From vs. For…

When I was a freshman in Bible college one of my required courses was Theology I. This was essentially an introduction to Christian theology. One of the things that made this class experience unique was the fact that it was in a one-week modular format, and the other thing that made it a little odd was the fact that every single freshman in the college was in this class. Now, I didn’t go to a major university for my BTh, but there were still just a little under 200 students in that class which anybody will tell you is a lot. Anyway, during one of the sessions we were having a discussion about baptism and the nature of sacraments in the evangelical church, and the instructor seemed to be pushing on the importance of baptism to the Christian faith more than some in the class were comfortable with. It was at this point that a student raised his hand and asked, “Sir are you trying to say that if a person isn’t baptized he isn’t saved?” The professor, after a very slight pause, answered, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I think it’s about time for a 15 minute break.”

This is only a funny story if you’ve grown up in a conservative Christian community, because only then do you understand the vital code language involved with the word “saved” and it’s cognates. When the professor said this and then dismissed the class there was turmoil and anger like you could hardly imagine. People were talking and arguing and even weeping the in hall during the break, worried about whether or not they or their friends were actually “saved.” The problem was, of course, that conservative Christians (and lots of other people interacting with Christian language) very often misunderstand the depth and breadth of the concepts the surround the word “salvation.” Such people think of salvation as a cosmic reprieve from the dual evils of death and hell…like a supernatural get-out-of-jail-free card. And this isn’t wrong. The Scriptures speak many times about the destruction of death on the cross, and about the everlasting life that awaits those who know Christ. But, is this the sum total of the Christian experience of salvation?

You see this first understanding of salvation is a salvation from, but there is more to salvation in the Christian faith. There is also salvation for. You see Christianity is not about escaping from personal danger or achieving eternal wealth and power. Christianity is about self-sacrifice and submission, it is about service before anything else. Even Jesus, whom Christians think of as God incarnate, saw himself as a servant before anything else (Matt. 20:28). And this must be central to our soteriology, our doctrine of salvation, that we are saved for service to God and his creation. When we begin to think of our lives this way a great many problems with modern living begin to melt around us. The love of money and things becomes empty, the need for appreciation and attention feels mean and small, lust and hatred and self-gratification are robbed of their meaning. There are a great many people who see Christianity as stilted and weak because of this emphasis on subjection and service, or as foolish and puritanical because of the emptying of worldly desire. But when I find the core of these truths in my own life, when I feel like a person saved for service, I discover that I am happy, fulfilled and content. This is where I am most empowered to live in the moment, to drink life in, to laugh and feel as though I am who I was meant to be.

There are a great many things about the Christian faith that are generally misunderstood, and I think that beliefs about salvation and service are among the most tragic of these. Christianity should not be rule based, nor should it be a selfish way to escape pain or destruction. It is instead an opportunity, a chance to be the servant that you have always been called to be. Don’t believe that this is important? Imagine for just one moment a world where every single person willingly and intentionally worked for the good of every other person and above all for the glory and praise of God. We call this heaven.

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Jack…

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the lovely luxuries that my current job affords me is the opportunity to listen to books on CD while I’m working. For those of you getting all jealous and up in arms please remember that I basically do data entry for 9 hrs every day, so it all comes out even in the end.

For the last few days I’ve been listening to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia…all of them. I’ve always loved these books, ever since my uncle gave them to me as a box set when I was 12 years old. That being said my recent theological and literary educational ventures have allowed me to understand explicitly something that I’ve known implicitly for a long time: the Narnia books represent some of the very best pure narrative theology that the world has to offer.

Narrative theology, for those unfamiliar with the jargon, is a way of talking about God using stories, parables, poetry and other narrative devices instead of using systematic propositional statements. This is pretty much a reaction to Christianity’s all-but-wholesale acceptance of the modern (and particularly positivistic) program of equating fact with truth (this is a crude definition but will serve here). Narrative theology, conversely, drives towards truth using stories. A narrative theologian neither asks nor answers questions that the Christian Story does not itself engage.

This is what the Narnia books accomplish so well. Though often described as allegory they are not. Allegory is a device that creates an essentially exact relationship between two narrative worlds or systems in order to comment on the one by means of the other (usually using either imagery or personified concepts). What Lewis does with his world is to create a symbolic universe that does not mirror our universe precisely but instead demonstrates the nature of God as he might interact with a different Story. In other words not everything that happens in Narnia has happened here, and not everything that has happened here happens in Narnia. What is common to them both is the fact that God interacts with both stories. To be more precise he tells both stories. The importance and the truth of Aslan’s story is found less in precise theological formulations or provable facts. It is found in the resonance of the story with our story, in that intuitive place between emotion and cognition where all that we are is involved and engaged in the experience of the narrative.

This is a fairly verbose way of saying that even now Lewis’ children’s stories have the ability to say more than much of the most complex systematic theology, and to say it better. Do you still wonder why almost the entire Bible is written either in narrative or in poetry?

On the Fritz and a New Blog on the Side-Bar

So I haven’t posted in a few days, even after my great proclamation about posting more regularly. There is, however, a very good reason for this. My Internet has been on the fritz since last Thursday or Friday. But I’m back, and I have news. I have, in my blog link travels, come across a blog belonging to a guy I knew both in college and later while I was pastoring at Heritage in Regina.

