How I discovered grace in a different 16 century Reformation – http://ow.ly/20N3nG – ( a guest blog for @peteenns )
“What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier . . . for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own . . . ” Frederick Buechner
Let me offer 7 reasons why it’s important for us to be both story-tellers and story-listeners, 7 “identity-markers” for a Storied people beginning with “We Are…”:
1. We are Hardwired for Story - Curt Thompson writes, “the process of reflecting on and telling others your story, and the way you experience others hearing it, actually shapes the story and the very neural correlates, or networks, it represents.” In other words, we thrive when we listen and tell. Without it, we settle for a life of reactivity, not reflection – stuck in our reptillian brain, disconnected from both of neo-cortical brain and from other human beings. Simply put, Story is healthy.
2. We are Meaning-Makers – For millennia, telling and listening to stories was the fundamental building block of civilization, the way of passing along tradition and family tales and myths. It was a kind of social glue. Today, our meaning-making happens in radically different, and often compartmentalized ways – seeing a therapist, connecting with an old friend on Facebook, attending church (often infrequently, and in churches where the Christian story isn’t necessarily told and practiced each week), gathering data piecemeal from Google searches, a quick coffee with a friend. Busyness has robbed us of time. Individualism has robbed us of community rituals. Consumerism has redefined our purpose. Story can set it straight.
3. We are Honest – Story-telling requires honesty. I have told my own story in highly edited ways, often trying to cast myself in the best possible light. Eventually, the truth will get you. In the recent political conventions, I heard both sides speak frequently of American exceptionalism, and I could not help but wonder if we’ve taken our own American community-story seriously, with all its good and bad – Selfless heroism and slavery, gracious giving and genocide, beauty and brokenness. Even America has a story…and the point is that there is no shame in telling the truth. The shame is in the radical editing for the sake of glossing over the hard times, the failures, the suffering, and the errors.
4. We are wounded – Telling our stories heals us. We’ve seen that it heals the brain. But consider this. After the Rwandan genocide, there were many therapists who visited Rwanda with new techniques for healing – quick fixes for the damaged and abused human soul. What did psychologists and theologians eventually find? No new techniques seemed to help. But old-fashioned, group story-telling seemed to heal wounds. As Rwandan men and women sat together and told of their sons and daughters, of rapes and ravaging, healing and forgiveness took place.
5. We are storied/historical beings, not Gnostics - I give credit to Eugene Peterson for this one, as his writings on Lament reminded me that what is grieved in that ancient biblical book is actual suffering. You see, we don’t live in a vacuum. Modern enlightened guru’s speak of living in the eternal now, and I understand the value of living in the present moment. But Judeo-Christian religion is storied. We are not Gnostics. We believe in actual events, real and felt. This is why I feel the most orthodox Christians ought to be the most Storied of them all – rooted in narrative, God’s and ours – mindful of the need to remember…
6. We are liturgical - In historic Christian worship, we come together to rehearse the Story. In Confession and Assurance, in the Sermon and the Eucharist, in the Lord’s Prayer and the Benediction, the whole Story is told – the story of original goodness invaded by sin, the story of dignity and depravity, of hunger and thirst, of blessing and mission. Worship, at its best, is NOT an Oxytocin high, a praise-song-feel-good-love-fest, but an intentional engagement with God as his loving, desiring, obeying, hoping creatures, longing to be re-Storyed and re-branded in the Great Story told each week…
7. We are commanded - I can’t help but return to the frequent admonitions to Remember…
It seems that over and again in Scripture, God’s rescued people are told to remember. The Israelites are commanded to remember the great rescue from Egypt. The exiles are told to remember God’s faithfulness. Christians are given the Eucharistic meal as a meal of remembrance. It seems telling and listening is a kind of corporate remembering for Christians in worship.
And this is why I’m both a therapist and a pastor. Because, I’m in the business of the telling, the listening, the remembering. I’m called to invite people out of their hurried lives into an intentionally reflective space, where God can show.
And this is why I think it’s so important that you remember. Listen, quick-fixes are available all over today, in religious forms, in medicine, in self-help books, in internet and TV gurus. But the unhurried process of telling and listening invites us into a kind of sacred cadence, a rhythm that can reform our hearts, and even rewire our brains. Science and faith agree – Story is central. We tell stories in order to live, as Joan Didion says.
