Peter Enns (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/) and I (http://www.brianmclaren.net) both released important books about the Bible this year. Peter's book is called The Bible Tells Me So (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/books/), and mine is called We Make the Road by Walking (http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/we-make-the-road-by-walking-2.html) We decided to interview each other about our books and what they say about the Bible. This is Part 1 of 3.
By the way, please join Peter in a Reddit AMA this Wednesday (tomorrow), September 17th at 3pm EST in the Christianity subreddit (http://www.reddit.com/r/Christianity)
Brian: Peter, I loved your book. I don't know many if any theologians who can make serious points with as much humor as you. You theologize like a stand-up comic, which, in light of the seriousness of your subject matter, is a good thing. Much humor, I think arises from pain and anger. I'm reminded that Soren Kierkegaard said, "The essence of all true preaching is malice," by which he meant that unless the preacher is mad about something, he has no passion. So … is that true for you with this book? If so, what pain or anger is behind it?
Peter: Thanks, Brian. I loved my book, too.
I’ve actually thought a lot about your question, but I’m not sure I can come up with a final answer. All I know is that I’ve loved to joke and laugh ever since I can remember (and it landed me in trouble now and then as a kid in school). Of course, this begs the question why it is part of my personality. I don’t think, though, that anger or pain are necessarily behind it. I know that many comedians have suffered emotionally, and I would venture to guess that their comedy was a form of pain-management.
But for me, I just like seeing the absurd in things. Humor can disarm and put people in a position of seeing the same old thing in a different light. I’m reminded of something George Carlin said (paraphrasing), that comedy is what happens everyday, you just need someone to point it out to you. For me, humor is a very natural-feeling mode of catching people off guard to see something deeper or from a different angle than they might be accustomed to. Maybe that’s my schtick.
I like how you refer to preaching in your question. I used to tell my seminary students that preaching is like Carlin’s definition of comedy: God-moments are all around us, we just need to be reminded of them.
In The Bible Tells Me So, I describe some people’s perceptions of God as a drunken father you don’t want to disturb from his nap lest he become angry. I’m not describing God but trying to get at the absurdity of how some perceive God—as one who will lash out ate you with only the slightest provocation. Some say I’m “mocking” God but that is to miss the point entirely.
I hope, though, that preachers don't have to be “mad” to be passionate, as Kierkegaard puts it (though I get his rhetorical overstatement in the context of the complacent church he was critiquing). Anger is fine when it is well placed, directed at things worthy of anger. But I’ve seen too many preachers who are angry about everything, as if the only way they know how to speak of God is to be majorly hacked off about something. That’s not good preaching or good pastoring.
Peter: On my blog I've been running a series I call "aha moments"--that point where you began to see how the model of Scripture you had no longer makes sense to you and you know you have to move on. What is your "aha" moment with the Bible? What happened that started you on your journey, that made you realize "I need to find another way of thinking about how the Bible informs my faith"?
Brian: For me, there have been so many aha's. One came when I was in elementary school. I'm just old enough to remember the days of segregation. We attended a white church that was proud to call itself fundamentalist because it stood for the fundamentals of the faith.
One Sunday, my Sunday School teachers (it was a husband and wife co-teaching) told us that we should never date a person of another race because we might fall in love, and if we fell in love, we might get married, and if we got married, it would be a terrible sin because God "created them according to their kind" and there was this thing called "the curse of Ham" (which was about race, not pork products, I realized).
I remember thinking this was bonkers and evil, even though I was only maybe in fifth grade at the time. My parents weren't racists at all … but I realized that the Bible could easily be "an accessory to the crime" - if not wisely interpreted.
I encountered the same kind of racist attitudes, sad to say, in some missionaries I heard speak.
A couple years later, in middle school. I was super interested in science. One Sunday, my Sunday School teacher, a good-hearted and simple man, said, "You have to choose. You can either believe in God or evolution." I remember thinking, "OK. I'm 13 years old. Five years from now and I'm outta here."
To me, evolution was one of the most beautiful and elegant things I'd ever come across, and to put it in opposition to God made no sense. I probably would have been "outta here" if I hadn't had a very powerful spiritual experience a couple years later, accompanied by some spiritual mentors who didn't have such closed-minded approaches to Scripture and faith.
