is creation still good?

Working from some thoughts in a recent sermon, this is the last post in a series asking the question, "So what if creation is good?" (You can listen here, but sorry for the buzz)

Post #1 - So what if creation is good?
Post #2 - What does "good" mean?

Post #3 - What about the Fall?

Ok, so far we have been introduced to a tension – good creation vs. the absence of good. Which wins? Well, as I've suggested, sin and brokenness does not redefine reality, but rather disrupts what God deemed good. I noted that we cannot allow the Fall to become determinative for how we experience the world. This last question then, "is creation still good?" becomes paramount for how we view our lives in this world.

If we look at the teaching and ministry of Jesus and the early church, while the absence of shalom is by no means ignored, the presence of God and the hope for a restoration of good in this world is a prominent theme. For example, whether it's providing a tasty beverage for a party (Jn. 2:1-11) or healing the eyes of a man born blind (Jn. 9:1-12), John's Gospel describes Jesus' ministry as creation-oriented not only "in the beginning" (Jn. 1:1), but in his in the world as well. Jesus was restoring shalom in this world. And from Paul we hear how the early church continued this holistic view of Jesus' redemptive work:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Col. 1:19-20).

Finally, we know from Revelation 21-22 that our shalom-absent world will be fully restored - made "new." The new creation in Revelation echoes the "good" creation of Genesis 1 - "the end brings us back to the beginning" (Gordon Wenham). The "old order of things" - this distortion of shalom - will no longer determine life in the world. And while the details for this restoration are beyond us, the images from Revelation speak of a new reality that is both spiritual and physical - radically different from the absence of shalom, yet radically the same as the goodness of the garden. As Elmer Martens concludes, "The fragmentation of the present will once again be brought into healing and wholeness...shalom."

I began by asking, "So what if creation is good?" I believe knowing that God's approval extends beyond Genesis 1-2 changes the way we view our lives in this world. We can have hope for the here and now knowing that our role as God's image bearers continues as an integral part of following Jesus. We can participate with God as "shalom-makers" as I proposed.
Our task, then, is to properly communicate a theology and faith for here - the belief that our world is still good, acknowledging the victory of Christ reconciling all things (Col. 1:20) back into God’s original intention - shalom. In this manner we can conclude that God’s statement, “it was very good” (Gen. 1:31), echoes from the beginning throughout eternity.

To begin exploring how this may look in our everyday lives, I close with a quote about Jesus' resurrection from N.T. Wright's excellent book, Surprised by Hope:

The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom.

what about the fall?

Working from some thoughts in a recent sermon, this is the third post in a series asking the question, "So what if creation is good?" (You can listen here, but sorry for the buzz)

Post #1 - So what if creation is good?
Post #2 - What does "good" mean?

If "good" in Genesis 1-2 is characterized by shalom, the inevitable issue we must confront is "the Fall" - the entrance of sin and death into the world (Gen. 3). What do we do with Genesis 3 and following (until nearly the end of Revelation in fact)? And what do we do with our own experience of the world personally or globally, where so often shalom isn't the reality?

As Bible scholar Tremper Longman III describes, "Genesis is our story - the story of beginnings. It is first and foremost a story of God's interaction with his people created in his image. Genesis 3-11, and in fact the entire Old Testament, is in essence a story of failure after failure. God is faithful - humans are not. Sin has consequences. Adam and Eve are placed in a garden in a covenant with God - and they fail. In Genesis 4 Cain fails and he is cursed from the ground. In Genesis 6 everyone has failed - except Noah. In Genesis 11 mankind fails. The cycle continues throughout the Old Testament" (How to Read Genesis). And I'd suggest, the cycle persists today.

Beyond Genesis 1-2, you could say most of the rest of the Bible describes the absence of “good” – the absence of shalom. The Fall, in effect, marks the distortion of what was good. This shift to disharmony is evident in creation itself, which Paul describes as "groaning" in "its bondage to decay" (Rom. 8:20-22). God no longer walks with Adam and Eve in the garden, distanced from those he created to bear his image. Humans experience toiling, shame, and conflict, banished from Eden. The MB Confession of Faith describes the effects of the Fall well: "Sin and evil have gained a hold in the world, disrupting God's purposes for the created order and alienating humans from God and thus from creation, each other and themselves." I don't think anyone can deny how much of history and our lives reflect such a distortion or disruption from the goodness described in Genesis 1-2. Hence we are all culpable for contributing to this distortion of shalom, the inescapable reality that we participate in the vicious cycle of brokenness.

