Bi-vocationalism as guerrilla warfare: 5 thoughts

Ok, yes, it might sound extreme.  But let’s be sober-minded.  As Todd Hiestand (and the comments) notes in his great post, “10 Suggestions/Thoughts on Bi-vocational Ministry”, being a missional bi-vocational pastor is hard, it takes commitment, it takes faith.  But in this post-Christian context (or at least outside of the ever shrinking Christendom pockets), the option to be a bi-vocational is not an option at all, it is a missional necessity. I want to frame the discussion here with this image of guerrilla warfare exactly because I don’t want bi-vocational ministry to sound merely like a life-style choice, good for some, but not for others, or some kind of fashion accessory for missional pastors.

But I want to clear up one thing.  I’m not taking about guerrilla warfare against the more established church, or mega-churches or anything like that.  To think narrowly that way is just not helpful.  I’m thinking that our battle is within post-Christian, post-modern, consumer-theraputic-individualistic culture.  The warfare is in the terrain of our neighborhoods and families, our calendars and wallets.

So, to start this off, here are five thoughts.

Bi-vocational ministry is necessary:

1) not because missional churches are poor, but because they are rich. Some of the literature on bi-vocational ministry point to it being an option when churches are little, too poor for a full-time pastor.  In this scenario church finances are the determining factor.  Well, I know many missional churches that are small, and probably too poor for a full-time salary plus health insurance.  But the missional church is rich in resources, resources that are flowing outward into the neighborhoods and communities.  They are rich in leadership and talents that would go untapped if there was only one person (a man usually) who did everything and got paid for it.  My own community is actually big enough to support a full-time pastor, but we choose not to do that because we believe it would make us poorer as a community.  Bi-vocationalism, then, is to use what the culture sees as a weakness (money, resources) as a strength, and therefore is a necessary attribute of missional guerrilla warfare.

2) not because missional churches have little work, but too much work. Sometimes you hear the complain from a bi-vocational pastor that there is so much work and too little time (oh, wait that was me!).   But we all know what the truth is.  There is always too much work.  No matter what.  But instead of allowing ourselves to believe (which doesn’t really happen), or worse, allowing our congregations to believe (which almost always happens) that one or several “full-time” people can basically cover the work of the kingdom, missional churches know that there is always way too much work for one (or even some), but that all are engaged in the mission of God’s kingdom.  Bi-vocationalism is an automatic safe-guard against thinking the work is manageable when really it is totally unmanageable outside of all entering the fields to bring in the harvest.  Therefore, missional churches use another perceived weakness (lack of impact or results by a visible few) as a strength because the mustard seed is growing.

3) not because we battle outside, but within ourselves. This one gets tricky, but follows from #2.  Too often people, organizations, nations, and yes, churches, come to think that the battle is outside, that all those in must conform to a certain image or idea, and then move outward and attack (this happens even for laudable causes).  Many churches have implicitly or explicitly adopted this organization/operational structure, and even for those churches that haven’t it is a constant temptation perpetuated by full-time ministry.  But we must always remember that the battle is within our churches, and within ever leader (I referred to it before as a power addiction).  I’m reminded of the lyrics from U2’s “peace on earth”: “And you become a monster / So the monster will not break you.”  Ministerial bi-vocationalism is the necessary spiritual discipline to ward off this temptation toward consolidation, and not just spiritual discipline, but relational, financial, and temporal discipline befitting those on the front lines (which are never front but always shifting) of the missional battle. In this sense you don’t fight fire with fire.  We must creatively resist.

4) because the culture is already fighting a guerrilla style war against us. Advertising, opinion polls, new television shows, iPhone apps, American Apparel, and on and on it goes.  The culture is an ever evolving parasite on others beliefs and practices, always moving toward how to make a dollar off you, or spin something as propoganda.  So it is necessary for missional churches to be just as nimble and creative, culturally creative even.  In this way it is necessary to fight fire with fire, guerrilla warfare again guerrilla warfare.

