Wednesday, October 29, 2008

to which Jesus are we (and should we) pray?

I'll probably blog on this at greater length down the road-- after I've read the following book that I just ordered. But for now, I heard an interesting interview this week with Steven J. Nichols on the Mars Hill Audio Journal about his new book, Jesus Made in America.

The interview starts with a reference in Nichols' book to the prayer scene in the theologically-inspired movie, Talladega Nights. I haven't seen it, but had heard about this moment in the film. (This is lived out among those who want various types of prayer at public events like commencement-- ranging from prayer to Jesus Christ vs. some lukewarm deity.)

In the interview, Nichols and interviewer Ken Myers build on an observation I've made from within the "independent" Christian churches. The good news: we avoid (bad or shallow) tradition. The bad news: we miss out on (good and deep) tradition. For example, we are less prone to pursue God with rituals that can become meaningless, but we are not well-rooted in the history and faith of those who have come before us-- whether theologically-rich creeds or amazingly-faithful heroes of the faith.

Nichols and Myers add two more factors from American history and one more consideration from Protestantism (particularly, its American thread).

First, American history is relatively short and so Americans are prone to historical rootlessness. I don't know if he covers this in the book. But I would add that the classic version of our history has been focused on the Revolutionary War and the Civil War (a revolution of another type). So, we have a history based on revolution-- an anti-history of sorts. And in recent times, the classic version of our history has been undermined by efforts at historical revision of the country's founding as well as a well-documented, generally-diminishing knowledge of history.

Second, democracy implicitly adds to this problem by promoting equality of various sorts-- including the tacit "understanding" that all views and opinions are created equal. So, our individual views of Jesus end up becoming unassailable-- or at least, difficult to assail.

Third, the Protestant emphasis on sola scriptura has often been misinterpreted (especially among Americans, given our individualism) to mean that I can go into a closet with my Bible and the Spirit and routinely come out with a pristine interpretation of the text. Reliance on others for assistance-- or at least a wide range of others (beyond, say, my pastor or a favorite teacher/author)-- is eschewed. Looking back into history for help is fruitless. Learning from the creeds is archaic. And so on. This was never the way it was meant to be. Scripture itself makes this clear-- as those who come later quote those who came before-- in a self-validating, internally-consistent manner.

Finally, I would add that this must be a natural tendency among humans. As many have observed, "God created us in His image-- and we have returned the favor". The biggest dichotomy is probably between those who emphasize God's mercy (or beyond that, His grace) and those who emphasize His Judgment. (See: Isaiah 40:10-11 and Malachi 4:1-2 for examples of the combo.) Another important set of categories: those who approach God largely on the basis of rules, rituals, hoping to receive His blessings, or relationship. Instead, we often worship God as we have put him into a preferred box-- in essence, some combination of idolatry and worship of ourself.


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