[a beachhead/bridgehead into enemy territory]
It’s not just me. In conversations with people around me, both believing and non-believing, in the blogs I follow from around the world, I get the sense that like never before so many are asking ‘What’s going on in this world of ours?!’ I was chatting to a believer who is a kingdom activist for Jesus in her disadvantaged community, and she compared her efforts in resolving ward issues as trying to unravel a hopelessly entangled ball of string, exacerbated by corruption and power – I was reminded of that most quoted of Scottish poetic lines, ‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave. When first we practise to deceive!’ That image certainly applies to our nation, South Africa, at the moment – on a political, economic, social and educational level. Never mind the crazy shootings and bombings (Paris and Brussels) and upheavals on a global scale. So how do we ‘get a handle’ on all this??
As believers we surely have to turn to God’s self-revelation, not least in the advent of Christ. And yes, we have to look beyond the popular eschatology of ‘things will get worse in the end-times,’ especially when we realise that (biblically) the ‘end-times’ commenced with Jesus’ entry into this world 2000 years ago. In that period we have seen some terrible things: the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the Crusades, the plagues, genocides, etc.
I have always enjoyed the insights of American OT scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann. Recently a fellow-blogger (laceduplutheran) drew my attention to his mini-youTube presentation on American idolatry (it fits my country exactly). He sees in America a dominating narrative of consumerism, propelled by greed, anxiety and violence. He makes clear that this narrative is based on a lie and that it therefore cannot give life. My attention was arrested by his statement ‘We are thick into idolatry!’ gelling with my recent re-reading of Romans.
Think of America’s and my own country’s greed, consumerism and materialism. In the US the gospel is confused with ‘the American Dream.’ Just today I read an article in our local Mail & Guardian by Sipho Hlongwane, unmasking the ‘Heavenly #Blesser,’ the giver of all good things like Louis Vuitton handbags, Jimmy Choos, German sedans, etc. He concludes that the only countries with more shopping malls (‘cathedrals of worship’) than us are the United States, Japan, China, Canada and the UK. In April the Mall of Africa opens in Midrand – it will be one of the biggest in the world! All this while our poor riot on a daily basis for roads, water, electricity, food and education.
Brueggemann also refers to American ‘exceptionalism,’ the notion that the nation represents God’s chosen people on earth to dispense to others the concomitant blessings of such a position [how the Afrikaner boerevolk and Afrikaner nationalists bought into that lie; by the way, I carry 50% Afrikaner blood in my veins]. According to Brueggemann, such confusion of the Christian faith with nationalism produces the kind of ‘nuts’ we have in extreme Judaism and Islam. He warns that the USA is investing in American militarism and economic systems which are pen-ultimate, rather than ultimate realities.
Brueggeman’s solution is to invest in an alternate meta-narrative, based in God’s holiness and neighbourliness. I.o.w. we need to bring our social power and resources in line with the life of the ‘Gospel,’ and here may I add that by the ‘Gospel’ we should understand ‘the Good News of the Kingdom of God’ as revealed in Christ, and not the 3-step thing evangelicals still peddle daily.
I also re-learnt a lesson while recently reading Dallas Willard’s ‘Renovation of the Heart.’ I plead guilty to the fact that in my days of pastoring denominational churches, especially in later years, I like many of my colleagues tried to ‘soften’ the blow around sin, speaking of man’s lostness and brokenness (all realities of course) – somehow this didn’t sound as bad as ‘sin’ [let’s face it, I was also reacting to my early days of hearing nothing but ‘SIN’ from our evangelical pulpits – there wasn’t much said about the glorious ‘Good News’ of the kingdom]. Willard mentions a core scripture, so beloved by Billy Graham, Jer. 17:9 (KJV), ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ I recall a detailed exegesis of Romans 1-3 in the formative years of my theological training, where Paul deals with the doctrines of sin and justification [for grasping the doctrine of sin, my seminary principal insisted we read William Shirer’s classic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich]. Imho Willard is ‘spot on’ as to the absolute necessity of beginning with the problem of the human ‘heart,’ followed by its re-creation and renovation (2 Cor. 5:17ff).
- Our natural tendency is to make ourselves God (cf. 2009 Chicago University study). Sadly, we then fall into denial, accounting for our perpetual blindness to the obvious. Paul reminds us in Rom. 3:18 concerning a lost humanity, ‘There is no fear of God in their eyes,’ an OT quotation from Ps. 36:1. The modern/post-modern mind is uprooted from reality and committed to a lie, viz. that it is in charge of the world. [a re-reading of Rom. 1:18ff and 3:9-20 will show the foundation for this argument]. Paul’s examples of God-lessness in 2 Tim. 3 read like a summary from BBC news or TIME.
- To be lost means to be ‘out of place.’ Think of what it means when your house-keys are lost. The moral? We are our own god and as such we can’t help ourselves out of the mess we have created.
- The solution? True Christian discipleship after the manner of Mk. 8:34ff [here I heartily recommend Watchman Nee’s classic little gem, The Normal Christian Life] and Mt. 28:16-20, ‘discipleship’ meaning a life-time of transformation in and through Christ, to the glory of God. To that end Willard recommends the heartfelt pursuit of the traditional Christian ‘disciplines’ such as prayer, Bible reading, meditation, simplicity, silence, etc. Every ‘disciple’ (an ‘apprentice’ to Jesus) is to develop, here on earth, the life of God himself – Jn. 20:31, ‘that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ The reason why we are called to be Jesus’ ‘apprentices’ is that by grace we increasingly ‘become what we are’ (my words), ‘beachheads of his person, word and power in the midst of a failing humanity.’ Our mission is to usher the kingdom into every corner of human life by simply living in the kingdom with the King!
Hopefully the above helps, in a tiny way, toward ‘getting a handle on’ our present world and our life as believers within it. We in our local organic house church network are taking practical, baby-steps to implement the suggested solutions above, through the Christ-life within. It’s a drop in the ocean, but many drops make a river. Won’t you join increasing numbers of Jesus-followers around the world in apprenticing to him and living out his kingdom life in this crazy, mixed-up, yet wonderful world of ours?!