5) not because the missional church is against formal leadership, but because we seek to form proper leadership. I will not spend as much time on this because de-centralized leadership has been a common enough theme, especially in regard to actual guerrilla warfare, cell groups, and house churches.

So, those are five reasons off the top of my head that missional bi-vocational ministry is not a cute lifestyle decision, or something that we try for a little while but then abandon, or a missional accessory that so like an others don’t.   But I truly believe that if the kingdom is to fruitfully gain ground in this post-Christian context that we must adopted strategies for the long run.  Anything less will perpetuate the stagnation of the American church.

(p.s. I know I could qualify this a little and mention all those in larger churches who are legitimately following God’s call in a full-time ministry and such [many whom I know and love]…but I prefer to just let this start out more black and white without fading everything to gray too quickly).

Being the Temple for the World, #5

 

Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

dore-garden-expulsionAs we saw in the last post, humanity was created in God’s image and likeness to be God’s representative in the world (royal-image), and to be God’s very representation in the world (cultic-image).

God’s presence had been given to humanity (indeed, to the entire cosmos since creation is God’s temple-dwelling place), and God’s presence was supposed to spread and fill the earth through the faithful agency of humanity (Gen. 1:28). But all this was lost in the Fall, which is the topic for todays this post.

Failure to Keep God’s Presence: Genesis 3

I’m going to skip the details of what theologians call the Fall, when Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, of why they did it and what it did to them. I’m skipping it not because it isn’t important, but because it is so familiar that we forget that in a sense all of Genesis 3-11 is the record of the Fall, recording the effects sin and death on individuals (Gen. 3) to institutions (Gen. 11).

The most important detail about Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden is not the fact that they are being kept from the Tree of Life. Rather it is the fact that the way back into the Garden is guarded by Cherubim (Gen. 3:24).

Let’s think about this. If I said two security guards are in front of a door you would think something valuable was behind it. If I said two of Secret Service were in front of a door you would think the President was there. If I said two dragons were guarding a door you would think something magical was there. The kind of guards posted tells us about what is there.

So, if who is guarding the door tells us something about what is being guarded, then perhaps the fact that Cherubim guard the Garden tells us something more than merely that humanity was not supposed to eat of the Tree of Life.

Cherubim are almost exclusive found in the very presence of God (around the Ark of God’s presence in Ex. 25: 18-22, and in heavenly visions like Ezekiel in Ez. 10:1-20). We need to understand, then, as every ancient reader would have, that the Cherubim are guarding the presence of God from those who have lost the ability to bear the presence of God. In the Fall, not only do we lose the Garden-Temple and our Image-Bearing mission, but we lose the very presence of God.

In a very real sense, Heaven and Earth are now separated, with humanity being bound to the Earth, and Heaven becoming the primary place of God’s presence.

Failure to Gain God’s Presence: Genesis 11tower-of-babel

But this arrangement is not to the liking of those tower builders of Babel. That God is in Heaven and they on Earth is not tolerated. So they decide to build a tower that “will reach up into Heaven” so that they could “make a name” for themselves.

No longer does humanity want to be God’s representatives nor be God’s very representation on earth, but rather they wanted to make a name for themselves (presumably by overthrowing God from Heaven and installing themselves).

Naturally God does not think this is a great idea, not because God is threatened by such schemes, but because this tactic is the most destructive of humanity and human flourishing.

So humanity fails to regain God’s presence by storming Heaven, reinforcing the very real sense that now humanity (on Earth) is separated from God (in Heaven).

All is Lost! Or is it?

As the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to prayer that the things of Heaven will be on Earth (God’s Kingdom and Will), we have been wondering how it is that Heaven and Earth come together and what does the entire story of Scripture tell us about coming together of Heaven and Earth.

