Okay, you’re probably pretty tired of N.T. Wright quotes. But I love his ability to articulate concepts that seem to lie on the very edge of our language. The following quote probably isn’t extremely profound, but it reminded me of our discussion on Thursday night. Speaking on the Bible’s role in the Christian life, Wright says:
“It [Scripture] is there to equip God’s people to carry forward his purposes of new covenant and new creation. It is there to enable people to work for justice, to sustain their spirituality as they do so, to create and enhance relationships at every level, and to produce that new creation which will have about it something of the beauty of God himself. The Bible isn’t like an accurate description of how a car is made. It’s more like the mechanic who helps you fix it, the garage attendant who refuels it, and the guide who tells you how to get where you’re going. And where you’re going is to make God’s new creation happen in this world, not simply find your own way unscathed through the old creation.”
(N.T. Wright, Simply Christian)
I think one of the banes of modern western Christianity is the over-emphasis on our “personal relationship” with God. Don’t misunderstand me. I think that our relationship with God is foundational to everything else that God wants to accomplish. I think it was Dallas Willard who said that the forgiveness of sins is the doorway to the gospel, not the gospel itself. Whether he said that or not, the underlying point is valid. The ultimate goal or focus of the gospel is not me.
There’s a popular worship song that illustrates this point and drives me crazy. Here’s the chorus:
“Crucified, laid behind a stone
You lived to die, rejected and alone
Like a rose trampled on the ground
You took the fall and thought of me
I’m sorry, but I really don’t think that Jesus’ greatest thought while dying on the cross was me. (Nor do I think he lived to, but that’s for another blog.) I think Jesus’ imagination was filled with thoughts of his Father’s glory and the new creation he was inaugurating.
It is so easy to approach all aspects of our Christianity with this hyper-egocentric perspective. The good news is that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah and therefore Lord and Savior of the world. The world. The cosmos. Not just me. The personal application of this good news is that I can bring my life into his. This begins a personal relationship, but the end goal is that I now participate in making the new creation happen by learning from him how to be like him, by being an active member of his redemptive community, and then by implementing his new creation in my unique aspects of the world as I’m empowered by his Spirit.
All the seemingly personal promises of Scripture must be read from this larger kingdom perspective. The mission of making the new creation happen in an otherwise hostile and violent world is a dangerous one. One that did not allow Jesus to live unscathed, nor his people. So promises, as we read in Psalm 121, are beautiful word pictures of God’s faithfulness and presence. But they are lyrics to a song sung by God’s pilgrim people expressing only one aspect of a larger reality, not blanket promise of an unharmed stress-free life. We have to remember that Jesus quoted a very different, but equally valid Psalm on the cross, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me.”
But both Psalm 121 and Psalm 22 are both beautiful songs expressing essential aspects of our life in God as we help the new creation birth around us.