I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Does God set his people free?

3 Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6 And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”
Exodus 19 (New Living Transl.)

18 When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear. 19 And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!” 20 “Don’t be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!” 21 As the people stood in the distance, Moses approached the dark cloud where God was.
Exodus 20 (NLT)

The children of Israel were set free from captivity and set free to law...or, perhaps more specifically, the nation was set free to enter into a covenant with God: love God by keeping his laws, and in return God will bless the nation and it will prosper.

1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6 (NLT)

In our practical, day-to-day dealings, freedom is very very often a directed freedom. In fact, that seems to be the primary sense in which we typically use the word. Relationships of all levels usually have spoken/unspoken boundaries and limitations: don't "cheat" on your spouse, act with courtesy and consideration, take heed of his/her personal feelings, respect his/her preferences for this or that, etc. There is a give-and-take dynamic; it's a lot like a business transaction with its own economy. And we have myriad ways in which we construct these relational covenants.

The idea, I think, in constructing these covenants is that boundaries and laws allow us to function in closer proximity to one another. This is certainly the sense of God's covenant with the children of Israel: a bond of mutual benefit. In other word, the law gives life, joy, and prosperity:

Joyful are people of integrity,
who follow the instructions of the Lord.
Joyful are those who obey his laws
and search for him with all their hearts.
They do not compromise with evil,
and they walk only in his paths.
You have charged us
to keep your commandments carefully.
Oh, that my actions would consistently
reflect your decrees!
Then I will not be ashamed
when I compare my life with your commands.
As I learn your righteous regulations,
I will thank you by living as I should!
I will obey your decrees.
Please don’t give up on me!
Psalm 119 (NLT)

Okay, fair enough. For some, that should more or less be the end of the matter....however, the whole death and resurrection of Jesus Christ thing seems to screw it up a bit.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 3, Paul makes a comment, almost in passing, about being a minister of a new covenant: a covenant not of "the letter" (grammatos) but of the Spirit, for the letter "kills" (apoktennei) but the Spirit gives life.

The Spirit is a new way. In Galatians 5, Paul fires from point blank range: if you live by the Spirit you are no longer under law.

In Romans 7, Paul suggests to his readers that they died to the law "through the body of Christ." By dying to a life lived by the way of the law, a new way is made: living by the Spirit. (v. 6)

Also in Romans 7, Paul claims that the law is "holy" and "good." And then here is the kicker: I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.

Did God screw up in the original law-giving, law-abiding covenant?

It's an interesting question, but suggesting that God didn't quite get it right may be an oversimplification. After all, law reflects the order of things, the structure of the way most of us usually order our lives. Pragmatically speaking, law can work, law does work.

When I talk to people--usually of the religious variety--about living without moral codes, principles, or standards, their first reaction is that such an approach to life would mean "just doing whatever."....such is an oversimplification. There is a third way, a "new way" of the Spirit. It's just that such a way is undefinable, by definition.

The question of this post is: Does God set his people free?

For most Christians--and religiously-minded people--it is still a matter of being set free from something and to something. In many cases, it is a matter of being set free to live up to an even higher standard than anyone else. (This is often the way people interpret the Sermon on the Mount.)

I prefer freedom of the more radical stripe: drop the laws, principles, and regulations entirely--go with the Spirit all the way. Purge the mind and soul of a way of life that evaluates all of our actions as good or bad.

There seems to be another dimension of life that one can only reach by transcending the life of law and principles. But it only seems possible to ascend to this dimension by letting go of our law-oriented inclinations, our instinct to evaluate our actions based on whether they are "good," "bad," or "neutral."

Does God set his people free?

I think that the answer to the question depends on what type of freedom we yearn for.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Not a Christian Church

So, a few months back, I scribbled down some ideas for the ragtag small group to which I belong....I was wondering what I might come up with if I jotted down some of the values that I think are important for our group. My original thought was to discuss it with our group and see if they wanted some points around which to rally---something to define us.

I scrapped the idea shortly after I jotted down my thoughts, not wanting to seem like we had any kind of creed or dogma. However, I scanned my handwritten thoughts (only two short pages) and saved it as a .pdf document, if you would like to take a peak. (Please pardon the poor handwriting!)

The three values I find important are:
Changing the world
Providing an environment of radical freedom

I call the whole thing "Not a Christian Church."


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Merging and Submerging

The only Christian died on a cross
- Nietzsche

Has the "Emerging Church" died? Such was the topic of a recent (and rather provocative) article on the Christianity Today website. This rather short and simple article coincides with a good deal of what I have been thinking through over the last year or so....ever since I walked away from institutional/organized religion.

The gist of the article R.I.P Emerging Church:

“The emerging church will disappear.” That is what my informant told me as we shared drinks at our clandestine watering hole. I felt like Luca Brasi being handed a dead fish wrapped in newspaper. The hit had been ordered…the emerging church’s fate had been sealed. In my informant’s mind, the death of the emerging church was a settled matter. I double-checked my surroundings for listening ears before whispering, “How can you be so sure?” The informant (who worked for a publisher) leaned forward and said their marketing plans included dropping the “Emerging Church” brand within two years.

That was two years ago.

Now comes word from recognized leaders and voices within the emerging church movement that the term has become so polluted that it is being dropped.