But how we undertand this disruption is crucial for how we view God, ourselves, and the world. I want to suggest that a disruption of creation is different than a redefinition of creation. The Genesis account was written largely to provide an alternative to other mythologies the Israelites encountered. These creation myths promoted the idea that the physical realm represented spiritual realities - good and evil. In Genesis, while good and evil is present, they are not some sort of metaphysical categories built into the actual fabric of the world. Good, if we remember, refers to God's approval - it's descriptive of God's view of the world. So if we think of the Fall disrupting God's purposes - shalom - the actual fabric of the world while tainted with sin and brokenness can still carry with it glimpses of goodness. Creation, including humanity, is not redefined as intrinsically evil. As Longman III clarifies, "The creation account informs and assures us that the world, as created by God, was good. Evil must have come from another source." The Fall,then, describes broken relationships between God, humanity, and the world. Any concept of original sin should describe the ongoing relational brokenness that humans have experienced and participate in, but not an intangible addition of "sinful" to our DNA.

I realize, however, that imagining how we might restore "good" in our lives is difficult. Part of our problem is we get stuck in the middle of the story – the Fall becomes determinative for how we experience the world. But like any good story, we can’t stop reading before we reach the climax, lest we assume the wrong ending. Which brings us to our last question:

Is creation still "good"?

what does "good" mean?

Working from some thoughts in a recent sermon, this is the second post in a series asking the question, "So what if creation is good?" (You can listen here, but sorry for the buzz)

Post #1 - So what if creation is good?

In this post, I'd like to explore the meaning of "good" in Genesis 1.

God's repeated statement, "it was good," can easily be misunderstood. Does good simply refer to aesthetic
s? It all looks really, really nice. God has created a masterpiece from which he can now step aside and admire. Or perhaps good means some sort of static perfection, where our imaginations picture an idyllic unchanging reality in the garden - the perfect world. While the Bible is quite clear on the beauty of God's creation, aesthetics alone provide an incomplete picture. In fact it's this type of absentee-god story that Genesis is explicitly countering in the face of alternative creation myths. And perfection, well, Genesis never says anything about creation's perfection. It just says, "good." As I heard John Stackhouse question in a lecture, "if it was perfect, why the mandate to cultivate?" He suggests, instead, that "it is created good in the sense that a seed is created good, but meant to grow into a tree."

A better way to understand God's statement
, "it was good," focuses specifically on God's view on what was made: good = approval. You could almost say, "God saw it was as it should it be.I like how OT theologian Elmer Martens puts it: "Indeed, God’s pronouncement following his act of creation that ‘it is very good’ declares that his expectation has been met and his intention fulfilled. In this initial and ideal depiction of persons, nature and God, the accent is on God’s continued activity of blessing…wholeness exists" (God's Design).

The world starts good - as it should be - because, as Martens' continues, "The initial scene depicted in the garden is one of harmony." This description of life in the garden can be characterized by one Hebrew word: "shalom." So much more than its literal translation, "peace," shalom refers to the relational wholeness present in God's creation - harmony between the Creator God, creation, and humanity. God walks with Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 2) and creation itself reflects God's glory (Ps. 8). Humans, created in God's image, are "active co-operators in God's blessing," participating as God's "gardeners" so to speak to ensure the continued presence of shalom in the world (Stackhouse). The "image of God," then, is less a vague stamp of divine DNA and more a divinely appointed role humans play as shalom-makers in the world they inhabit.

Along these lines, the Genesis account is fundamentally about God as the source of all things and the harmony of relationships among all things. And the special role humans were given in this creation cannot be understated.
Contrary to the mythical view that humans had no power to influence the world – only gods did that – the Genesis description of harmony in the garden highlights the significant role humans have in participating with God in his creation.

Now, if it wasn't for the Fall... (next post)

so what if creation is good?

