A Relational God - 2  

Posted by Ben in

This series grew out a conversation that I had with my good friend, Kelcey, last night. The conversation started as discussing the book, The Shack, and grew into a conversation about what it means to be a relevant Church in the 21st century. Oddly enough, this brought us to the question of why it is that there is no 100% solid foundation in experience for those outside of Church (or even inside) to understand God as true and revelatory in relation.

My answer remains the same and I believe it is due to mixed messages. That is, you have two different Christians who claim to have a "relationship" with God, and each live their life VERY differently from one another. Inevitably, there will be those who claim a close, intimate, powerful "relationship" with God, who live and look nothing like Jesus, God incarnate, actually lived and looked like. These two competing messages get filtered through a scientific, often reductionalist, rationalist mindset, which understands the very fact that our minds can convince us of anything we like.

Therefore, to those outside the church, it's nothing more than two people's minds convincing them of what they'd like and attributing god to it. Likewise, for those in the church, we hear "relational" language, and wonder why we don't have a vibrant "emotional" relationship with God the way that we'd hope/expect/do have with friends and family.

Thus, this conversation/series arose as I suggested that this whole situation exists in the Western Church because we have very much misunderstood, in individual terms, what it means to have a "relationship" with the all-powerful God of the universe.

I believe I should start off by clearing the air and qualifying that statement. I believe we have a view of our "relationship" with God that much resembles our relationships with friends or, another often used metaphor, our spouse. While these are ok thoughts, the ideas that surround them and get planted in our "theology" of relationship are maybe a little misplaced.

Lets begin our examination with the Old Testament:

I suggest that our ideas of relationship derive from God's interaction and relationship with three very key figures in the Old Testament:

Abraham - Moses - David

And that God's interaction with the Prophets personally builds upon that theme, owing a great deal to God's interactions with Elijah and Ezekial specifically.

(I have not forgotten Adam, we will get back to him in a later post)

Genesis 12-17 is full of personal interaction between God and Abraham. It is hard to look at Genesis 12-17 and say "It is not Biblical to believe I can have a living, active, one-on-one relationship with God."

There are 2 things which need to be pointed out and discussed concerning Abraham, and that will be the topic of the rest of this post.

1) If we take an Orthodox Jewish stance and say that Moses wrote the Torah sometime around 1200 BCE, we'll be required to grant that God's giving Moses information which is 800 years old, and is probably not giving him every detail, nor is He giving it to Moses in an all-encompassing fashion. This just simply wouldn't make sense. If we take a more moderate view of inspiration, and grant that God is in fact the one giving inspiration to human writers who are writing down the Torah about 1200 years after the events.

This means that when it says that God "spoke" to Abraham, or that God personally took Abraham outside and showed him certain things, there is no reason to require that it took place in exactly this way. It is 100% possible for the story of YHWH choosing Abraham and telling Abraham about this, is 100% true, without it being as face-to-face as the text seems to say it is. It's a story, it needs to be treated as one. A true story is still a story.

2) Even if that is simply too liberal for some people, another important point needs to be made. God's interaction with Abraham has nothing to do with Christians today, or even followers of YHWH after Abraham. Abraham's response is of course the model (Romans, Galatians, James), but the interaction itself is for a specific purpose, one which we have no part in today.

That purpose was the creation of a covenant people. God's interactions with Abraham are specifically for this purpose, and that purpose has found it's completion in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, there's no reason to think we would have this type of interaction with God as Christians 4,000 years removed from Abraham.

The same thing can be said of Moses, and this will complete the conversation of Moses and Abraham. Each are significant players in God's divine plan of establishing a covenant people through whom he would bless the world and save the world. This is not in any way expected as normative in the Scripture.

Now, as a primer for previous posts. It may seem as though I will do a lot of deconstruction up front. It may seem that I believe we can have no authentic relationship with the God of the universe. That's not the case. I'm simply attempting to deal with the major ideas, people, and texts, so that we can move towards a conclusion.

A Relational God - Pt. 1 - An Introduction  

Posted by Ben in , ,

Who is God?

Who am I?

These are naturally two questions which start off any conversation about A God of relationship, or how it is that God deals with us in relationship.

Once we have answered these questions, we are left ironing out this next most crucial question:

How is it that God deals in relationship with us. Why does He seem to deal differently with some than others. Is there credibility to the claim that some people make that they "heard from God?"
What is the nature of God's dealings with me? In what way does God love for, care for, and desire me. In what way is my relationship with God personal?