Tell and listen as if your life depended on it.
There is no rescue without suffering, no transformation without a wilderness, no kingdom without a cross.
This difficult message, more often than not, is rejected by Christians, not by skeptics. Skeptics, in fact, are strangely attracted to the Jesus of the Bible, not the Jesus draped in the American flag or the Jesus whose message apparently sells self-help, victorious-Christian-life books. No, skeptics are suspicious of this Jesus, and rightly so. Rather, it is us – Christians – who are more apt to embrace a kingdom without a cross.
Somehow, we’ve come to believe that since Jesus ventured into the wilderness and suffered, even to the point of death, that we don’t have to. Many of us live with a sense of entitlement – religious entitlement (if I live by faith, my life should be successful), economic entitlement (want to offend someone? – tell them their taxes are being raised!), political entitlement (supposing the world is going to hell in a handbasket if supposed ‘Christian’ policies on the left or right are not embraced), social entitlement (our desperately codependent need to be connected all the time), and psychological entitlement (my parents shouldn’t have failed me).
I saw so much of this on display over the past week during the healthcare debate, which seemed to draw out every angry, embittered, idealistic emotion our culture corporately carries. On the one side, evangelical friends were outraged that they’d be forced to be inconvenienced (taxed!) for the sake of others, or at least this was my take. On the other, those on left seemed, once again, convinced that real community and care could be somehow mandated by law. I struggled to see the Gospel in any of it, in the sense that I didn’t see an honest wrestling with what it looks like, as a society, to come together wisely to care for the least of these – bringing in the kingdom through the cross of personal suffering and inconvenience for the sake of the other. Let me assure you – sprinkling a little Jesus on Ayn Rand or Karl Marx does not make for a cruciform kingdom…
…which leads me to wonder – will we, Christians, need to suffer more to see that becoming followers of Jesus requires crucifixion? Our confidence in changing and transforming the world politically – whether you’re on the left or the right – is false security. It is an idol that will break in a thousand pieces. And I say this no matter the method. I tell my clients – those who think psychology will make it all better – that good psychology only leads you more deeply into the wilderness in order to meet God. The idol of optimistic self-help will also explode. Moreover, the confidence in the all-powerful, all-knowing Market may be our biggest idol. Thomas Hobbes warned John Locke that the humanistic belief in well-intentioned, altruistic people was nonsense, and would come back to bite us. His prophecy was too true. What the market has produced is wealth for some, to be sure…and many cultural goods. But it has also produced a thriving porn industry which degrades young women, the idolization of image, obsession with people’s tragic lives on reality television, the false belief in the 2000s that middle-class families could actually afford 2000 sq foot homes, psychological dependence on each new technology, the collective narcissistic false self of the American, a growing psychological sense that we deserve more and more, the militarization and economization of ‘security’, the church as “small business” in competition with others, the professionalization of the clergy, and the marginalization of those who don’t fit the collective narcissistic image of success.
I believe in the paschal mystery – the path of life through death patterned in Jesus – and this leads me to wonder, at times, if we might not need to face a cultural death in order to experience real life and revival. We, Christians, may be most in need of this humiliation, and perhaps ought to pray for it. We seem to excel in hard times. I was reminded by a white South African friend again recently how black Christians in Africa led the call to forgiveness and reconciliation for those who systematically abused, tortured, imprisoned, and even raped them. May we suffer so as to learn forgiveness like this.
As an election season heats up, we’d do well to extricate ourselves from the back-and-forth which is so enticing and addictive, as if a Supreme Court opinion or an election can save us from our desperately entitled, narcissistic selves. This is my own spiritual discipline in this season – God help me. I will be asking myself – what is the way of the Cross? What false securities have I embraced? But watch out what you pray for. That which we hold to, cling to, attach our identity to may be taken from us – our business, our secure portfolio, our reputation, our idealism.
