Friday, June 04, 2010

Narrative Christianity

I have started working on what may become my next book. I've wanted for a long time to rather clearly and methodically spell out my understanding of the gospel. For now at least, I'm calling the book Narrative Christianity. I'd like to share some early thoughts with you today because they also tie into the new series called "Go" that we are launching this weekend at The Vineyard. This weekend I will be telling the story of God from beginning to end. I'm very excited about it...so here's a sneak peak of my early thoughts from Narrative Christianity:

I want to change the world. I’m obviously not alone. Protestors, politicians, pastors, parents and beauty pageant contestants – we all love to talk about changing the world. Just stick a microphone in front of one of us and we’ll gladly poetically drone about change and hope and the power of possibility.

Except for a few fringe extremists, everyone I know genuinely desires world peace. We want to see the hungry fed, the endangered children saved and the abandoned elderly dignified. It isn’t too hard for us to imagine a better world without slave traders, child abusers and hate mongers. We want love and respect to replace racism and selfishness. We want the world to change. Most of us are even willing to change it. The only problem is that we simply don’t know how to do it.

As a result, some of us have decided to become more political. But is government – any government - going to change the world? Are we to believe that we are only a few well-crafted pieces of legislation or a new messianic leader away from heaven on earth? Throughout the entire human experiment, how have the governments of the world succeeded in bringing peace or preventing poverty or creating selfless people? Not very well at all. History unveils a clear, stark realization: we can’t govern ourselves well enough to save ourselves from ourselves.

But at least we can trust education to rescue us, right? We just need better teachers, better facilities, and better academic standards. If there is anything that G.I. Joe cartoons taught my generation it is that, “knowing is half the battle.” Surely a more educated society could find a way to analyze, theorize and organize us out of this predicament. Of course, the irony is that we already live in the most educated society to inhabit the earth. We are the wiki-generation toting around the entirety of collected human knowledge in our iphones and Blackberry’s. Yet, remarkably, the world remains as broken as ever.

Once we dismiss government and education as the hope for all humanity, we easily find ourselves romantically sentimental for the “good ole days.” After all, isn’t it really a simple matter of right living – of being good people? If we could return to those happy days and rediscover that Utopian Judeo-Christian America, then everything would be better: God fearing. Church going. Value loving. Praying before meals. Marriage before sex. Nation before self. Returning to our Leave It To Beaver roots has to be the way to change the world, right? Possibly for the Cleavers among us, but my African American friends might disagree. We tend to forget that the “good ole days” were hell on earth for some of us.

Or maybe, in contrast, the post-modern existentialists have it right.  Maybe it’s really just about you finding the courage and freedom to be you.  Simply embrace your inner journey to discover who God made you to be. Claim your freedom and don’t judge others. Live and let live. Don’t impose. After all, nothing says “change the world” quite like a liberal dose of extreme tolerance.

Maybe you are like me. You’ve spent a good chunk of your limited life on this planet trying to change things. And maybe you have discovered what I have. Namely, that you can’t change the world by being political or piling up PhD’s. You can’t change the world by being religious or trying harder to be a better person. You can’t change the world by finding your deepest inner calling. Not by getting rich or gaining power or becoming famous. You can’t change the world “one person at a time.” (It sounds good, but it takes way too long.) And you can’t change the world by being a Christian.

Because you can’t change the world at all.

You aren’t that good…or talented or influential or intelligent. I hate to pile on like this, but somebody needs to say it: you and I are not the hope of the world. Somebody bigger, better and smarter than us needs to take over this sorry operation if change is going to come.

The Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich was once asked, “What is the most revolutionary way to change society: Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform?” He gave a careful answer: “Neither. If you want to change society, then you must tell an alternative story.

There is an alternative story. And it isn’t about you. It is about a living, eternal one-and-only creative Being. His name is unpronounceable, but when pressed He asks us to call him “I Am” or “The One Who Is.” His name is I Am, because before you were…He is.

We think that our personal individual stories are significant - that they really matter. But compared to the story of this I Am, your story is laughably short and insignificant. You are the fruit fly – born to die on the same day. He is everything. You are next to nothing. But here’s the game changer: He made you. Therefore, He – get this – loves you. More accurately, he loves all of us. If you are a parent, then you know his kind of love. The love you have for your children is a diluted carbon copy of the way He loves you. He created parents to love their kids so that they could better understand how He loves us.

He loves us so much that He invites us to abandon our lonely pitiful stories to join his better one. At some point, each of us must answer this foundational question: Do you want to continue starring in your own torturously bad amateur one-act play or would you rather exchange that part for a better role in the single greatest story ever written? That is the alternative story. Countless people throughout history have traded their story for a better one. To put it in the words of Jesus, they “took up their cross” or “became least” or “died in order to gain their life.” By surrendering your story to the one-and-only I Am, you are introduced anew into the next chapter of his masterpiece. And you aren’t the first to do so. The alternative story is as old as time...

6 comments:

Micah said...

Typo? I think you mean sex AFTER marriage.

Otherwise, GREAT post. I'm looking forward to this.

Rod said...

I am with Micah....can't wait for the new series to start and to follow on as you grind through the creation of your next book.

Joe said...

thanks Micah...fixed it.

Jane said...

Thought of this song yesterday and looked it up on youtube. Goes along with the name of God and showing who He is throughout the entire bible - book-by-book. Is a little long (7 minutes) but I think worth the listen:

"He Is" by Aaron & Jeoffrey -
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttS7FH8X4n4

Joe said...

"As a result, some of us have decided to become more political. But is government – any government - going to change the world? Are we to believe that we are only a few well-crafted pieces of legislation or a new messianic leader away from heaven on earth? Throughout the entire human experiment, how have the governments of the world succeeded in bringing peace or preventing poverty or creating selfless people? Not very well at all. History unveils a clear, stark realization: we can’t govern ourselves well enough to save ourselves from ourselves"

I agree with Rod (who agrees with Micah). Amazing post. I think this is a book that needs to be written. At the very least, just for the paragraph above.

Steve Fuller said...

Joseph,

Most of what you have written here sounds nice, but I'm not sure it's true. Maybe I'm not connecting the dots, but...

Rich people change the world all of the time. Bill Gates is doing some pretty cool stuff with his money. Smart people change the world all of the time. Scientists have cured some pretty nasty diseases. Politicians change the world all of the time. Abraham Lincoln's four years as president sure mattered to a lot of folks.

If you're saying individual people can't change the world apart from Jesus, the evidence doesn't seem to support your claim. Lots of atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews live loving, sacrificial lives. Ghandi did some pretty cool stuff.

Finally, I have witnessed some amazing men and women who have committed themselves to one-on-one discipleship. While it might be slow, the results are amazing. I rarely see that same long-term impact from entertaining talks or clever books. I would argue the real key to life IS committing to changing the world one person at a time. One neighbor at a time, one friend at a time, one student at a time, one stranger at a time. Isn't that exactly what Jesus did?

Overall, I suppose I'm pretty bored with the, "You suck; you're a fruit fly; you don't matter" message. It might play to Christians, but as someone who spent 23 years as a non-Christian, that doesn't feel like an alternative story. It feels like the same old story...deflating, defeating, and unappealing.

I hope this didn't sound too critical. I could obviously be way off, but after wrestling with your words for a few days, I felt compelled to respond. More than anything else, I have always experienced you as a deep thinker who processes outside of the box (which is why I lust you so much), and this seemed like a very "inside the box" message.