Saturday, June 25, 2011

10 Summer Reads: From Crossan to Wright

"What are you reading these days?" often a question I hear. And we all know summer is the perfect time to grab some books we have been putting off reading and hit the porch to read (or learn, as I like to think of it)...What are you reading this summer/year? Throw out some suggestions for us! On my plate for this year is:

Surprised by Hope : Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. By N.T. Wright
Award-winning author N. T. Wright outlines the present confusion about a Christian's future hope and shows how it is deeply intertwined with how we live today. Wright, who is one of today's premier Bible scholars, asserts that Christianity's most distinctive idea is bodily resurrection. He provides a magisterial defense for a literal resurrection of Jesus and shows how this became the cornerstone for the Christian community's hope in the bodily resurrection of all people at the end of the age. Wright then explores our expectation of "new heavens and a new earth," revealing what happens to the dead until then and what will happen with the "second coming" of Jesus. For many, including many Christians, all this will come as a great surprise. Wright convincingly argues that what we believe about life after death directly affects what we believe about life before death. For if God intends to renew the whole creation—and if this has already begun in Jesus's resurrection—the church cannot stop at "saving souls" but must anticipate the eventual renewal by working for God's kingdom in the wider world, bringing healing and hope in the present life.

Dorothy Day: Selected Writings. By Robert Ellsberg.
Dorothy Day (1897-1980)--is the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, and one of the most inspiring figures of recent history. By her lifelong option for the poor and her devotion to active nonviolence, Day fashioned a new face for the gospel in our time. 

On the Verge: A Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church. By Alan Hirsch (reading for a book review)
Two prominent thought-leaders in church planting and mission express a comprehensive vision for a truly apostolic—that is, mission-sent—future of the church. In an idea laden book, they relate inspiring accounts of churches recapturing the apostolic ethos and vision, and explain how a missional approach can bring wholesale transformation to existing churches that want to be all that Jesus intended them to be.

Revise Us Again: Living from a (Renewed) Christian Script. By Frank Viola (reading for a book review)
In "Revise Us Again," Viola offers a deep and profound look at revising the Christian life in line with the script given by Jesus. Viola writes with captivating candor and infectious wit as he discusses the need for "rescripting" our spiritual lives. Serious Christians will find this compelling new book to be an eye-opener on many levels. It covers such things as the Christianeze of "Let me pray about it" and "The Lord told me," to the deeper meaning of suffering and the "dark night" in the Christian journey, to the different conversational styles that explain why Christians often disagree on theological issues. Viola delivers a powerful portrait of "the three gospels" comparing legalism, libertinism, with lordship and liberty and explores something he calls "being captured by the same spirit you oppose."

The Early Christians: In Their Own Words. By Eberhard Arnold
A source book of original writings including texts by Tertullian, Hermas, Ignatius, Justin, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Origen and Clement of Alexandria. The passages explore the fabric of 1st-century Christian life, society, worship, belief and practice. The selections range from apologies and confessions of faith to short sayings, parables and poetry. The extracts are supported by historical and contextual notes and statements from the first Christians' pagan contemporaries.

The Prophetic Imagination. By Walter Brueggemann
In this challenging and enlightening treatment, Brueggemann traces the lines from the radical vision of Moses to the solidification of royal power in Solomon to the prophetic critique of that power with a new vision of freedom in the prophets. Here he traces the broad sweep from Exodus to Kings to Jeremiah to Jesus. He highlights that the prophetic vision and not only embraces the pain of the people but creates an energy and amazement based on the new thing that God is doing. 

The Prophets. By Abraham J. Heschel
According to the popular definition, a prophet is one who accurately predicts the future. But in the Jewish tradition, as Abraham Joshua Heschel explains in The Prophets, these figures earn their title by witnessing the world around them with outstanding passion. Prophets are those whose "life and soul are at stake" in what they say about "the mystery of [God's] relation to man." They are "some of the most disturbing people who have ever lived," and yet they are also "the men whose image is our refuge in distress, and whose voice and vision sustain our faith." 

The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics. By Chad Myers
This book offers seven studies of the scriptural views of Jubilee Justice and God's dream of enough for everyone. 

Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. By John Dominic Crossan
Based on Crossan's acclaimed and controversial "The Historical Jesus", this elegant new reconstruction popularizes and occasionally elaborates on that earlier work. Gone is the massive documentation. What remains is an engrossing, often startling exploration of key themes, in which Crossan weighs scriptural texts against anthropological, historical, and literary standards, sifting through accrued layers for evidence of earlier (if noncanonical) sources. 

God & Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. By John Dominic Crossan
At the heart of the Bible is a moral and ethical call to fight unjust superpowers, whether they are Babylon, Rome, or even.... From the divine punishment and promise found in Genesis through the revolutionary messages of Jesus and Paul, John Dominic Crossan reveals what the Bible has to say about land and economy, violence and retribution, justice and peace, and, ultimately, redemption. In contrast to the oppressive Roman military occupation of the first century, he examines the meaning of the non-violent Kingdom of God prophesized by Jesus and the equality advocated by Paul to the early Christian churches.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Foundation of the Call, My Conversion (long after I became a Christian)

“Wait, let me get this straight. You are leaving the USA, selling all you have except for a few suitcases worth of stuff, and moving into the slums of Asia?”

               “Umm…yeah…I guess you can put it that way.”

“Moving where? The slums? Are you…sure about that?”
“Doing what? Is that safe? What about your family?"
“Have you really thought about what you are getting in to?”
“Wow, I could never do that.”
“Leaving America? Why would you do that?”

Why? Because Jesus is worth….everything. That is usually my internal answer to these questions. But, reasonably asked: how does one get to the point of making these types of life decisions? It’s complicated, and a journey, and full of success and failure, ups and downs, fears and confidence…but it all boils down to this: First, it is God…Second, it’s His Spirit prompting me…and third, it’s His Son I follow. So that initial question of, “how do you get to that point?” then gets turned around on its head and becomes: “how could I do any different?” And it feels a lot less like sacrifice, and a lot more like what He intended.

Part I: The Foundation of the Call, My Conversion (long after I became a Christian).

“But then you start to think there must be more to Christianity, more than just laying your life and sins at the foot of the cross. I came to realize that preachers were telling me to lay my life at the foot of the cross and weren't giving me anything to pick up.”

Shane Claiborne, in the opening chapter of his best-selling book, Irresistible Revolution, later goes on to describe his internal ache to figure out what it meant to live as a Christian after he became one. He was told over and over again what not to do, but found little direction on what to do. I couldn’t agree more.

Claiborne goes on to describe his conversion and early Christian life like this, which ironically is very close to my experience:

The more I read the gospel, the more it messed me up, turning everything I believed in, valued, and hoped for upside-down. I am still recovering from my conversion. I know it's hard to imagine, but in high school….I was in the in-crowd, popular, ready to make lots of money and buy lots of stuff, on the upward track to success. I had been planning to go to med school. Like a lot of folks, I wanted to find a job where I could do as little work as possible for as much money as possible. I figured anesthesiology would work, just put folks to sleep with a little happy gas and let others do the dirty work. Then I could buy lots of stuff I didn't need. Mmm ... the American dream.

But as I pursued that dream of upward mobility preparing for college, things just didn't fit together. As I read Scriptures about how the last will be first, I started wondering why I was working so hard to be first. And I couldn't help but hope that there was something more to life than pop Christianity. I had no idea what I should do. I thought about leaving everything to follow Jesus, like the apostles, and hitting the road with nothing but my sandals and a staff, but I wasn't sure where to pick up a staff.

There were plenty of folks talking about the gospel and writing books about it, but as far as I could tell, living out the gospel had yet to be tried in recent days.”

As Mark Twain so eloquently stated, “"It's not the parts of the Bible I don't understand that scare me, but the parts I do understand." And I am beginning to understand what that means…and so does Shane and countless others around the world….that self-sacrifice, self-denial, love for other, suffering, grace, mercy, and compassion are the parts of the Bible I do understand that scare me. And because I do understand them, they are changing the trajectory of my entire existence because I refuse to be scared by them anymore.

As someone once said: “You have not lived until you’ve found something worth dying for.” Indeed, that is the foundation of my call.