And may God’s peaceable kingdom emerge amidst the rubble in a way that skeptics might see Jesus in us, instead of despite us…
Some pastors have been asking me to blog a bit on my thoughts re: complementarianism, egalitarianism, male/female roles, why it’s become such a polarizing topic, and perhaps even why it’s become a new litmus test of fidelity to the Gospel. I’m hesitant to address such a big subject. It’s so polarizing. And it’s sad to me. I find myself sinking into a depression when I consider some of nonsense that goes on, and how it divides a church that ought to be a witness in its unity. But, here are some thoughts. I’ll be highlighting some themes I think are worth considering. Below are some of the questions I get, and some of the responses I’ve given through email exchanges, etc. It’s a longer post, but broken into smaller chunks of Q & A.
Why do you think churches are losing men? And don’t you believe that men are returning to some churches because they are re-asserting a man’s proper authority in the church?
I’m no church historian and I’ve heard this case made, but I have a very different take. I think the early church was filled with courageous men who saw in Jesus the way of real manhood, for lack of a better way of saying it, the way of masculine vulnerability. Now, some men ran for the hills. This wasn’t the militant Divine Warrior they expected. It was the need for power and authority that got them in trouble! Look at Peter – he needed it too much. So, Jesus defined the terms in John 21 for him – when you’re young, you’ll pull yourself up by your bootstraps, but as you mature you’ll realize your vulnerability and dependence. Men left the church because they no longer had this grand vision of cruciform risk-taking and suffering servanthood for the sake of witness to the way of Christ in the world to live into. I assume this began post-Constantine, when they gained power. Now, this attracted a certain kind of man, but I wouldn’t call this man “Christ-like.” Power and authority became way too important to the post-Constantinian church leader. And I think it is way too important for some male pastors today, to the point that it’s really destroying the witness of the church to a crucified God and a cruciform, self-sacrificial people. We’re obsessed with debates about power and authority! How sad! Jesus was never about claiming position, but relinquished position to meet people “from below” – from a place of servanthood and vulnerability.
If real masculinity isn’t the issue, why do so many men flock to John Eldredge books, or Christian men’s conferences, or churches with hardline positions on male roles?
I definitely think masculinity is an important issue, and I’m not wanting to blur male/female distinctions for some asexual theology. Now, I think men are hungry for some sort of vision for their lives. We’ve largely lost the male initiatory traditions in the West, where men were sent out at an appropriate age into the wilderness to learn key things – that they’re vulnerable, that failure is inevitable, that the world is bigger than them, that they’ll need to plug into a larger source for real strength! Sadly, men today are hungry for strength, but find a substitute in power/authority. Eldredge got this much right. In Wild at Heart, he tapped into this primal hunger. But he didn’t build the narrative around Jesus, I’d say. In my mind, the focus became on finding your “wild” self…a necessary part of the journey…but not enough. Maybe I missing Eldredge on this…I haven’t read the entire Eldredge “canon.” I’d reframe it by saying that ultimately, we “find ourselves” as our lives become caught up in the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Jesus…as the paschal mystery is formed inside of us. And while I think you can find get a taste of this as you escape into solitude in wild places, more often than not we find it in the wild, risky world of relationship – where we’re compelled to deal with our own hearts.
I don’t hear this cruciform message in the Christian male pep talks today. I see a lot of testosterone energy, but not as much Jesus. There is too much chatter about finding yourself in your proper male headship (back to authority and power again!), as if headship (kephale) is about claiming power. It’s precisely about sacrificing, suffering, relinquishing. Dictators claim power. Jesus relinquished it. But we worship Jesus…not because he claimed it and demanded it, but because he served us, suffered for us, chose the way down. Always be wary of pastors, male or female, who over-speak about authority, who don’t seem secure enough to be insecure (as Richard Rohr says), who need to “defend” the rightness of their positions. You’ll know them by their love, not their defense of authority.
The older I get, the more I want to give away power, the less I want or need to be up front, the more I’m hesitant to write blogs like this. I just want to be out doing it, living it, loving…that’s where I’m at my most “cruciform” self. All the rest is usually my false self, my egocentric need to feel powerful, to be listened to, to be needed. God help me.
How do you understand the proper roles of men and women?
