Monday, March 10, 2008

Everything is Spiritual and er.. Everything Must Change

Last night I watched the Rob Bell DVD 'Everything is Spiritual' with some friends. He is basically expanding on the creation story of Genesis 1 and arguing for a more Hebraic understanding of God, creation and our place in the world. I have to say I found it pretty awe inspiring. Partly because he is such a gifted communicator and partly because he is speaking about the wonder of creation which is mind-blowingly awesome. One of the problems with any theological preaching or teaching is that people sometimes expect you to say everything that can be said whenever you speak - 'but what about...?', and this is clearly impossible. Having said that, here's what I think -

A doctrine of creation needs to be held together with a doctrine of redemption. If you only emphasize creation then what you end up with is pantheism, everything is God, or panentheism, God is in everything. Rob Bell sometimes seems to come close to this idea, although I don't think he is actually saying this. On the other hand, if you only emphasise redemption, then you end up with dualism - creation is ruined and is going to be thrown in the dustbin and we need to escape to a 'spiritual' realm. I guess Bell is addressing a context which has often fallen into this second category and so is providing a welcome corrective. I look forward to the follow ups 'Everything is Broken', based on Genesis 3, and 'Everything is Being Renewed', based on, well, the New Testament. Everything is spiritual, but not everything is God. Everything is spiritual, but not everything is good.

I have also been reading Brian McLaren's latest book Everything Must Change
Now this is one of those book titles where you go, ok Brian, whatever - a tad over the top? What he is arguing is that if the message that Jesus brought, the message of the kingdom is true, then this challenges all the other prevailing stories and therefore everything must change, not least our understanding of the gospel. He is essentially examining how Jesus' message would address some of the global crises of our time. There is a lot in this book that I like and agree with but it has the frustration for me that whereas he has a very nuanced understanding of lots of huge subjects, and there are the usual McLaren footnotes, he does also seem to accept uncritically some recent scholarship where I think the jury may still be out, and sometimes comes across as somewhat naive and idealistic. Nevertheless he does, for me, capture the revolutionary nature of Christ's message and how the church in the West has tamed and commodified this.

As a taster, here is his reworking of the Magnificat, if Mary had the conventional understanding of the gospel that he received in his religious upbringing. Yeah, it's polemic and charicatured, but it makes an important point.

"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my personal Saviour, for he has been mindful of the correct saving faith of his servant. My spirit will go to heaven when my body dies, for the Mighty One has provided forgiveness, assurance, and eternal security for me - holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who have correct saving faith and orthodox articulations of belief, from generation to generation. He will overcome the damning effects of original sin with his mighty arm; he will damn to hell those who believe they can be saved through their own efforts or through any religion other than the new one he is about to form. He will condemn followers of other religions to hell but bring to heaven those with correct belief. He has filled correct believers with spiritual blessings but will send those who are not elect to hell forever. He has helped those with correct doctrinal understanding, remembering to be merciful to those who believe in the correct theories of atonement, just as our preferred theologians through history have articulated."


For a full review of the book see Alan Mann part 1, part 2, part 3

So there we are - Everything is Spiritual and Everything Must Change.


Anonymous said...

Good post Jon. I have started to scrawl down a Wrightian style magnificat. It goes like this,

And Mary Said,

My whole self (body mind and spirit without any hint of Plato) magnifies the Lord (I challenge the Rulers of this world, in particular the roman empire and the cult of ceaser.)

My spirit rejoices in God my savior, the one who restores this world, through Israel to wholeness. A salvation which comes not by the knifes of the zealots nor through the Pax Romana.... A salvation which includes the Churches task of beign a blessing to the nations...

and then 'He has helped his servant Israel,' paraphrased as 'God has acted according to his righteousness, his covennatal faithfullness, to do what he always promised he would do. Israel was sent out as Doctor into the world, but the doctor got sick, and God is having mercy and making the doctor better.....

I suppose I should get back to study....

Jon said...

I like it!

Anonymous said...

you guys are too clever for your own good!!!!