Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jim Elliot's Journal

I have been reading through Jim Elliot's journal, and while The End of the Spear portrays him as a pretty silly figure, I have to say that even as a Junior in College, the guy was extremely observant in his reading of Scripture. Today's entry is a good example.

Commenting on Exodus 4 (when God gives Moses the three signs to prove to Egypt that He is with Moses), Elliot has this to say about the third sign-turning the water of the Nile into blood:

"The first two were demonstrable to the servant alone to himself as God witnessed to him in private, but the final proof must be done before men, without previewed experiment. This is significant for illustration. Take the world's own waters, dip from her own store of knowledge, and poor before the eyes of all the redemptive story latent in the smallest bit of truth. 'Using the world' for the advantage of God's cause, slaying Goliath with his own sword--this witness they will believe."

While any commentator worth his salt would probably consider this a serious "spiritualization" of the text, it is a pretty profound and perceptive analogy.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Disjointed Meditation on Roads, Maps, and Jesus

The other day I was driving down Thomas Dr., and the traffic light flicked yellow long before I would have a chance to skirt past, so I settled to a stop noticing the lone car on Laurie St.(CORRECTION: Laird St.-see Soulsurfer's comment) that had triggered the light. I thought of the Woodrums, who live down that road, and how they must stop at that light on a regular basis as it is one of only two routes to the outside world. At that moment I had an epiphany-one of those rare glimpses of clarity for which I can take no credit.

I thought about the purpose of roads: to provide a more efficient means of reaching one's destination. It occurred to me that we not only construct physical roads for physical destinations, but that we also create roads for every sphere of human existence to make destinations more easily accessible. We have roads to follow to gain citizenship, a new job, an education, a socially acceptable long term relationship, a political position, or even, in some cases, a religious affiliation.

In the Hebrew Bible, God even provided roads to redemption: specific sacrifices, covenants, locations, structures and a specific people. He instituted a law that was filled with regulations, each of which acted as a path to right relationship with God. He provided a map, Torah, to navigate through this dense collection of roads made up of Old Testament laws.

In the New Testament, the word translated "road" is often the Greek word hodos. My friend Chad Dorsey has led me to start thinking a lot about the New Testament's use of this word. While the disciples were called "Christians" (e. g., Acts 11:26), Paul and Luke only use this term hodos (translated "The Way" in this case) to refer to the belief system we now call "Christianity" (a word the Bible never uses). Most versions have the word "way" capitalized, insinuating that the translators realized that Paul and Luke were using the term in a definite sense.

So, biblically, there is a precedent for thinking of our belief system as a Road itself-but a road to where exactly?

In John 1:23, John the Baptist is said to be the one who will make straight the way of the Lord. John levels the road, so to speak, so Jesus (as we "Christians" believe) can walk through. Once Jesus arrives on the scene, the question is: where to next? What is the next road? Where does the "way of the Lord" lead next?

In John 14:5 the much-maligned Thomas asks Jesus this very question: "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how do we know the way?"

Jesus' answer in verse 6 has become one of those linchpin verses for the orthodox view that salvation is only available through Christ, and while I am one of those old-fashioned people who still hearken to such a notion, I believe that this interpretation does not go deep enough. Look at what Jesus says: "I am the Way, the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father, but through Me."

So the answer to our previous question-where does the "way of the Lord" lead next-has a very Sunday-school-appropriate answer: Jesus.

While the Old Testament provided an elaborate patchwork of roads that led to right relationship with God, the New Testament gives us one. Christianity is not supposed to be a belief system with a road map, but one single road with a guide. We are followers of "the Way." It was no accident that Jesus hand-picked twelve men to follow Him. Instead of instituting a professor-student relationship, He lived a rabbi-follower relationship.

Now, let me make clear: I went to a Christian college, and I learned so much there about my relationship with God. But Oswald Chambers makes the point that it is the good that sets itself up against the best, and the higher you get in the rank of natural virtues, the greater is the opposition to what is truly right.

The whole idea of the Reformation was to get the Scriptures back into people's hands, to make the priesthood of the believer a reality, to get the Church back to where the New Testament had it as being.

But the good always distracts us from the best, and Luther's partial reformation was hijacked after Luther's death when a new church with a new title was formed in his image: Lutheran. So instead of the Catholic road, Luther's followers built a new one. Now we have so many denominational roads there is no possible way to keep count. And while many want to insist that denominations are not bad, Paul still insists that they are not the biblical ideal (1 Cor. 3:4-7).

Again-may I make myself clear: I am not saying that the Church's extra-biblical developments are pagan evils that will lead us to hell, but I think they are man-made constructs that divert us from God's best.

Infrastructure is important when dealing with any large group of people, but I am beginning to wonder if the infrastructure we have accepted is at all what Christ intended. He was not intending for men to follow road maps, but to walk along HIS road, while being led by a knowledgeable guide (the Holy Spirit) and taking instruction from the Bible, which works more as a constant communique than a discernible road map.

Roads and maps are made out of man's desire to reach a destination in the quickest and safest way possible, but God puts no special premium on either in the Bible. He is not seeking a people who will organize a kingdom on this earth, institutionalize a belief system that will lead people to God, or make maps that will make it easier to find Him. He is seeking a people who will follow one road with one guide.

C. T. Studd, missionary to India, said it this way, “How little chance the Holy Ghost has nowadays. The churches and missionary societies have so bound him in red tape that they practically ask Him to sit in a corner while they do the work themselves.”

It is obvious that some structure is necessary, but what should it look like? I think there are more answers in the New Testament than we would like to admit, but that is for another post. This is merely asking the questions-
1. Have we constructed roads God did not intend for us to use (or to use to the degree we use them)?
2. Are we relying on our culturally-constructed maps to navigate through the Christian life more than our guide, the Holy Spirit?


Read the final entry- Required Viewing: Lake of Fire

Return to Destructive Interference Issue 1