Those early conflicts were like a wound that kept getting opened again … when I realized that my church considered women as subordinate to men (in church, anyway), or when I found myself caught in the cross-fire between charismatics and non-charismatics, or caught in the cross-fire between traditional and contemporary worship, or caught in the cross-fire between Calvinists and Arminians - or - here was a huge theological debate in my setting: between jeans, beards, and long hair in church versus anti-jeans, beards, and long hair.
More aha moments came when I went to college and then graduate school, where I studied English. Studying literature involves studying the ways we read literature - which means studying theories of interpretation.
What was almost always implicit and unacknowledged in church because explicit and open to critique in lit classes - that we all have theories and assumptions and perspectives and biases we bring to the text. That's one of the reasons I wish that your book had been available to me back when I was in high school and college. I would have eaten it up. (More next week)
We were part of the Life in Trinity - We Make the Road by Walking experience in June. We’re excited to let you know that we are using the book in two ways at our church. We’re starting a new Sunday School class for those who have not been attending. We’ll probably adjust a little in order to have conversation time. Then on Monday night we’re having folks to our home for another group. At this point we have 7 on Sunday morning and 10 on Monday night. I’m praying for God to lead us to young adults to form a third group. We’re looking forward to what God will do in the midst of our journey! Thanks for sharing your gifts of leading, writing, and speaking faithfully in our time.
Here's the Q:
I have recently been wrestling with this question and would love to hear you speak to it: What does it mean that the resurrected Jesus still has scars? I am not satisfied (and I suspect you would not be either) with the simple answer of 'proof for the disciples'.
Thank you so much for your thoughts.
One of the most audacious claims of the Christian faith is this: God suffers with us. God is not above suffering. God is not removed from it. In Christ, we come to believe that God is with us … in our suffering as human beings. So Jesus' scars tell us that human pain - all of it, every tear ever cried, I believe - has left its mark on God. God empathizes. Our pain is God's pain. With that as background, the beautiful image in Revelation comes to mind … God wipes the tears from our eyes, not as someone who isn't touched by our pain, or as someone who only understands from a distance. God comforts us as a fellow sufferer … we might even say as a fellow survivor.
Here's the Q:
Some friends and I (all middle age guys!) are using "We make the road by walking". It's proving helpful as we are seeking a new way to view scripture. One issue that keeps returning is the issue of God not being violent, but apparently acting that way in the Old Testament. The Exodus story of plagues and the ultimate infanticide of the Egyptian firstborn is a case in point. You compare Herod to pharaoh and liken their crimes. How can we view this Exodus story and is this too a mix of fact and fiction?
Thankyou for your courage and insight, it gives us confidence to pursue God and not be afraid to challenge the rhetoric we are sometimes fed from evangelical circles.
"Ultimately, we won’t see an end to our “war on terrorism” without dealing with the underlying causes, and not just targeting the consequences of growing terrorism. We must address the world of oil that the West has created, that has literally defined nations, changed geography, and institutionalized the injustices and hypocrisies that breeds the grievances of terrorism. Having justified the unjust structure of that oil world to accommodate our addiction to fossil fuels has produced both a profound threat to our planet and the rise of an angry terrorism that threatens our own children. We must address the fact that 60 percent of the Middle East population is under 30 years of age, and many of them are unemployed, uneducated, aggrieved, and angry young men — too easily drawn to the rhetoric of revenge. To overcome terrorism we must address the grievances that give rise to it and are exploited by hateful extremists.
Again, we must address all of these causes. War and more war will not be able to solve any of it." - Jim Wallis, Sojo.net
Here's the Q:
I'm a UK citizen and daily reader of your blog. I find many of your posts inspiring and transforming; and you have started me on a journey relooking at my faith (or lack of it), which had led to me start questioning a lot of what I thought I knew.
To come to my question - In your interview with Red Letter Christians (linked on your blog) you describe salvation as:
'"Salvation” for many people is the good news of how souls can escape the curse of original sin and go to heaven after death. But that definition would never flow from the Hebrew Scriptures. There, salvation means liberation. It’s meaning comes from God saving – or liberating – the slaves of Egypt.'
