Being the Church

“Go Be the Church”

I saw that on Instagram on a friend’s shirt. Before I start, let me give the quick caveat that I know what they mean and what they’re going for. And for the most part, I dig it. So kudos to my friend and his church for wanting to live out the realities of the redeemed life as a real thing and stop treating church like a place.

Having said that…

I wonder if this “being” language just adds a layer of confusion to a term that’s already pretty jacked up.

The word translated in most New Testament versions as “church” is the Greek word ekklesia. Now some who know more about Greek might want to try and parse the word ekklesia into its components: ek– as “out” and –klesia as a derivative of “called ones”, leading to the say that the church is the “called out ones”. In the first place, breaking a word into its component parts just doesn’t always work: just try it with “butterfly” …

But secondly, this approach ignores the way the word is used in New Testament times. When we look at first century usage broadly and the core usage of the term ekklesia in the NT, ekklesia generally just means assembly or gathering. There are usages that show how the apostles took the term and began to use it as a way to refer to all those who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus, regardless of whether they can actually physically gather or not. But even then, I think the term points forward to the future reality of the whole church gathered before the throne and crying out, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” Regardless, the most common usage for ekklesia is the gathering.

Which is to say that “church” is an ordinary word for people who get together for a purpose.

We, as individuals, are part of that church. We’re either part of the church which Christ “loved…and gave himself up for her (it)” (Eph 5:25) or we’re part of the church that meets somewhere, like at Priscilla and Aquila’s house (Rom 16:4-5) or at Nympha’s house (Col 4:15) or Apphia and Archippus’ house (Philemon 2). In the first case, you’re part of the church if Jesus died for you. To say it differently, if you believe in Jesus, you’re part of the church (universal, if you prefer) whether you really know it or want it or whatever. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it or what you do: you are part of the church because Jesus bought you by his blood. In the second case, you’re part of the church if you do what the church, by definition, does: you gather with them (the local church, in some traditions).

In either case, I don’t think that’s what “go be the church” was intended when it was printed on a t-shirt. And yes, I know this is largely a game of semantics—and I really despise the whole semantics game. But what concerns me is that in calling a building a “church” and saying things like “it’s time to go to church”, we’ve completely killed the NT usage of the word. But in an effort to recover the term and make better use of it, we make it mean something else which also isn’t what the NT meant and still end up killing the term. How can you “be” an assembly of people?

Either way, we’re missing the what the apostles meant when they used the word ekklesia (or “church”). We keep warping the word so that when we go back to read our source documents in the Scriptures, we still keep reading the term and making it into something else entirely. In the larger sense of the word, you are part of the church because Jesus has you and no one can snatch you from his hand. In the narrower sense, you’re part of the church through gathering.

Where this long line of reasoning leads me to is a conclusion I really never thought I’d come to since abandoning the institutionalized, Americanized, popularized church: gathering is of vital importance. And at the core, it’s what bothers me about this “go be the church” business. Because I presume the meaning there is that we should go out and be lights to the community, that we should show the love of Jesus everywhere, that we should find avenues of fellowship outside of scheduled gathering times. And all of these things are so true—we should be compelled by the love of Christ to do these things.

But they are not remotely the same thing as “being” the church. If we want to “be” the church, we have to gather. Because church = gathering. Being active in our neighborhoods and circles, serving others and being a light is just being a disciple. Being a church requires gathering together.

The implications of this are more than just “go to church every week” (though there’s a whole list of implications of that phrase, too!) nor does it have anything to do with (corporate) worship. I’m really trying to get at how modern usage of “church” is something we read backwards into the New Testament all the time. And our modern translations don’t help much either. The church is not a building or a state of being, but actual souls redeemed and joined together by the blood of Jesus. The church is a community, a family, that exists in unity through Jesus. And there is a vital, physical connection that can’t be ignored.


Waiting for the Flip

As seems to happen a lot, Seth Godin got my brain juices pumping with a post about the way people flip from one way of doing things to another. In particular, he’s talking about how resistant we are as humans to better knowledge or technology or solutions, even in the face of evidence that refutes our prevailing view.