These next few blogs in this series will be a search through what the Scriptures say about these issues, using my hermeneutical approach of viewing the Word of God as a grand narrative, interacting with a God who interacts in human history. It will deal with certain genres of writing in the Bible and certain writers... attempting to deal with the major concepts and ideas which lead us to a God of personal relationship.

We will examine together what the Bible really says about it, and whether or not we can really have a "personal" relationship with God... and what that even means if we can.

I want to end this post by starting you off with a question to think about, and it will be the main idea and assumption we will be working through/against throughout this post.

Is God a god of individual personal relationship in the Western, American, individualistic sense? Can one have a relationship with God without others (and I don't mean sustain one, I mean have one at all)?

One reason this begins to be such a big deal is this, is being a Christian really about having a "relationship with God" (in the sense we normally say this) at all?

Please comment and voice opinions to get us started.

Christmas Anyone?  

Posted by Ben in

So I know this is long overdue, but I had an awesome Christmas on the East Coast!
Greetings to all of you, and I hope that you enjoyed your Christmas as well as I did.

Now, this summer Galen and I put together some plans for Baltimore over Christmas. It was an exciting time of talking, dreaming, and planning. This semester made it incredibly difficult for me to do what I would have liked to help Galen and stay in correspondence with him long enough. In fact, I had been so busy that I got home and totally forgot that Christmas eve was coming up as soon as it was. Galen had to remind me like 3 times even! However, Galen didn't let me down nearly as much as I had him (that means he pulled through BIG TIME).

He teamed up with his local church, my old home church, Loudoun Valley Church of the Nazarene, and got tons of coats, gloves, and hats. They also donated about a billion sandwiches and two 5-gallon jugs for drinks. We made hot cocoa and iced tea and we took all of this, with some fruit and cookies, down to our park at Fayette and Presidents St. Getting there was slightly difficult, I blame it on the driver (lol, me!). I simply had this thing in my head that kept making me go the wrong direction. Still not sure what it was.

Once we were there, it started with initial excitement through the roof. We were really doing it! There was a bit of a bummer in the middle when we saw how many people were so eager to get a hand-out, and it became clear that probably not all of these people needed it. This is the age-old question with helping the poor isn't it? Do we quit because of all of those who are just living off of aid, but don't need it? Even if it is most of them, do we stop and forsake those few who do so desparately need the help? The initial frustration was easily overcome by the overwhelming joy of receiving sincere thanks from so many who so desperately needed that one extra coat, or that extra hat, or those extra gloves, just to get them through the winter.

Another charity group had been there earlier that night, and another church group showed up later. These are amazing things, and we were very glad to have support from organizations larger than ourselves. However, one thing that stuck out to us; we knew them. There is something profound about God's word that calls us to more than simply "aid" or "help." He calls us to love and relationship. So many expressed sincere gratitude to us for coming and spending time with them, not forgetting about them on Christmas. Among them were even ones who now had a home. Kim, Anthony, and Laura were all there, extremely glad to spend some time with us.

Those who didn't already know us well asked us "what organization are ya'll with?" Awkward an answer as it might seem, it just seemed fitting to respond, "none, we're just with Jesus Christ." It reminded me once again that you don't have to go out with "the purpose of evangelism." The whole of life in Christian Faith is one of mission. This is really where I will want to spend the bulk of my time in this post.

Do we need to "safeguard" our Gospel efforts, as some have said? Should priority be put on the "evangelism," or as some would choose to water down the gospel enough to say "the proclamation of the Gospel." But is proclaiming eternal heaven/hell and Christ's death/our sin really good enough to be called the Gospel? Is social justice just part of the work of the Chirsitan? Or is it in fact part of the Gospel itself. Is it of equal importance? Are the two inseparable? The Bible would say it is. My experience here says it is.

You see, when your life flows out of the life of Christ, evangelism just happens. It happens in the midst of feeding and clothing the poor. You can't help but speak about it. You don't need to prioritize, it doesn't get left out. We had an opportunity to share our hope and faith in Christ with many people that night. Many already had accepted faith. Some listened and prayed with us, not exactly making a "conversion" per say, but making a step. That brings up a separate question which won't be addressed in this post, what is conversion?

Anyhow, We had way too much fun that night. We celebrated Christmas, and let me tell you, it sure was Christmas. And boy did it ever feel like it! There was tons of joy and gratitude. There was much spread of gifts out of our heart and life, out of the goodness of the gift that has been given to us in Christ Jesus.

Today, I want to submit that the act of giving, the act of sacrifice, and the act of love, are evangelistic in and of themselves. When we live the life of Christ, a life of love and sacrifice, it is missional and evangelistic at its core. It beckons a response, it is real and unignorable. Maybe we as the church should make every day a little more like Christmas. Just a thought for today.