Would you be able to enlarge on this further? I am struggling with the concept of Salvation as liberation. To me it feels like a Western worldview. How can people who live in other parts of the world, who do not have a democracy / an enshrined set of human rights etc access a 'liberation'. Particularly, how in light of the Christian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Harem and other atrocities committed by other extremists groups; how do these Christians work for / achieve their own liberation, when their rights and ability to make changes is controlled by others 'in this life'.
I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter.
The term "salvation" gets its meaning in the Bible from what God did for the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. God saved them from slavery - which means they were set free or liberated. But it didn't stop there … God guided them to a new home, and God gave them moral guidance as well. In that case, it didn't involve democracy at all; it involved a good and courageous leader (Moses) confronting a selfish and unjust leader (Pharaoh) with the liberating truth and power of God. His courageous leadership inspired the people to "make a road by walking" through the wilderness. The tragic situation in Nigeria will require similar leadership, inspiration, and collaboration. Each of us - through our example, through our daily advocacy in simply speaking our best truth, empowered by God's Spirit of liberation - plays a role in this kind of joyful, life-giving change.
A reader writes:
I am reading my way through your books and want to thank you for affirming much of what I have come to believe in the last 20 years. As a charismatic evangelical I had a very "In/Out" way of viewing the world. Then God led me to work in a Christian 12 Step Rehab. I was there for 10 years and watched women (it was a female project) who barely acknowledged the existence of God be transformed into the beautiful women God had created and my heart was enlarged to encompass the fullness of God's love and consequent mercy.
As I worked through that time God led me into ordained ministry where I have been in full-time service for the last 10 years. During this time, slowly, I have learned some language to express my wider understanding of God's love. But as I delve more deeply into the mystery of God I find myself even less and less able to articulate clearly what I mean. Your work has increased my language and articulation. But most of the time all I want to say is "God loves you - love him back".
I have three parishes with falling electoral rolls (I am in Norfolk UK, three rural parishes) and falling Sunday attendance though I work my socks off from Monday through Saturday and can easily become discouraged and sad. It seems that though people love to hear that God loves them, they do not want to worship him. Whereas my old Charismatic/ evangelical persona would have been preaching salvation is through the blood and the cross - Get Saved!!!! Mind you, I'm not sure that would fill my churches today either!
However, I pray that the seeds I am planting with this gentler and more inclusive understanding will one day produce a harvest for God's Kingdom that we can see this side of heaven! In the meantime I think [my denomination] will expire and God will do a new thing.
Many thanks for reading this outpouring of sadness and joy and many thanks for your books which have fed and affirmed my tired soul.
Thanks for your note. Many forms of church life will, no doubt, expire, as they have done in the past. But as you say, God keeps doing a new thing. Death isn't the end; just the precursor to resurrection and new beginnings.
Here's the Q:
I was a virtual participant during the NCLI this past weekend, and was able to watch the recordings of your three talks. I loved what you said about movements and each of us doing our different part. I am currently a UMC elder, however, I'm in the process of transferring my credentials to UCC. I've been working on a proposal and plan for a new church/faith community start and would love your input on two areas. My dream is that this community would be intentional with partnering with other faith traditions in the area of mission. I love the idea of working to paint a bigger picture of God, and build bridges of acceptance and understanding. I'd love to do this by demonstrating that because of the God that is within us all, we can work together to take the love that is within us all and pour that love into the lives of those around us. I created a "mock" church website as a way to better visualize all the ideas swirling around in my brain. For this specific area, I labeled the tab "Coexisting." Then your book came along, blowing my mind at how I might really be onto something here! After reading Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? I'm not sure that's the best word to use. Do you have any thoughts on that?
And finally, do you have any advice on how I, as a mid 30's white female, can best navigate my approach and dialogue with those of other faiths? Many if not all such leaders will most likely be men who are not used to seeing women in such roles? Thank you so much for your time. Here's the link to my website that I'm working on so you can have a better idea of what I'm talking about. Again, thank you for all your work and wisdom!
Here's the R:
I checked out your website and thought it was very good. One suggestion - any new venture like this will involve people trusting you. So I'd be sure to add a lot about you on the website. I know that might sound egotistical, but it's not for ego's sake; it's to help people feel they know you enough to trust connecting with you.
