April 24, 2017

Fridays with Michael Spencer: December 16, 2016

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He became the reconciling place where opposites met. He was the meeting place of God and man. Man the aspiring and God the inspiring meet in Him. Heaven and earth came together and are forever reconciled. The material and the spiritual after their long divorce have in Him found their reconciliation. The natural and the supernatural blend into one in His life- you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. The passive and the militant are so one in Him that He is militantly passive and passively militant. The gentle qualities of womanhood and the sterner qualities of manhood so mingle that both men and women see in Him their ideal- and the revelation of the Fatherhood and the Motherhood of God. The activism of the West and the meditative passivism of the East come together in Him and are forever reconciled. The new individual, born from above, and the new society- the Kingdom of God on earth- are both offered to us in Him.

• E. Stanley Jones, “The Sign is a Baby.”

• • •

Jesus often calls his followers to make choices — decisive choices. There are two ways, and only one can be chosen. In the present, we must choose to be citizens of the Kingdom of heaven or citizens in the city of Man. Today, the choice may be between Christ and family, or even between Christ and my right hand or my right eye.

At the same time, as Jones says so well, Jesus ultimately brings together so much of what sin has separated. Heaven comes to earth and the Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdoms of our God, and of his Messiah. He reconciles us to what we may have sacrificed for him. Remember these words?

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

• Mark 10:28-31

Jones tells us that it is in Jesus, this reconciliation is real and exceeds our imaginations. In Romans 8, Paul sees the reconciliation of all things that began in Christ.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

• Romans 8:18-21

It is Jesus, a human baby who is the sign of the presence of this bringing together of all things now.

In Jesus, the opposites that seemed irreconcilable come together before our very eyes.

I think it important to note that much of what Jones points out as being reconciled in Jesus is the stuff of conflicts and condemnation within the evangelical community, and especially in the blogosphere. Can we use mother imagery of God? Is the Christian life active or contemplative? Should we renounce all material concerns and enjoyments in order to be spiritual? Are “naturalists” or “supernaturalists” the superior species of Christian?

These and many other debates demonstrate that we are not so much students of Jesus as we are team competitors seeking to make Jesus into the mascot for our particular set of opinions.

Christian Humanism declares that, in Jesus, the light of God has shone on the human sphere and illumined everything. While God and his creation are separate, we no longer believe that anything exists apart from its God conceived shape, essence and purpose. All things existed in the mind of God before they existed in reality, and in that moment, opposites are reconciled. We believe that the “Godness” and the “this world-ness” of all things are visible in the incarnation of Jesus.

As we contemplate the incarnation visible at Christmas, the “sign” of God’s salvation of all things in his fallen universe, we should consider all that is brought together in Jesus. We should remember that much of what we cast aside as irreconcilable will ultimate come together in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not only God with us, but he is the revelation of a vision of reality that embraces all things in the love God expresses for his incarnated Son, Jesus Christ.

The character of an emerging, post-evangelical Christianity should be strongly influenced by a God who looks less like us, but in whom we discover the true face of all people, and the true purpose of all things. Life’s opposites are not given to us only to make choices — which is always necessary — but to magnify God in Christ in a thousand ways we never thought possible.

Comments

  1. In “THE SHACK”, God the Father was portrayed by a black female who seemed to be described, at least somewhat, as an Aunt Jemima kind of figure.

    While God is neither male or female, white nor black, in Scripture he chose to describe himself as a Father.

    At that point in the book, I figured THE SHACK was trying to push a narrative that was not consistent with how Scripture presents God the Father.

    I never finished it.