So, the question we should be asking ourselves at the end of reading Genesis 3-11 is “How will the presence of God come to humanity?” because it is impossible for humanity to bring itself into God’s presence (barred from the Garden and thwarted at the Tower).

Well, as we turn to Israel’s Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) we find that although humanity has fallen from Heaven God is going to appear and make a way for humanity to be “with God” and to again bear the image of God in the world.

To this we will turn in the next post.

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Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

Being the Temple for the World, #4

Hand_of_God_1135341759150ab8377d56f3

Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

So we have talked about how Heaven and Earth are best thought as God’s Temple, and that God rests in his temple residence as the ruler of the cosmos.

This naturally leads us to ask, “Ok, so what does humanity have to do with all this?”

Good question. Glad you asked.  Answering this questions leads to an understanding of the nature/purpose of humanity, and then how this was lost and what salvation means (hint: salvation is re-gaining the presence of God).

Image and Likeness of God?

Theologians have debated forever what the image and likeness of God means: what makes us in the image/likeness of God? Is it our spirituality, our immortal soul, our rationality, our creativity? Well yes, but no.  Well, yes and no.

Yes, I believe all of these things are part of humanity in some sense and they inform what being in the image/likeness of God is.  But, as with our understanding of “creation” as focusing more on the function than the material, so too must we consider the function of humanity rather than its material (spirit, soul, body, mind).

Royal Image:

Our first understanding of “image” comes from the practices of rulers to place statues of themselves around their land to remind the inhabitants who is in charge.  The “image” of the ruler is an extension of his rule, marking out the boundaries of his kingdom.  In a sense, humanity serves as representatives of God.  And as God’s representatives God blesses humanity to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28).  As we will see, this “blessing” to be “fruitful” and “multiply” is key in understanding God’s call to Abraham and then Israel.

Cultic Image:

But in addition to this “royal image” we also need to think of the temple context of creation and the garden (something we have been arguing for throughout).

When people build temples for their gods they usually included an “idol” of the god, an “image” that was a representation of the god.  These would be placed in the holy places of the temple.  Of course people understood that they were not the gods themselves, but was a representation of the god.

So, if we are to think of Eden (and the cosmos as a whole) as a temple of God, made by God, then it is reasonable to think that God placed his own “image” in this temple.  Indeed, this is exactly what he has done in humanity, the original “image” or “idol” of God, serving in the temple of God.

Our Function?

Ok, so these are two essential aspects of what it means for humanity to be in the “image and likeness of God”, but still, what does that tell about our function.

In this sense, that humanity is made in the image of God means humanity is to express and extend God’s rule and reign as God’s representatives (royal image), and more intimately, humans are to be representations (cultic image) of God in the world.  Wherever we go God is meant to be seen and known.  This is why God blesses humanity and tells us to be fruitful and multiply.  In a sense, as humanity spreads out and cultivates the earth the living and walking image of God will expand and fill the earth so that God’s presence will likewise fill the earth.

The function of humanity means we are to be representative of God’s kingdom in the world, and more than that, we are actually representation of God

This sets the bar pretty high for what we were created to do.

Unfortunately Adam and Eve almost immediately fell from being a representative and representation of God in the world, and instead wanted to set up their own rule and kingdom (one separated from the word and work of God) (this is what Romans 5:17 tells us, that in Adam sin and death gained a kingdom).

But that is for the next post.

God’s Presence

To sum up, creation is best thought as a place for God’s presence in that it is structured like a cosmic temple, a place for God to rest and rule as his residence.  And humanity was meant to represent this presence of God in the world.

But all is broken now, with God’s presence known as partial and fleeting.  What is God going to do about it?  First he begins to creates a small scale place for his presence, which then turns into a person of his presence, and finally a people of his presence (overview is here).


Here is the complete series: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6.

The Practice of Living: All Saints Day

cloud-of-witnesses

Why do we run from death if death has been defeated? Why do we forget those who have gone before us and pretend that we have to go it alone?

