Wednesday, April 22, 2009

47. Sex, Sin and Distortion

I am reading through James D.G. Dunn's book The Theology of Paul the Apostle. It uses the book of Romans as a template, or launching pad for discussing his theology. Dunn has this really cool insight about sex and idolatry I want to share.

"Paul thus sees the effects of sin principally in the distortion of humankind's two principal instinctual drives. It is not the sexual drive which is most fundamental. But just as the sexual drive can be sublimated and redirected into other channels, so the instinctive urge to surrender oneself to a greater can be sublimated and redirected. When it is thus cut loose from the truth of God, it becomes more a destructive than a creative force. And when it combines with the instinctive urge to create new life, the power for distortion of life and subversion of society becomes almost uncontrollable." WOW! This is some good stuff. I had all kinds of epiphanies as I read this.

1. Some of the most destructive things that have been done to and by humanity were empowered by a distorted understanding of God. Evil can be packaged in religion. This is a typical strategy of the enemy to pervert good into evil.

2. Our sexual drive can be channeled into unhealthy expressions, just as religion and worship can. The powerful thing about sex and religion is that a lot of times they can be very deceptive. unhealthy religion and unhealthy sex can, in the beginning, appear to give you what you are after. It takes some time for you to pick up on the fact that they are not truly delivering what they promise. You get just enough of God, just enough order in your life with bad religion that you think you have the real deal. You get just enough pleasure, just enough intimacy to think you have reached the climax of sexual experience. The truth is,religion and sex can be wonderful, if they are allowed to be channelled by God to their healthy expressions.

3. I of course can not get away from an application to ecclesiology. Reification is when you treat something that is a product of human creation as if it existed all by itself apart from the activity of humans to bring it into existence. The best example of this is institutions. Institutions are created by people getting together to do things over a period of time. The oddity with institutions is that even those who create them can experience the institution as something that in turn acts back on them as a reality outside of themselves. They create an organization, and then experience that organization as an outside entity that in turn influences them and calls on them to promote and preserve it with their resources.

This plays into our discussion because in an effort to "create life" for God we start organizations. The thing about organizations is that we tend to treat them as if they are realities in and of themselves. We reify them and give them a concrete status. As such, it positions the organization to compete for loyalty to the ultimate reality, God. Institutions flirt with idolatry because they can easily supplant the reason for their existence. Institutions tend to gravitate towards self-preservation, a quality that is anti-thetical to Kingdom values of dying to self and giving away our resources to produce life. Institutions are great if they serve a purpose of being a catalyst for life, and not self preservation. It is a tension we must live with, but it is a tension we must be aware of if we are to allow God to use the natural for the supernatural.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

46. "Making Disciples"

You know, going back to the basics can be a thrilling adventure, but it can also remind us of how forgetful we are. I can remember back in college teaching a class on what it means to be a disciple, and it wasn't until recently that I was reminded of this concept again. Like a freight train barreling down a railway, I was confronted with how axiomatic this idea of making disciples is and should be to Christian communities.

Mathew is the only gospel we find mentioning this phrase for Jesus last words. It hit me this morning as I was reflecting on it that Matthew, as someone who was primarily writing for Jews, framed the great commission in a "learning/mentoring" paradigm because learning Torah was one of the axiomatic pursuits of a covenant keeping Jew.

The only thing is, I don't think Matthew had learning Torah in mind. The Torah had become flesh and lived out it's full meaning in front of them. Making disciples meant making followers of Jesus. This of course involves learning from a cognitive standpoint. academia can be a great blessing or a subtle cursing as well though. If Jesus life and ministry is any clue about what it means to make disciples, then we can be sure the "learning" is embedded in a relational framework of modeling and other words outside the class room.

What if we filtered our ministries, our "church planting" and all that stuff that drives us through this lens of making disciples. I think it would be a healthy corrective to start here for several reasons.

1. It is process oriented. Jesus is not asking us to focus on numbers or levels of acheivement. He is asking us to make disciples. Getting into the numbers game flirts with treating people as projects and trophies. the goal is not just "salvation." It is to be a disciple, a follower. This changes the rules of the game for a lot of us.

2. It keeps Jesus at the center. Jesus is not asking us to "grow" the Kingdom. Not even to plant churches! Wow! Now this of course could all go back to semantics etc. Planting a church is sometimes short hand for creating a community of believers made up of either seekers or believers or both. But if you will allow me to make a distinction, planting a church and making disciples CAN BE two different things, although they do not HAVE TO BE. It is really all a question of where you start. If my goal is to make disciples, then a church will surface out of this process and activity. Too often planting a church is about gathering a crowd and being cool. Franchising if you will. Planting a church should be the by product of making disciples. Making disciples keeps us pointing people to Jesus, not just drawing them into our organization or building.

3. It keeps us focused on what matters, transformation. Conversion is about starting the transformation process. It is not about reaching the climactic point of the journey. Using this language of being a "making disciples" draws us away from a one time event and keeps our eyes on the journey of transformation. It implies an incomplete project, not a final destination.