A revolutionary meal

EucharistToday’s post is a response to theologian Michael Hardin‘s five-part series on the Eucharist. I first read it about a year ago, and found it world-tilting in its implications. You can read the entire series here. Michael asked me if, in this run-up to Easter, I would share some reflections by way of a response to this series. I’m honoured and delighted to do so.

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There are vast divergences of corporate practice within the established church in its manifold forms. The Eastern Orthodox have their icons, bells and smells; the Roman Catholics have their confession and absolution; the charismatics and Pentecostals raise their hands and speak in tongues… In short, we have a multitude of different ways of expressing ourselves in corporate worship.

Yet there is one piece of liturgical practice that is common to every single Christian denomination. It goes by different names – the Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of Bread – but while its format and presentation may vary slightly from one church to another (hosts/wafers versus bread, wine versus juice, open versus closed communion), it is instantly recognisable as the centrepiece of collective Christian practice across the denominational map.

As a Christian of thirty years, the Eucharist had become very familiar to me. Like every other believer, I knew it was to be revered and treated with great solemnity. And I knew it was representative, in some mysterious way, of profound truths about Jesus’ death and what it accomplished for us.

But can I be brutally honest? While many other believers appeared to swoon with heartfelt devotion over the bread and the wine, I would often feel I was doing little more than going through the religious motions, performing a ritual which, in spite of its familiarity, largely remained strange and inexplicable to me.

Then, about a year or so ago, I read Michael’s posts about the Eucharist. This was in the midst of a time when my theology had already undergone major tectonic shifts, so I guess you could say I was ripe for a new understanding of this most central Christian practice. Suddenly, lights went on, pieces fell into place, and the Eucharist began to make sense in a way it never had before. Continue reading

God in our own image

CrucifiedIf you’ve been reading along here for any length of time, you’ll know that I major quite heavily on the idea that God is like Jesus. (For example, see here, here and here.)

Let me sum it up: I believe that Jesus, and specifically Jesus on the cross, is the definitive revelation of who God is. If we start our quest to understand God anywhere else, we are liable to end up – as history attests – with all kinds of grotesque distortions of what God is actually like. Some of these distortions we see in the pages of the Old Testament, where God is said to have not only sanctioned but commanded ethnic cleansing and other moral atrocities.

In short, I believe that we need to forget whatever we thought we knew about God – whether it’s from philosophy, family lore, popular culture, or even the Old Testament – and instead sit at the foot of the cross and let Jesus show us what God is really like.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, the view I have set out above often meets objections from Christians. One of the most frequent objections is along these lines: “But if you focus solely on Jesus and ignore all the other stuff in the Bible about God – you know, all the passages about punishment and vengeance – all you’re doing is creating God in your own image”.

Basically, the idea that we should let our understanding of God be shaped by Jesus is often characterised as a cop-out, a way of sweeping potentially more troublesome aspects of God under the carpet.

Let’s try to dispense with that objection today. Continue reading

Imagine

ImagineWhat if Jesus really meant it when he said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”?

What if the church was never meant to be a place where you go on a Sunday to be entertained by a hip band and cajoled and motivated by a paid speaker?

What if the cross was not God’s idea, but rather something we demanded and God went along with?

What if Adam and Eve were not two historical individuals who were conned by a talking snake, but rather archetypes of the entire human race?

What if the Bible is not a perfect text downloaded directly by God, but rather a collection of divinely inspired but nonetheless very human texts that reveal as much about humanity as they do about God? Continue reading

Jesus, a man of his time

840629969_122163c283_bMost Christians happily and confidently declare that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. Indeed, this is one of the central tenets of the Christian faith.

But… I wonder what many people mean when they say Jesus was “fully man”. I suspect what they mean is that Jesus had a body with two arms, two legs and a male appendage (ahem). For many, that’s probably where the similarity with your average human male ends.

But let’s take a moment to think about what it really means to be human.

Among other things, to be human means to be exposed to and influenced by the forces that shape human understanding. Specifically, to be human means that there is much that I do not know, and that there is much that I think I know that is actually the result of my unconscious immersion in and absorption of unquestioned cultural assumptions. Indeed, can one truly be said to be human and not be shaped and influenced by human culture?

So, how does this relate to Jesus?