All Saints Day is good for us here in America, in the West, where we are prone to ignore death and live alone.

All Saints Day breaks through our willed ignorance of death and our own myopic isolation.

All Saints Day is the day we remember the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us by remember that the Church of Christ is much bigger than just those we see day to day, and it has lasted much longer than our own local extension of Christ’s Body.

Death has been Defeated

We must come to remember death instead of ignoring it, and for getting about those who has passed before us. But we must also remember that death has been defeated.

Much like Ash Wednesday, All Saints Day helps us remember that from dust we have been taken and to dust we will return. And yet the accent on All Saints Day is on the Church Triumphant, raised in Christ, the one who has overcome the grave and stolen death’s sting.

It is a day to remember and rejoice the lives of our friends and family who have died before us and sleep in Christ.

Here at Life on the Vine we spend the hour before our service bringing pictures and sharing stories of our loved ones who have gone on before us. And these pictures then stayed around our altar as we worshipped and shared the Communion of Christ together in the main service.

The Great Community

All Saints Day helps us remember the community of faith who have gone before us. It helps us remember that we are not alone, in this time and place, but that Christ’s church, the community of faith, is much bigger and longer than we often think.

all saintsFor we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12), a great cloud of the faithful from all ages, whose lives speak of God’s great love, whose lives tell of God’s great work, whose lives continue to spur us on to love and good work.

In a long but good prayer our liturgist led us in remembering the Saint from the early church, from all continents, and all tribes, and all peoples who bear witness to the risen Christ.

Not the End

Let us remember that “This is not the End”, for the story goes on, “further up and further in.”

How have you celebrated All Saints Day in churches and traditions?

 

The Human Side of Prayer (along with Tim Keller)

I came across this on twitter and it caught my eye and made me think.

What do you think?

As a Reformed pastor and theologian I know Keller is seeking God’s Glory in all things, and rooting out humanity’s pride and arrogance in all things. I agree with this framework, to a point, in that in the Garden Adam and Eve fell because they wanted to be like God.

But this is only half the story.

Isn’t it also correct to say that Adam and Eve fell because they didn’t want to be who they were made to be?  They were trying to be other-than themselves, other-than created beings made in the image of God, designed for fellowship and communion with God. It is not just that they weren’t treating “God as God” but they weren’t treating “themselves as themselves” (I know that is an awkward phrase, but you get the point).

Returning back to prayer, I think it better to say not just that if we fail to pray we aren’t treating “God as God” but that in failing to pray we aren’t treating “ourselves as ourselves.”  When we don’t pray are not doing what we need to do to be truly human.  When we don’t pray we are becoming more and more sub-human (as it were).  It is not “weak” humanity that needs to pray, but rather it is “true” humanity that needs to pray.

This doesn’t make prayer all about humanity, but rather that true humanity is always a prayerful dependence on God, a prayerful seeking of God’s ways in the world.  True humanity always knows itself to be coming from and returning to God.

I worry that often times Reformed theology creates an “us” versus “God” dynamic (in this case it is prayer) rather than fostering an “us” with “God” perspective.

Why did Jesus Pray?

Let’s do a thought experiment and ask “Why did Jesus pray?”

Did he pray because he wanted to “treat God as God”?  Well, that seems funny because he already was/is God and so in that sens there would be no need for prayer.

Did he prayer in order to be a good example to his disciples about how to “treat God as God”?  Well, maybe, but again that would seem particularly disingenuous and inauthentic to fake prayers as an example (I suppose this would be something like a dad letting his kids win at a game).

Rather I would say we must not forget about Jesus’ humanity and this in his humanity (or better, as the “true” human) Jesus prayed because this is what he needed and had to do.  As the image of the true humanity living in faithful obedience to God, Jesus prayed to God for all that he needed (and even argued and pleaded with God, at least once in the Garden of Gethsemane).

