’t change and produce shadows. He became our father by the word of truth; that was his firm decision, and the result is that we are a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” (1:16-18, KNT)

Now let me expand upon something I said earlier. There are Pauline (or pseudo-Pauline) texts about faith and works that are not specifically addressing the inclusion of the Gentiles. For example, the most well known is Ephesians 2:8-10

How has this all come about? You have been saved by grace, through faith! This doesn’t happen on your own initiative; it’s God’s gift. It isn’t on the basis of works, so no one is able to boast. This is the explanation: God has made us what we are. God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel. (KNT)

A couple of other passages are found in Titus:

God’s saving grace, you see, appeared for all people. It teaches us that we should turn our backs on ungodliness and the passions of the world, and should live sober, just, and devout lives in the present age, while we wait eagerly for the blessed hope and royal appearing of the glory of our great God and savior, Jesus the king. He gave himself for us so that he could ransom us from all lawless actions and purify for himself a people as his very own who would be eager for good works. (2:11-14, KNT)

We ourselves, you see, used at one time to be foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved to various kinds of passions and pleasures. We spent our time in wickedness and jealousy. We were despicable in ourselves, and we hated each other. But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, he saved us, not by works that we did in righteousness, but in accordance with his own mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewal of the holy spirit, which was poured out richly upon us through Jesus, our king and savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and be made his heirs, in accordance with the hope of the life of the age to come. (3:3-7, KNT)

When you read these texts and compare them with chapter 2 of James, it is obvious that the Pauline perspective matches James to a T.

  • God saves us by grace through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.
  • Our good works do not earn us any merit before God. It’s by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone that we are declared righteous.
  • In saving and justifying us, God made us new, to walk in lives of loving good works.

Of course, there is much to add to all of this, but this is the essence.

Tomorrow, a final reminder that God’s grace to us in Christ sets us free to love.

• • •

Wednesdays with James
Previous Studies

Comments

  1. Steve Newell says:

    Many times we will do good works without even realizing it. In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus said that those with truth faith will perform good works and they don’t even realize that they did. They just lived out their faith and need those who were in need. Those with a false faith did not perform good works when they had the opportunity.

    • Good point, and I think this shows the gracious nature of what the Augsburg Confession calls “the new obedience.” We participate in God’s good works, and often don’t know the full story, or even a small part of it.

    • –> “Many times we will do good works without even realizing it.”

      I’ve said this before during this series, but this is why I think James is talking about being of good (Christ-like) character than actual works. If we are of good character, the works will come naturally. I also think your comment fits with my feeling that bearing fruits of the spirit is the primary element here. Are we kind, gentle, self-controlled, etc etc.? Is that our new nature and character? If so, we’ll be doing good works without even realizing it.

      • Rick, I can accept this distinction, if we are talking about a general approach to encouraging spiritual formation.

        But in the context of the letter, I think James is urging definite action. If my understanding of the background is right, poorer and more vulnerable people were suffering because others in the community were ignoring them and not helping to meet their real down-to-earth human needs.

        Sometimes, “be DOERS of the word” means exactly that. Get off your bum and love your neighbor by taking care of him/her.

  2. Oops, CM, in your quote from Galatians 16 above, you are missing a crucial “not”:

    “But we know that a person is NOT declared ‘righteous’ by works of the Jewish law . . . .” It’s right next to the image of Davids’ book.

    While I have your attention, do you know of an online source of the text of the Kingdom New Testament? Thanks.

  3. I usually object to the fuzzy concept of salvation as expressed by many Christians but I would submit that Rahab is a prime example of someone literally saved by her faith as understood by Old Testament Jews. Abraham may have been “justified” by his works, whatever that means, in offering up Isaac, but I would say it was Isaac who got “saved” in this incident. If I was drowning, or facing an angry mother bear, I would rather be saved than justified.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > If I was drowning, or facing an angry mother bear, I would rather be saved than justified.

      +1,000

      • +1000, too!

        I’m beginning to wonder if the Abraham/Isaac story wasn’t some sort of misunderstanding between Abraham and God, and God did a face-palm (“I can’t believe Abraham thinks I want him to kill his son!”) and sent the ram to stop him from doing something stupid. I know that’s not how the text reads, but it’s something I’ve been mulling on.

