The Kinds of People the 21st Century Needs (3)

The 4 Turnings

In 1991 or so, George Hunter mentioned, during a presentation in East Los Angeles, the 4 turnings “repentances” of the human heart that help create the kinds of people the Kingdom needs.

This week:

The Turning to the Scriptures

The four turnings are these:

  1. A turning to Jesus Christ as Lord
  2. A turning to some form of Christ following community
  3. A turning to the Scriptures
  4. A turning back to the world on mission

We been talking about the 4 Turnings of the human heart that lead to the kinds of people Jesus needs in the 21st century. The third of the turnings is the essential turn to the scriptures. (Remember, these turnings can happen in any order).

Contexts and Trajectories for Faith

Why do we turn to the scriptures?
The scriptures give us both context and trajectories for faith.
Let’s begin with stating the obvious: The Christ following movement didn’t begin with us.
It has a history. A long messy history.

Our history has both personal and textual documentation.
The personal documentation is the story of Jesus when recounted by those who have been transformed by Him. The gospel on their lips is the word of God to the world.

The lives of these messengers and the ways they communicate the message may be be awkward or flawed. It may be colored by particular slants on the message, shaded by personality, shaped by cultural context, lacking in detail to a small or great degree, but it is inspired. It is inspired in the sense that, when the story of Jesus is told, it points to God’s work in the world.

The textual documentation of the story is the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
The editing, compilation and collection of these documents — the canon — is a historical and human process in which we did not get to participate.

The canon is not revelation.

The Bible did NOT fall out of heaven perfect and complete. It was not dictated by God to an angel with impeccable penmanship. The canon has no authority in and of itself. But the canon has a unique and irrevocable place in our history. It is given to us by those who’ve gone before us.

Like the word of God on the lips of women and men who advocate for Jesus, the scriptures have a slant on history. They are shaped by culture, shaded by personality, lack details to a lesser or greater degree. But they are inspired. They are inspired in the sense that, regardless of the agenda of the editors, they point to Events bigger than the agendas for which the writers and editors try to use them.

Both the personal and textual documentation are not authoritative in and of themselves. Let’s put a fine point on it. The scriptures are NOT authoritative in and of themselves.

Breathe.

Let this thought breath for a moment. So many of us have spent our lives breathing an atmosphere toxic with bibliolatry, that the taste of fresh air may shock us. The scriptures are not authoritative in and of themselves. This is the line most likely to be misquoted. I can see it already, “Alex McManus writes that ‘the scriptures are not authoritative…’ ” But that’s not what I’ve said.

The scriptures are not authoritative in and of themselves. In the same way, the gospel on our lips is not authoritative in and of itself. Both, in order to be true, require that God is somehow behind them. He is the one with authority.

We must never confuse the scriptures (nor a human who is recounting the gospel) with God. The authority of these is of a second order. God must, in fact, be in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. This same God must, in fact, be the energy behind the call of Abram. He must be the One who brought Israel out of Egypt and gave them the 10 words.

Whatever effect the scriptures and our testimonies have are directly related to how closely they resemble what God is actually doing in history among us. If God were not in the picture, the scriptures would be nothing more than the mere fantasies and fairy tells of the deluded.

The Stories of “the effected”

The fact that we treat the scriptures as if they were magic allows us to lose touch with an important reality. Everything depends on the God who is on mission. The rest are just clues left behind like tracks in the wild.

God is in the world before he is in the scripture, above Israel and with the Church. All authority is in God. Since, we believe, God is in the picture, the scriptures are the human literary deposit of “the effected.” The effected are those like Abram and Moses and you, if you are a Christ following person, that have experienced an encounter with the unknown.

Yet the scriptures themselves are a wrestling match between clarity and obscurity, violence and peacefulness, unyielding dogmatism and grace.

  • The scriptures include portions that make us cringe. We pretend that there’s nothing wrong with the God directed genocide of the Amalekites. We make up excuses for God or, as a last resort, just say, Who are you to question God?
  • There are prophecies that don’t make sense. We pretend that if anybody would just read the prophecies, they would think, wow, that could only be Jesus. I believe.
  • The scriptures are harsh. We just ignore that the scriptures prescribes the death penalty for adultery.

The scriptures themselves are a wrestling match between subversion and the legitimation of power, conquest and submission, control and chaos.

If God can speak to us through anything — He can speak to us through movies (and, oh, how I love movies); He can speak to us through the news; He can speak to us through the heavens — Why then turn to something as messy as the Bible, a story “written by God”?

Because, “the effected” are witnesses to God as He writes His own story in history among us. So, while the scriptures themselves are not a story written by God but by men, they are like a witness’ sketch about the mysterious activity of God in their midst.