(Cf. McKnight article)

If you want my take on the issue, I favor a merging and submerging church: that those with a faith centered on Jesus would merge with culture and submerge beneath the turbulent waters of dogma, institution, and commercialized, market-driven religiosity.

My struggle is that I see all of Christianity as a fad, commercialized, consumer- and market-driven. To say "I am a Christian" is not to say that one identifies with Christ, but that one identifies with some form of a hyper-commercialized movement.

This explains, in part, the fact that the church has such a difficult time retaining those who are passionate about changing the world, have a heart for joining believers in open/authentic community, and have intelligent minds that desire to challenge status quo thinking. These are three key types of people that seem to be lacking in most church institutions. Most institutions tend to prefer organizing around static beliefs/practices rather than letting dynamic people loose to affect genuine change.

I can't help but sense an urgent need to purge and purify; a need to go underground; a need for silence, reflection, and growth.

In my opinion, the American church is neither hot nor cold. It is bland and boring. A few months back my boss told me that the water heater had not been working for quite sometime....but no one had noticed. Why? Because the water heater doesn't do a good job heating water, and so we don't ever expect the water to be hot. Such is the state of Christians.

Thought: Once the water is no longer hot, there is little difference between water that is merely warm and water that is cool.

When Nietzsche suggested that God is dead, wasn't he really just suggesting that God is not needed? If God doesn't actually exist, would that make a difference for the Christian religion? If we found out that there was never really a water heater to begin with, would the water temperature change?

Is it in the best interest of Jesus to let Christianity die? To put the movement out of its misery? I tend to think that the answer is, “yes.”

What would faith look like if it were just a gathering of people? Sharing life together? A non-Movement movement?

For most Christian leaders, a non-Movement movement would be too ambiguous…..the author of the above emergent church article says as much at the end of the article when he snidely remarks, “As the emerging church rides off into the sunset, where does that leave things? Well, news has been leaking about a new network being formed by Dan Kimball, Erwin McManus, and Scot McKnight among others…..They appear to have learned from the emerging church’s mistake—define purpose and doctrine early so your identity doesn’t get hijacked.”

But is it even possible to think faith without religion? To think spirituality without an Institution to regulate it? To think about Christ w/o Christianity?

Where is “faith” going these days?

The so-called "Reformers" did little to change the structure of institutional Christianity; they merely substituted different doctrines and introduced more legalistic standards to measure faith so as not to allow the church to devolve into the types of corruptions and abuses that Luther was so appalled to see when he journeyed to Rome as a naive young monk.

Interesting note: a friend recently informed me that Luther seriously considered the idea of organizing the new reformed churches as house churches. His one drawback was there were not enough people who could read, and hence there may be many house churches without someone to read the Bible…..hhhhmmmm…..but is such a drawback still an issue in 21st century America?

It is interesting that the emerging church appears to be going the way of the dinosaur. It was essentially a Movement that masqueraded as a non-movement. Hence, one kind of always felt as though a diagnosis of "multiple personalities disorder" was in order. I don’t mean to be too critical, but they did consciously decide to take this Movement public via mass distribution channels.

So......what now?

Eh hem….well, my thoughts….

I suggest: merge with culture and lose the holier-than-thou mentality; submerge from religion, dogma, and institution. Free people as individuals within community to pursue a pure and liberating faith.

Perhaps, this merging/submerging move would mean the death of commercialized Christianity and the use of "Christian" as an adjective: no more "Christian books," or "Christian music," or "Christian tee shirts," or "Christian worldviews," "Christian churches," or even "Christians.”

But to merge and submerge, as I am suggesting, would be the end of "Christianity" and "Church" as an institution and as an institutional powerhouse. Of course, such is still a radical suggestion....it means that the gathering of the faithful is organized around things like freedom, openness, love, acceptance, grace, and self-discovery......most Christians will prefer some sort of modified hybrid: an institution that merely shifts its values a bit. Add a bit more love, lose a bit of the moxy.....add some room to disagree on dogma, lose a bit of the need to control......sure, modifications can be made to ensure the survival of the mediocre institution, but in this era, I think such a suggestion is naive: the American church is overrun with the complacent, and a shift of values merely means that we will be complacent about a new set of "priorities." But perhaps this is an issue I am wrong about. Perhaps institutions with new values would, in fact, provide a new and fresh vision around which something powerful and dynamic could be formed….hhhhmmmm…..I’m doubtful, though……I think we need something more radical and extreme, something less man-made, synthetic, or artificial. Something that indicates a real connection to an external power surge. It seems difficult for me to see how things like love, freedom, grace, and power can be captured by religion. Religion and institution tend to kill these things…..but regardless, it seems quite clear that churches simply will not survive with any vibrancy unless something changes. And faith itself seems to me to be on the brink.

My suggestion of merging and submerging would seem to require the greater amount of courage, boldness, and failure: small groups striking it out on their own; trial and error, victories and failures, highs and lows. People of faith (and even non-faith) who are no longer connected by the obligation of a large-scale religious affiliation but by a more intangible and undefinable connectedness.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


"Mine, what does this word signify? Not what belongs to me, but what I
belong to, what contains my whole being, which is mine insofar as I belong
to it."
Soren Kierkegaard using the pseudonym Victor Eremita in Either/Or: A Fragment Of Life (1843)

"Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Some guy...uuuuhhhhhh.....I'll get back with ya.

"The stuff you own....ends up owning you."
Tyler, from the film Fight Club