Working from some thoughts in a recent sermon, this is the first post in a series asking the question, "So what if creation is good?" (You can listen here, but sorry for the buzz)

How many times as a Christian have you been told you need to be more "this-worldly"? Likely not many. And much of the time, this is a good thing. There is much in the ways of the world that Christians ought not emulate. Too often, however, Christians have extended their beliefs about following Jesus and not the world to include a value judgment about the world itself - God's creation described in Genesis 1-2 is inherently bad. Oftentimes in their understanding of the world, Christians forget (or eliminate?) God's approval in the opening of Genesis: "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good" (Gen. 1:31, NIV).

When I think about God's statement of approval, three questions come to mind:

1. What does "good" mean?
2. What about "the Fall"?
3. Is Creation still "good"?

In the following series of posts, then, I will explore answers to these three questions (likely raising many more!). I plan to suggest that if we take the entire biblical account seriously as Christians, then the declaration "it was very good" continues to characterize God's view of humanity and the world.

Perhaps a "this-worldly" theology isn't bad after all...

refreshing wisdom

My Mennonite Brethren (MB) denomination requires all pastors new to the MB family to attend an orientation seminar, a chance to orient ourselves around MB history and theology as presented by several MB teachers. No longer a student, I found this return to the classroom an enriching experiencing, particularly as I was refreshed by the wisdom of these teachers. So here I offer a brief selection of memorable quotes - this refreshing wisdom:

Following Jesus isn't some nebulous concept can have feet. (Doug Heidebrecht)

Those who cannot remember the past will always repeat it...Forgetfulness leads to apostasy.
(Bruce Guenther)

Excesses of a small minority create the perceptions for the majority
. (Bruce Guenther)

And I can't help but share the vivid (and comical) description of 16th C. Anabaptism as containing "aberrations and other expressions of weirdness." (Bruce Guenther)

Somewhere between God and neighbour, God has placed us.
(Tim Geddert)

Apart from following the risen Jesus, what good news do we have to share? Following the risen Jesus, what good news we have to share!
(Tim Geddert)

Some of the most fundamental things we take for granted in the church are wonderful strategies; but they are strategies...We do things a certain way so often we think the Bible is telling us to do so... (Tim Geddert)

We don’t have to mimic the early church in the details. (Tim Geddert)

A sermon not worth hearing twice probably wasn’t worth hearing once. (Tim Geddert)

Busyness is the enemy of spirituality. (Richard Martens quoting of Eugene Peterson)

can you be "hip" and Christian?

I recently asked, "Is it cool to be Anabaptist?" Well, this week I ask: can you be "hip" and Christian?

Here's's definition of hip: Familiar with or informed about the latest ideas, styles, developments, etc... considered aware of or attuned to what is expected, esp. with a casual or knowing air; "cool."

And in the urban dictionary: Cooler than cool, the pinnacle of what is "it". Beyond all trends and conventional coolness.

As a college student I devised a personal motto that helped direct my theological conscience: "beware of the bandwagon." As I studied, I found myself questioning how the process in which we align ourselves to one Christian group or trend takes place. Sadly, it seemed to me, the popularity - "hip-quotient" - ranked pretty high in determining peoples' core convictions, be those emergent, Anabaptist, conservative, Reformed, etc... My motto, then, has remained an integral part of how I process my own Christian faith and practice. I don't want to take lightly how my identity as a follower of Jesus is formulated and lived out.

And so this week, I was intrigued as my weekly interweb-meanderings brought me to Hipster Christianity -"where church and cool collide." Here you can take a survey which asks, "Are You A Christian Hipster?" So I took the quiz. Here are my results:

Your Christian Hipster Quotient: 69/120

Low CHQ. You probably belong to the purpose-driven, seeker-sensitive, Hawaiian shirt-wearing Christian establishment, even though you are open to some of the "rethinking Christianity" stuff. You seem to like edginess in some measure but become uneasy when your idea of Christian orthodoxy is challenged by some renegade young visionary who claims the virgin birth isn't necessary.

