The painter’s studio: a metaphor for thinking about worship

PBS Remix-Happy PainterI’m at the semiannual Five Talent Academy gathering. It’s an initiative of the Virginia Methodist conference among churches who have covenanted around a set of goals for congregational vitality. Our topic today is worship, led by Rev. Dr. Constance Cherry. I’m seeing a lot of intersection between what is being said here and a book I just started reading by Andy Crouch called Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. And it put a metaphor in my head for thinking about worship that seems helpful to me. Continue reading

Sabbath healing as a paradigm for Christian morality

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). This is one of the most radical statements that Jesus ever made. Within it is the revelation of not only Christian but also Jewish morality. I read something similar from Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel, who said Torah was always meant to be a gift for the sake of humanity’s flourishing rather than a burden for the sake of entertaining God’s capricious fancy. But in evangelical Christian culture today, it’s as if Jesus never said these words. Because we measure our spiritual credibility according to how toughly we talk about sin, we are invested in making morality burdensome. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were the same way in their zeal for the self-justification they gained through the burden of the homage they paid God. What made Jesus’ Sabbath healing so offensive to the Pharisees was not merely His violation of Jewish law but the way that He called out their morality based on conspicuous gestures of “honoring” God  by exuding a morality that really did honor God through its compassion for human need. Continue reading

Is Jesus a moralistic therapeutic deist?

When Christian Smith and Melinda Denton coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism” in 2005, it described the way that many Christian teenagers have grown up with fuzzy theology in which God is basically nice and he just wants people to be nice and happy. Since that time, MTD has become a catch-all slur to use against any theology which doesn’t make God sufficiently strange or mean. The way to prove that you haven’t succumbed to MTD is to interpret the Bible in a way that celebrates the opacity of inexplicably arbitrary divine commands, because if God’s law is entirely benevolent and concerned with human happiness, then it must be a secular humanist projection. But Jesus creates a problem for this Biblical interpretive strategy when he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Continue reading