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Saturday, March 20. 2010
One way Jesus turned the world upside-down: "Beyond morality and religion"
Re-posted from just one month ago -
"Jesus tells us that everything we had ever thought about how to approach God is wrong."
After church yesterday, my Lenten study group listened to a DVD of Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, teach on the prodigal son. (We are using Keller's Prodigal God as our guide this Lent.)
Among other fascinating points, Keller observes that Jesus used the parable to depict two kinds of lost sons - the seemingly-"good" kind and the obviously-"bad" kind. The elder "good" son is crippled with the sins of spiritual pride and self-righteousness, and the younger is just an everyday rotten kid. However, Keller's main point in this regard is that neither son loved the father - they both focus on what they can get from the father (the inheritance in the elder's case, and a job in the prodigal's case) rather than on loving the father. They are lost because neither is in a loving relationship with the father.
Keller holds up a vision of a Christianity which consists of a transformative relationship of love and communion with Christ and God which is, as he puts it, "beyond morality and beyond religion." He invites us to be reborn in a loving relationship with the Father. The fruits of that - the "fruits of the Spirit" - may emerge after and be more than the "clanging cymbals" of empty, dutiful, or self-validating virtue.
I like this message because I have never directly associated Christianity as being centrally about doing "good" or being "good." Indeed, I sometimes think a good church sign might be "Sinners only, please." Good character and behavior are damn important in life and important to the people we are involved with, but not basic to Christianity. Being respectable, honest, dutiful, responsible, self-controlled, reliable people are primarily secular and/or psychological issues, despite Calvin.
In Christ's time, the Pharisees (represented by the elder brother) were scrupulous about doing the right thing but lost track of their relationship with God during their search for goodness and correctness. Christ gave them hell for their pursuit of rightousness and, famously and scandalously, chose to hang out with lepers, whores, tax-collectors and the like (the sinful younger brother who might, someday, have to recognize a need for redemption).
One of my comments in our group was in this vein:
"Seems to me that there are many rational, practical, mature caring adult, legal, narcissitic, relational, and emotional reasons to be a good and upright person in this world and to live a life of decency and honor, but getting on the Father's good side and getting the Father to do what we want is not one of them."
As one reviewer of Keller's book asks, "Which brother am I?" My private answer: "A bit of both and, I hope, a bit of loving son."
There's a trailer of Keller's DVD here.
Posted by Bird Dog in Our Essays, Religion at 11:21 | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (2)
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I think Oswald Chambers held a very similar view. His "My Utmost for His Highest" is still one of my favorite books.
Ask God to revel himself to yourself. He just might do that, in a way we least expect. Which if we are lucky starts a journey with a great teacher called pain.
Henri Nouwen's "Return of the Prodigal Son" is an excellent read which would dovetail nicely with your Keller study. (And which will echo jappy's comment above.)
Yes, Keller acknowledges he has an audience of basket cases who need some chawbacon to tell'em how God talks.
But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you. John 14:26
I appreciate the picture of Christ that is along side of this post.
It is called; "The Light of the World" and was first done by Holman Hunt.
I have a copy, in rasied relief, that has a calendar attached to it dated 1929.
If you want to buy it, please let me know. Any profits will go to Focus Adolescent services, www.focusas.com They work to save the lives of American children.
Thanks for the sharp good thought, BD and commenters. The 'good' brother was defeated by clarity, which like the Hotel California seems like such an perfect destination.
Yes BD. That is a good study of what it means to be "Christian". On the other hand--I have no church to go to this year, nor have I had for several years. My church, the tradition in which I was raised has been taken over by the same people, who have stolen our right to representation by election. The same people who have just decimated our health care industry. The same people who will bring in millions of illegal aliens and thus destroy our nation's borders and identity. Those people began their destruction of this country first with our schools, and then with our churches. Would have been nice to join you in the pews BD, but for some of us that is no longer possible. We see church structure as being only one more collection of political wannabees. Wannabee powerful in some way. Not a place to meditate, reflect, and learn the teachings of Christ, or of Paul for that matter. First the eager Episcopal liberals, then the Methodists, the Lutherans, the Presbyterians, etc. All living today in a state of confusion. As for the Episcopalians they have been as much destroyed by misguided leaders as they have been by a system of dishonest attorneys. Our churches are no longer a place of worship, they are looked upon as real estate investments. The only question is when will they be sold, and for how much.
But "the church" isn't the clerics, Another One. It's God, and you, and the relationship between you. If you let a bunch of politically correct milksop clerics get in between you, it's like being jealous of your wife because she remembers to get a Christmas card for the mailman. You're probably putting the emphasis on the wrong things in that relationship and inviting people into it, who are unwanted there and have no business being there. I'd encourage you to either stand and fight through the local lay leadership - even we Catholics have parish councils - or to find a church where the leadership isn't the unwanted third party in your relationship with the Almighty. My wife and I are lucky to have found a good parish, but for the most part my relationship with the Church is good despite the people running it, not because of them.
Right as rain, Jim. The church, being the 'Bride of Christ', is the body of believers collectively. God's Spirit works across denominational lines, thankfully, as well as in spite of church leadership. Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness...it's a personal responsibility, not a pastor's.
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!
Great post, BD. I've been contemplating the distinction between sin and the sin nature this Lenten season. How easy is it to be blinded by confusion in this matter? The sin nature is a generational stain that permeates our very being, that is, it's in our DNA. We're not merely corruptible, rather we're spiritually corrupted. It's kind of like being a dry drunk. Meditating on this has transformed the time I spend before God...it's the closest I get to being pure.
Susan in Seattle, I'm reading a Lenten devotional by Nouwen based--I think--on Return of the Prodigal Son.
Jappy, I'm with you. Have you read Hannah Hurnards Hind's Feet on High Places? Suffering is as much a part of spiritual maturation as is love. It is as inescapable as our very nature. Ergo, we need perspective: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
Crap...tell me I'm not becoming one of those Bible thumping Christians. Man....
I don't always like medicine, but being well suits me.
#220.127.116.11.1 Jephnol (Link) on 2010-03-28 15:49 (Reply)
Jim: Of course I understand that, but it is hard to believe in an organized faith, when your own church shunned you because you refused to let your husband work for the politically correct fem- nazis. Hard to trust again another group (large, or small) who claims to be Christian, when in fact they are just there waiting to do the bidding of the rich and locally powerful. Hard to believe in Christianity when so many "Christian, Conservative" lawyers will give away the very thing(this nation's Constitution) that made it possible for religions of all types to live well. Hard to believe in one faith that judges you, but holds all others of another faith guilt free.
Your right of course--what I have always understood: this life and the events that I encounter and the way that I respond are between me and my God.
Blogger Retriever has a thoughtful commentary on my post yesterday about One way Jesus turned the world upside-down: "Beyond morality and religion".
Tracked: Feb 23, 10:22
We posted about the prodigal son a couple of weeks ago. We are finding Tim Keller's The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith so compelling and eye-opening that we want to re-recommend it, especially during Lent. Image is R
Tracked: Mar 12, 15:25