Monday, May 04, 2009

Interlude: Inspired

Saw this over at can't find normal and have watched it several times. It's a must see. Really.

I have seen lots of skateboarding videos that wowed me too. I love these guys. I used to hang out at skate parks (and make 28 year old attempts to rollerblade the half pipe) and watch them. I think what is so amazing about the bike stuff is that we've all ridden a bike and so we know this is incredible.

I was going to post this as an interlude to the whole conversation that has been going on in the post below, but now that I think about it I realize this is not a departure at all.

Lest Trev accuse me of evading the question, I think there is an important point here. I watch a video like this and I think: "What a creature we call 'human'!"

As Christians we talk a lot about the fall, and being redeemed from it. So Trev is right to ask why we often don't look all that different, all that redeemed. I think this is a generalization that doesn't ring true across the board, but is a valid query and decent point nonetheless.

But one of the things we also say is that God made people, and called them very good. And though we've fallen there is yet much good to be found. And in Psalm 8 the Psalmist wrestles with both sides of the issue -- our devastating finitude and fallenness and our amazing capability and goodness:

"what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned them with glory and honor."

I think one of the things we perhaps don't do enough of as the church is affirm and involve ourselves in the good around us. Certainly we'll see it as good of a different sort and source, but like I think Tanti was saying below, why do we need to take credit for it?

I have no idea if this bike riding genius is a Christian or not, but, man, he is good!

And yet I'll add a Christian spin on it too. I might risk sounding cheesy here, but as a Christian watching this genius biker I also want to affirm the good I see when instead of destroying property (as the stereotype would have it), part way through the video he puts stuff back how he found it. My wife loved that part.

Anyway, this is perhaps a bit of an interlude in the conversation, but perhaps not. I hope everyone enjoys this video. And in the interests of continuing the conversation (and not evading the question), in the comment stream to this post I'll re-state the question and recap the answers given in the other post so we can keep it going.


jon said...

So here's where we left off:

Dustin quoted Trev's essential question and then gave a response:

"What is Jesus doing within the church that isn't happening elsewhere in society?"DUSTIN said:

"In the community called the Church, God has gathered for himself the firstfruits of the new creation and called them to bear witness to the work he has accomplished in Christ. With brokenness, sickness, weakness, and error, in the Church the name of Jesus is nevertheless proclaimed. The name of Jesus may also be proclaimed in the rest of the world, which sometimes even does a better job than the Church. Yet this does not mitigate the special election of the community called the Church to this its of witness.

So what is going on in the Church? God's election to witness to himself in a particular people. That others may make a better witness at times does not undercut the Church because the Church's reason for being is not found in itself but in the will and work of the electing God.

Thus, question Trevor posed cannot be answered empirically, though that is how it was phrased. Because the Church has its essence/being in the election of God in Christ, Trevor's question can only be answered with reference to the themes of covenant etc.

This is not to say that empirical comments are uncalled for. Trevor is right about that. But they are only "indicators" of faithfulness of the witness to which the Church is called."

I added:

"For now, I'll say I think Dustin's answer is very good. (But I'll probably try to address some of the empiricals anyway.) I think what makes the church different is that it gathers around Christ. Wherever it is different it is there.

And let's recap some answers to the final question (debate over the question itself aside) that have been given:"
COLIN said:

"The diff for me is that the Church is (or at least should be) re-working its moral paradigms based on a belief in a God who is self-revelatory, and whose greatest self-revelation occurred, and occurs, in the person and work of Jesus Christ."JANINE said:

"Jesus Christ came to earth, died on the cross and rose again to recreate relationship with immoral people. A symptom of this relationship should be morality because of the work of the Holy Spirit but morality is not the goal. Relationship is the goal. What Jesus is doing in the church is creating relationship and hope that one day the world and Christians will be made perfect. Christians have the opportunity to display symptoms of redemption in good works but are still influenced by a fallen world. The reason you may not be able to see superior morals in the church might be because the church’s primary cause is proclaiming hope to a fallen world."JORDAN said:

"The main difference in my own Christian experience is that I believe that there are answers in the person of Jesus. So, I guess I am trying to 'follow' via the Bible, prayer, study of Christian tradition, discussion with trusted leaders and friends etc."And MATTHEW said:

"the only thing the church is doing differently than the rest of society is moving slower. . . . Another thing the church (and the equivalent institutions in other religions) are doing that is different from mainstream Western culture, is providing a tangible sense of community, and an appreciation of the value of traditions and rituals."So, a fuller response (from me) is coming, but there is no evading the question. I'm kind of enjoying hearing from others (its a good exercise for me; I usually just pipe in first).

Plenty to chew on here. Any thoughts on those?

Conversation still open ...

jon said...

sorry bout the bad formatting there. tried to fix it with no luck...

Anonymous said...

These thoughts in particular made me think of a chapter from "An Emergent Manifesto of Hope" called "The Sweet Problem of Inclusiveness" - something that's really helped shape my thinking on this stuff.

One change I've made in the past few years is that I've really made an effort to affirm the work of God in the lives of those who don't necessarily call themselves "Christ-followers". Whether they admit/realize it or not, I think that lots of people in our world are doing God's work - redeeming, extending grace, etc.

One of the church's failures is that we've had a tendency to merely "tolerate" the godliness of the other... giving it the label of goodness - as if we regret the possibility that the work of God can be done by those who aren't openly affiliated with us.
As I see it - anything and everything good happening in this world is connected to Christ.