His name is Jon Coutts and he is one of the brighter and more articulate guys I’ve known in my life. He also appears to be doing graduate work in theology, though I haven’t a clue where (last I heard he was pastoring in Manitoba). Anyways, his blog is linked on the sidebar now and you should really go check it out. My very favorite thing that I found on his blog is his thesis work. It looks like a fun little number on natural theology and Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. If you’ve never read any Chesterton you need to, because he’s fantastic (I was gonna say awesomer than ten awesome things, but that has the unfortunate quality of both sounding and being dumb). I don’t know whether to tell you to start with Thursday or Orthodoxy, because they are both wonderful in their own very different ways. Of course you could also start with something a little lighter like his Father Brown books (e.g. The Innocence of Father Brown). Jon also has a great title for his thesis: This Side of Sunday. Man that’s great. I really do believe that the ability to develop an interesting or engaging title is a litmus test for how good a book is likely to be. This, I suppose, is yet another proof that nobody will ever read my thesis, lovingly titled “White Bulls and Wild Goats: A Literary Examination of the Function of Animal Imagery in Early Jewish Apocalyptic Literature.” I think the subtitle is where I really ride it off the rails, but I don’t have the time or energy to think of anything better, so there ya go.

All of this to say, go and read Jon’s blog. Oh, and I really am back and blogging, the hiatus wasn’t my fault. Time for sleep now, cheers all.

Brand New Feelings…

So for those of you who don’t know yet, I’m gonna be a daddy soon. Jin is about 20 weeks pregnant right now with a little boy (we haven’t named him yet, but even once we do I won’t be passing it on until he’s born…though suggestions are always welcome). This is a new thing for me. A really new thing. There is nothing in my life that has ever felt like this. I’ve never been this stressed and scared about something I’m this excited for. It’s weird, in both a good and a bad way. It reminds me of the feeling I usually get right before a big test. The only difference is that this feeling seems to be pretty permanent at this point.

For the past little while I’ve been frustrated about these brand new feelings. They have been tiring and trying most of the time. I still feel a little like that (sometimes a lot like that), but I’m beginning to come to terms with the fact that the way I’m feeling might be just fine.

The single most prevalent metaphor for God’s relationship with humanity in the Bible is the Father/Child relationship. All of Jesus’ teachings, indeed his entire life, are bound up in this metaphor. I am only just now beginning to realize that the way I’m feeling is another point of connection between my experience of the world and God. He felt this way. He was worried and frightened, anxious and excited, proud and exhilarated all at once. That’s how I feel, though not all at once. For me it’s more like a wild whirl of variegated emotion…kind of like an affective kaleidoscope or something. But he felt this way, and that makes me feel much better about all of this. It’s good to be in good company.

When it Rains…

That’s right, it’s an obvious cliche so I’ll leave it to you to add the apodosis (just trying to balance out the cliche with some technical language…it’s like literary karma…even though I’m using apodosis incorrectly as it’s really only applicable to conditional sentences…plus this is an incredibly long parenthetical statement…with far too many ellipses to be tolerable…by now you should be cottoning on to the fact that I don’t believe in literary karma…suckers).

Anyways, just wanted to say that I saw a really great movie tonight. It’s called Stranger Than Fiction and it stars Will Farrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson (who rules!) and Dustin Hoffman. This was a truly exceptional film, particularly the writing and direction (though the actors were no slouches). It’s also one of those movies that just gets better the more you know about literature and literary theory, a kind of second level of code. I won’t say any more here, don’t want to spoil it for you. But if you’re looking for a fascinating and powerful film, this is a good bet. But if you like Farrell’s normal fare (e.g. The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) this might not be the show for you…less with the farting noises and sex jokes and more with the subtle humor and quirky writing.

Have a good night all. Blessings.

On Writing…

So I’ve been gone for awhile. Okay, more than awhile. There are good reasons for that I assure you. Jin and I bought a house for one thing. We purchased our first home this past October and spent a couple of months renovating. Actually we’re not done the renos, but we’ve slowed down an awful lot since the new year. This leads me to another good reason for the lax blogging, which is that we’re expecting our first child this summer, a little boy!! Woohoo! We’re both pretty stoked about all of that and life has been an awful lot of fun for the last little while.

The unfortunate drawback to all of this is that I haven’t been blogging, nor have I been thesis writing. After a meeting with my supervisor this week I now know that I’m not going to be graduating this spring. Sigh. Oh well, not much to be done about that now. I can’t say I’m not frustrated by the seemingly interminable delay with this bloody degree, but a lot of the fault is my own. Which brings me to the actual subject of this post. I need to write more.

I have discovered recently that writing is cathartic and meaningful to me, even if my writing is neither of those things to people who read it. I need self-expression to fight off the demons of frustration and doubt that seem to plague me. Cheery hey? So I’m trying to start writing again, and I’m trying to do it a lot and all at once. I’m writing here, I’m writing my thesis (sort of) and (please don’t snicker here) I’m trying to write a little bit of this and that all on my own and all for myself. Don’t worry, that last bit will almost certainly never see the light of day and you will consequently not be burdened to lie to me about how much you like my mediocre attempts at writing real prose.

Having said all of this there is still a problem. Writing is hard. It takes time and effort and the ability to tap that well of creativity from whence expression and meaning come. The last part is the hardest. I’m busy like everyone else and I’m tired too, but those aren’t the things that have hindered my ability to express myself over the last few months. I’ve been away from the well. That’s been the problem, and indeed is the problem still. But I’m back looking for it again, wandering around in the twisting labyrinth of my own mind, divining rod in hand. I haven’t found that well yet. I’m sure I will, but I hope it happens soon. I’m getting very thirsty.