        • I’ve always found this story morally troubling, and all the more so since Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac has so often been praised, not only in the Old and New Testaments, but in much theology that has been written over the past two millennia. I do not accept that God asked Abraham to kill his own son; such a request is completely out of keeping with the character of a loving father, divine or human. It’s monstrous.

          • It is definitely a “theology of the cross” story for me. God speaking through an unimaginable and incomprehensible scene.

          • CM, I have some understanding of the theology of the cross, but I’m not sure how it applies here. Could you expand a little?

        • I read somewhere (probably via comments here) that it was some kind of bluff/double-bluff thing. God saying “let’s see how far he’ll go”, and Abraham saying “let’s see how far he’ll let me go”.

    • I have an idea that James uses Abraham because he was known as the ultimate exemplar of “faith” and the incident with Isaac used because the Torah specifically says that this was where Abe passed the “test.”

  4. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    “””I happen to think this is a completely unnecessary debate. …known from childhood, “Torah” about the moral and ethical life….”””

    +1

    Until I lost most of my library in a fire I had a copy of the Babylonian Talmud – – – reading that [as tedious as it often was] was powerfully instructive. This salvation-not-by-works is not the obsession in those texts that it is in Christian Protestantism, it is something that seemed ‘just understood’ on a much more comfortable level. I strongly recommend spending some time in the Jewish texts.

    I suspect the Protestant construct of “law vs. grace” – it is even phrased as adversarial – lenses so much of the conversation about James and the notion of righteousness. And it is not a helpful lens.

    “””When you consider that James is writing to communities who find themselves under severe trials, the task becomes even more daunting. When under that kind of stress, folks, no matter how strong their faith, can easily become selfish, withdrawn, impatient, angry, snippy with others, and forgetful of those in their midst who have it much worse.””””

    Given how clearly stressed many Christians, particularly Evangelicals, currently feel this understanding couldn’t be more relevant.

    • Adam, I agree. You also see little ‘works righteousness’ in Jewish literature from around the time of Jesus, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. Unfortunately in evangelicalism there is an absolute dichotomy made between ‘works’ and ‘faith’ (it’s almost a phobia in some quarters – there’s a ‘works salvation’ bogeyman behind every pew). The first-century concept of faith (particularly among Jews) would probably lean far more toward ‘faithfulness’ than ‘trusting in Jesus for your salvation instead of your good works’ (which I have often heard as a ‘definition’ of faith). ‘Faithfulness’ (or loyalty) was the normal response to receiving ‘grace’ (a gift) whether that gift came from God or a generous patron.

      N.T. Wright notes in ‘Paul and the Faithfulness of God’ (p 406-7):

      ‘As Messiah, Jesus was the one in whom God’s faithfulness had come to climatic expression,and who therefore called out faithfulness from his followers.. . . Loyalty to Jesus as Messiah, ‘the obedience of faith’ as Paul puts it, occupies the place within Paul’s new worldview construct formerly occupied by the ‘loyalty to God’, or to Torah, or to the holy land, within just that zealous Judaism that we know to have been Paul’s own context. This loyalty, which in its former version would have been a key marker of the genuine, out-and-out committed Jew, was thereby transformed into the identity-anchor within Paul’s renewed worldview. This loyalty (for which the Greek word was pistis [faith or faithfulness]) was the thing that demonstrated where God’s true people were to be found within the new creation that had come to birth at Easter. Here at a symbolic level, we see part of the meaning of ‘justification by pistis’: strange though it will seem to some, pistis is the badge that functions, within the Pauline worldview, as the sign of membership in God’s people.’

      It would appear that, for N. T. Wright anyway, there is very little difference between Paul and James on this issue. There would appear to be much more difference (according to Wright) between Paul or James and the Reformers a thousand years later (who had a much different ‘worldview’ than Paul or James).

  5. Ronald Avra says:

    Very good exposition, Chaplain.

  6. I apologize if this really should wait for a separate thread, but is the part I usually stumble over: “In saving and justifying us, God made us new, to walk in lives of loving good works.”

    The problem I have with that is that plenty of non-Christians engage in such good works. It sounds like only Christians can be moral. I’ve lurked here long enough to know that’s *NOT* what CM is saying, but that’s how the conventional teaching sounds to me. Most people, Christians and non-Christians alike, try not to “become selfish, withdrawn, impatient, angry, snippy with others, and forgetful of those in their midst who have it much worse.” And they’re not necessarily any less likely to be successful at that goal than Christians.

