Sunday, October 17, 2010
I was told to start reading the Gospel of John. I had never read it, and it was like reading a revolutionary treatise. Yes, Jesus loved me. Yes, he had a wonderful plan for my life.
But Jesus was a bomb thrower.
I hadn’t met this Jesus before. He didn’t mince words. He could be loving and tender, but he could also be fierce. He didn’t duck confrontation. And he had this laser-like ability to cut right to what the real issues were.
This was a Jesus I had never met before, almost a complete stranger.
In Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to Jesus-Shaped Spirituality, reading the Bible and especially the gospels is what Michael Spencer says will change your life, and possibly change it radically. He also says that it is exactly this practice of “reading Jesus first-hand” that many in the church find so threatening.
I pondered that: the American Christian church would find reading the Bible to be radical and threatening? This sounded almost pre-Reformation.
I didn’t know what I thought this until I pictured Jesus showing up to turn over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple – and it could have been where the prosperity gospel was being preached.
Or showing up at any church that believed it had the whole thing figured out and theologically mapped. Or how he might challenge our own learned teachers and theologians. Or that we would likely find him in the inner cities and Third World ghettos instead of the typical American suburb. He would be wherever the hurting, the needy and the poor would be found.
Spencer isn’t advocating the overthrow of the church. “I believe in the importance of Christian community and the ministry of that community to provide boundaries and definition to our spiritual growth and healthy spirituality,” he writes. “I mourn, however, the loss of our openness to the voice of the Holy Spirit directing us in new and important Jesus-shaped directions…The natural conservatism of institutions is deeply rooted in the desire to survive, and that desire colors and limits the way they read the Bible and how they see God functioning in the world.”
I believe in the church. I believe in the local church. I believe I attend a solid, Bible-teaching, Jesus-based church.
But I still have that copy of The Living Bible. And I remember what it was like to “read Jesus” for the very first time.
Nancy Rosback at Bend the Page, Fatha Frank at Public Christianity and I have been reading Mere Churchianity. Check their blogs for more discussion. See in particular Fatha Frank’s post on “The Perfect Church?” and Nancy’s post on chapter 9 on the book.