1958: “Christianity in China has been confined to museums. It is dead and buried.” (Mao’s wife)
2017: 70,000,000+ Christians in China
(HT: Matt Smethurst)
My subject line sounds ridiculous, but one sentence is full of so many implications I felt comfortable putting it down. I have never read anything quite like it in my thirty plus years of reading theology books. The sentence comes from the author’s doctoral supervisor, Donald MacKinnon: “He speculated what Christian theology would been have like if in its formative centuries it had paid more attention to the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides than to the philosophies of the Stoics, Plato, and Aristotle.” Chew on that for a few moments.
Fortunately, David Ford’s book, The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit, is full of many arresting insights that you still ought to consider reading the entire book.
Ford has two conversation partners in this book: the Gospel of John and the poetry of his dear friend, Micheal O’Siadhail. It is a lively exchange throughout this marvelous work.
I should say up front that my high praise for this book does not mean I agree with everything Ford writes. When it comes to working out a distinctly Christian theology, Ford strikes me as too deferential to other religious traditions. Granted, we can learn much from those with whom we disagree, something that Ford has modeled himself. However, the scandal of the cross gets lost amid Ford’s irenic and inclusive approach. Nevertheless, there remains much to gain from a discerning read of The Drama of Living.
Ford models what he talks about with respect to lingering over important texts. Words should not be consumed (here Ford quotes Paul Griffiths), but we should “savor the words on the page…return to them ever and again.” It is akin to the point C.S. Lewis made in saying we have not read a book until we’ve reread it. Spurgeon reading Bunyan’s A Pilgrim’s Progress a hundred times is a good example. Ford’s book is written in such a way that I found myself wanting to slow down from my usual pace. Having O’Siadhail’s poetry peppered throughout was a constant reminder that The Drama of Living is unwise to speed-read.
Though Ford is a well-respected Cambridge professor, his interaction firsthand with the suffering gives him an added credibility. Ford does not escape from wrestling with this thorniest issue of all. Indeed, David Ford and his wife have been closely involved with the L’Arche community for several years. The Fords love and care for the “least of these” is beautiful and adds a deeper layer to this terrific book.
Another dimension to suffering is wonderfully laid out: that of aging and our eventual dying. Here he shares poignantly about his own father-in-law who happened to be a well-known theologian himself. Ford also shares insights from the death of Micheal O’Siadhail’s wife to Parkinsons. The insights on the power of love in these sections are truly breathtaking.
Even though I find Ford exaggerating the multiple layers of meaning in John’s Gospel due to his underscoring its “dramatic” presentation, and even though I think Ford underestimates the scandal of the cross, reading his book was indeed time well spent.
My latest interview on how Tolkien and Lewis processed being in the thick of WWI:
Officiating wedding for older son’s best friend, Tyler. David was best man. Special time!
Let’s get one thing quickly out of the way. I believe homosexuality is contrary to God’s design. I also believe marriage is between one man and one woman.
The legalization of homosexual marriage to some degree makes me feel like Marshall McLuhan who went to movies not to watch the movie, but to observe how other people watch movies.
Some good things have been said by Christian leaders. Unfortunately, there are too many other Christians depressed over what all this portends for America. This declinist narrative focuses like a laser beam on how the sin of homosexuality is to blame for a myriad of societal ills.
My concern may be best stated by using an illustration. Imagine that you want to start a landscape company. You eagerly knock on your neighbors’ doors and announce the new venture. The responses you receive range from amusement (“you can’t be serious”) to outright anger. Why? The answer is simple. Your yard is terribly overgrown and quite the eye sore. You’ve received regular warnings from the Homeowner’s Association.
I’m not a cynic about the church, even here in America. It is God’s primary means of accomplishing His will. Some of the best people I know go to church on a regular basis. And that includes some pastors!
However, I do have grave concerns about our laser-like focus over the horrors of legalizing homosexual marriage. Yes, we need to say something, but I’m afraid our quickly cutting to the chase on this issue leaves many important things unsaid.
My suggestion would go more along these lines:
We believe homosexuality is a sin. We also believe that gluttony, gossip, adultery, sex outside of marriage, racism, unscrupulous business practices, the love of money, divorce, and a whole host of other things are sin. Unfortunately, we have not done a very good job in communicating a comprehensive view of sin. We have been selective. Too many times we have been motivated by fear. We have avoided addressing certain sins for fear our giving at church will plummet. Too many of us have come across as both hating the sin of homosexuality and the homosexual. We could go on with other specifics, but hopefully you get the point. Our selective outrage has made us not act like Jesus. We have been rather poor at modeling the “grace and truth” approach of Jesus.
In our quest to proclaim the righteousness standards of God, I’m afraid our selective outrage presents a gospel which is no longer the gospel. Consider another illustration. Picture that you are driving a car. In the passenger seat is a non-Christian. You tune into your favorite radio station. The problem is that you are not fully tuned in. You are so accustomed to the static that you fail to hear it. You turn to your non-Christian friend and expectantly ask what he thinks about the “amazing” music. Surprisingly to you, he is not impressed. You are baffled by his lackluster response but your habitual listening to music cum static has dulled your ears.
I’m afraid many Christians in America love listening to music cum static and therefore think it worth telling others about. Our penchant for focusing on some sins and not others (especially those which are common in the church) has made us tone deaf to what we believe are courageous and prophetic pronouncements, but could more accurately be labelled Pharisaical.
During my years of doing radio interviews, I had the chance to interview Cal Thomas. Thomas was one of the major leaders in the Moral Majority. I was interviewing Thomas on a book he co-authored with fellow Moral Majority leader, Ed Dobson. The title gives away the thrust of what the authors were trying to address: Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America. It was a courageous and candid confession of zeal gone awry. Among other things, the Moral Majority would purposely give prominence to certain social issues knowing these would increase their financial giving.
I’ve been reading through various statements on the recent ruling about homosexual marriage by the Supreme Court. In the pages of Christianity Today Mark Galli reflects the tone that should be more widespread in the Christian church:
Another temptation now is to point the finger at the forces—political, social, philosophical, spiritual—arrayed against the church and its moral teaching. Without denying the reality of “principalities and powers” (Eph. 6:12), we do well to ponder this: What actions and attitudes have we imbibed that contribute to our culture’s dismissing our ethics? Our homophobia has revealed our fear and prejudice. Biblical inconsistency—our passion to root out sexual sins while relatively indifferent to racism, gluttony, and other sins—opens us to the charge of hypocrisy. Before we spend too much more time trying to straighten out the American neighborhood, we might get our own house in order. Blessed are the poor in spirit who mourn their sins (Matt. 5:3-4). (Emphasis added)
In the same vein, my dear friend, Pastor Jeff Teague, likes to expose how much we Christians tend to be insensitive to our own sin. Utilizing his considerable acting abilities, Jeff asks with faux disdain, “Why is it that Jesus only hung around sinners?” Many bite and respond with something like, “Yeah, that’s right. He did hang around with a lot of unsavory types.” By their response, many reveal that they feel different and therefore distant from the sinners Jesus regularly spent time with. Then Jeff answers his own question, “Because sinners are the only people who exist!”
So yes, be ready to share about God’s design for marriage, but realize your answer may cloud more than clarify if it does not come with some honest comments about the sins which many times find safe harbor in the church.
A sound bite culture is hardly equipped to ferret out truth from error, especially when it comes to complex issues with a long history.
Lord have mercy! By your grace may we all be willing to do the hard and difficult work of addressing our country’s most vexing issues.