Tokens of Trust #1

Our Wednesday night men’s group is reading Tokens of Trust by Rowan Williams. I’ll be posting some thoughts on the book over the next few weeks. I highly recommend it.

Archbishop-of-Canterbury--007-1Rowan Williams is many things. Poet, pastor, playwright, Welshman, and, until recently, the leader of the third largest Christian Church on the planet. As Archbishop of Canterbury he served the Anglican Church worldwide in the midst of turmoil and division. While serving in that capacity, Williams was able to avoid the fragmentation of his church. Now retired, he is serving as the Chancellor of the University of South Wales.

Williams’ Tokens of Trust is a small, pastorally minded book. It is an introduction to Christian faith not unlike C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Writing seventy years after Lewis, Williams speaks to a new generation that is less likely to be convinced as the audience of C.S. Lewis. For the modern person Williams eloquently sets out what “Christians can expect each other to take for granted.”

In his first chapter, Rowan outlines the crisis of trust in today’s world. His vantage point in Great Britain doesn’t keep him from understanding life here in the States. Most of us are skeptics, distrusting other’s motives, and cynical about those institutions, like government and the church, that are supposed to exist for the common good.

The problem of belief in God, trust as Williams describes it, is clear. It is hard to trust in a benevolent and almighty creator when those who represent that creator have behaved so untrustworthily. In a world as our own why would anyone want to believe?

He meets this crisis of confidence with a description of a good God who creates humankind not out of need within himself but out of unselfish love. This is the traditional conception of God. Perfectly content as Father, Son and Spirit, God needs nothing. Therefore, whatever he does beyond himself is simply because of God’s desire to do so. Though we may doubt it from time to time, creation itself is a sign that God is good.

... this means that God can’t have a selfish agenda, because he (God) can’t want anything for himself except to be the way he is. So if the world exists because of his action, the only motivation for this that we can even begin to think of is sheer unselfish love. He wants to give what he is to what isn’t him; he wants difference to appear, he wants an Other to receive his joy and delight. He isn’t bored and in need of company. He isn’t frustrated and in need of help. (pg. 12)

This raises some important questions for people who believe in the God described in Scripture and  Christian history. Can we trust someone that doesn’t expect us to fulfill their own needs? What motivation does this kind of someone (in this case God) have? 

The best reading raises great questions. In the weeks to come I hope to see you raise some of your own.

Here’s one last quote for the road:

What the Bible puts before us is not a record of a God who is always triumphantly getting his way by doing miracles, but a God who gets his way by patiently struggling to make himself clear to human beings, to make his love real to them, especially when they seem not to want to know, or to want to avoid him, and retreat into their own fantasies about him. (16)


Hell and Rob Bell

I’ve almost completed reading Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins. It appears that the pre-release press effort for the book and its supposedly controversial material were successful. A buzz has been generated.

It is important that we read perspectives we disagree with along with those opinions that echo our own. For too long conservative Christians (I consider myself one) have resonated loudly, but not always charitably, with those with whom we agree without giving serious consideration to the voices of others. Disagree if you must. But, disagree with what Bell is saying.

I encourage you to read the book and consider what he proposes. At its basis I don’t believe what he has said so far is that new. I do not believe he is promoting universalism but a perspective on hell that looks a lot like C.S. Lewis’s take in The Great Divorce along with what the Orthodox church teaches regarding hell. Perhaps the most important point he makes is that heaven and hell are to be taken seriously on this plane of existence and not limited to experiences of the after life.

Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Seminary and a Calvinist theologian and philosopher, has a good but general, review on Bell’s book. You can find it here:  Richard Mouw on Rob Bell.

“What happens in the eucharist…” (communion for us Protestants)

“What happens in the Eucharist is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this future dimension is brought sharply into play. We break this bread to share in the body of Christ; we do it in remembrance of him; we become for a moment the disciples sitting around the table at the Last Supper. Yet if we stop there we’ve only said the half of it. To make any headway in understanding the Eucharist, we must see it as the arrival of God’s future in the present, not just the extension of God’s past (or of Jesus’s past) into our present. We do not simply remember a long-since dead Jesus; we celebrate the presence of the living Lord. And he lives, through the resurrection, precisely as the one who has gone on ahead into the new creation, the transformed new world, as the one who is himself its prototype. The Jesus who gives himself to us as food and drink is himself the beginning of God’s new world. At communion we are like the children of Israel in the wilderness, tasting fruit plucked from the promised land. It is the future coming to meet us in the present.” – N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope

Canticle of Thomas Merton

The following is a prayer of Thomas Merton that I consider one worth making my own. It comes from his book, Thoughts in Solitude.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Dallas Willard, Richard Rohr and St. Francis Walk Into A Bar

Recently I have been reading Dallas Willard’s book The Divine Conspiracy with some friends. It has been refreshing, challenging and a joy. Willard, in his discussion about how anger often sabotages the kingdom heart, reminded me of a great passage by the Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr. Enjoy… tell me what you think… wrestle with this.

“You can take it as a general rule that when you don’t transform your pain you will always transmit it. Zealots and contemporary liberals often have the right conclusion, but their tactics and motives are often filled with self, power, control and the same righteousness that they hate in conservatives. Basically, they want to do something to avoid holding the pain until it transforms them. Because of this too common pattern, I have come to mistrust almost all righteous indignation and moral outrage. In my experience, it is hardly ever from God.

‘Resurrected’ people prayerfully bear witness against injustice and evil—but also agree compassionately to hold thier own complicity in that same evil. It is not over there, it is here. It is our problem, not theirs.The Risen Christ, not accidentally, still carries the wounds in his hands and side.” – from Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety, pg. 23