Balance

So let us keep our understanding of prayer (and other practices) as balanced as our Christology (divine and human), taking into account both the human and divine directions of these practices (we could easily talk about evangelism, preaching, sanctification, etc).

For other thoughts about Tim Keller on prayer see Scot McKnight’s recent post on Keller’s Rules for Prayer.

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A Modest Plea for Coaches to Stay Pastors

When God called me to be a pastor I resolved I would never view the pastorate as a career ladder to be climbed.

Growing up I had seen and heard people talk about how some youth pastor had now become an associate pastor, with the implication being that someday he would be a senior pastor.  Or the similar idea was to move from a smaller to a larger church, and the really successful would become mega-church pastors, or at least staff pastors at a mega-church.

But with many in my generation of a pastors and ministers (I’m 36), dissatisfied with the church growth movement and its lack of growing mature disciples, I didn’t want to think of pastoral success in terms of butts (in seats), bucks, and buildings. I wanted to think in terms of faithfulness and longevity wherever God called me to serve.

And so I, like many others, had given up on worldly dreams of influence and success, and settled into a “long obedience in the same direction.

Or have we?

While it is true that in the circles I’ve been part of there is little ambition to be a mega-church pastor, I’ve begun to see something that might be analogous: the desire to be a church consultant/coach.

Over the last 10 years I have seen an increasing trend of those who talk about and then implement a “side business” of church consulting and coaching.  I saw this initially with those connected to mainline churches (probably because they have an established infrastructure for such things), but now more so within evangelical circles.

Certainly there are a variety of reasons one would become a coach: because you were asked, because you feel you have something to offer, you need a little extra income.

But I think there is also a more subtle ambition at work here.  It is sometimes expresses in words like “I feel God is calling me to lead leaders…” “I think God is calling me to greater influence…to influence the influencers…” “I want to pastor the pastors…”.  I have heard these and similar sentiments as justifications for becoming a church coach, which often entails an exiting of local pastoral ministry.

The trouble is, this is exactly how mega-church pastors talk about leading their churches, and how they justify the conferences they speak at.  Have we really come so far from climbing the pastoral “career ladder” when we sound like those whom we criticize for building their own kingdoms under the banner of building God’s church?

Read the rest of this post over at Scot McKnight’s “Jesus Creed“.

Deeper than We Thought (1): Our Society’s Sin

The Journey of Redemption 0e1140859_blog-racial-reconciliation

I’ve found in my journey of redemption that I don’t necessary sin egregiously in every category. Rather I’ve found I often keep struggling with the same two or three sins that seem to go all the way down to my core.

Every time I think I’m done with that sin God will gently tear off the Band-Aid and reveal just how bad the infection is. Over and over again this process goes on.

On a different level, this is true of our American society when it comes to race.

The Reality of Race

It seems that majority (white) people are often tired of talking about race (just like we are tired of dealing with that pesky sin of ours).  This is especially true of white evangelicals, where 69% think that the best way to improve race relations is to stop talking about race! It is as if we as a society think that because we acknowledge racism that we can now move on to our other sins.

But I would say this is probably one of the two core sins of our American society, and there is not easy movement beyond it.

And are we really working on it anyway? Or just managing it, like we manage having a short temper or indulging in too much dessert?

Aren’t we just managing “racism” when every so often we acknowledge the need for a “national debate”, or that those “real racists” need to be punished, or that perhaps the police are a little harsh on minorities, but never diving in to see how deep the sin goes?

These questions and concerns have directed me toward a book by Michelle Alexander called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

This book rips off the Band-Aid and shows how and why the problem of racism persists in a post-Civil Rights era of colorblindness.

The Questions

As any good pastor would, this books asks deeper and different questions about our sin, overlooking the “obvious” as it searches for the true causes.

For instance,

  • Why did the “War on Drugs” begin in 1982 (by Reagan) when drug use was on the decline, not considered a national problem, and a good 2-3 years before crack cocaine became broadly available in major US cities?