The stories and recollections of the scripture are like those of witnesses at a crime scene trying to retell the things they had seen and experienced. I can hear almost hear them, “It all happened so fast.”

Their experience was that God was writing His story in history among them. The fact that the scriptures are of human origin and human design doesn’t mean that there isn’t more to them than this. The story tellers assert that it is God’s story that they are sketching. This sketch effects us when in them and through them we begin to recognize the parallel activity of God in our own hearts.

The scriptures are the reflections of “effected people” on God’s activity as passed on to us. As such, scripture cannot be divided into those parts that are authoritative and those parts that are not. They must be received as a whole, as that which has been handed to us. We are not free to discard any unsavory portion. We are free to disagree with them, question them, be embarrassed by them, hate them, devise explanations that get around them. But we cannot exclude them. The unsavory portions are a part of the “effected’s” story. Every word contains potential evidence to the actual original encounter between people and God. That’s what we’re after.

Both the scriptures and our personal stories are our slant as effected people on the story of God. Our contribution is colored, shaded, slanted and shaped by our cultures, contexts and personalities. The scriptures are the story of how those who have gone before us have responded when the winds of God passed by them.

There is something so deep, so common, so universal in the primal experience of these ancient men and women that continues to speak to us today. Something about the God the scriptures point towards lessens the distance between us –21st century cyber beings — and the original personalities — illiterate nomadic exiles — of the scripture. They point to and connect us to a common place.

That common place — where man and God at table are sat down — is the place where future people who’ve been made human again will meet us. They will know this common place as they recognize (1) the parallel stirrings in their own hearts in (2) our descriptions of God in our lives and (3) in the stories told in scripture of God’s action in the lives of those primitive people of faith.

The scriptures give us context.
They put us at the place where we might hear the voices of the crowd of witnesses.
But, in the end, it is not the voices of the crowd of witnesses that we are really trying to hear.
What we really want is to hear The Quiet Voice behind the chatter.

In a “follow up” post, I’ll write about the trajectories of scripture.

What do you think?

——————————————–

Stay tuned for MAKING THE WORLD HUMAN AGAIN: Jesus’ Quest to Save the Future from Religion by Alex McManus. Scheduled to come out October 2009 through Zondervan Press.

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14 thoughts on “The Kinds of People the 21st Century Needs (3)

  1. Dear Alex,

    I believe God’s Message (as I usually refer to it in our community here in Berlin, Germany) is the very Word of our Creator, without error as originally set down. I don’t hear you saying otherwise. What I do hear resonates. I don’t want our small groups to focus on “learning” or “teaching” the Bible as though knowledge is the end game. I want our small group gatherings to be the place where we meet Christ in the midst in transforming ways. I don’t want our Sunday teaching times to be “expositing” information as though that was the end goal. Instead, I want our entire community actively seeking to “become” more like our Master by applying the experiences of those who’ve gone before us. The Advent story that we’ve just finished is an excellent example. Contained within the age-old story of Jesus coming are a host of lessons that are directly applicable to our own faith journeys today. If the goal is information—or defending the truth of that information—and not transformation—we end up with highly knowledgeable people who know content but are unchanged by it.

    Keep thinking and writing brother. I enjoy your musings. They always challenge.

    Steve Mack

  2. great thoughts Alex. wholeheartedly with you. only issue in the back of my mind i still wrestle with is how authoritative everything else is after the canon was closed… as well as god’s fresh voice today. Looking forward to the book man.

  3. Alex,

    You wrote: “This sketch effects us because in them and through them we begin to recognize the activity of God in our own hearts.” Being a part of the IMN and interacting with you since then has helped me, more than anything else, to begin to view the scriptures this way. However, I agree that many of us grow up with bibliolatry, as you put it. How did we get there? Is that mainly the effect of the enlightenment and modernism on Christianity, or are there other factors? I’m in a history mindset today after spending the afternoon touring a plantation outside of Nashville whose grounds soaked up civil war blood. What’s the history of bibliolatry?

  4. Steve, Thanks for the input. Yes, people living transformed lives that are shaped by the world and future the scriptures points to. That’s what’ll make the world a better place.

    Lon, since God’s work is in history and among us, I give the primary place (not to be interpreted as sacred place) to the earliest documents. The trajectories set in the OT and the NT are still in process, so anything said or done by anyone that pushes the world towards those trajectories is inspired. [Btw, the book I’m working on touches on these trajectories]. By “inspired” I don’t mean to imply some technical definition of divine “inspiration”. I simply meaning moving in resonance with God’s spirit. One interesting question might be, what if we discover a fragment that indisputably dates to within 20 to 30 years of the cross and resurrection that denies the resurrection. I would take that as further evidence that something was going on in Jerusalem in and around Jesus and the community he organized about which there were many opinions. [But then, of course, I’m the guy who likes Mark’s real ending to the gospel. The women leave the empty tomb terrified and afraid. That says it all].