At this point, I feel like I’m somewhere around eight years into waiting for that flip to occur with the church. I’ve been trying to illustrate and teach and demonstrate that the church of Jesus is supposed to be something both far more profound and far simpler than what goes along with the term “church” in America: buildings and paid pastors and staff and screens and bands and worship wars and big budgets and overhead and bureaucracy and merchandising and marketing.

The church is the bride for whom Christ died. And that ought to be powerful enough that we don’t need to add to it. The church is the assembled saints who belong to King Jesus, both now and throughout all time.

Yet there’s been a strong tradition of architecture and budgets and business-y elements that really have no place in Scripture. And while they don’t need to be bad things (there are lots of things in the modern world that we use and adopt freely that the Bible says nothing directly about), they frequently turn the church into some grotesque caricature of what Jesus intends for it to be.

Whether that persuades or not isn’t really my point (I’ve written about this kind of stuff elsewhere anyhoos). I’m still convinced that this message is right. Yet I feel so isolated waiting for the flip to happen, for others to see what I’m talking about. And I feel desperate for it. Why?

Because it makes me feel like I’m either crazy or wrong.

If I’m wrong, then I simply want to be shown from the Scriptures and I’ll move on. Show me how I’m off my rocker and bring me back onto the reservation.

So far, it hasn’t happened.

Yet, I’m also not making much progress toward the flip. I’m loving me some Francis Chan for popularly putting into words some of these same struggles (though, granted, I’ve never made any substantial money from books or had a successful megachurch under my belt!). Even with all the platform he has, it still doesn’t feel like we’re getting anywhere. And this is a flip I banked my whole family on, moving us into a new city with grand plans for changing the face of Christianity in America.

Not that I would’ve ever said that out loud, but that’s really the crux of it.

So here I am, waiting. And wondering if maybe I’m just wrong, if I’m looking for a flip that’ll never come. And sometimes I just want to quit–even if I am right!–because this waiting feels too hard and the goals which were once crunchy like Frosted Flakes are now soggy in the bottom of the cereal bowl.

I believe the flip needs to happen. Some days I believe it will. I’m just not sure I’m strong enough to wait it out.

(And yes, I fully acknowledge that God regularly had his people wait much longer than that to bring about deliverance or put a plan in motion. I know I’m being dumb and dramatic–I’m just trying to do it openly.)

Adopting Loneliness

I really ought to say this up front: if you love Jesus, you really need (yes, need) to read The Babylon Bee regularly. They’re like The Onion, but centered around Jesus. It’s satire the way satire is supposed to be: both funny and painful. And they’re equal opportunity cutters, but they do it from the perspective that the Bible is a true story and Jesus is the only hero of that story. Seriously, check it out. Now on to our regularly schedule programming…

I write a post like this with some trepidation. And for a guy who tends to have writings that are “weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing”, that’s saying something. But The Babylon Bee had a satirical post called “Report: 95% Of Christians Agree The Other 5% Should Keep Adopting” and it obviously caught my attention. Here’s the infographic from the fake report:


Of course, I’m a big ol’ sinner because I read it and responded like I overheard a killer “Yo Momma” joke in the schoolyard. “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh–SLAM!!!” I might’ve even said it out loud. Like I was back in elementary school.

Because being an adoptive family now, we’re clearly in a position to judge the crap out of everyone that hasn’t done it. Isn’t that how it works with adoptive families and ministers and missionaries? We’re the chosen few who get the God-given privilege of looking down on everyone else.

And so my first thought after reading the post was, “Dude, I totally need to put that on social media. That’ll stick it to the non-adopters!” But once the dust from explosive, self-righteous pride settled, I didn’t. Instead, I left the post untouched, because at the end of the day, I really don’t want to be inflammatory. Nor do I want anyone to know how self-righteous I really am.

But a few months later, here I am posting it anyway. And I truly hope and literally pray as I type that it’s not to guilt trip, but to bring up something that most of us adoptive families dance around. My wife has already talked about it some, but I want to expand a bit. Here’s my thesis: adoption is really hard, but one of the reasons it’s so hard is because so few of us are doing it.

For instance, marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Being a light in a dark world is hard. But in each of these things, they’re common experiences. So, they’re hard–but we have a community and shared stories built around it. I can share a struggle or you can tell the difficulties you’ve faced, and we all go, “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.”