I don't know if I should be disappointed, happy, or just plain confused. But while I don't think it rightly describes me, it's a humorous exercise nonetheless. It's interesting, though, because humorous doesn't necessarily equate unimportant. How we develop our Christian identity is a crucial process I believe we must understand better. Satirically, then, Hipster Christianity stands as another reminder for me to understand the complexity of my Christian identity, continuing to "beware of the bandwagon."

So, are you a Christian hipster?

(Feel free to share your results in the comments section)

h/t to Experimental Theology for the link to Hipster Christianity

Jesus Manifesto

So what is Christianity? It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Christianity is not an ideology or a philosophy. Neither is it a new type of morality, social ethic, or worldview. Christianity is the "good news" that beauty, truth, and goodness are found in a person. And true humanity and community are founded on and experienced by connection to that person.

Thus begins Jesus Manifesto, the latest book from popular theologian Leonard Sweet, coauthored with Frank Viola. Lamenting a distortion of the Christian message in modern N.A. culture, Sweet and Viola attempt to answer Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?...the question required of every generation, and every generation must answer it for itself."

So, their answer you ask? Well, attempting to write in an "ancient devotional tone" - they never define what this is - the authors explore a variety of themes related to how we as 21st Christians can "exchange our dusty rites, Christian-speak, and pop-culture church-building tactics for the joy of becoming a walking breathing 'Jesus Manifesto.'" With chapters titled "The Occupation of All Things," "His Face or Your Face?" and "Who is this Lord of Yours," over and again the reader is confronted with a different angle for how Jesus can become the center of everything we are in life. Instead of Christianity being concerned with certain "causes" - e.g. social justice, peace, or morality - the book is simply about describing the reality Jesus Christ. As the authors state, "If Christ is in you, then the Christian life is not about striving to be something you are not. It is about becoming what you already are" (emphasis original)

Overall, I found the purpose of Jesus Manifesto quite refreshing in a culture prone to consuming whatever the latest and greatest spiritual technique happens to be. On this line, we can't get enough Jesus to re-center us so to speak. I'll admit, however, as refreshing as a centering towards the person and work of Jesus is, Jesus Manifesto ends up creating too many false dichotomies between Jesus and attempts to follow Jesus. The authors claim, for example, that "the end of existence is not understanding faith. It is living faith--a walk of utter dependence upon and loving attentiveness to Jesus Christ." So, does that mean my friend from church who came to know and love Jesus through an arduous process of intellectual understanding should have packed it in and simply been more attentive? Or more dependent? Such contrasts - and this is just one of many - create unnecessary separation between the human attempts to follow Jesus and the process of Christ's transformation within the lives individuals and the church. There is too much either/or and not enough both/and for the reader to grasp how we can "become who we already are" amidst the messiness of our lives. And while perhaps this is just the "making the best of it" influence of my former professor, John Stackhouse, Sweet and Viola would do well to offer some realism to their admirable call to center us on Jesus.

Jesus Manifesto has no shortage of quotable moments, although the authors extensive use of metaphors and catchy (shallow?) sayings do get tiresome. Unfortunatley, the writing comes across inconsistent. On one page I would encounter a compelling description of Christ and faith, only to be followed by a catch phrase used to illustrate a point that was already clearly expressed (e.g. "Listen to the Lord again: 'Without Me you can do nothing.'" Okay, good point. But here's what follows: "The 'Christian life' is impossible. It's only Him-possible" - serious!?!) Blame the editors I guess...

So while I endorse the purpose and topic of Jesus Manifesto - you can't argue with more Jesus can you? - the authors make it sound too easy. I was challenged to consider how my faith reflects an identity in Christ beyond simple behavior, but reading Jesus Manifesto actually left me wanting more of Jesus, if that's possible. I mean more of Jesus in the real world of our lives - more of Jesus in a world where the idealism of complete identity in Christ confronts the realities of just how difficult such a realization is.

Here's a sampling of the quotable highlights (which however good, definitely illustrate the authors' idealism):

So what is Christianity? It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less.Christianity is not an ideology or philosophy. Neither is it a new type of morality, social ethic, or worldview. Christianity is the "good news" that beauty, truth, and goodness are found in a person. And true humanity and community are founded on and experienced by connection to that person (xvi).

