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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Some Simple Concepts on Which to Hang my Theological Hat - Part 1: "Echos of a Voice"

I have been reading a book by N T Wright called "Simply Christian." The book has been compared to C S Lewis's book "Mere Christianity", but for our post-modern times. Although it does not endeavor to "prove" Christianity, it does seek to explore the "reasonableness" of the Christian faith. I want to look in the next couple posts at some thoughts from the book.

I like books (or sermons for that matter) that give me a concept to hang my thoughts on. If I can walk away with something that helps me to express what I believe is true, I will consider the book (or sermon) a triumph. This book gave me several pegs to hang my "theological" hats on. They are "echos of a voice", a "hidden spring", and a place where "heaven and earth overlap." In reality these thoughts play together in such a way that I can more clearly see our calling as followers of Jesus to participate in God's new creation story playing out in our generation.
N T Wright begins by presenting what he calls "echos of a voice." These are yearnings or desires that are kind of built in to us. They are not clearly or precisely the voice of God, but are the echos of that voice that still resonates deep within the human spirit. He enumerates several. They can be summarized as justice or as he expresses it, "putting things to rights", spirituality, relationships, and a sense of beauty.
I like this thought of "echos of a voice". The basic implication is that anyone that I run into will have these echos resonating within their spirits, regardless of how "dead" their heart may be. It may be a mutilated and tortured sounding echo , possibly even barely recognizable as a voice, but it is still there. If I am attentive to the heart of my neighbor, I can discern them and understand that this is a place of connection between us.

I am always looking for ways to connect with people. A main reason that I started Common Heart Missional Community stems from my belief that as Christians we are commissioned to participate in God's mission by connecting with people in a way that reaches them. For way too long our canned presentations of a gospel message have focused on narrow issues. Often times they do not seem to resonate deeply with many of the people we meet. And if they do not resonate it is no wonder that they do not seem draw people into a living and vital relationship with God. The voices that resonate with these echos seems to catch people's attention in this world. From "Four Spiritual Laws" to Evangelism Explosion, from seeker sensitive churches to the new post-modern attempts to be seeker sensitive we seem to be missing hearts with our messages. On the other hand, avenues from Oprah to movies, from "tree hugging" to gay rights, from new age spirituality to pornography seem to me to captivate many hearts by appealing to these "echos".

To me this idea of "echos of a voice" gives me a much broader theological peg to hang my attempts to make connections for Jesus with people. Through Common Cupboard we have been reaching out demonstrating God's love in practical ways, primarily through grocery distribution. We have been breaking down barriers, but how are we to connect in a much deeper, yet non-threatening way. Realizing that in our society as well as in the hearts of people that we meet, there still resides this "echo of a voice", gives an intentional follower of Jesus an understanding about some deeper areas we share in common with society at large and its people. It also reveals avenues to connect heart to heart with our neighbor.

My friend Ryan Bailey at Rivendell Center teaches a skill he calls "Opening the J.A.R." (Joining, Authenticity and Risk). He sees these three elements as key to connecting heart to heart with another. His teaching centers on a counselling relationship, but as I have been learning about it, I have also been considering its implications on opening people up to Jesus in everyday encounters.

The details of J.A.R. are for another time, except to say that I believe that in the past, using canned approaches, we sacrificed what is key to touching a person's heart. We were taught not to truly join someone on a heart level, but rather to go for the goal of getting them to "pray the prayer" or understand the gospel. There is no doubt that this reduces our level of risk and in so doing we become very inauthentic. And in our emerging post-modern culture, the inauthentic is smelt from a mile away!
Also our canned approaches tended to stay mostly on a surface level. If we engaged our hearer at all it was often on an intellectual level, and we got an intellectual acknowledgement rather than a heart repentance and commitment to following Jesus. If we can tap into the "echos" our hearts' share, although we will not agree, there will be common ground to stand on and build a conversation drawing people along in their spiritual journey.
Augustine of Hippo wrote, "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless till it rests in thee." And the scriptures affirms something similar in Ecclesiastes 3:11b, "He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. " (TNIV) I think that what Wright calls "echos of a voice" is a way of seeing this eternity set in the heart. And if engaged there may be a way to coax out the sense of restlessness in the heart to which only God can bring rest. The end of our spiritual journey is rest in a deep love relationship, "heart to heart", with the triune God.
These thoughts I am hoping to more fully develop and experiment with this summer. My desire is to present what I discover as one of the workshops at the Outside the Gate gathering of missional Christians October 3-4 in Monroe, NC.
In my next post I will look at NT Wrights concept of "where heaven and earth overlap".

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