Sunday, December 6, 2009

How We Idealize Eras

A friend of mine is engaged to be married and is planning a reception at which there will have a pig roast. Her father, a Caucasian Christian, is taking a a class on the Hebrew Torah and he sent her a long list of passages which forbid the eating of pork. Her question was why is he so enamored with the Torah. This conversation revealed yet another way that we gravitate to other eras and cultures as a way to romanticize our way out of dealing with the reality of the here and now. We look for some kind of secret pattern or mystical genius to life that will unlock the blessing of God.

The focus on the Torah is but one example. Others include the way we tend to idealize the first century church. So many are seeking to return to the early church as if their experience was some kind of panacea. But as one of my New Testament professors once said, "It seems to me that the New Testament churches failed to live up to any great expectations just about as much as our churches today." But yet we search for some secret, some formula that will open the door to God's blessing.

Some traditionalists are calling the church back unto "the good old days." They reflect fondly upon the the great days of the American church. Is it possible that our seminaries depend upon student who are hoping with quiet desperation that the church of yesterday will somehow return. I know that when I entered seminary that I was learning to lead a church in a culture that no longer exists.

Another era that is currently popular is the high point of medieval monasticism. Many are drawn to the ideas and the disciplines of the monastic orders. But many go beyond that and lift up the ideas of this by-gone era as a way to ignore the reality of the here and now.

Am I overstating the case to make a point? Of course I am. Nonetheless it seems quite obvious to me that we tend to idealize eras that might reveal an something that might be helpful to us today. Instead of learning from that era we try to reproduce it in a literal way. We seek to import something that worked then and there and force it into this era.

The Gospel is not concerned about taking us back to some other time. God addresses us with the Gospel in the present, in the midst of our reality. It is in the here and now, even in the chaos of modern life. We might not like reality but it is the middle of reality where we meet the Good News of our God. God met the people of Israel in the midst of their chaotic, God-forsaken culture and the Torah was the result. Should we not expect the same today?


Ben Chilcote said...

As a church leader I am finding that it’s quite a challenge to find out where God is working today and join him. We church leaders are always looking for better ways to do church, which seems to related to idealizing bygone eras. I think idealizing certain church models is just another subtle distraction from actually going out and bringing Jesus to those in need.

It’s like we all agree on our destination and the path to get there but we’ve spent way too much time building the vehicle – we’ve had our heads down tinkering with the car. By the time we’re ready to drive, the road has changed and it no longer accommodates a car. We would have been better off walking to begin with.

I wonder if our pre-occupation with church trends and traditionalism is our way of avoiding facing God, finding out what he wants us to do and being challenged to obedience. It’s much safer to design a mechanism for ministry that is completely predictable and that you can control.


Scott Boren said...

Great analogy. This myopic focus on trying to supercharge the car is one of the biggest issues that interferes with our ability to enter into God's mission. It seems that we are more interested building a show car that we never actually drive, one that people will come and view and go "oo" and "awe" over. But it seems to me that the only people who build show cars are those with extra cash. They do it as a hobby. For the last 50 years, the church has been able to thrive as a hobby, but one thing that is arising out of our current economic situation is the fact that we no longer have this luxury.