    • You do know that “El Shadai” can also be translated as “the breasty one”. He is also described as a “hen gathering her chicks”. Also: Hosea 11:3-4 God described as a mother, Hosea 13:8 God described as a mother bear, Deuteronomy 32:18 God who gives birth, Isaiah 66:13 God as a comforting mother, Isaiah 49:15 God compared to a nursing mother, Isaiah 42:14 God as a woman in labor, Psalm 123:2-3 God compared to a woman. Scripture presents God with feminine characteristics. In the “Shack” the God the Father as Black Women character explicitly tells the Mack, the main character, that he deliberately appeared that way to Mack to shake up his misconceptions of God, and later does appear as the conventional father figure. The author, William P. Young, wrote the book as a story for his children, never intended to publish it, and never intended it as a theology, but as a metaphor. Go back and finish it; WPY was abused as a child and the book “pushes” a narrative of grace and forgiveness.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > You do know that…

        +1 The gender of the creator is *not* so clear in scripture. And, obviously, isn’t gender in reference to something like the being presented in scripture almost purely metaphor anyway? I would be interested in an essay on why the gender of the creator is so critically important. I assume that the creator is portrayed in gender terms to me because *I* exist in gender terms.

        I have not read The Shack. Probably won’t. Reading list is already way too long.

        Generally isn’t getting hung-up on the gender of the creator’s representation Missing The Point writ large? This happens pretty frequently, and I cannot think of a time I’ve encountered it when it has not failed to miss the point.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > because *I* exist in gender terms

          So deeply in fact that it is hard to say much of anything in Human Language without using Gender. That could make an unintended gendering of the creator a linguistic inevitability; a side-effect of implementation for which the strongest case being that it be ignored?

          Like Mr. Martin Jr’s statement below: “Shekinah glory is feminine”. And? Could we be making the mistake of turning a linguistic happenstance into Theology? Or is all of the Hebrew language, as we understand it in modern terms, considered to be divinely inspired and thus something to be mined for divine mysteries? Where does it end?

          • Burro [Mule] says:

            Interestingly, it is harder to avoid gender in some languages than others. I was able to write twelve pages of narrative in relatively unstilted English without divulging the sex of my protagonist. This would have been impossible in Spanish, where the use of any adjective, or even the article, would have forced a revelation.

            In Semitic languages like Hebrew or Arabic, or Russian, different forms of the verb are used for male and female agents. Malay, on the other hand, is almost entirely gender-free.

            I line up on the side of “all the Hebrew language…divinely inspired” rather than on the side of “linguistic happenstance”, and there is never any end to it, thank God.

        • Sigh.

          God the Father has no gender. “Father” is not about gender; it’s about a kind of RELATIONSHIP. That’s why traditionally “maternal” images are also used in Scripture to describe him. That’s also why the great thinkers of early Christianity held on to “Father” as the descriptor for the arche of the Godhead – it’s the best we can do to describe that relationship using human language (any, not just Hebrew).

          (I use the masculine pronoun for the Deity on purpose, because Christianity is not a fertility religion.)

          If we want to talk about RELATIONSHIP vis-a-vis the Godhead, we have to deal with the ramifications of that.

          Dana

      • >> . . . the book “pushes” a narrative of grace and forgiveness.

        I dunno, Mike, that sounds awful inclusive to me.

    • William H. Martin Jr says:

      I have heard the same from many people. In the book God the Father showed up the only way The man could except him. I read it in one day and night. Put down chewing tobacco that night. Copenhagen. My wife smelled the sweetest smell during reading it. I couldn’t smell it. She looked like she saw a ghost it actually scared me. She was bench pressing 225 for 12 at the time. I never read the very beginning and actually thought it was a real thing till the end when it said you have to make up your own mind. I haven’t and really don’t care to. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Wouldn’t mind some good pancakes though. I’m kind of wondering what made you think of this book after this writing though.

      • William H. Martin Jr says:

        I guess I do more after Mike’s comment. I see the beauty in God as women. Shekinah glory is feminine. I have always thought he was fully both. I’m wrong a lot though.

        • William H. Martin Jr says:

          I could be wrong and wouldn’t mind being corrected but I thought when we see sons of God it is all inclusive meaning daughters as well because there isn’t a gender specific term. Someone who knows please shed more light.

        • William,

          Just because a word is masculine or feminine grammatically doesn’t mean that it has masculine or feminine characteristics. Grammatically in German, knife is neuter, fork is feminine and spoon is masculine. No correlation with culturally-defined characteristics. People who promote this idea don’t know language, period.

          Dana

          • William H. Martin Jr says:

            I was talking about the Hebrew not having gender specific so we use sons of God which includes daughters. So shekinah is feminine and has no feminine characteristics at all.