First, I think the question is problematic. My best sense is that the idea of “roles” is relatively new in the theological landscape (and in mid-20th century), and that role language is actually rooted in bad Trinitarian theology (the heresy of eternal subordinationism). But my bigger concern is that roles become a conversation of who leads and who doesn’t, who can speak and who can’t, who has authority and who doesn’t. It’s an exercise in missing the point. This was never the agenda of Jesus. He ticked off the religious “authorities” (always be careful when he hear that word!) precisely because he empowered the powerless – women, outsiders, the broken. I think we’ve completely misread Paul on this stuff. We’ve missed how he empowered women in the early church too, and we’ve focused on a few “exceptions” that served, I believe, as pastoral advice for specific temporal situations. How are we different than the Pharisees on this? We’ve missed the forest for the trees. We’ve somehow come to believe that it’s “biblical faithfulness” to put women in their place when Jesus came freeing women, empowering outsiders. I see a parallel in all our talk about the heretics “out there” – the Muslims, the Mormons, the liberals. How have we come this far? Men don’t need to be worried about their roles. We need to be concerned about whether or not we’re living the cruciform life of Jesus, suffering and serving. When this becomes about ra-ra “be-a-man” spirituality, the church has lost its witness, and the world laughs at us (and I think they ought to…)
What guidance do you give men who need a vision for their lives?
This is tough, because we’ve largely lost the initiatory tradition. We’ve even turned baptism into a sweet ceremony instead of a very somber “death” ceremony (we go down into the waters in order to die, and we’re raised through Jesus). Classically, men needed the initiation precisely because they were in the one-up position, always prone to abuse power. The wise tribal elders knew that the boy needed to leave home (sound like Jesus? You must leave home…mother, brother, sister) and enter the wilderness, in order to discover just how small you are. The Israelites took this journey. Jesus took it. But today, we’re creating narcissistic young boys who don’t know their limitations, their smallness in God’s big world. They feel power as they play video games, watch UFC fights, and get told, “You can do anything and be anything you want when you grow up.” It’s deadly. Young men have no other path than to become angry, violent. They don’t know what to do with their strength. I see it all the time in therapy. Somehow, we’ve got to find ways to invite young men into the larger story of the Gospel, the suffering servant, the way of the Cross. We need to find meaningful ways of showing them their smallness, their vulnerability, the inevitability of failure, or else they’ll find out the hard way when they get older. By the way, I’m convinced this is why “Gospel language” is so prevalent today. We’re dying for someone to tell us we don’t need to perform, that we can fail, that the story doesn’t revolve around us. But this is a message that needs solid and meaningful rituals around it. If we can re-discover the power of the sacraments and tell this story well, maybe that’s a start.
In that great original story of Genesis, God makes an extraordinary world, places extraordinary creatures in it, and crowns it with his greatest creation of all – human beings - calling them “very good.” He tells us who we are – made to be in relationship, tasked with the care for all the world, invited to enjoy the paradise and expand it over the entire earth. The grandest party of all…
…but soon we learn, it is not to last. Humanity’s first family got suckered into the great lie – a lie about their very identity. Thomas Merton once said that sin is a case of “mistaken identity concerning our very selves.” Adam and Eve were offered a new car, a 10,000 square foot home with a pool, a lucrative book deal, their very own reality show…
…and they took it. We know the rest of story. Broken dreams. Thwarted hopes. Disappointment, suffering, even death.
A case of mistaken identity. And we’ve lived this story ever since.
Yet, the words we hear from God as he looks for his beloved children in Genesis 3 are, “Where are you?”
Not a demanding, “Get your asses out here.”
Not an angry, “You’re in big trouble.”
Not some guilt-manipulating, “I can’t wait to tell you what you did wrong!”
No. He says, “Where are you?” A cry of love.
It’s the very thing we ask ourselves, at times.
I’ll find myself playing a thousand other roles, trying to please, attempting to justify myself, clamoring for approval, or pleasure, or significance, or influence…
…and God will eventually intrude, saying, “Where are you, Chuck? Where did you go? This isn’t like you. Who have you become? I love you, but I hardly recognize you.”
That’s the essence of sin, after all. It’s not about some bad behavior. It’s about losing our way, losing our bearings, losing our sense of identity – a case of “mistaken identity,” as Merton says. And it happens so easily.
