Friday, April 29, 2011

Naked Spirituality

Brian McLaren's latest release, Naked Spirituality: A Life With God In Twelve Simple Words outlines what spiritual life looks like against the backdrop of the postmodern, post-Christian, post-everything matrix. For those looking for more classic McLaren controversy, there will be little to offer in this book [with the exception of the acceptance of evolution, occasional political rhetoric, and lack of gender pronoun usage with reference to God]. Instead, McLaren offers up his view on the seasons of the spiritual life, encapsulating each in twelve simple words. The book breaks down like this:

Simplicity: The Season of Spiritual Awakening [Here, Thanks, O]
Complexity: The Season of Spiritual Strengthening [Sorry, Help, Please]
Perplexity: The Season of Spiritual Surviving [When, No, Why]
Harmony: The Season of Spiritual Deepening [Behold, Yes, ...]

Naked Spirituality therefore reads like a progression of spiritual seasons, with springtime [Simplicity] moving to summer [Complexity], descending into autumn [Perplexity] and coming full circle at winter's end [Harmony]. In my own life, I have had a growing awareness of the seasons of the spiritual life, and McLaren's writing gives beautiful voice to these journeys. For anyone who has wrestled with faith and experienced both the fullness and depravity that mark spiritual life [or life in general], McLaren's words will ring true.

McLaren writes most powerfully and effectively about the season of Perplexity, what St. John of the Cross famously called "the dark night of the soul." With sensitivity and depth, he articulates the emotion and turmoil of the season of darkness. McLaren gives the reader permission to feel the fullness of negative emotions with God or their situation. He does not trivialize or dismiss such feelings as a lack of faith, but practically enters the reader's mind and better articulates the pain and searching. A reader gets the sense that McLaren himself has endured and survived more than one such season.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. McLaren moves effortlessly between prose and poetry, narrative and song, weaving together a beautiful portrayal of the abundant spiritual life offered to all. He deals honestly with struggles and questions at each stage of the spiritual life, and refuses to offer trite, pat answers.

The book did lose me in a few places, where it belabored ethereal points that are quite elusive. At times, McLaren's descriptions and outworkings of thought seemed vaporous and tough to understand. However, he can be forgiven of this shortcoming, as such is the nature of the spiritual life. Words fail us.

McLaren does not leave the reader thinking that they are not doing enough, as Richard Foster [unitinentionally] might have done with his classic Celebration of Discipline. I loved Celebration of Discipline, but at the end of the book, felt like I needed simply to do everything better! McLaren is not trying to add this discipline or that to one's life [although certainly there is a time for that]. Instead, he attempts to awaken us to the God who is already there, already the All in all. It's an attempt to get the reader to simply open their eyes and see the God in all things.

I will be taking my team through this book in the coming weeks. This book includes a helpful reader's guide, and some appendices covering group practice and prayer practices.

While Naked Spirituality will not be considered McLaren's signature work, it might be one of his best. Time will tell if it has the staying power [or will even be readily accepted enough] to become a spiritual classic of this generation.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

My favorite Good Friday meditation, courtesy of Brian McLaren:

Good Friday.
Here in Maryland, it's a beautiful spring day ... bursting with life. But only a few months ago, the area was buried under nearly three feet of snow.

Wherever there is death ... wherever hope is buried ... wherever evil triumphs over law, and wherever law triumphs over grace ... wherever injustice, unkindness, and arrogance are winning ... just wait. It's not over yet.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Windows to the Sky

I have been reading a book called "Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross," a compilations of contemporary essays on atonement. It is discussing, in new and relevant ways, the significance and scandal of the cross, and how we are reconciled to God through it. So far, it has been really interesting.

I have always struggled with the widely-held theory of penal substitution atonement. This theory says that God, in His justice, demanded that humanity's sin be paid for. Therefore, Jesus took our place, and took upon himself the wrath and punishment of God so that we could be reconciled to Him. To me, there are several problems and tensions with this theory].

The problem is that all atonement theories are incomplete and imperfect. We are trying to ascertain mysteries far beyond our understanding, so our attempts will always be seeing "through a mirror dimly." While all offer aspects of the truth of God, none will completely capture and encompass these truths and mysteries.

I exchanged emails with a friend on the subject recently, and he lamented our need to have one all-supreme atonement theory that must be agreed upon. He suggested [and I like] more of a both/and approach, where we savor and celebrate what's true and helpful about all the varying atonement theories in Scripture [victory over death, paying of the debt, perfect sacrifice, moral influence, etc.]

In another book I've recently read, the author describes atonement theories as windows, looking out to the sky. While we can see pieces of the sky through the windows, and each window offers its own unique view of the sky, the vastness and glory and expanse of the entire sky can never be contained through one window only. In fact, even the sum of the views of all the windows will offer but an incomplete view of the sky as it truly is.

The significance of the cross is so vast and expansive, so all-sufficient and all-mysterious, that we can never fully explain or understand it.

So, more than ever, it is imperative that we hold to our views humbly, always willing to learn and grow as the Spirit opens us to new realities, and celebrate the goodness [known and unknown] in the mystery of the cross.

Friday, April 1, 2011

On the Attack

A quote from the new Rob Bell book, Love Wins:

"For some, the highest form of allegiance to their God is to attack, defame, and slander others who don't articulate matters of faith as they do."

I have two thoughts on this quote.

First, I think it a shame. Attacking, defamation, and slander is not the language of love, the language of Jesus. It's about as un-Christian as it gets. Therefore, no matter how absurd an idea may seem, it is critical that we remain loving towards each other. We don't have to agree on everything, but we do have to treat each other with love and respect in everything.

Let's not lose our religion defending our beliefs.

This is why non-Christians dislike Christians. It's not because non-Christians are hard-hearted, or sinful and blind. It's because Christians, too often, are not agents of love. We are agents of attack and slander. Even though we're on the same "team," we treat each other like crap. Why would anyone want to join us, seeing how we act toward each other? [Not to mention, how we act toward "outsiders?"]

Secondly, it is critical for me to remember that those attacking and defaming sincerely believe they are demonstrating their highest allegiance to God. They feel like they are acting out their faith by defending their beliefs. So I must act with a great deal of patience and understanding, as I realize that, for that individual, this is allegiance. This is what it means to be a Christian.

I just wish they were nicer about it.