            I stared at the screen for 10 minutes not knowing whether to post or not. Oh what the heck I’m just not getting it. What does German have to do with Hebrew

            • 🙂

              It’s just me trying to make a point, and not very clearly, it seems… I used German as an example because It’s a language I have learned to fluency, and it’s easy for me to think about.

              “Shekinah” is grammatically feminine, yes. But that doesn’t mean the glory of God is like what we think of when we think “feminine” (soft, submissive, whatever else). If it helps you to think of God’s beauty as feminine, I don’t think he minds; I surely don’t 🙂 But it’s mistaken to think that the language itself demands that you think of “shekinah” that way. Language and grammar don’t work like that.

              Yes, the Hebrew plural “sons” does include female children if the females are part of the whole group. This is common in the plural forms in a lot of languages. As a female, I’m glad to be included!

              Dana

              • William H. Martin Jr says:

                I need to stay more grounded. I heard a man say about the sons of God and I was double checking I guess. I understand what you meant in German. Myself I probably would have a hard time ascribing anything to an object.” Shekinah” being before glory for me has to be describing glory or why bother and just not say glory. Do I believe it’s the only glory….nah… These things don’t have a great importance. Just like Hug….He’s going to heaven whether he believes me or something else doesn’t matter. Shouldn’t matter. I got to work on staying grounded. Just had time today and joined in a conversation. Need to find a way to not seem difficult. I’ll get there.

                • You’re not difficult. We like you all the time!
                  [virtual hug]
                  [virtual pat for the cats]

                  Dana

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I read it in one day and night. Put down chewing tobacco that night. Copenhagen. My wife smelled the sweetest smell during reading it. I couldn’t smell it. She looked like she saw a ghost it actually scared me. She was bench pressing 225 for 12 at the time.

        That just sounds WEIRD.
        And the way you phrased it might give those Spiritual Warfare no-lifes “ideas”.

        My attitude towards The Shack is the imagery used may have been personal to the author and made sense to him; some (lie your wife) would react favorably to that imagery, others (like you) wouldn’t.

        • William H. Martin Jr says:

          Awww geesh just remember something

        • William H. Martin Jr says:

          I do not know about spiritual warfare at all. I thought that was already settled on a cross. That night around 1:30 am because it took to almost 4 to finish I put the book down for a second and started praying about my health. I can’t remember what sparked it. I saw the tobacco tin so I got up and flushed the contents down the toilet. I heard a voice inside me say now it’s mine and I’m not giving it back. It also said I want you to be free of it and when you think of it you will hear “I love you”. That’s what happened and I haven’t touched it since after over 30 years of using it. I don’t have any answers for you hug. I really don’t. I’m pretty sure I have no idea what hurt you at times in your life nor would you me. God has done a lot of things with me. I can’t explain it. I certainly have not deserved it in any way. I’m not going to indulge anymore. I’m going to try blessing prayer and healing. I really wanted to smell that but it wasn’t for me. I know she told me the truth because after so many years you should be able to tell. The look on her face said it all. A strong women with a very kind heart. Unlike my former wife she has never got mad at me, I have even tried. I am glad for her and would never say anything negative to her. I would prefer boy I wish I could have smelled it. The part was where he put the fragrance over his nose so he wouldn’t smell the death of his daughter. The man left home because his dad was abusive and he put poison in his dad’s liquor bottle. The book never says, I believe, that it killed him but it didn’t say it didn’t either. Wish I could help more but I’m not into prayer warfare it just kind of doesn’t go together for me. I’m no going to go into the weird crap and no-lifes because where I live in this city I have no idea what normal is anymore. i think all of us could use a little help.

          • William H. Martin Jr says:

            My cat decided to leave a nice fragrances for me as his litter box is in my office. I’m out of here.

      • That book convinced you to stop chewing?

        • William H. Martin Jr says:

          No Not what I said it just happened that it was during reading the book. The book had nothing to do with it. Don’t know why I was praying about my health I can’t remember. I just put the book down and started praying. I read the book in a day so retaining everything quite a few years later isn’t as easy as it once was when I was younger. C’mon man Expected.