We’re sucked in to an enticing scheme to make some big money.
We’re offered a big job with lots of perks.
We’re enticed by the glance of an attractive person sitting across from us.
We’re energized by the angry energy that comes with feeling ‘right’.
We’re drawn into the animated emotional gravitational pull of a charismatic leader.
We’re crushed into submission by a vocally powerful person in our lives.
And God says, “Where are you?”
Which means, he’s looking for you. That’s the good news, you see. Because you feel as if you’re worthless, a sellout who has betrayed your first love. But God pursues. And pursues. And pursues.
“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.” Isaiah 30:18
Because he wants to know you. Not your false self. Not your concocted version of an acceptable person. Not your surgically-altered self. Not your religiously adorned self. Not your philanthropic sacrifice. Not your doctrinally-settled self. Not your emotionally high self.
No, he longs to know you. Can you imagine it? Because the you that you know is not that impressive, right? It’s average at best. Quite unappealing. Certain not to impress. Lackluster. Ordinary. Insecure.
God sent his son not to save your false self. Your false self spends its energy in self-justification, in an exhausting attempt to get it right. It needs grace, but it is not you.
You are hiding. You’ve found a safe place, or so it seems, behind the fig leaves of reputation and affluence, doctrinal certainty and activistic moralism, energetic pietism and self-sabotaging addiction.
And God is looking for you. He’ll never stop.
Where are you? He can’t wait to hear you say, “Right here. Help me! I’m here. And I need you, more than I’ve ever known.”
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We all know Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Or, at the least, we know it in our relationships. Family Systems theorists have argued for decades that a principle of polarization exists in families. When one person acts extremely, another generally reacts to the opposite extreme. Let’s take the Smiths. When Mrs. Smith decided to take a day at the spa, Mr. Smith was angry. As the breadwinner, he works hard for the money. Frustrated and motivated by not-a-little self-pity, Mr. Smith decided to work longer hours that week. In turn, Mrs. Smith bought a $150 pair of jeans. Late that week, a fight broke out between the two. Mrs. Smith was angry with Mr. Smith’s distance. Mr. Smith was angry with Mrs. Smith’s selfishness. An exercise in missing the point.
The two wanted intimacy, closeness, connection. Their polarized argument may have revealed grains of truth (Mr. Smith does work too much and Mrs. Smith indulges too much), but missed the real point.
Our family dynamics as Christians are similar. Our fights don’t often reveal our real issues.
Now, our polarizations may include real and important differences (I wouldn’t deny objective differences among, for instance, those who deny Christ’s deity and those who do). But, healthy families talk about differences. Sometimes, differences lead to separation. But separation, itself, marks a commitment to the healthiest relating possible amidst difficult circumstances.
However, unhealthy families explode in the midst of difference, often clouding real issues and failing to talk about what is most important. Factions polarize. Smaller issues divide. Mountains are made out of molehills. And in our anger, it’s so hard to see the real struggle. Let’s be honest, we’re all guilty of it. Polarization began in the Garden. “She did it! No, he did it!”
Having taught courses in a conservative, evangelical and confessional seminary and also in a liberal, progressive, and constructive seminary, I see these features in both. Caricatures dominate. In the liberal seminary where I taught a course, I recall becoming very defensive when a student challenged the notion of “God’s Kingdom” as a patriarchal and inherently violent term. Internally polarized, I reacted with some anger. What did I miss, though? I missed an opportunity to hear the student’s story. Later, I checked in with her. My student (who was a minority, herself) was not, in fact, opposed to the language, but to a religious philosophy that champions the dominant group over the minority group. I validated that. And then I explained that the Kingdom of Jesus is an upside down Kingdom, where the weakness of the Suffering Servant paves the way for the redemption of broken, needy, sinful men and women. She teared up. “I like that Kingdom,” she said. A new journey began for her.
