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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Some Simple Concepts on which to Hang my Theological Hat - Part 2 "Where Heaven and Earth Overlap"

As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I have been reading a book by N T Wright called "Simply Christian." I found this book to have several concepts on which I could "hang my theological hat." I first wrote about what he calls an "echo of a voice". This concept flavors much of the book. I believe it is an underlying current in all of life.

Before I delve into my thoughts on the second concept, let me share where I recently saw this "echos of a voice" concept in play. It was toward the end of Michelle Obama' speech before the Democratic National Convention last night. She connected deeply with these deep echos when she spoke of what Barrack had said in the past. She said, "He talked about "the world as it is" and "the world as it should be." And he said that, all too often, we accept the distance between the two and we settle for the world as it is, even when it doesn't reflect our values and aspirations." As she finished up her remarks, she returned to this theme that connects deeply with that "echo of a voice" to "set the world to rights" as she called for a commitment to change. She spoke of how she wanted this election to be remembered, "this time we listened to our hopes, instead of our fears ... how this time we decided to stop doubting and to start dreaming ... how this time, in this great country, where a girl from the South Side of Chicago can go to college and law school, and the son of a single mother from Hawaii can go all the way to the White House ... that we committed ourselves ... we committed ourselves to building the world as it should be." The way she connected the deep "echos" with her cause, is how we need to connect these same yearnings with our campaign for new creation through the Prince of Peace, Jesus.

Another concept that is even more pervasive than "echos of a voice" in NT Wright's book, "Simply Christian", is the concept of a place "where heaven and earth over lap". I want to share my take on this is and how it impacts evangelism in our emerging post-modern context.

The foundation of this concept is rooted in seeing that most religious views revolve around two options. Option 1 has a god that is transcendent or far away. This god may have created the world, but after he was done setting all the principles, interactions, powers, and living things in place he separates himself from it and watches from afar. Occasionally he might step in and do something miraculous, but for the most part he just lets creation quietly tick away. This would be a thought that heaven and earth are eons apart. This is deism. The Option 2 god is either everything and everywhere (pantheism) or in everything (panentheism). This would be equivalent to heaven and earth are the same, there is no distance at all. Option 3, as he calls it, has a god who is distinct from creation but chooses to interact with his creation at key points, even binding himself to creation. These might be called places "where heaven and earth overlap". This is a description of the God of the Bible.
In the Bible we can see these places where "heaven and earth overlap" especially in the temple, scripture, Holy Spirit anointing, and ultimately in Jesus. Jesus is the one wherein "heaven and earth overlap and interlock". NT speaks of the sacraments, such as communion or baptism, as being such "places". But the key place today we see this overlap is in the Church, his body, and the individual members of that body, you and I. Because of Jesus, we are to be such places of overlapping and intersection between heaven and earth. This is most amazing! Through his resurrection he has initiated new creation. This new creation is what you and I have become in him.
Although I have not done this key thought of NT Wright's justice in explaining it, I hope you grasp this amazing thought. The kingdom of Heaven is very near. It is in us. We, you and I, as followers of Jesus, are the key "place" through which heaven has chosen to interact with our world in our day! We are "new creation" in Jesus and agents of this new creation on earth.

Are we perfect? No, anyone can see we are not. It is all of grace. It is not of our merit, it is of Jesus' resurrection. But this does not change our calling to be places where "heaven and earth overlap."

The Celtic Christian tradition of "thin places" is similar. It expands this thought to literal geographic locations where God showed up in the past and still shows up regularly. The picture to the left has St Cuthbert's Island in the foreground and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in the background. Both of these places are considered to be "thin" in Celtic Christianity. These are places instrumental in Christianity's advance in the northern parts of England. Thereis still a sense to many that the boundaries between heaven and earth, the spiritual and the material worlds, appear to be very thin there.

If you know me or at least seen pictures of me, you may understand why I like the term "thin places". I especially like thinking that God has making me a "thin place" to the world around me. How I pray that I may be so "thin" that people may experience heaven when they interact with me!!!

This theological "hat peg" must become more than an allegory or an idea, but a greater and greater reality in my life as I follow Jesus. How do I become this kind of person that is a "place where heaven and earth over lap" or a "thin place"?

First, I must believe God has through Jesus has made me one. "If any one is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone,the new has come. "(2 Corinthians 5:17) Second, I need to become "thin" enough for this expression of new creation to shine out of my life. Paul reminds us, "I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I , but Christ lives in me and the life that I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20) Third, I must realize it is a journey, not a destination. "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God". (Micah 6:8)

So how does this fit with evangelism. The big E word is just about being "thin." Being a "place where heaven and earth overlap". Being agents of new creation. Living a life uncomplicated by religion, but bringing heaven with us wherever we are. It is about doing what Jesus did, and being a participant with him for the redemption of the World. "As the Father sent me," Jesus said recorded in John 20:21, "so send I you."

The world will listen to this kind of evangelism. It is an evangelism of service. It is a demonstration of God's love. It is God's people living in pursuit of Christ's example of brother love, neighbor love, and enemy love, self-giving love. It demonstrates itself in serving the least, loving the lost, caring for the poor, comforting the sick and dying, living a life of service to our fellow humans.

As I close out this post, I want to mention that I believe that we are entering a new time. I believe that these emerging post-modern times will bring challenges to our ways of thinking about things like evangelism, gospel, and church. I think it will drive us deep and wide. Deep in our devotion to Christ as we struggle to adjust and wide in our love as it becomes the way people really know who is following Jesus. As the culture in the west becomes more and more post-Christian we will find new challenges and new opportunities as we compete in the market place of ideas. Strangely enough, I believe, the thirst for true spirituality will increase, even as religion falls by the wayside. It is an exciting time to be a follower of Jesus.

Next post in this series will be on a parable that NT Wright shares about a "hidden spring". To some degree this illuminates to me both the opportunities and the challenges we face in engaging our world today as agents of new creation in Jesus.

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