Jesus clearly knew things that his compatriots did not. For instance, he knew that God blesses all people equally, irrespective of creed or colour; he knew that sin brings its own destructive punishment, whether the sinner happens to be Roman or Jew; and he knew that salvation lies not in ritual sacrifice or violent uprising but in self-sacrificial enemy-love.

However, I contend that, as a first century Jewish male, Jesus was also inevitably a product of his culture. Or, in other words, a man of his time. Continue reading

Book review: Desire Found Me by Andre Rabe

Desire Found MeToday, I’m delighted to be reviewing Desire Found Me, the latest offering from Andre Rabe.

A little about the author first. South African writer and speaker Andre Rabe met his wife Mary-Anne while they were both involved in missionary work in southern Africa at the turn of the 1990s. After settling down to raise a family, in 2010 they felt the call of the road and decided to sell up and travel the world sharing their message of our belovedness as God’s children. Their intention, in their own words, is simply “to inspire love and reduce violence”.

I confess that I have another book by Andre Rabe on my Kindle that’s been there for a year or so and is still currently unread. However, having read a few of Andre’s Facebook and blog posts and watched the odd video on his YouTube channel, I was intrigued to find out how he might tackle the subject of mimetic theory and its relation to the gospel. So when I came upon the chance to get hold of a free review copy of Desire Found Me, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Andre Rabe is firmly within the charismatic stream of Christianity. For some people, that might conjure up images of emotion-laden worship and an over-emphasis on experience at the expense of solid theological foundations. Based on my own experience, I would say that such observations are true of at least some expressions within the charismatic stream.

However, having read Desire Found Me, I think Andre’s gift lies in understanding and communicating deep theological and human truths using a language and style that is very accessible to the charismatic community and beyond. In fact, as someone with a recognised ministry within that community, he may be uniquely positioned to lay down necessary theological foundations in a way that invites welcome and acceptance rather than pushback. (I am not for one moment suggesting that this book is of no value to readers from other streams; quite the contrary.) Continue reading

Rejecting the magical cross

Cross necklaceThe cross is, of course, central to the Christian faith. That we should devote much thought to it, especially during this period of Lent, is only appropriate.

However, I’d like to take a few moments to challenge quite how we think about it.

One of the ways I believe we often get the cross wrong is to see it as the symbol of the satisfaction of God’s retributive justice upon an innocent victim in our place. I’ve written about this on a number of previous occasions, most recently here.

But there’s another way we routinely misunderstand and mistreat the cross, and it’s this: by treating it as a metaphysical reality to be believed in rather than the sign and the symbol of something much deeper.

Let me unpack that a bit.

If we see the cross as first and foremost the fulcrum of a legal transaction in which we exchange our sins for Jesus’ innocence, there’s a strong tendency for us to put our faith (in other words our belief or trust) in the event of the cross, which was over and done with some two thousand years ago. Of course, we might express our gratitude to Jesus, the one who suffered that event, and we might say we love him for it. But the fact remains that it’s a done deal. The work was done for us at Calvary; all we need do is accept our role in the transaction (by “repenting” and professing belief in Jesus) and hey presto, we have our golden ticket (the knowledge of forgiveness of sins and entrance to “eternal life”). Continue reading

Schizo Jesus

Warrior Jesus“The first time Jesus came it was as a servant; when he comes back it will be as King.”

I last heard the above words a few weeks ago. If you’ve been a Christian any length of time – particularly if you move in charismatic or Pentecostal circles – you’ve most likely heard them, or something like them, plenty of times before.

You might think this is a fairly innocuous statement. My purpose in this post is to show you that, far from being innocuous, this statement betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of Jesus and his life and purpose.

Let’s back up a little and take a sympathetic viewpoint.

Q: When Jesus came to earth, did he not come as a helpless baby? And when faced with brutal torture and shameful death, did he not willingly submit?

A: Yes on both counts.

Q: As those who have pledged our allegiance to this Jesus, is not our hope that he will one day return to rule and reign over a kingdom in which pain, suffering, death and injustice will have no place?

A: Again, yes: I enthusiastically endorse this hope.

So, first time around we have Jesus as humble servant; second time around we have Jesus as conquering King. Where’s the problem? Continue reading