(Anybody remember this add?)

 

incarceration_1-800x510

 

And more specifically,

  • Why is that when people of all racial backgrounds use and sell illegals drugs at a similar rate, that people of color are disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes?
  • Why does America imprison a larger percentage of its black population the South Africa did at the height of apartheid?

Notice the drift of these questions?

This is about our criminal justice system, not the proclivity of racial stereotyping by people or racial slurs spoken in the parlors.

Alexander’s questions seek to reveal the links between a new form of racism and our criminal justice institutions, forged through what has become known as the War on Drugs (all that is for the next post).

The Plan

So I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks reading through Michelle Alexander’s book and posting about it (mostly for myself but also in the hopes it will provoke some conversation among those who have and haven’t read it yet…acknowledging I’m a late comer to the party as the book came out four years ago).

In the next post we’ll look at her what she means when she says,

“We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

The poor you will always have with you.

jesus-whipping-bankers

For the poor you will always have with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish:
but you will not always have me. (Mark 14:7) 

From crude realism to hopeless resignation, this quote from Jesus is confusing at best and disheartening at worst.

What? So poverty and inequality are just a fact of life?  Things really aren’t going to change?  In Kingdom of God is really so ineffectual?

But Nicholas Perrin has helped me see a different perspective on this saying that revolutionized how I read it and how we should see the vocation of the church (in his excellent Jesus the Temple).

Counter-Temple Movement

Perrin understands Jesus and his movement as a “counter-temple movement”, and by counter-temple he doesn’t mean against the temple all together, but against the current sinful administration of the temple.  Jesus is against the temple as it is because it isn’t participating in and pointing toward the true eschatological temple to come (Ez. 37:26-27).  Jesus was seeking to establish a true and living temple centered on himself and his movement outside the jurisdiction of the current temple establishment (just think of the temple sayings and activities of Jesus and the temple imagery applied to the early church… I’ll post on this more latter).

In light of this, part of what it would mean to establish the true temple would be to instituted the jubilee practice of forgiving debts (Deut. 15:7-15; Lev. 25), an action that was supposed to be regulated by the priests through the temple treasury, which rarely, if ever, happened.

Jesus and his movement, through living with and as the poor, and as those who attempted to be a clearinghouse for the redistribution of wealth, was in fact functioning like the temple as it was supposed to.

“The Poor You Will Always Have With You”

So when Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you” he isn’t making a broad social observation about the current and future state of the world, certainly not one based in crude realism (as if he were saying, “There just is and always will be poverty in the world.”)  Rather, he is naming part of the inherent calling and purpose of his movement: “You will always have the poor with you because you will be the place that poverty is being overcome through the alternative economy of grace as the new temple”. 

Jesus is really naming a vocation for the church, not a reality in the world.

The church will have the poor because part of being the church is being with the poor.  If the church is not with and among the poor it is in danger of encountering the prophetic critique of Jesus himself through his Spirit, the same critiques he directed toward the temple establishment of his time.

The Work is With

This could mean all sorts of things for a local congregation: working in homeless shelters, educational programs, debt relief, or other practices of living an alternative, Kingdom-economy.

But we must remember this vocation is not just for the poor, it is with the poor.  This is not a vocation from a distance, but a work that is with the people.

Is your local church with the poor in some tangible way that makes sense in your community? If not, then perhaps you are not being built into the temple of God’s dwelling, a place in which God dwells among the fatherless and the widow, the downtrodden and the poor.

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer, and the American Church

I am worried about the rising popularity of Bonhoeffer in the United States.

Very worried.

I’m worried not because of his theology, or his political views, or his activism.

I’m worried because so many people are interested in him…so many different people.

Some people laud him for his non-violent pacifism, and other for his violent attempt at activism. Some laud him for his commitment to community, and others for his religion-less Christianity. Some laud him for his non-metaphysical theology, and others for his pastoral care. Some laud him from the far left, and others from the far right.

