Friday, April 27, 2007

"Really...what makes swear words wrong?" she asked.

For those of you who don't know me well, I have a knack for starting a discussion with the obvious and ending it at an unsuspecting place. You think this post is about Swearing; but it's not.
A few of us were talking after Prime Time recently and one girl challenged us with the Question/Statement, "Really...what makes swear words wrong?" After a lively discussion trying to use Scripture to sort this out, no Biblical arguments made sense to this Christian girl. Perhaps out of desperation, I asked her what her goal for herself is. "What does she envision herself becoming?"
I tried to ease her embarrassment as she finally admitted that she had no idea what her future looks like. It dawned on me that we can easily coach or prod kids into a Christian lifestyle but unless that is integrated into their own preferred future, they'll never adopt it.
Another girl, a bright Russian exchange student, chimed in. She had almost given up trying to live the Christian way because, "No one can be perfect, so what's the point? And don't tell me it's for the 'glory of God'. How is God glorified by the death of children or the holocaust?" Then the first girl chimed in again, "And isn't life just God's big test to see what we'll do?" This discussion made me ask some questions...
  1. How many other kids need a clearer future hope? The majority? Or is this a small minority?
  2. How can I give kids a clearer picture of God's vision for His relationship with us and with His world? And how are His purposes best communicated to postmoderns?
  3. If you have ideas or other questions that need to be asked about this, please comment.


  1. Brent,

    I think you are right on to look at how kids perceive their future as a key aspect of integrating their faith now. I wonder if we have done kids (and adults) a disservice by talking about eschatology in a way that emphasizes the apocalyptic nature--that what God will do is discontinuous with the present--rather than God's future as the reconciliation and redemption of creation. What if we made the vision of the new Jerusalem coming to earth from Revelation 21 our normative starting point rather than the rapture? That way, God's future can be imagined as something much more consistent than now--even if it is something altogether new--a new creation.

  2. Scott,
    It's late at night and this is super long and you don't have to read it...I'm just processing and rambling.

    So, what hope does the church provide that isn't already found in the world?

    Some themes emerge in my thinking about what we can tell kids about the future (just brainstorming):
    1. "Some but not all" theology. Christ has meant something to you already. We have to eagerly wait for the full cataclysmic display of God's power. We have a foretaste of the Great Wedding Supper.
    2. Order and Community. We can't seem to control our own lives, let alone the world. The world is out of control. I'm out of control. We need to JOIN the church (the modern day ark) to help us bring disciplined order to our lives through a strongly committed community that is very involved with each other. Radical individualism and self-sufficiency (fed by affluence) are enemies of our order. If we can't bring order to ourselves,how can we bring order to the world? The significant, unifying expressions of our order are baptism and communion. Your identity emerges in this community. Our primary investment of time and energy is to our families and to each other. We will order our lives around our community.
    3. Focused Mission. Bring people into the ark (the church) as the Primary means of personal deliverance and ongoing healing. We should say, "If everyone had a church like this, the world would be a lot better off." Social and political activism are not core to our mission. Our mission is making each other whole, and modeling and replicating that.
    Individualistic efforts to solve global issues need to be blessed by the community. We need to help other emerging communities around the world like ours. This embodies our hope for the world until Christ comes.

  3. Brent,

    There's a lot there and I don't have a lot of time to think through all of this, but let me respond with my initial thoughts.

    1. I was simply emphasizing the continuity, not to say that the "new" part of the new creation should be underemphasized. The biblical trajectory, it seems to me has a level of continuity and discontinuity. It is, afterall, heaven that comes to earth, and yet in the midst of that God announces "behold I make all things new". What I was questioning about the rapture (not premillennialism in general, but that specific teaching especially it its "Left Behind" form) is that it seems fundamentally at odds with the trajectory of the biblical narrative for a number of reasons:
    a. the word "thlipsis" in Greek--tribulation--is used in relationship with the Saints in revelation. In fact, if Revelation is read as both a book of prophecy and an apocalypse (what John's introduction invites us to do), this means that there is a level of application for the immediate communities that received the letter. And the message the Spirit is anxious to give to the Saints seems to be "hold on!" in the face of tribulation because when the curtain ripped away, the world will discover that Caesar is not Lord, rather it is the lamb who was slain. Okay--that is break-neck exegesis of an extremely complex book...that is, the biblical vision does not seem to promise some kind of exception for Christians in the face of suffering.

    b. The rapture seems to suggest that God's action in the world is in a different direction than the biblical narrative. The message of the Incarnation, of the cross, of the giving of the Spirit, and the vision in Revelation 21 is that God has not abandoned the world.

    c. Eschatology, as Jurgen Moltmann argues, is about adventus and novum. About the coming God, the God who is coming, and the God who is making all things new.

    Okay, I've gone too far and have perhaps not argued a sensitive topic with adequate care.

    The rest of your post--I would object to the use of the "ark" imagery for the church in such an exclusive sense. It seems to me that such a metaphor makes it seem like the present is merely about waiting for heaven...staying safe in the midst of the raging chaos of the forces of evil in the world. though the church is certainly an alternative community, a sign of the already-here-but-not-yet Kingdom, the church is not the Kingdom, nor is it the horizon of God's activity. The Kingdom extends beyond the church, it is something the church receives rather than creates, it is somethng we participate in rather than construct.

    To bring this back to the initial post: how do I see this rough theological construction impacting ministry? It is simply that this is God's world--he has not abandoned it. Rather, he is present in it--and the Spirit goes before us as he performs the reconciling, redeeming, and new creation work. And that despite appearances (of chaos, disorder, sin) this is a story that moves through the cross to the resurrection--that God has promised to come and dwell with his creation and to complete the new creation work begun in the resurrected Christ. Okay, I wouldn't use those words explcitly, but I'm trying to save space. So the good news? The Gospel? Not only has Christ reconciled your relationship with God on the cross--so that you will dwell with him forever--but Christ has also invited you into the life of God in the world--to participate in the Kingdom, to participate in the renewing, reconciling, beautifying, stewarding of God's earth.

    Anyway, sorry its so rushed...