But with adoption, it doesn’t work that way. Instead, we share our struggles and difficulties, and we get one of three responses: horror (“How could anyone ever feel that way about a child!?”), pity (“I can’t even imagine how hard that is!”), or awe (“It is so incredible that you all have adopted kids from hard places–you’re true heroes!”). The first just hurts, the second is nice but ultimately not very helpful, and the third feels really cool but does nothing but enforce my personal Superman complex. But more importantly, all three responses have a distance, an otherness to them.

The fact is, it’s hard to adopt because it’s so incredibly lonely. Our church–the people who are closest to us in our mess–fight for us in every way they can, but it’s still from the outside. And I don’t mean that as a critique, but as a statement of reality. And they’ve listened as we’ve tried to explain the ugliest parts and excruciating struggles, coming as close as anyone in our lives to truly understanding our struggles. So I don’t write this as a critique of them, because they are in it with us in every way they can be.

But they’re the exceptions. Most of our brothers and sisters in Jesus can’t figure out what to do with us or other adoptive families. And that’s a lonely place to be. As I sit here and think about it, I’m sure that’s what overseas missionary families or pastors’ kids or adult singles or divorced believers all deal with. The otherness and loneliness of experience is just plain hard to shake.

Then I circle back to the article I linked to at the beginning of the post. Because I also get angry. Unlike the overseas missionaries or pastors’ kids or singles or divorcees, caring for the fatherless is something every believer is actively called to. So in my worst moments (or maybe my best), I’m angry because we ought not be alone. Caring for the fatherless isn’t some new, hot trend. That’s an oldie.

What would it be like if 50% of Christian families adopted? 60%? 75%? How many of the fatherless would have fathers? How much community would be built? Would adoption finally tip from weirdness to commonality? What would it be like for a confessed struggle to turn from “Oh, really?” to “Yes, me, too!”?

On our parenting blog, we’ve not hidden the struggles. We’ve not done the pretty thing and given the impression that the best thing we’ve ever done for our family was adopt. I still don’t think I can say that. But that doesn’t mean I think we made a mistake. The call to come and die sounds painful, because it is painful. We’ve had to die and die and die again, day after day, to graft four wild branches into our tree. The lessons and parallels to my own adoption in God’s family are myriad, deeper and richer than I would ever have imagined. The rebellion toward the good will of my new father, the desire for the old way of life, the memories of brokenness and ruin–adopting kids has re-colored my own adoption.

I just wish you knew that, too, the glory and gory. I wish we weren’t so alone.

An Integrated Life

One of my core convictions in Jesus is that we’re to live integrated lives. And by that I mean lives that aren’t separated, that aren’t compartmentalized. And as best as I can tell, there was an entire generation (or two) that approached life as separate compartments on purpose. Work doesn’t interfere with home life. Home life doesn’t interfere with work life. Churchy stuff is only at churchy times and nowhere else.

elastic-bands-2229753_1920But I don’t buy it. Not at all. There are certainly times for things. There’s a time to go to work and a time to be at home. And there’s a time when there are pressing concerns in two different realms and a decision has to be made to prioritize one over the other.

But that’s not the same as placing dividing walls between components of our lives. I follow Jesus. That’s part of me no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I’m a husband: My wife doesn’t disappear for eight hours each day while I’m at the office. I’m a dad: I don’t stop being a dad when I walk out the door to commute to the office. I’m an employee: Just because I leave the office doesn’t mean that everything is done or that I won’t have other things to take care of.

Would it be easier if I could segment my life? Oh yeah–you bet it would. To only have to follow Jesus here and there? That’d be way easier. To only be at work or only be at home? That’d be nice.

But it’s a delusion. It’s much clearer when you look at my wife, a stay-at-home mom with ten kids she homeschools. Where are her compartments? When does she stop being a mom and start being a teacher or a wife or a servant to neighbors? When? Simple. She doesn’t. Life is one continuous loop, with a big blurry mess of all her responsibilities and spheres constantly overlapping.

If it sounds messy, it is. But I don’t see how it’s anything less than exactly the way God designed us to be. I feel like the compartmentalized life was just another effort to build our high places where we define what honoring the one true God looks like instead of letting him make that call. Cuz ya know–God.