When this happens we have to dig deeper and ask, “Is there something we are missing here?”

The Forgotten Lesson of Bonhoeffer

We often think of Bonhoeffer as a hero of the church, but I think of him more as a cautionary tale.

The forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer is not that we should all strive to be more like him, but that we should strive to be a church that wouldn’t need him!

article_images-3_8_Pastors_Does_the_American_Flag_Belong_in_Your_Church_766070041I worry that people will either look for the next Bonheoffer or try to be the next Bonhoeffer in some heroic protest, rather than entering the more humble protests of daily life. I worry that people will think that large gestures of protest are the way to change the world, rather than entering on the difficult daily path of ordinary resistance.

You see, Bonhoeffer had to be Bonhoeffer because the national church in Germany failed to be the church at all.

This is the forgotten lesson of Bonhoeffer: The Church in Germany had failed!

Headed toward Failure?

So I’m worried that everyone interested in Bonheoffer might not be learning the real lesson: that we in America might be the type of church that, in a time of crisis, will capitulate to preserving the American Dream rather than living as a Kingdom Reality.

During this 4th of July weekend, are we Christians in America more American than Christian? How would we know? Does that distinction even makes sense? And if it doesn’t, then I worry that we have turned to Bonhoeffer into an inspirational story rather than a cautionary tale.

Let us not make Bonhoeffer merely into a Christian Celebrity…

Mastering Objectivity? Or Subject to the Bible

Tim Challies ended a recent post criticizing the practice of Lectio Divina by saying, “This, then, is a danger in Lectio Divina, that it may teach us to approach the text subjectively rather than objectively.”

But what is the big deal about reading the text subjectively as opposed to objectively?

man-inserting-memory-card-in-brain3 Subjects of Scripture

It is a typical concern of those defending expository or expositional preaching that they are seeking “objectivity” in their study as opposed to others who are succumbing mere “subjectivity”, but beyond the concern that such a simple opposition is wildly naïve philosophically and practically, this dichotomy often does the reverse of what it hopes to do (secure the authority of scripture from human manipulation).  

To understand this we need to remember the three ‘subjects’ of Scripture.

1) The subject matter = the text of Scripture.  This is the written word which is often equated with the “Word of God” without further reflection.

2) The subject (as person) = God who spoke and speaks through the text.

The true subject of Scripture, toward which our study ought always to lead, is God, who in Christ through the Spirit, is making all things right.

We read the first (subject matter = Scripture) so that we can encounter, know, and experience, the second (subject/person = God).

And all this leads to the third subject:

3) The subject = the reader, who is made subject, or is subjected to, or subjugated by, the text to God so that as to become slaves to God rather than to our own passions, desires, and deaths.

I believe those advocating for the ‘objectivity’ in study and preaching desire that we would be slaves of the text, and God, rather than masters of the text, but through this opposition of objectivity and subjectivity, which all to often relies on faulty philosophical assumptions, this perspective ends up becoming masters of the text rather than slaves of it.

“Although I wouldn’t have known how to talk about it then, slowly but surely the Scriptures were becoming a place of human striving and intellectual hard work. Somehow, I had fallen into a pattern of using the Scriptures as a tool to accomplish utilitarian purposes rather than experiencing them primarily as a place of intimacy with God for my own soul’s sake.” Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

So perhaps we should stop striving for a mythical “objectivity” through which God will speak to us, and instead embrace all the processes which we might become “subject” to the text, especially the meditative practices that lead to our own subjective un-mastery of God.  Indeed, this is to understand Scripture within the God’s power to save rather than just God’s information to teach.

And tomorrow, on the Missio Alliance Blog, I’ll be posting about why I’m “Against Revelation” because it obscures the power of God behind the desire to know stuff about God. Stay tuned.

And see Mark Moore’s great response to Challies in his “Is Lectio Divina Really Dangerous?