I’ve spent much of the day reading Phyllis Tickle’s latest book, Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters, in preparation for a book discussion that I plan to attend later this week. Although I’ve heard the term, this is my first real introduction to Emergence Christianity, and Tickle does a beautiful job of explaining the cultural and historical forces that led to this form of Christianity, the characteristics that belong to this group, and the variations that can be seen within the movement—and it’s all done in easy-to-read, nontechnical language.
It’s a great book, and I’m learning a lot. But reading it has also been an uncanny experience.
When I was younger, I used to believe that God had a perfect plan for our lives. Our job was figure out what this plan was and get with the program.
I believed that there was one perfect spouse for each of us, one perfect career path, one place we were to live, one church we were to attend, one choice in every situation that was right. All other choices were wrong and disobedient. This put an awful lot of pressure on every decision to make sure it was the one perfect one.
It used to really frustrate me to think that God had laid out this perfect plan that I was supposed to follow, but that I wasn’t given a copy of the checklist for ever decision I faced so I’d know which one was right. It seemed so unfair. To top it off, I often heard it said that God would call you to whatever you were least suited (in skills and personality) to do, so if you were actually good at what you were doing or you enjoyed it, it was a sure sign that you were on the wrong path.
I discovered something about myself today that surprised me.
A friend asked me whether I believed that God ever stops knocking at people’s hearts. Even though this is not a subject that I’ve spent much time considering, my rather confident response was that I believe God only stops knocking when there is no one left who has not responded to that knock.
This is a very different answer than I would once have given, but the change in my answer was not what surprised me. What surprised me was where my assurance came in giving that believe.
I’ve been studying for my final exam in my Introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament class this weekend. One of the topics that I have been reviewing in preparation for the exam is the category of wisdom literature found in the Bible.
All wisdom literature is made up of human reflections on the meaning of life and how it works, but we find two kinds of wisdom literature in the Bible. One is proverbial wisdom, which comprises collections of short, pithy statements (and sometimes short stories) that is general good advice about how to live well. These proverbs often take a concrete example and generalize it to all of life. The problem is that life is rarely that simple, and there are many exceptions to these “rules” for living.
The second kind of wisdom literature is known as philosophical wisdom, and we find this type of wisdom literature in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. Both of these books are asking and exploring a question about life. Ecclesiastes is asking about profit we get from life. What is the point of life beyond working to get our basic needs met? Job is asking whether there is ever such a thing as disinterested righteousness. Do we ever do good when there is no reward (or no perceived reward) for doing so?
I have just finished reading The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief by Peter Rollins. It’s one of those books that is so good and so mind-stretching that I need to read it again before I’ll be ready to write about the book as a whole. I can say for now, though, that it’s absolutely fantastic and well worth the read. Its message is also subversive enough that it’s going to take me a little more time to fully process it.
In this post, I just want to look at the one idea quoted above that really jumped out at me as I read tonight. While I have heard about the importance of wrestling with the text before, I have a deeper appreciation for the importance of this as I come to the end of this semester of studying the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
I’ve been thinking a lot about faith in the context of questions lately.
In the class that I am taking on the Hebrew Bible, we have reached the Prophets and the time of the end of the Davidic kingdom and the Babylonian exile for Judah. On Friday, we took a look at how these events caused shifts in the way that the Israelites thought of God and of their relationship to God. How do they worship God when they are no longer in the Promised Land? When there is no longer a temple? What does it mean to be the people of God when in exile?