I want my life to be integrated. One of the big reasons we homeschool our kids is to help them learn everything they learn in the context of family and home life. I want them to grow up seeing their spheres overlapping and crashing into each other. I want them to see the Spirit of Jesus as central to every breath, not just Sunday School and youth group.

I want that for my church, too. I want that for my neighbors. I want the kingdom life that says family and work and service and ministry and church and recreation are all part of the rubber band ball of life. I want moms and dads to teach the faith to their own kids. I want to serve Jesus just as much on Sunday as I do at the office as I do at the park with neighborhood kids. I want one life, centered on Jesus, filled with his Spirit, headed toward our one Father.

I suck at it, but it’s the goal.

Gleaning Principles

wheat-field-1490000804lzAIn the Old Testament, God the Father gave provision in the law for the poor, widows, and foreigners to be able to glean the crop from the edges of the landowners’ fields:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. (Lev 19:9-10; also 23:22)

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this. (Deut 24:19-22)

God’s provision for the poor or afflicted was gracious and free, but not effortless. While it was there for the taking, they still had to go get it.

We’ve had times in the past where we’ve given money to those who couldn’t afford to pay their bills, only to have that happen again a month or two later. And then again. And then again. I wonder if this “gracious gift of ours” (ha!) wasn’t gracious at all because it replaces need with privilege.

Of course, it’s not like I’m exempt from the principle. I really can’t count how many times the grace I’ve been shown has then turned into entitlement and ungratefulness. What I see is that our hearts are wicked and find it far too easy to confuse gifts with wages and donated with deserved. So there’s that.

Regardless, I do wonder what the 21st century American version of this gleaning principle might be. I hate the idea of giving money with strings attached. That feels like some kind of contract or deal, which I don’t think is the point. How could we leave the edges of our field unreaped? What does it look like to leave a commodity available, but in a form that requires some impetus from the receiving party to get it?

I really don’t know, but I feel like there has to be something better than a welfare state or pan handlers or church benevolence fund shoppers.

Pushing Through

I don’t remember when it started, but “pushing through” has become almost a life motto somewhere in the parts of my brain I tend not to examine even though I follow their incessant advice. Life’s hard? Push through. Tired? Push through. Not sure what to do next? Just push through.

But I gotta admit it’s flat out tiring. Always pushing means constant effort, if not necessarily always constant movement. Where’s the rest in always moving forward? When’s the time to slow down? And the trouble with slowing down is that it might just mean you miss something.

So the real question comes down to a matter of risk: Which one’s riskier–plowing ahead on fumes or pulling off at the next exit to fill up but missing the event?

I’m really not one for dwelling on missed opportunities. I have too many and I’d rather not think about them than to possibly drown in a sea of self-doubt. But even in admitting that, there’s a part of me that always wonders if I’m about to miss the real thing coming my way. I’m not sure what this ephemeral “real thing” is, but I’m sure it’s a thing and I’m sure it’s really out there somewhere, beneath the pale blue sky.

I serve a Savior who ministered on the Way, taught on the Way, lived on the Way. His pace of life exhausts me. And I’m never sure whether I should chalk that up to “he’s Jesus and I’m not” or “time to be like my big brother.” Either way, I know that movement is as certain as the earth making another revolution each day. So the movement isn’t bad.

The problem comes when I’m pushing through to get to the endgame, ignoring everything on the way. Shoot, even at the end when Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, he still stopped along the way to heal and to teach his disciples. His destination never got confused with his passage–both were important and he didn’t neglect either.

I, on the other hand, push through Now to get to Then. Even taking the time to write this almost feels torturous because I feel like I need to do something more, like I’m not driving toward a goal. I’m just writing and it’s as meander-y as this blog’s namesake. I forget that King Jesus could meander like nobody’s business. A sharp turn into random never seemed to bother him. He could meander with purpose. Or perhaps he could aim with freedom.

I’m just afraid I’m not brave enough to follow in those particular footsteps.

Cultural Habits of Worship

In spending a great deal of time trying to unpack a theology of worship for New Covenant believers, one thing that’s lacking is a strong biblical argument for the worship service. (This from the guy who has been a worship leader/pastor more than once, so I’m making this argument from the inside, not the fringes.) The fact is that worship services are simply a given. “Of course, the church comes together to worship.” Of course? “Clearly the church is a worshiping community.” Clearly? “The new covenant community gathers for one purpose: to worship.” Really?