    Maybe the answer is that Jesus’s work freed, inspired, and saved *all* people, whether they purport to follow him or not, whether they recognize it or not. That could be. It makes sense. But since mainstream Christianity has told me that’s not the case (and sometimes that I am a heretic if I take the possibility seriously), I struggle with it.

    • –> “But since mainstream Christianity has told me that’s not the case (and sometimes that I am a heretic if I take the possibility seriously), I struggle with it.”

      I had my little battle with the idea a couple years back after a friend of mine began drifting toward that thinking. At the time, I thought, “Man, that’s pretty close to heresy!”

      Well, break-break….here I am, two years later, pretty much in line with that thinking. If people think it’s heresy, let them think it. I don’t tell many evangelical friends that that’s now my belief, but I do share with a few I know have open minds and are slow to judgment. And actually I’m discovering more and more people wondering if God’s grace isn’t greater than we think, which would bring those into the Kingdom.

      Give it time, Rocky. There’s nothing wrong with the thinking. The struggle won’t be forever.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > In saving and justifying us, God made us new, to walk in lives of loving good works.”

      I’m not confident this statement implies the degree of exclusivity some read into it.

      > The problem I have with that is that plenty of non-Christians engage in such good works.

      Certainly. And it becomes really hard to bear when one thinks about how often Religion – and Christianity is no exception – is so easily used as a refuge/cover for racism, classism, tribalism, and nationalism.

      > Most people, Christians and non-Christians alike, try not to “become selfish, withdrawn, impatient…

      Probably true. I feel that what Christianity, fairly uniquely, brings to the table is the emphasis on grace/mercy/charity.

      > Maybe the answer is that Jesus’s work freed, inspired, and saved *all* people

      Possibly. I wouldn’t call anyone a Heretic for believing that. I am not sure I am there, but it seems as good a place to be as any. This doesn’t seem to me to be a ‘hill to die on’; it is certainly fits the adage ‘above my pay grade’. The Scripture are not clear – but there is plenty clear in just the text of James. Enough to occupy a life-time.

      • I feel that what Christianity, fairly uniquely, brings to the table is the emphasis on grace/mercy/charity.

        I would agree with this. Those things are not exclusive to Christianity, but are heavily emphasized.

        Should be, at least.

        Liberal values.

        Vote for the candidate who will choose better Justices.

  7. Rocky, if you’re a heretic, I’ll stand with you. Yes, many Christians openly state or privately believe that only Christians can be moral, or maybe good works only count with God if you are Christian, whatever that means. The truth is that out of any religion or race or ethnicity or other grouping, there are people who would make ideal neighbors and people who would be neighbors from hell, and that includes self-identified Christians. Most religions and most people support good behavior, including atheists. and certainly this counts with God The further truth is that contrary to popular belief, Christianity isn’t just about morality.

    So why be Christian? It is my view that you can study and believe all you want, but it is only in actually making the committed effort to love God and your neighbor unreservedly that you find out just how difficult this is to do, and perhaps impossible. I believe that it is only in this effort that we are able to actually grow spiritually, and that growing up is our main assignment. Anyone can make this effort and make more or less progress, but my personal belief is that having the Spirit of Jesus, the Mind of Christ, as helper and guide and comforter gives a person an advantage not found elsewhere. It’s free. I’ll take it with utmost thanks and give it my best shot.

    • Yes, many Christians openly state or privately believe that only Christians can be moral, or maybe good works only count with God if you are Christian, whatever that means.

      This was one of the stumbling stones leading me out of the cult and fundamentalism. I saw the good that atheists did. I saw the christians lie and twist words to deny it. And the groupthink wasn’t strong enough for me to not say “you are damn wrong”.

  8. Thanks to Rick and Charles for their thoughtful responses.

    Charles also hits on something closely related, namely: what is unique about the “Christian Life”? I’ve already hinted that I’m not convinced it is ethics, and I’m not convinced that it is salvation or what happens in the afterlife. Those are the two major answers given most often. But if not those, what? Simply a shared belief in the idea that a certain historical event (namely, the Resurrection of Jesus) actually happened? Maybe….and shared beliefs about history can be powerful in their own right….but I’d like to think something more is happening here.

    Charles provides a different answer, that is definitely something to think about. Thanks for that.

    • Charles asks, “So why be Christian?”

      At one time – for the first 25 years of my 31 years as a Christian – I would’ve answered, “To get to Heaven.”