    Conrad, Great question and cool Book title: The History of Bibliolatry. On the subjective side we get there through fear. We fear being wrong, we fear being lost again, we fear losing control. On the historical side, we began to objectify scripture (again) as part of the modern enterprise of searching for philosophical foundations for knowledge. Epistemology, the study of how we know things, was a kind of Kingpin of the Modern era. But this pin was a pretender. How human beings know things has to submit (at least) to the study of what human beings are.

  5. Interesting that I spent last semester tackling the question of Inspiration, and here it is again… I won’t do you the indignity of sticking a label on your bibliology, Alex, but I will say that
    a) you raise excellent points, but I stand in a slightly different place, and
    b) having really delved into the deeper issues and questions of inspiration in general and the scriptures & canon in particular, these are DEEP waters, and I respect your stance very much. In the points where you and I differ, you may well be proved right in the end! 😉

    But to the important point: hearing the Voice behind the voices.

    A mentor of mine was explaining various issues in epistemology. He summed up as “sense + thought = knowledge”, in other words, “tell me something you know that isn’t a combination of perception and logic.” Everything else– whether data we can’t understand, or thinking that is not rooted in empirical observation (i.e. “imagination”)– simply isn’t “knowledge”. A hunch or guess or wish, maybe, but we don’t KNOW it.

    So how do we KNOW Christ?

    His conclusion: the Holy Spirit gives us a new perception, a sort of sixth sense. Without this sixth sense the scriptures are empty, the witness of christfollowers is a meaningless curiosity, the world echoes with infinite emptiness except for the purpose a person imposes on it by sheer force of will. (cf. http://escapepod.org/2007/12/25/ep138-in-the-late-december/ ) It is as if humanity at large heard truth through transistor radios, and the Holy Spirit offers a broadband satellite linkup.

    With this new band of perception, suddenly (according to our old friends who wrote the hebrew and christian scriptures!) “the word of God is living and active”, and “When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes”, the witness of a single follower of Jesus transforms a region. Suddenly we can hear “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech” and at last we can hear it.

    I guess the key to this third turning (to the scriptures), if it is not to dead-end in legalism or bibliolatry, is getting a new dish.

  6. Hey Alex, you and I were writing at the same time! I agree that “how human beings know things has to submit (at least) to the study of what human beings are.” That sums up what I’m getting at: humans who are in some sense “dead in their sins” and those who are “alive in Christ” clearly perceive the world and form knowledge in different ways.

    So… how do we help folks acquire the sixth sense, the new dish, the life that brings an ability to know in a new way?

  7. Nic, always good to hear from you. You are one of the most thoughtful of my conversation partners. I like your analogy of trying to hear a broadband satellite “broadcast” on a transistor radio. But even if the scriptures are a transistor, the noises are a clue to the meaning of everything.

  8. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for this. Very timely. You appreciate that the situation I am in brings me in to contact with people who are in very different places to one another theologically but trying to figure out how they can move forward together. I had never come across people who had checked out the statements of faith for churches and organisations before, but I have here. Things that have been picked on have included the “infallibility” of scripture – a phrase not to be found in any scripture.

    This is one of the things being discussed by a group that has to offer a lead to many churches in its denomination on evangelism. Often different positions only have time to fire off soundbites at each other. They need the long, rich, exploring conversation that you are opening up.

    So much of my denominations experience of “church” mitigates against this – this group I mention has a deadline to hit with an expectation of what it can deliver. I have suggested that the best the group can serve the churches is a modelling of this conversation. What might happen if the Holy Spirit gets involved in these conversations? I can only think that we will become your “effected” people.

  9. Dear Sir
    By chance my creator lead me to your site. The postings and replies are really worthy of a scientific spiritual practice. As an ofspring of Advaitha philosophy, I find this blog a good place for any soul spirit seeker. Keep it up.

  10. How did you happen upon becoming a “Christ Follower” if the very scriptures that you were reading you believed to be false or “flawed or slanted”. Do you really believe in the Holy Spirit, and that Jesus Christ was God? I think that it would be easy to assume that if you met God and He gave you His Holy Spirit to dwell within you that He could also help you recollect what He would desire for the world and his future followers to know of Him. I.E. the Bible. The Bible is God breathed and flawless, not to be added to or taken away from. And if you decided to recollect incorrectly or slanted then he might have a small problem with that. He is the God of the universe right? I am sure he could make sure you had a good memory of meeting him.

  11. Leeroy, Because I liked the slant. I’m sure the rest of what you said makes perfect sense to you. To me, the basic starting point is to acknowledge that the Bible was written, edited and compiled by men.

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