          • William H. Martin Jr says:

            The Shack reminds me of when I got away from chewing. Something I thought was going to be really hard. I was just conversing about that. after 30 plus years it was a big thing for me and it happened while reading that book. So of course I thought of that. Your comments sometimes make me wonder. Do you think saying something like that is belittling. Or maybe just poking fun at someone. I thought that here was suppose to be a place to talk and maybe learn a little. You have me wondering whether I’m just wasting my time again. No answer needed but what the heck I don’t think I’ll see it.

    • My difficulty with The Shack wasn’t the portrayal of God as a black woman, but that the writing was utterly atrocious.

      The thing I LOVED about The Shack was its theology! I forced my way through the clunky writing and plotting when I discovered the God stuff was actually pretty insightful.

      • BTW…in my sci-fi novel that I just kicked out the door to see if someone wants to publish it, the Christ-like character is a girl. I think writers are allowed all sorts of creative ways to portray the things they’re trying to say. I mean, heck, you could look at Lord of the Rings and get all offended that Gandalf – A WIZARD, of all things! – is a metaphor for Christ.

  2. William H. Martin Jr says:

    Greatly appreciated. Wonderfully Expressed in the ideas presented. Poetic in nature at least for me. Thank you for posting it.

  3. Jesus, the opposites that seemed irreconcilable come together before our very eyes…I think it important to note that much of what Jones points out as being reconciled in Jesus is the stuff of conflicts and condemnation within the evangelical community, and especially in the blogosphere… These and many other debates demonstrate that we are not so much students of Jesus as we are team competitors seeking to make Jesus into the mascot for our particular set of opinions.

    We humans – especially Enlightenment-bred ones – don’t like mysteries. Mysteries aren’t areas of tension to be balanced and lived with, they ate puzzles to be solved. And once you have the solution, we’ll you just HAVE to share it with everybody else. And if someone doesn’t come to the same conclusion, well, that just shows how illogical and enslaved to their biases they are, right?

    Divine Providence AND Free Will. Divine inspiration AND human authorship (and all the messiness that entails). Fully God… AND a fully human baby.

    That’s a lot to keep in balance, and it’s not surprising a lot of folks just default to whichever side of the axis appeals to them, and ignore or explain away the other.

    • Ate = are, we’ll = well

      One day, spellcheckers, like the devil and his angels, shall be cast into the Lake of Fire.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      Sex itself is a mystery. One of the greatest. [Eph. 5:30-32]

      Sometimes I get the impression that the current sexual project is hell-bent on draining this particular swamp and forcing a macadam road over the top. Despite everybody”s enthusiasm, this will not end well.

  4. In this season of Advent much is made of THE Incarnation, this one-time event that happened nearly two thousand years ago, and which we celebrate with elaborate ritual and intense argument over detail. One detail that is mostly ignored, if not actively opposed, is that God Most High, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Father of us all, is Incarnate in each and every one of us, even those of differing theological persuasion or none at all. That seems worthy to me of celebration each and every day, or if not that, at least once a year with trees or wreaths or lights or candles or reindeer or snowmen or fat jolly elves or whatever your particular denomination requires, even a creche if that is not illegal where you live. My denomination is called Child of God.

    • There was a cult, the Children of God, that was led by a man who called himself Moses David. I trust you are not referring to it.

      • I trust that you yourself do not repudiate your relationship with God as Father on the basis of what some idiotic jerk did somewhere along the way. I also seek spiritual enlightenment in spite of the major hijacking of the term by a bunch of rationalist materialist intellectuals, but enlightenment is even a harder sell amongst Christians than is the concept of being a child of God. Is there any memorable turn of phrase in Scripture that hasn’t been co-opted in service to self for profit and control? Let them tares grow. For now.

