Evangelicals by and large still separate the world into compartments: sacred and secular, Saturday and Sunday, physical and spiritual. This spiritual and social imaginary impacts the way we read Scripture, the way we do mission, and the way we live in God’s kingdom.
Moreover, we tend to be sin-focused and the cross dominates our vision. Yet it wasn’t so for the early church. There are no images of the cross in early Christian art; instead, Jesus is pictured in paradise. Have we missed something? There are clues in the gospel of John to a different vision, beginning in John 1 and culminating in John 20. Can we learn a new practice of resurrection?
There are two entries into Jerusalem late in the gospel of Luke. In the first entry, Jesus borrows a donkey and enters as king in fulfilment of the prophecy given by Zechariah. In the second entry, Jesus comes quietly as a lamb and borrows a room to share an intimate Passover meal. Why the contrasting entries? What does this mean for the way we receive Jesus today?
Not long ago I was talking with a pastor about the upcoming Walking Together conference here. We’ve been working on this one since last fall, and are really looking forward to hosting Terry leblanc, Cheryl Bear, Ray Aldred and others. But inevitably, not everyone sees the issues from the same frame.
So some worry, will these indigenous leaders address the contextualization issues properly? In other words, there is fear of syncretism. So I asked this brother, does he feel we have adequately avoided syncretism in every area of culture and theology here in the West? That is, when we Europeans have done theology, have we always done it cleanly and done it well, with full awareness of the original context and of the distortions we have grown accustomed to?
This led to a few minutes of healthy dialogue. But unfortunately, I didn’t persuade my friend that it is well beyond time that we allowed our indigenous Christian brothers and sisters to decide for themselves what needs transforming, and what can be embraced. They will have the best sense of when they are in danger of syncretism. And not only that, if we listen carefully, they might help us discern our own ongoing issues in this area!
Frankly, they have much to teach us about dialogue, about listening, about humility and grace. They have much to teach us about power and its abuses. Only people who have lived so long on the margins really understand how power is abused.
The image above is by Fr. John Giuliani – The Trinity. See this PAGE for much more of his incredible work.
See also Indigenous Jesus and The Birth of the Chosen One
When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday, we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
And he would read the Holy Word.
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now.
Everything is holy now . . .
When I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
that miracles don”t happen still
But now I can”t keep track
Cause everything”s a miracle
Everything’s a miracle . . .
Wine from water is not so small
An even better magic trick
is that anything is here at all.
So the challenging thing becomes
not to look for miracles
but finding where there isn’t one.
Holy water was rare at best
barely wet my finger tips
Now I have to hold my breath
I’m swimming in a sea of it
Used to be a world half there
Heaven’s second rate hand me downs
now I walk it with a reverent air,
cause everything’s holy now.
This morning outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head.
and I remember when church let out –
how things have changed since then,
everything is holy now.
Everything is holy now
Everything is holy now . . .
Lyrics and tune by Peter Mayer Copyright 1999 (ASCAP)
Image of God, we say, and image of the world:
Eve, sorrowing, and blest-for-all-of-mankind, Mary
(Ruth-like in the fields, hopeful in the reaped wheat
To glean the grace of her promised pain),
And Jesus, like a mother at the town’s dark side
Stretched with pain of making, and of making Man,
Who taught us how to be crucified
(We who would rather be slayers than slain);
He whom the Magdalene only could greet
At first as the gardener: Exactly the image of God—
Christ, who returned us the gardener’s task.
Creation waits now for the gardener to speak:
And the eager weeds await their release
From the bondage of being weeds.
Eden and Zion lie far apart
But atom and ocean, beasts and plants
Wait for the one who will grant them peace.
Then the planet will spin in a sabbath dance
(And the dancing place will be the heart).
Fruit will burgeon from scattered seeds
And garden and town be clean as a fleece
Early in the morning, on the first day of the week.
Loren Wilkinson, 1987
John 1 – the Word in creation, this opening account parallels Genesis 1.
John 20 – “On the first day of the week” — We are back to creation. And God will make all things new! Yet how many Easter sermons are rooted in a theology of creation? Instead, we separate out redemption into a spiritual component — we divorce heaven and earth, which is exactly the opposite direction John is taking us. How long will we live with this gnostic stream infecting our faith??
In John 20 the first image we see of resurrection life is Jesus as the gardener. Coincidence? Read John 15. The earliest images of resurrection were paradise, the Cross did not come to dominate Christian imagination until after the sixth century.
Sin obsessed — when Jesus has come to bring us life, and that more abundantly!
Carrie Newcomer As Holy as a Day is Spent
He blesses every love which weeps and grieves
And now he blesses hers who stood and wept
And would not be consoled, or leave her love’s
Last touching place, but watched as low light crept
Up from the east. A sound behind her stirs
A scatter of bright birdsong through the air.
She turns, but cannot focus through her tears,
Or recognise the Gardener standing there.
She hardly hears his gentle question ‘Why,
Why are you weeping?’, or sees the play of light
That brightens as she chokes out her reply
‘They took my love away, my day is night’
And then she hears her name, she hears Love say
The Word that turns her night, and ours, to Day.
“Adaptive leadership is the practice of mobilizing people to tackle tough challenges and thrive. The concept of thriving is drawn from evolutionary biology, in which a successful adaptation has three characteristics: (1) it preserves the DNA essential for the species’ continued survival; (2) it discards (reregulates or rearranges) the DNA that no longer serves the species’ current needs; and (3) it creates DNA arrangements that give the species’ the ability to flourish in new ways and in more challenging environments. Successful adaptations enable a living system to take the best from its history into the future.”
It strikes me that this is a much more useful concept than health, which tends to have very narrow and personal connotations. But one can be physically healthy, yet socially isolated, and not contributing in a vital way to the world. But “thriving” connotes a vital and growing relationship to one’s particular context.
Heifetz, Ronald A.; Linsky, Marty; Grashow, Alexander. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (p. 14). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.
When Mary Magdalene
Saw Christ at dawn
In the tomb-haunted grove
She thought he was
Then saw he was the Christ.
But still she was mistaken
Not seeing that
The gnarled, deep-rooted olives,
The flowers in the rock,
The rock itself
Were rooted in his flesh.
For Christ was gardener of that place
But hid his workman’s hands,
The flowers of his flesh,
Lest the young church see
Or only wild Pan,
And not the God
Beyond the world
Who made it
For His flesh, and ours,
And tends in each new Adam
The garden of His earth.
—Loren Wilkinson, April, 1980
The dominant view of atonement for the first 300 years of the Church was Christus Victor. Jesus death and resurrection made him Lord, and established him as sole victor over the forces of death and destruction. Jesus death was a ransom paid to the devil. The Penal Substitution view was there in Scripture, but for some reason the early church was less interested in that view. It wasn’t until Anselm in the 11th century that the Church substantially changed position, and began to put its weight on the other foot. It was the legal and forensic climate of those times that provoked the switch.
In other words, it was a cultural shift that provoked a theological shift. That’s a pretty important point, because we are in a time when culture is changing dramatically, and here we are having a lot of theological debates. Maybe Phyllis Tickle is right, that every five hundred years the Church has a great rummage sale and old questions suddenly have new answers.
We could conclude from this that every time the culture changes, the church becomes unfaithful. Or, more positively, and more wisely, we could conclude that when the culture shifts God speaks in new language. God speaks to a new culture in new ways through the Scripture because a new culture asks new questions and also HEARS in new ways.