When something is so ingrained, so assumed, so automatic, we don’t realize there’s something we need to work around. There’s nothing to change or so we think, because it’s never occurred to us to question it.

I’m a trained classical singer. While the vocal cords and resonance chambers are the instrument of the singer, an easily overlooked aspect of singing is the fuel behind the cords and chambers: air. As I watch my wife teach voice lessons in our living room, one of the most basic things she does with new students is teach them how to breathe.

Now, that seems silly, doesn’t it? Don’t we already know how to breathe? Isn’t it an autonomic process of the body? It certainly is. And easily ignorable. Unless we get choked or run a marathon, we rarely give a bit of thought to breathing. It’s just what we do. And most young or inexperienced singers think about the sound they hear or the pitches or the timbre of their voices but completely ignore a core component of any sound-making device: something has to cause sound waves to vibrate.

So my wife teaches new singers to breathe. And I think they all kind of think she’s crazy. Why are we talking about breathing? I’m here to sing. “But,” my wife says, “you sing by using air and you’re singing like you’re a car running on fumes. Your car works best with a full tank of high quality gasoline. Your voice is like that car and your breathing provides the fuel.” And finally, they start to believe her.

But even then, the change isn’t instantaneous. Over and over and over again, she has to remind, “Full, deep breath” or “use your air” or “keep your rib cage expanded so that your lungs can take in even more air”. The reminders are constant, because even though the singers have been taught and even convinced, they still forget over and over and over again.

So it is with church services and worship services and worship in the church. We take it for granted. It’s like breathing. Of course we worship on Sundays. What’s there even to talk about? So like the inexperienced singer, breathing is just something they never think about because why would they? And for most believers, who would even ask the question? There’s no reason to.

But say a believer gets a good solid teaching on John 4 or Romans 12 (something I’ll expand on later), does that mean they immediately make the connections and worship takes on new meaning? Again, like the singers, the old habits slip back so easily. Old habits die hard. And we have not only experiential barriers to overcome (because even nonbelievers know that churches are buildings that have services on Sundays), but we have generational and cultural barriers to overcome. Imagine trying to convince America to drive on the left side of the road. Or– heh–how about getting America to adopt the metric system instead of the imperial system?

When our culture and our personal history have written such a strong-storied habit, there’s a lot to overcome. But being people of the Word, cultural habits and traditions aren’t our standard. I think there’s more to see of what the New Testament in particular shows us about the transformation of worship than we’ve really pieced together with our practice. It’s time to see our theology really drive our practice here, because we’ve let the habits run the show for a very long time–old habits that die hard indeed.

Unseeing Narcissus

I’m quite adept at hiding from cameras. Take a look at the thousands of family photos we have and I’m in the tiniest fraction of them. And check Facebook and you’ll see that I have very few photos with me in then (though lots of the kids!). Shoot, the few I’m in usually have my wife or kids in them, too.

For a very long time, I’ve used the ready-made excuse of millennial narcissism to explain this. I mean, how embarrassing is it that selfie sticks even exist? The selfie has been my long-time target of haughty superiority. I don’t need to keep taking pictures of myself. I’m not nearly that vain.

But in a recent conversation about the amount of weight I’ve lost, my perceptive wife noted to me afterward that I’d deflected any recognition of the thirty-plus pounds I’ve lost so far. My response was that it feels like so little when I have more than that still to go. She, with that annoyingly prophetic precision, asked me if I’d noticed how much thinner I look in pictures. Well, no, not really, because I’m not in many pictures. I wasn’t before and I’m not now. But why is that really?

Easy. Because I don’t like how big I look. I can still remember being way skinnier. My vain memory lingers and the present reality is denied. And so why I have I really been avoiding the camera for years? Because I’m vain. And I would love the opportunity to deny the many years of overweightness should I ever actually get down to the weight I want to be at.