  5. “The material and the spiritual after their long divorce have in Him found their reconciliation.”
    The major error I made as a young Christian was to be wholly holy. Spirit man. Nothing physical going on here. I am all spirit. Well that resulted in a mess. Any number of scriptures, taken in a certain light, help exacerbate that wretched flesh, worm mentality. Its a sorting out thing, trying to pull both worlds together in a healthy, consistent way. I remember thinking many years ago that I needed to get my feet planted in the mud to find some sort of balance and get myself grounded. Now at times I find myself needing to delve further into scripture to fill a void of the word ( whatever is good, whatever is profitable, think on these things). Ive become a bit lax; a bit too worldly. And so it goes….

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The major error I made as a young Christian was to be wholly holy. Spirit man. Nothing physical going on here. I am all spirit. Well that resulted in a mess.

      |
      Gnostic Pneumatic, so Spiritual you ceased to be human.
      Just waiting imprisoned in filthy Flesh for your release into a Pure Soul(TM) in the unseen world, never to return.

      Historically, that often came packaged with anything-goes sexual kinks (that was Flesh and you were Spirit so it wouldn’t affect your Spirituality) and/or some weird asceticism and food taboos (like only foods that you could see Light through).

      Ive become a bit lax; a bit too worldly. And so it goes….

      You were out-of-balance first in one direction, then the other.
      Now you’re fluctuating around the balance point.

      • Thanks for your thoughts HUG. Fluctuating. Flickering.

        This post is pretty much exactly the thought of Richard Rohr on his site today. He featured a poem by Symeon the New Theologian (949 – 1022). Old guy. He lived some time ago. We’re part of a long line.

        “We awaken in Christ’s body,
        As Christ awakens our bodies
        There I look down and my poor hand is Christ,
        He enters my foot and is infinitely me.
        I move my hand and wonderfully
        My hand becomes Christ,
        Becomes all of Him.
        I move my foot and at once
        He appears in a flash of lightning.
        Do my words seem blasphemous to you?
        —Then open your heart to him.
        And let yourself receive the one
        Who is opening to you so deeply.
        For if we genuinely love Him,
        We wake up inside Christ’s body
        Where all our body all over,
        Every most hidden part of it,
        Is realized in joy as Him,
        And He makes us utterly real.
        And everything that is hurt, everything
        That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
        Maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged
        Is in Him transformed.
        And in Him, recognized as whole, as lovely,
        And radiant in His light,
        We awaken as the beloved
        In every last part of our body.”

  6. David Cornwell says:

    Thanks for using a passage from one of E Stanley Jones’ books. I was introduced to his books as a young teen by my mother who had heard him preach and owned several of his books. In college he was one of my devotional “stand-by” books and probably one of the reasons I could never identify completely with evangelical culture. He was a graduate of the college I attended, and held in high esteem. He was a powerful preacher who understood human frailty and sin, yet believed totally in the life changing and healing power of Jesus. For many years he was a missionary in India, and became convinced that Christ comes not to change a culture from what it innately had become to some form of “Western Christian.” Google Books says the following:

    “Jones recounts his experiences in India, where he arrived as a young and presumptuous missionary who later matured into a veteran who attempted to contextualize Jesus Christ within the Indian culture. …”

    Many evangelicals never forgave him because to them he seemed a communist and to a westerner his arguments could be hard to follow. Today I’m not familiar with how missionaries are taught, but I think he might still be controversial.

    Jones also worked tirelessly for peace. I only heard him preach once or twice, but it was like being pulled into a powerful presence of Light. Maybe not the best comparison, but all I can think of.

  7. Susan Dumbrell says:

    There has been much blathering today on this site about inconsequential matters. I just recognise as said in the old old hymn ” In Christ the solid rock I stand , all other ground is sinking sand”.

    All other splitting of theological junk is so unimportant when we consider the celebration of Christ’s birth this coming week. He was born without a jumble of theological books and commentaries accompanying his birth.
    Born in a stable. Just Angels singing, Shepherds watching sheep and Wise Men following a star. How simple, how pure.

    Down the centuries Christians have tried to further elaborate on this miracle birth.

    Jesus asked Peter, “who do you think I am?” Peter replied, “You are the Christ.”

    We need nothing more.

    Merry Christmas to all, may it be a Holy Season for all our bloggers.

    • I like what you say, Susan, but your original premise is a little skewed. The “old old hymn” says ON Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. ON. Not in.