Likewise, a conservative student was flustered when he found out that I was egalitarian. He began arguing with me on the data. But this time I stayed centered, not giving in to my propensity to argue, caricature, polarize. I told him my story, a story which includes influential conversations with my former professor, a great Reformed theologian who taught at Gorden Conwell and RTS named Roger Nicole, lauded even among ardent complementarians (clink on the link). He saw that I studied the Bible, and that my journey was not guided by some “misguided feminist agenda,” as he called it, but by “thoughtful study.” He relaxed. And so did I. Polarization AVOIDED.
What if our family could move in this direction? What if we asked one another more about our stories than assuming some slippery slope, or some arrogant agenda? Let’s talk.
I can’t look you in the eyes.
My client said it to me. I could hear him crying, but he buried his face in his hands. He was drowning in shame from acting out, yet again.
And then he said something that stunned me. I know God hates me and can’t look at me.
He was a young seminary student. He’d been listening to some sermons from supposedly reliable guides. He’d told me what he had heard before – God can’t look at us in our sin. When he looks at us (and if we’re a Christian), he sees Jesus.
I asked him to look up at me. He couldn’t. I waited, and asked again after a bit. And finally he raised his head slowly, and looked. I suspect that in my eyes he saw love and felt safety. His eyes welled up more. At least you care, he says.
In some warped take on God’s love and human sin, he’s been told a lie. I heard it again recently by a popular preacher who barks with force at his congregation – Some of you need to know God hates you. He doesn’t just hate your sin. He hates you. I’ll spare you the guilt-and-shame-filled YouTube clip. And yet, thousands flock to it.
Like moths to a flame, many of us are simply irresistibly attracted to messages that either radically overstate our depravity or radically understate it. Preachers, if you want to make it, tell people what they want to hear. Two methods seem to work well.
1. Many want to hear they’re awful. Preach shame and guilt to them.
2. Many others want to hear they’re just fine. Don’t require anything of them.
Both are lies. Both minimize the extraordinary and challenging love of God in Jesus.
What I told this young seminary student is to get to know the Jesus of the Gospels, the one who looks the most repulsive in the eye and smiles. He loves and welcomes them, and then calls them to more. The extravagant Father in Luke 15 runs toward his prodigal son, bringing shame upon himself, in order to convey his extraordinary grace and love. You are my son. He gives him the ring, the robe, the feast. And then he expects him to live like a son.
Original goodness preceded the Fall. Before humankind fell, God smiled on them, bestowing dignity in his royal image. Listening to some of these preachers, you’d think God forgot what he created. But what Jesus sees in messed up human beings is what exists prior, that original dignity and glory. This originally good self is hidden now, but God promises to reveal it, to reveal you. As Frederick Buechner says, “The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all.” But because of Jesus, we’re washed, cleaned, restored.
God doesn’t hate you. He’s not repulsed by you.
When he looks at you, he’s not wincing.
And, He’s not looking at Jesus, instead, as if in some twisted form of divine logic God can never look upon his children again, but instead must gaze upon his Son as our righteousness.
No. You’re not disgusting. Don’t believe the twisted, repulsion theology that has more in common with Pharisaism than Jesus. God declares you not guilty. He adopts you. He loves you. Because of his relentless covenant faithfulness, you are loved, welcomed, enjoyed.
But don’t believe the opposite lie either…that God is just some positive-thinker in the sky. Don’t trivialize God’s love. Don’t use his forgiveness as an excuse to discard living a life of extraordinary love for others, compassion, sexual fidelity, humility, and more. God’s love is both welcoming and challenging. God smiles on you and invites you in, but he’ll not leave you unchanged. By his grace, you’ll be challenged radically, not by a Divine Guilt-and-Shame Manipulator, but by the Incarnate God who humiliated himself for you.
It’s because he knows you. He knows that original shimmering self that is you prior to the tragic cosmic Fall. The doctrine of original goodness desperately needs to be restored, not to let us off the hook, but to let us in to a life lived free from shame, freed for a cruciform life of self-sacrificial love.
As you celebrate the Incarnation in Christ’s birth, witness Christ’s smile. He didn’t come to remind you how bad you are, but how much you’re worth.
I’m thinking out loud right now about the kinds of security strategies we employ which actually represent ‘twisted’ ways of participating in the life of Christ in our world today. I’ve taught about this a bit in my Psychology in Relation to Theology seminary courses and wrote about it a bit in Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places. But I’d love your feedback and thoughts.