      I have a different answer now, especially as I’ve drifted toward “maybe God and Jesus save everyone.” If everyone gets saved (or “most people”, if you can’t get your head around the concept of “everyone”), then “why be a Christian” is a great question and has a deeper answer.

      To me, being a Christian merely separates me from non-believers in that I recognize Jesus for his saving grace, for his sacrifice and power to bring everyone into eternal life. Being a Christian means I recognize that God wants to reconcile with all his creation, and his ultimate proof of his love for us is in Jesus. Jesus fulfills all that OT stuff that shows how separated from God we actually are, and the book of Hebrews lays out my answer as well as anything. Jesus is the purifier and the sacrifice and the priest and etc etc. Calling myself a Christian merely means that I recognize the cross and Jesus and God, and that I will worship them for their wonderful love and mercy.

      “So why be a Christian?” I can no longer tell agnostic and atheist friends, “Know Jesus so you get to heaven.” Rather, I tell them, “If you knew God’s love and Jesus’ character like I do, then you’d become a Christian merely to worship them.”

      • “So why be a Christian?” I can no longer tell agnostic and atheist friends, “Know Jesus so you get to heaven.” Rather, I tell them, “If you knew God’s love and Jesus’ character like I do, then you’d become a Christian merely to worship them.”

        And I’m at the point where I cannot in any way worship Him/them. Because I can see the house of cards that compels worship, and what’s more, I can see the mythological nature of most of those cards.

        You can almost go down the list of doctrines: I will not worship him because Hell does not exist. I will not worship Him because original sin doesn’t exist. I will not worship him for not saving me from the Romans. I will not worship Him for saving me from outdated moral codes. I will not worship Him because Total Depravity is a lie. I will not worship Him because I’d be ex-communicated.

        I would worship Him if he was good. I would worship Him if he was love. I would worship him if he was a Father. I would worship him if he offered grace (apart from all the proceeding doctrines).

        I would worship Him if he was real. Jesus, I could still worship. I have doubts about the Father’s existence let alone identity.

        Maybe the problem is the word and concept of ‘worship’. Nothing and no one deserves that. But I’m grateful for and will celebrate anyone who makes anyone’s else’s lives better, from the least to the greatest.

        • I’m a Christian because I need help, all the time every day. I know it’s shameful to admit that, but that doesn’t make it any less true for me. I’m afraid of death, the suffering and solitude of it; I’m hoping that the reality that embraces me in death is like what I know, or what I think I know, of Jesus: personal, self-giving, non-violent, loving, patient, healing, magnanimous. I’m afraid of life, the suffering and solitude of it; I’m hoping that, with Jesus’ help, I can learn to face the rest of my life with at least a little courage and hope and kindness and patience and gentleness and self-giving. I place my hope and trust in Jesus (to the degree that I can) because I want him to make me like him, not in terms of losing my own identity, but so that I may share in the powerful personal qualities that I see in him when I read the New Testament.

        • I find it interesting that the question of whether or not to remain Christian is a constantly open one for Christians who live in modernity. We repeatedly have to choose, day after day, to continue in that identification, or not to continue. How could the most modern form of Christianity, evangelicalism, not make personal choice central to the question of whether or not one is Christian? How could the older forms of Christianity, practicing pedobaptism and predating modernity, not have to turn somersaults trying to deal with and accommodate the modern preference for personal choice in forms of Christianity not originally friendly to it? It’s built into modern consciousness, it’s a given, that we have this choice, and others, always before us. We are always aware that the door opens in both directions.

        • Of course, I can only answer the question for myself, and from myself. I cannot tell anyone else why they should be Christian. If they share some of my experience of life, they may feel the same need or desire to be Christian that I do, or they may not. I suppose you could call this a form of witness or testimony, though it has makes modest rather than grand claims, and speaks only of local rather than universal circumstances and applications.

        • But that’s the whole point of Christianity – Jesus said if you have seen me you have seen the Father. Christ mirrors who the Father is exactly. What came before, the Old Testament, was a blurry description of God, it came into full focus in Jesus. I too came from a fundamentalist past and the image of God that I received is exactly like the Father you describe, but the New Testament says in many places that the Son is the exact representation of the Father’s being, that the final and complete revelation of God is Christ. I do not exactly know how to understand the Old Testament, great Christian authors like C.S. Lewis and Eugene Peterson have expressed the same, but I am clear about the message of the New Testament and the God Jesus came to personify.