Narcissism, anyone? Anyone? I’m giving it out for free here…

The selfie-obsessed people are easy to jab at. The camera avoiders like me are sneakier. We don’t broadcast our vanity. In fact, we keep our narcissism tucked inside our white-washed tomb exteriors. And the sole reason for doing so is to keep being stuck on vainglory while simultaneously denying that I am.

I’m beginning to catch a very strong string of legalism. I’ve suspected it was there but—gasp!—I’ve hidden it under an outward proclamation of free grace! But on the inside, the legalist is running gleefully around like a kid on Christmas morning. I really hate that guy. I really hate living two lives, one for my audience and one in reality. I’m actually reading a book about an obscure Scottish Presbyterian theological snafu that was about this very thing. I expected to read it finding new reasons to gloat over the folks I know and read that seem to me like incredibly obvious legalists. Instead, I keep finding the critiques of legalism and antinomianism landing right in my heart.

I think it’s time to face my true reflection, not the one I keep trying to convince myself is the image I see.

Still Waiting for the Magic

I was recently reading a post by author Shannan Martin. Through various means, I know a bit about her life and my wife absolutely loved her book Falling Free (which I’m hoping to read it in 2017). And in knowing a bit about their lives, I understand the length to which they’ve gone to give up their clean, straight-laced lives for messy lives in the trenches. While our roads have been quite different, I’ve felt a kinship from afar in that messiness. So in this post, I was struck by these words:

We spent most of our time commiserating [with visiting friends] about loving people with complicated lives and how the mess so easily bleeds onto us. On paper, it seems like it wouldn’t be worth it. We unanimously agreed that life used to be simpler, not to mention quieter. But they hold the secret in their hearts and in their bones – life was meant to be lived near the margins. The magic is never far from the mess.

You don’t have to look far into our lives to see that we’ve made a mess of them by our decisions: Moving into the city. Having a lot of kids. Homeschooling those kids. Trying to pursue a vision of the church that finds its home in homes. Adopting two kids from foster care. Trying to define faithfulness to Jesus by something more profound than “Pray, read your Bible, and go to church”.

Yeah, we’re in the mess: Nostril deep and gasping for air. So, I wonder—if “the magic is never far from the mess”, then where’s the magic?

I find it wryly amusing that I write this now. In fact, things feel a little bit normal—for this week, at least. But even last week, I found two of my children barely bearable, much less loveable. It’s snowy and dirty and cold and so urban-ugly around my house. That won’t change for another few months. But even in all that, things feel okay. Sometimes it feels way worse. Sometimes I wish there was a reset button or that I could Ctrl+Alt+Del to get a reboot. Where did that virus slip in? Maybe I just need better antivirus software.

And lest this sound like a bitter diatribe about how crappy my life is, my life isn’t crappy. I can think of far more miserable times in my life. And we have a nice thing going at home right now, gearing up for a New Year’s fresh start, newly organized in the house and wonderfully planned for 2017. But it’s not magical either. I inwardly rejoice in the days I where I manage to go four solid hours without being royally annoyed at a child’s behavior or when I don’t have a child who is shut down because their vision of family life didn’t match mine or I don’t have the look of hatred through my child’s eyes because I denied them their idolatrous desires. I rejoice when there’s a day when we manage to feel like a family and not posers.

And then when I find myself going down this psychological line of reasoning, I get supremely annoyed with myself for looking for the magic. I can say, hands down, that the hardest, most life-impacting decision we’ve ever made was to adopt from foster care. I feel like I got walloped by a big cartoon hammer and the stars are still circling my cross-eyed face, even two and a half years later. But it’s not enough for me to be faithful, I need to be fruitful and (more importantly) feel frickin’ amazing. Because when you boil down why we adopted and why we adopted the kids we “chose” (I use that word lightly), it was because of a pitifully small attempt at faithfulness to a God who loves the fatherless. It wasn’t for money. It wasn’t for fun. It wasn’t because we found the most attractive, well-adjusted kids. It was, I’m sure, for some glory (look how holy I am!). But more than anything, it was out of obedience.

And here’s what angers me so much: I still relate to God the Father like the most ardent Pharisee, like the textbook legalist. I did my part, I took the tough steps, now where’s my reward, dammit? I jumped into the mess, so where’s my magic? I’m so angry because with all my pretensions and self-righteousness and theological training and good hair, I still expect the Creator of the universe to be in my debt when I actually manage to do something obedient. (And let’s be clear, I’m gonna ignore all of my disobediences, because who wants to talk about those, right?) When am I going to learn? When am I going to really believe that I’m loved and saved and delivered and cherished and preserved by the grace of God and by his grace alone.