The language under Coexisting felt kind of "old school." As you know from reading Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?, I think that it's a misdiagnosis to think that our problems are because of religious differences. (In the book, I suggest that our hostilities come not from differences but from something we all hold in common.) So I'd speak more of celebrating and understanding both our similarities and differences so that we can collaborate for the common good.
By the intelligence of your inquiry and your website, I know you'll "get" that.
On the question of you being a woman, I would encourage you to be confident and non-defensive. I think you'll find leaders from other religions will be respectful of you as a woman Christian leader - it's easier, probably, to accept differences in other religions than in one's own sometimes!
One final suggestion: Don't minimize the wonderful contributions of Christian faith in your attempt to be hospitable to others. The best partnerships don't reduce participants to the least common denominator. Rather, they call for what is best and most unique in each participant so they can share their treasures with one another.
Dear Steve Strang, Jennifer LeClaire, Shawn Akers, and Lee Grady,
We all make mistakes. As editors of Charisma Media, you may agree that you made one by posting a vicious Islamophobic article last week. It was good of you to take the post down. [For people who want to read it, it is available here.]
Now, many are calling for you to apologize. (For example, here's one petition that's being circulated, asking for you to do so.) I'm sure a lot of your customer base loved the article and would be dismayed if you apologize. (I've been told the comments section made this clear.)
You may be tempted to play to your base by refusing to apologize. Or you might even try to use this outcry against your magazine as many religious and political leaders typically do - as an attempt to raise money and portray yourselves as victims of some left-wing, liberal, pluralist, or Satanic attack.
You may avoid responsibility by saying the views expressed were those of the Rev. Gary Cass, president and CEO of DefendChristians.org, and that "Unless otherwise specified, the opinions expressed are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Charisma Media." You may simply hope this blows over and do or say nothing.
I hope you will apologize. But not simply as a way to get yourselves out of a public relations fiasco. I hope the four of you will use this opportunity to really learn something - so that you can in turn help your readers. This is a teachable moment for them as well as for you.
I don't normally read your magazines, but today as I scanned the headlines, it seemed clear that many of your articles lean in the direction of Gary Cass, and few if any offer a different perspective. (As examples of a different perspective, I'd recommend responses by Sarah Bessey and Brian Zahnd.)
How Christians relate to people of other religions is deeply important on many levels. I wrote a book on the subject, called Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? In light of the firestorm your magazine has entered on this subject, I hope you'll take some time to read it and maybe discuss it among yourselves in the weeks to come. I would be happy to be in conversation in person or by phone to offer whatever help I could offer as a fellow Christian who found the piece, and your decision to post it, deeply disturbing.
Editors such as yourselves can no longer afford to be ignorant or uninformed about the subject of Christian identity in a multi-faith world. The consequences are much more serious than the success or failure of your media company.
We all make mistakes. And we all can learn from them.
Warmly, in Christ,
Good reports keep rolling in about groups using We Make the Road by Walking. Here's one:
Awe and Wonder: Chapter One
We had Worship in the Park on September 7th as we began our journey with We Make the Road by Walking. Salem has had worship/church at a local park for the past three years since I've been here. … Last year, we gathered near the Nolichucky River and centered our worship around Luke 15. This year, we set up in the same place with similar weather- in the 80s, a beautiful day with birds singing, the water flowing, the sun warming, and we gathered by the river. (we failed to sing any 'gathering by the river' songs-- that was my mistake...)
We did sing about creation... Morning Has Broken and All Creatures of Our God and King. I used Brian's words to create a Call to Worship, Prayer of Confession, and Invitation to the Table. I used his ideas from chapter one text and commentary for a short Homily. I focused more on the suggested texts as a Proclamation of the Word. We hear the Creation story, but how many times have we heard it proclaimed/read aloud outside, in the midst of a beautiful park, near a river bank?
We used a tree stump as our communion table, green fabric covered the stump, the white cloth covering the elements kept the flies away and a mason jar complete with wild flowers finished our 'altar'. I reused the bulletins I kept from last year and glued new ones on top of the old. I used Lowes paint stirs and stapled card stock and then paper bulletins onto the wood stirs to create a bulletin 'fan' like you might see at a wedding or church in the deep south in the dead of summer. These are easy to hold, keep the flies away, and do provide a little relief from the hot sun. I kept the bulletins black & white, but added color with stamps. Yes...the "Pastor" stamped her congregation's bulletins. These are the joys and benefits of a small congregation!