There are still some distinctions one could make though: motivation, the breadth of redemption, the joy in the work, perceptions of success, etc...

I'm really enjoying everyone's thoughts on this though!

Eric said...

That's Edinburgh, isn't it? What an awesome video.

frajan said...

Jesus is furthering the Kingdom of God in and through the church. He is not doing that through secular society. Trevor seems to expect Christians to be more moral than secular society but Jesus did not come to earth to make people good. Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost. The difference is the church has hope and the world does not.

jon said...

Trev, Its taking me some time to get around to my answer, sorry. Still coming...

Janine: Does saving have nothing to do with making people good? What then is our hope?

Eric: Is it Edinburgh? Cool. I was wondering. It is certainly European.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

"What is Jesus doing within the church that isn't happening elsewhere in society?"

I've been thinking about this a little more.

A lot of the responses to the original question have steered away from the empirical. I think I understand why, and have some respect for that way of thinking. But it makes me uneasy.

By steering away from the empirical it protects the church from falsifiable claims.

How can you criticize an institution whose only difference from the world is that it, "has hope and the world does not"? How does one go about testing the accuracy of the claim that the church "has hope"? I just have to accept it, don't I?

Or, how do you think critically about an institution whose followers believe it is almost by definition, "anything and everything good happening in this world..."?

I know I'm misquoting a little on the last one. But you get my point. The things that set the church apart are a little too "out there." You can't put your fingers in them and test their strengths and weaknesses. And it FEELS evasive and, pardon me, cowardly.

Granted, Trev's original question requires us to think in generalities ("the church," "society") and -as Jon rightly pointed out in his response to me- that is immediately problematic. But it's still an interesting question, which has not yet been satisfactorily answered.

For me, if the difference between the church and society is ultimately that the church has been saved and society hasn't -then fine. That's cool. But it's not tangible, so don't expect people to find the church impressive. At all.
Jon asked if it was a coincidence that "nations with a Judeo-Christian heritage of sorts have liberated women sooner than predominantly Muslim or Hindu nations?"

Coincidence, probably not. Credit where credit is due. However, I'd be careful with how direct a link you tie between women's liberation and Judaism/Christianity.

ALSO, earlier it was mentioned that Christians volunteer WAY more than other religions. It's a misleading fact. Europeans and North Americans volunteer WAY more than other people -because we can afford to. And Europe and North America are predominantly Christian.

Just be careful with how that statistic is used.
Jon, you asked, "Is the church behind society on moral issues? That sort of presupposes that society is ahead, or has better morals. On what basis is that claim made?"

I know I'm evading that question. Sorry. Some other time.

joel said...

I think most religious terms, definitions, groups and meanings behind theological precepts are intrinsically ambiguous (perhaps intentionally so). Thus asking a question like this is simply unanswerable, not without effort (as you all have already shown) but because you will not be able to agree upon any foundational system, definitions or set of values. That might sound harsh, but it actually works for the benefit of the religious person.

When the Church is down it can always redefine itself, this is what the theologian does. Even though Christianity claims a kind of ancient consolidation of change it actually changes all the time. We just call it ‘interpretation’ now instead of change. The church just keeps making it self sweet enough to swallow, just like every other subculture.

The Church works against certain developments (slavery, women in the church, and now currently homosexuality) and when these things get accepted by the secular culture in which the religious is found, they eventually agree.

I think it’s quite moot to claim that American and European cultures development of these areas are somehow due to Christian values. Just think, in 100 years homosexuality will be though upon like slavery is now, and all those future Christians can pat themselves on the back for being part of a religious which preaches acceptance and wonder how crazy you had to be to support something like ‘slavery’ and be a believer in Jesus Christ at the same time.

By the way, in Islam’s Golden Age, women were treated as equals in all respects. It wasn’t until the establishment of Islam as a national religion become an issue that they began to redefine the treatment of women.

Jesus isn’t doing anything in the church which is not happening in secular culture.

In the end, if you can find something which is happening in the secular culture which is not happening in the Church, you can always adopt it and later claim it as your own. If God is real then you already have access to the greatest “insert-anything” and thus you already have a readymade answer for this question:

If there is something better happening outside of Christianity, then it is happening because of God and thus nothing good is ever happening outside of your religion.

The point of any discussion on the matter is not a real challenge of religion vs. non-religion; but rather a way to feel good and okay about the apparent discrepancy of a religion’s theological prescription and the actual ground level existence of the religion.

Now you can feel okay about the good outside of your religion (or in other religions) it is all coming from your God; what could be more ethnocentric?

jon said...

well, thanks for those comments guys. I was working on the above-posted response while you posted them, but i hope (and think) it addresses them more or less. if not i'll be glad to take them up and clarify further there.

suffice it to say, though, that i also was challenging janine's statement that "Jesus did not come to earth to make people good. Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost. The difference is the church has hope and the world does not."

and also i think we're running into a false dilemma with the idea that "Jesus isn’t doing anything in the church which is not happening in secular culture." I mean, I know what you mean by it, you are saying that we are just one group swaying with the moral breeze like anyone. But I do NOT want to say that what God is doing in Christ is ONLY happening in the church. I don't say that to diminish the role or importance of the church, but to say that it is fully within Christian theology to consider that Jesus by the Spirit is indeed doing things in the world at large which the church ought to involve itself in.

Anyway, more in the post above, obviously.