(Aiden remarked, when reading another story that he “looked forward to turning the page”… so, with his encouragement, here is page 2…)
did you know that the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures use the phrases “do not fear” and “do not be afraid” 113 times!!! (those same scriptures use the phrase “love God” only 5 times…) So let’s make a humble assumption - spirituality that takes the Bible (meaning the Hebrew and Christian scriptures) seriously will be a spirituality that is Peace-producing. Essentially, I’m assuming that Biblical Spirituality will echo this sentiment - do not fear, do not be afraid, do not worry, etc.
the Christian scriptures tell us that Jesus is the “prince of peace” (i’m assuming that means that if anyone is going to bring peace it will be him..) it also tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18) and goes on to make a clear observation: “for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”
the thing that I struggle with is that the “good news” that many Christians offer is highly fearful. The common story goes something like this: God created you. Things were good until you messed up. You sinned and God was angry. You had broken his Law. Justice was required so someone had to die. It would have been you (and it might still be if you don’t…) but Jesus died in your place to “absorb the wrath of God” (John Piper). To return to right relationship with God, you must repent and believe (presumably that Jesus died for you) so that eternal punishment can be avoided. If you do, God’s anger is avoided and heaven awaits. If you don’t, the just punishment for your sins will be your reward - that’s hell. (If “God is Love” he certainly has a big investment in fear and punishment in the universe…)
so here’s a question: what motivates your faith in God? why are you a Christian? is it to avoid the fires of hell - an eternal punishment? as I’ve indicated here i am an unapologetic follower of Jesus. I am willing to associate myself with him in every way. but I am simply not happy to associate myself with this common version of the Christian Story any longer. I think that there is another story which is desperately needing to be told - needing to be heard.
(some quick reasons why the new story needs to be heard:
1. i don’t think that the common version is doing our Great God of Grace justice!
2. many good, thinking, moral, faithful, did i mention good, people are simply not able to fathom a God who is so petty and, instead of looking deeper into the faith tradition, are choosing to live as moral atheists rather than associate with such a paper-thin version of a Creator God.
3. it is Fear Producing - which is exactly the opposite of what Biblical faith is supposed to do. Where is the peace? Where is the confidence?)
Here’s to another story! (I don’t call it a new story because I would like to argue that this other story has been around longer than the common one!!! it’s the old story, needing rediscovery)
my understanding of Jesus was that he chose to live and teach in the tradition of the Hebrew prophetic tradition - most significantly, the prophetic vision of Isaiah. His first public teaching in a synagogue involved a reading from Isaiah 61 (Luke 4:16) - a moving, inspiring vision about the “Year of the Lord’s favour”. (the interesting thing is that the phrase “and a day of vengeance for our God” - Is 61:2 - is omitted in Luke) This prophetic tradition includes moving passages about the coming of the Messiah who will bring peace - when the Lion will lie down with the Lamb (Isaiah 11)… perhaps the most moving passage for me is found in Isaiah chapter 2:
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
These are the passages that I believe inform the ministry of Jesus. When he speaks about the “Kingdom of Heaven”, I believe he is talking about this kind of Kin’dom… where Peace is found to be stronger than force, where love is eternal and cannot die…
In the light of these (biblical) observations, I want to encourage those who are dissatisfied with the common story to begin to consider Alternatives. I believe there are many other stories on offer in the Christian Scriptures. Paul’s writings do contain much that supports the common version, but he also transcends those thoughts in some of his writings, focusing more on the theme of Reconciliation. See 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. (I realise that it is possible to use this passage to underscore the common version of Christianity.) I believe it is possible to interpret this passage in a way that appeals to Loving Relationship as a motivation for Faith… (perhaps the topic of Page 3…) The Gospels are the best place to look though, because the parables and the ministry of Jesus are still being processed by the authors. The Gospel writers certainly include their own interpretations in the re-telling of the stories (which explains some of the differences in the four gospels) but the interpretation can be said to be “in process”. This gives us a glimpse into the early Christian community of people who were not called “Christians” - they were simply people of faith who had decided to follow the teachings of Jesus. They were best described as “those belonging to the Way” (acts 9:2)
What are some of the attributes that I think Another Story might include?
1. i think it must choose to be faithful to the teaching and example of Jesus. this might involve a revisiting of the gospels and a decision to take Jesus at his word. or as Albert Nolan says to “take Jesus seriously”.
2. surely it must work out a new motivation for Faith. If we aren’t following Jesus to “avoid hell and earn our ticket into heaven”, what will be our primary reason for following? it might return to a much more wholistic understanding of the word “believe” which embraces the whole self, heart, will, mind, body, in place of a modern understanding of the word which reduces believing to mental (intellectual?) agreement. To say “I believe in Jesus” would be more akin to saying “I commit my whole self to Jesus”.
3. it must strive to be all-embracing, not sectarian but able to embrace variety so that it can become a story of Peace and Unity. surely if God’s Kin’dom is going to be eternal we’re going to have to live side-by-side then… why not start finding a way to live together now…?
4. it might formulate a different understanding of authority. for instance, it may choose to view the Spirit of scripture as a higher authority than the historical written text. This might include the recognition that not everything that is biblical is consistent with the teaching of Jesus i.e. Christian
5. Another Story might re-emphasize the importance of being good - what Jesus meant when he spoke about the fruit that a tree bears. the Common Story has used the Fear of God (of hell) to motivate people into believing, and has unwittingly encouraged people to “believe” at all costs, but has paid too little attention on the thing that Jesus asked us to do: “go and make disciples” (Matthew 28) disciples are learners, and presumably that means learners of The Way. Evidencing the Fruit of the Spirit - the signs of a transforming life - will become the essence of Another Story.
What do you think might be some of the attributes of Another Story? OR, what would you LIKE to see being addressed by a different kind of Spirituality? (that you feel has been neglected by the Common Version of Christianity in your experience?)