There were at least four established Jewish movements in Jesus’ day, according to most scholars – The Pharisees, The Essenes, The Sadducees, and the Zealots. Of course, like most movements today, each was complex. But generalizations can be made about the particular way in which each represented a security strategy for the Jews of that day. These are psychological strategies. Often, our theological strategies are masked in psychological ones, and I’m proposing that this was the case then as it is today. The Jewish people in the two centuries before Christ, after all, restlessly coped with multiple anxieties – the loss of a central place (Temple, land), an anxiety around Messiah’s return (manifesting in an array of apocalyptic and militaristic scenarios), conflict around accommodation to Empire (withdrawal vs. participation), and more. Perhaps, their theological positions were not merely developed in a vacuum. Maybe, they were attempting to cope with a very real disappointment with God and anxiety about their future? Let’s take a look:
The Pharisees – a complex group (with multiple camps within it) who were the Torah-zealots of their day, rigidly guarding the boundaries of Jewish orthodoxy. Their security strategy was a hyper-vigilant protectionism which provoked the ire of Jesus, who did not come to abolish Torah but to see it come to life.
The Essenes – A group of ancient ascetics who had given up on a Temple-centered Judaism, who lived by a strict code, and who imagined wildly apocalyptic scenarios for the coming of Messiah. Their security strategy was withdrawal and avoidance, a self-protective strategy to keep them from mingling with the sellouts, their Jewish brothers and sisters who mixed and mingled with Empire.
The Sadducees - In contrast to the Essenes, the Sadducees were accommodators, who rolled with the upper echelon of society. Though we don’t know a whole lot more than that, it appears that their security strategy was political in nature. Hanging with the influencers kept them from having to feel the incredible powerlessness many Jews of the day felt.
The Zealots - Anxious for the kingdom to come, Zealots would take up arms to speed its day. These warriors of God adopted a militaristic security strategy which bred a sense of power and control amidst extraordinary anxiety about the Jewish future. Even despite the radically cruciform way of Christ, Christians would take up arms for their cause for generations after.
Now, do these four movements correspond, in any way, to our contemporary evangelical security strategies? Do we see ourselves in them? Do we define Jesus through them?
Here are some initial thoughts with some initial descriptors. I welcome push back, as I’m developing some of these thoughts for further use down the road.
Modern-day Pharisees – Policemen for Jesus. Guardians of tradition. Hyper-vigilantly aware whenever someone appears to cross the line. Black and white. Noble in their passion for truth, but dangerously close to forfeiting intimacy with God in their fervor for rightness about God. A security that comes from certainty of doctrine rather than confidence in Jesus.
Modern-day Essenes – Monks for Jesus. Guardians of purity. Prone to see everything in this world as a distraction from real relationship with God. So noble in their heavenly-mindedness, yet prone to be of little earthly good. A security that comes from self-protection rather than bold and cruciform engagement in the life of Jesus.
Modern-day Sadducees - Salesman for Jesus. Players in the game of faith. Willing to accommodate in any way to advance the cause. Passionate in their desire to be “all things” but in danger of selling a hollow faith. A security that comes from being important, relevant, striving to become a power-player for Team Jesus instead of enjoying the freedom to have influence (…rather than need influence).
Modern-day Zealots - Warrior for Jesus. Ready to fight alongside General Jesus in the battle for truth and goodness over heresy and sinfulness. Aggressive in every endeavor. Passionate for a faith-in-action, but prone to run people (and especially women) over. A security in a dominant and forceful presence (in preaching/media/web/relationships/etc.) instead of resting in the cruciform, self-sacrificial, powerless way of Jesus.
Send me your thoughts. And, if you’re being honest, you’ll likely see yourself in one or more of these, as I do. The bigger question is how we go about doing the hard work of self-evaluation, as well as evaluating our churches, our denominations, our movements, and institutions.
How do I cope in one of these ways? How do I lead from this kind of posture? What anxieties/disappointments are really operating behind the scenes? What values have I adopted (and defended, as if from God) as a result, perhaps, of my own unconscious needs? What movement have I aligned with because it scratches this psychological itch?