And I just feel like a fool, like a complete child caught with his hand in the cookie jar yet again. Didn’t I outgrow that? Clearly not! “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Thanks be to God! He loves a fool like me because he wants to, not because I deserve it. He gives me the magic of life and breath and hope and a future that will never end. He’s given me his Spirit and sustained me through my long succession of mistakes, sins, and straight-up rebellions.

So, where’s the magic? It’s in a father that doesn’t cast me away, but instead chuckles and pulls me close, whispering, “Bill, my son, you are a fool, but you are my fool.” Truly, thanks be to God.

Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.

Your voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace;
Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase.
No other work but Yours, no other blood will do;
No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.

Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, And set my spirit free.

I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear, each lingering shade of gloom.

I praise the God of grace; I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine, My God, my joy and light.
‘Tis He Who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives.

C. S. Lewis and Scripture

My brother recently asked me about C. S. Lewis and his views on Scripture, specifically that he’d heard that Lewis didn’t believe in the Old Testament. Not having heard this particular charge before, I did a little looking around to see what I could fine (here, here, and here).To my surprise, I found that Lewis was not an inerrantist. He was comfortable saying that he didn’t think certain parts of the Bible were literal (I saw mention of the creation epic, Job, Esther, and Jonah). But even in saying that, he also wasn’t bothered to think the rest of the Bible was true. In his mind as a literary expert, if a story read like a myth or a fable, he assumed it was. And he was very unbothered by the idea. He still thought it was useful for us as Christians.
More, I also came across some little side comments he made about Paul’s meanderings and the pseudo-contradictions between the gospel accounts. Again, in all instances, he leaned heavily on the human element of authorship, focusing on the fallibility of the authors and their personal quirks or wrong recollections muddying the Scriptures for us.

To give my highly uninformed opinion, I would presume that this finds its source in how Lewis came to believe in the first place. It was through his own reasoning that he came to see that Christianity had to be true. And as such, he saw reason and rationality as the means by which truth could be assessed and respected. Basically, in his mind, it didn’t really matter if parts of the Bible rang true or not—truth was truth, rather or not the Bible got it exactly right.

All in all, that’s a bit foreign to our ears. But historically speaking, it’s not as odd as one might think. As Lewis points out in one of the sites I checked, Calvin questioned whether Job was a historical account or not. The fact is that our current stance on the inerrancy of Scripture is a relatively recent development in terms of the affirmation, “The Bible is without error in the original manuscripts in everything it claims to be true.” This was in response to the rise of liberalism, which took the rationalistic line of thought which was cousin to Lewis’s view and ran it off the Cliffs of Insanity: we can discount anything at all if our reason seems to make no sense of it! And in response to that, a need was felt to respond with an affirmation that the Bible can be trusted. And rightly so! In that affirmation, it was recognized that human reason is no good judge of what’s true and what’s not, because in our sinfulness, we can too easily reject truths that make us uncomfortable, even to the point of denying the resurrection or even the very existence of the Creator outright.

So, what do I think of Lewis’s view of Scripture? On the one hand, I’m not terribly bothered by it. Strict inerrant views were mainly beyond his time. And besides, the basic fundamentalist/inerrantist/Bible-thumper sometimes struggles mightily to understand the differences between hyperbole and poetry and prophecy (“the moon will turn to blood”) and we end up with messes like the Left Behind series. Even while believing in inerrancy, it’s not always easy to parse what’s literal and what’s not. But on the other hand, I really don’t think we can set our own reason as the main guide by which we assess the rightness or wrongness of the Scriptures. Lewis did it and wrote some darn good stuff because he never doubted the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus. But his view is pretty troublesome if you doubt that part. Because then you get the right to call into question anything else you want, including doctrines that are central to the faith.

But C. S. Lewis was just a man. And he wasn’t right about everything. I’ll still take the 95% of his incredibly insightful and Spirit-filled writing while putting up with the other 5% of squishy views.