Monday, August 21, 2006

In the way of Jesus

I have been thinking a lot about living in the way of Jesus lately. What does it mean to live IN THE WAY of Jesus? The church seems to be polarized by either having right belief (orthodoxy) or doing the right thing (orthopraxis). The conservative side of the church is the champion of guarding correct doctrine. The liberal side of the church is all about pursuing a life or justice as the epitome of faith. Are these polarizations necessary? To some extent aren’t these false dichotomies? Isn’t it a both and? Orthodoxy and orthopraxis are both spoken of in scripture and faithfulness to Jesus requires both. Just read the book of James and the book of Galatians. It is every where in the Bible, Jesus is full of grace and truth; he is fully divine and human; we are called to a life of faith and works; the kingdom of God is here but not yet. These are Biblical dialectical tensions. Tony Jones in a recent Emergent podcast cites Karl Barth who said that when Jesus died on the cross God simultaneously screamed a cosmic no at the death of his son and a cosmic yes at the defeat of evil. Tim Keel in the same podcast said it is what Dwight Friesen calls “orthoparadoxical”. Living in the way of Jesus places us in a life of tension where we are no longer control. In contrast, orthodoxy seeks to control faith by defining right doctrine and belief and orthopraxis also seeks to control by determining what right action is. But an orthoparadoxical view of living in the way of Jesus transcends this false dichotomy and calls us to live in the dialectical tension of both and.

What would it look like if the church pursued living in the right way instead of just doing the right thing or having the right beliefs? I have just finished reading How (not) to Speak of God, by Peter Rollins and he says that living in the right way is about believing in a loving, sacrificial and Christ like manner. Instead of arriving at the correct doctrine or doing the right thing we move forward in a way, or a manner of living, or an approach to Jesus others and the world that guides both belief and action. Living in the way of Jesus transcends these perceived binary opposites of faith and theology or belief and action? This is living into the tension of a way that involves right thinking and right living. But it happens on or in the way of following after Jesus.

Rollins says living in the way of Jesus “is an approach which emphasizes the priority of love; not as something which stands opposed to knowledge of God, or simply more important than knowledge of God, but more radically still, as knowledge of God. To love God is to know God precisely because God is love.” Not imply right thinking or action but living in the reight way. This sounds very similar to how Jesus summarized the law and the prophets. Love God and love neighbor. The way of Jesus? Hmmm…

I am still very much in process with these thoughts but feel like I am on the right way. I would cherish your feedback to sharpen and shape it with me.


dlweston said...

Good post, BJ.

I'm surprised by how conflicted I am over this topic. I agree with you that the ultimate goal would be for us to live in the right way, the way of Jesus. That is what we're called to our actions being in result of and in gratitude for the love of God.

But then my "liberal" side rears its ugly head. Orthodoxy is divisive. I can exclude anyone based no a "belief", whether or not I live out that belief or not. Orthopraxis is, for the most part, inclusive though we may not always agree on what the right practices are.

My primary conflict, right now, is the fact that there are times when jews, muslims, buddhists, agnostics, and atheists live more Christ-like lives than us - the right doing without the "right" belief. All of these are fully capable, through the grace of God, of loving their neighbors as themselves as we are capable through our own sinfulness.

To be honest, I'm getting to the point of wondering how useful our doctrine is for us. Reformed theology beats us over the head with essential tenets, but so much of our doctrine is set up in such a way as to say "if you don't believe this doctrine in this way you are an outsider/heretic". I haven't fully researched this, and I might now, but I think the synoptic tradition gives us a picture of Jesus that is more concerned with our practices than our beliefs. Matthew 25 is a good starter example.

I don't know. I'm interested to see where this conversation goes.

Brian said...

The beauty of the Christian faith in my mind is its dialectical nature. We have to accept that there are 66 books in the bible - and the church canonized all of them. So as you point out BJ we need to sit with Galatians and James side by side and live in that tension. We need to sit with the portrait of Jesus presented in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all side by side and wrestle with that. We need to wrestle with Paul and Peter, with 1 John and Revelation. With the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and the book of Joshua side by side.

That's precisely the beauty of Karl Barth's work - he avoids easy answers. His work on ethics emphasizes listening for the command of God in each moment and situation. Thus, Barth's ethics lays out parameters for how to think through issues, rather than give simple answers.

Ultimately living in the way of Jesus is about being a disciple and following. Rather than asking "Is God on Our Side" we ask if we're on God's side. We admit that belief is important but it's not the end of all things, but nor is doing the right thing the end of all things.

Two examples:
Jesus' disciples certainly did not understand who Jesus was when they started participating in his ministry. Peter gets a sharp rebuke, they are competing for spots at the dinner table, and they scatter when he dies. But this didn't prevent them from serving in Jesus' ministry.

Put this in tension with the story of Simon in Acts 8. Simon wanted to do the "right thing" - he wanted to be able to lay his hands on people so that they would receive the Holy Spirit just as Peter was doing. But, his belief was wrong. He believed that this could be purchased and well, he was wrong. All his good intent was for nothing since his belief was wrong.

Sometimes people have all the right intent but because of their beliefs they have to be excluded. As a youth worker I am excited about any person who wants to work with youth. But, if the person is going to teach a gospel other than that which was handed down I must not allow them to teach - because of their beliefs. Motive is important in action and motive has a lot to do with belief.

The key (in my view) to living in the way of Jesus is an orientation around the mission of God and taking the emphasis off of what we want to do and onto what God wants us to do.

What you describe BJ is exactly what I think the church should strive to do - but that's the hard part. It makes easy pat answers of right belief and right practice impossible to attain as we cannot be that confident of our own belief or practice. We must be self-critical.

What would Lesslie Newbigin say in this discussion?

bj woodworth said...

Thanks guys this is exactly what I hoped would happen. Anyone else want to chime in?

ty said...

I think being a disciple puts one in a dichotmy that is unresolvable by our own decision making and will or will power. We simultaneously seek to fully participate in, express to others, and rely on God's Love. We surrender, and become born again, then immediately we fall back to rule sets, doctrines, or orthopraxis methodology to accomplish that reliance and relationship. Part of it is a need to be accepted by the group, in our cases by the church, which needs to distinguish between those who do and those who don't believe. We choose doctrine as the measure, typically a logical progression of thought with God's redemption through Christ as the axiomatic core. Yet scripture rarely uses a precise systematic approach. The measure is "Love your God . . . and a second like it . . . " and "Love is . . ." and "You'll know them by their Love" and "The fruits of the Spirit are . . . " I guess the real difficulty we (I) face is that Love, agape Love, truly requires our own deaths, and re-births, which is harder than we think. Its not simply moving from one group's acceptance to another (church) group's acceptance. Simply looking to the disciples and their stories of consitant failures of Faith is evidence of the quandry we're in. The good news is, thats OK. We are forgiven for our consistant failures, and are given new opportunities to Love God, and our neighbors, every day. This is fully contrary to our nature, and is hard. I'd rather be distracted by doctrine and practice, because I can maintain some sense of control, and hence, not need to Love.

As silly as thias may sound, the smash country music hit "Jesus Take the Wheel" is a greater testimony to our faith than most of the theology I've read over the last several decades. A common language, not theologese. A message of reliance, faith and love, all in two minutes.