  9. Dana Ames says:

    Why be a Christian, if other people can be moral?

    Yes, that is a question that dogged me, too. I came to the conclusion that being “saved” can’t have anything to do with morality per se. It has to be about something else.

    BTW, Rocky, in the Orthodox Church we do believe that Jesus has saved everyone. Every Sunday we sing one of rotation of 8 liturgical hymns that declares that. We have a more nuanced understanding of “salvation”.

    The answer for me to the “why be a Christian” question was not only God’s character, but also what Jesus has done – again, the more nuanced and complete understanding of the ramifications of the Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection than is found in Evangelical Protestant theology.

    /soap box put away

    Dana

  10. Why be a Christian?

    I honestly don’t know anymore. I see zero benefit to being one, maybe a positive or two, and lots of negatives.

    I can give a really good historical answer: because while we are under this foreign occupation power, his non-violence approach to civil disobedience will keep us all from getting killed and improve the lives of those around us.

    In modern day America, the best answer I can give is because it’ll allow us a position of power and influence and a sort of righteous anger and rage when we can’t have our way, but at least we’ll feel good about being that foreign occupying power ourselves.

    I choose not to be a Christian. For years I told many people at church I didn’t want to be one anymore if it meant being .

    Doesn’t mean I don’t choose to follow Christ. But I certainly don’t need Christ or the Holy Spirit in order for me to be good, nor do I need an “objective” book or deity to define what is good to begin with.

  11. The problem with a lot of the “works righteousness denying” crowd is that they’d deny the Fruit of the Spirit as evidence of someone’s life.

    Thus, Calvinism.

  12. Worship? That’s another one of those fuzzy religious words people use that have as many meanings as the people using the word. What it means in the Bible is what you see Muslims doing in their mosque, falling down on their faces before God like servants, like slaves. All well and good, but one of the distinctives Jesus had and has to offer that I don’t see in other religions is a relationship with God as Father. When you come home from work, do you want and expect your kids to come running and throw themselves down on their faces at your feet? If you go to a family reunion, is everyone expected to grovel on the floor before whoever is accorded senior member? I don’t think so.

    My third wife seemed to want me to worship her. My cat expects me to worship him, demands it, and if I ignore him he seems content with some lap time, which is more than my third wife could manage. And lap time seems to sum up my relationship with God as Father as well as anything else, or maybe just hanging out together, which works with Jesus too. The disciples of Jesus didn’t spend all day on their faces in the dirt before him, they hung out together, did things together, interacted, learned, made mistakes, made progress.

    I’ve been to a lot of churches that had programs they called worship and I thought of more as drudgery. I don’t disrespect the musical programs Evangelicals favor as worship, and suspect they might be familiar to the worshipers at David’s Tabernacle or Solomon’s Temple. Still and all, I prefer my Quaker meeting of silent contemplation, which they also refer to as worship. Different strokes. The other main distinctive Jesus offered his followers was the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. Kids, this is one thing you can try at home, with Jesus watching over you. Spending lap time with God’s Holy Spirit can lead to Oneness with God, and now maybe we’re getting into what worship actually means from God’s perspective. One of the last prayers from Jesus was for that to happen.

    • It may be a distinctive of Jesus to offer a relationship to God as Father, but I get much more comfort out of my relationship to Jesus as friend, brother, fellow-traveler and companion on the way. Not denying that God is Father; only saying that Jesus’ human face is where I find most comfort and strength, and intimacy.

  13. Why be Christian? I have been on this post evangelical journey for many years (way before it was named as such) and I have seen some people on this journey eventually abandon their faith..for me moving away from fundamentalism or evangelicalism is moving to a stronger faith in Christ who transcends our ideas about Him, who is present in places we could never guess, and is the underlying mystery behind our existence – behind all existence (the Logos). I have long known that unbelievers or people of different faiths can be kinder, better than believers and to me this mirrors the Gospel stories where Jesus found welcome with the rejects and foreigners and downright sinful people instead of the religious (the religious had Him killed). I guess it is true today as well. I have seen people change (including myself) and adopt a new life – I have seen the Spirit’s work and I know this is something that cannot be explained by willpower or psychological reasons. “Why be Christian?” It shocks me to see this idea so casually trotted out, our predecessors gave their lives for their faith yet we dismiss at as though it was stale bread..