The Christian family has swung so far from its Lord that most of our preaching and teaching today is an "it" rather than a "Him" (19).

We awaken in Christ's body as Christ awakens our bodies...and everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged, is in him transformed, recognized as whole, as lovely, and radiant in his light (65, quote of Symeon the New Theologian).

Most people thing of evil as a mystery. We believe the mystery of goodness, beauty, and goodness is an even greater mystery than that of evil and wickedness. As one of "God's spies," are you always on the prowl to spy on the beauty, truth, and goodness Jesus is birthing in the world? (85).

Practically speaking, the church (when she is functioning properly) is the new society that Jesus creating. Christ and the church cannot be separated...The kingdom of God is made visible when the community of the King embodies justice, peace, and love together and then shares it with the world. The church, therefore, is the embodiment and instrument for displaying the kingdom of God (107).

It is one thing to get the meaning of what Jesus said and did; it is another thing to start meaning it. Meaning is meaningless until and unless you start "meaning it" (109, emphasis original).

Christians have a lover's quarrel with the world. Too many Christians want to change the world, not because they love the world but because they hate the world. The test of love's radiance: does it both transcend and embrace the world? (118).

According to the many sermons we hear preached today, one would think that Jesus gave us a completely differnt way to live than the way He lived. Jesus said clearly that He couldn't do anything on His own strength. But we are told (or it's heavily implied) that we can (126).

Those who live by the life of Christ do not act as though they are morally superior to other. While they stand separate from the defilements of sin and the world, they embrace those who are wounded, hurt, confused and defiled by them. So on the one hand, believers are "set apart from sinners," but on the other hand, they are the friends of sinners (135).

And summarizing the whole book well:

Christians don't point people to core values; they point them to the incarnated, crucified, resurrected, ascended, enthroned, exalted, triumphant, glorified, reigning Lord--Jesus of Nazareth, the King, the Messiah--the Christ beyond the tomb

I received an advance of copy of Jesus Manifesto through the Booksneeze review program.

travel "will possess your heart"

Two years ago Julie and I had the privilege of traveling to Italy and Greece in late spring. And so it's impossible for me to experience May-June without remembering our journey.

Prior to departing, the band Death Cab for Cutie released their album "Narrow Stairs" and so it became a sort of soundtrack for our trip as many hours traversing the landscape by train were spent with these tunes in my ear. In particular, "I will possess your heart" became etched in my mind to which even now I am transported back to Italy each time I listen to it. While the hypnotic bass line was alone enough to get me hooked , the lyrics poignantly describe the romantic nature of journey and exploration:

"You gotta spend some time, love. You gotta spend some time with me,
and I know that you'll find love, I will possess your heart."

There is a surreal quality to travel in new lands and foreign cultures, leaving an indelible mark in the memory of the traveler; and most definitely an appetite for more. I don't want to over analyze our trip (or over-theologize), but I can't help but think such experiences reflect a greater yearning that is simply part of the human condition - the journey to find something or someone to possess our hearts. We search for meaning in globetrotting adventure because such exploration makes us feel alive - connected to a broader reality than our own little worlds.

So this spring I'm listening to these familiar songs not only for fond memories that are precious to me, but as a reminder to not stop my journey - to keep exploring the depths of meaning in relationships and experiences that truly do possess my heart.

(I hadn't watched the music video until today, and so was thrilled to see the official music video express what I experienced on our trip - images of journeying in the beauty of this world.)

Here's some pictures of our trip (more here):

is it cool to be Anabaptist?

In light of my previous post on Brian McLaren and Anabaptism, I've asked the following question on my denomination's discussion forum:

As I reflect on the issue (McLaren and Anabaptism), it raises a broader question for our current evangelical culture: is it cool to be Anabaptist? While there is a move towards Reformed theology in the broader evangelical culture, it appears there is also a move towards Anabaptist theology, particularly with the emphasis on covenant community and the centrality of following Jesus in everyday life (as opposed to just believing in Jesus).

If this is the case, even partially, is a popularizing of Anabaptism a good thing? Or do we lament a loss of the counter-cultural identity that lies at the root of much of Anabaptist theology?

You can follow the discussion here.