We had a great service and the only thing I would change is that next year, I've vowed to use less liturgy so the congregation doesn't have to look down as much but can enjoy the view more so.
Below is what we used. As I mentioned, I used Brian Mclaren's words-- this chapter was written so beautifully and so writing liturgy for worship was fun. I have a feeling it won't be this easy as we journey further. For now, here is what I compiled:
(continued after the jump)
A helpful assessment here. Quotable:
On eschatology, Wright argues for an entirely different approach, one he says is rooted in scripture and early Christian tradition:But the most important thing to say…is that heaven and hell are not, so to speak, what the whole game is about. This is one of the central surprises in the Christian hope. The whole point of my argument so far is that the question of what happens to me after death is not the major, central, framing question that centuries of theological tradition have supposed. The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central framing question is that of God’s purpose of rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos. (184)
This isn't from the Onion, this is from Charisma News: http://www.charismanews.com/opinion/45300-why-i-am-absolutely-islamaphobic
Quotable (in a most disgusting way):
"ISIS has done us all a favor. The true face of Islam is on full display even as Muhammad is burning in hell. We will have to face the harsh truth that radical Islam has no place in civilized society. Militant Muslims cannot live in a society based on Christian ideals of equality and liberty. They will always seek to harm us.
Now the only question is how many more dead bodies will have to pile up at home and abroad before we crush the vicious seed of Ishmael in Jesus' Name? The Good News is Jesus, and His indestructible church, will prevail, but there will be pain and heartache along the way to victory. May we be willing to take the lesser pains now so our children won't have to take greater pains later." - Gary Cass
Gary Cass has done us all a favor: the true face of Christian extremism is on full display: like all violent extremism, that face is a mirror image of what it condemns.
In contrast, I say, "I love my Muslim neighbors and wholeheartedly reject the version of Christianity promoted by Gary Cass and those who stand with him."
Here's the Q:
I am reading We Make the Road by Walking. Good stuff. I am interested in the confession that are in the book and on the web site, and use for Sunday worship. How does one get permission?
A reader writes:
Brian, your response to the man who wonders why we pray is probably a lot better than mine…. [but here it is]
When you know what your son needs, do you give it to him immediately, without waiting for him to realize that he needs it? Always? Will you continue doing that for his entire life? If you do, he will surely become an incompetent adult, unable to deal with any of life's big questions. The first thing a competent adult does, when faced with a need, is to realize that there is a need. Your son appears to be getting no training in that skill. After a competent adult realizes a need, he or she figures out what to do in order to satisfy that need. In most cases, it's an action that can be performed and the need is satisfied. Sometimes it isn't. Then, this competent adult must ask somebody for assistance.
One of the purposes of prayer is asking for assistance when all of your resources are insufficient to satisfy a need. And somehow, the need gets satisfied. Did a personal God satisfy that need? Or maybe did the random oscillations of particles and forces in the universe just happen to line up together to satisfy the need? I can't prove one theory or the other. To me, the former is preferable.
Once, when i was a young adult, I needed to make my car payment, but I had no idea where the $126 was going to come from. I was in the armed forces at the time. Out of the blue, the service gave me a $100 uniform allowance. I had already bought my uniforms, so the money just went back into the family coffers. Then a friend turned to me and said, "I feel the Lord telling me to give you this". And he handed me $25. I had not mentioned any financial need. Later that day, walking toward my apartment, I found a $1 bill lying on the ground -- in windy Oklahoma, just lying there. $100 + $25 + $1 = $126, the exact amount I needed. I paid my car payment. I cannot prove that this was the action of a loving, personal God. But I have exactly zero difficulty believing it.
You've given us two really helpful additions to the discussion - first, pointing out (reminiscent of the film Bruce Almighty?) how automatic "yes" answers-before-they-pray would be harmful to humans in need, and second, sharing an experience that sure felt like a divine response to a felt need. Both additions are important! Thanks.