Friday, July 2, 2010

Living Mark

One of the salient features of the twenty-first century is that we are living in post-Christian times. Christianity seems to be losing its traction, coherence, and credibility. Many of our churches have become corporations run by the principles of good marketing skills and consumerism, where the founding stories of our faith are distorted beyond recognition and used as manipulative tools to maintain the status quo of profit for profit’s sake.

Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page in his book The Incredible Shrinking Church says that half of the thousands of SB churches will no longer exist in 2030, and his estimation probably holds true for many other denominations. Page cites several reasons for this demise including, lower birth rates, changing demographics, and cultures increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. And we might add an internal disintegration, where our love and unity have been replaced by judgment and separation, which in turn raises significant questions about the authenticity of our faith, or perhaps more extremely, why we should even bother to hold onto it at all.

While these reasons help explain our drift towards the post-Christian, I believe there is another key that contributes to the decline. We have not handled Scripture well. There has been a tendency to read the biblical text with a make it up as we go along methodology. The perversion of Scripture, to the degree that we can hardly recognize it as God’s word, has severe consequences when it comes to accurately reading culture, nature, the self, and the other.

To open the text of Scripture means to engage it more deeply, which will hopefully allow it to speak to us in fresh ways, and in so doing to direct us towards a recapturing of the credibility of the Christian faith, perhaps for ourselves, but also for a world that is in desperate need of the message of the gospel; the good news of the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus: truth, love, justice, and salvation for both rich and poor.

The Markan prologue opens with these interesting words – “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The narrator wants readers to know that something is now about to happen that hasn’t taken place before. This story of Jesus Christ, his identity, mission, and revelation will point us in that direction.

The aim here is to alert readers straight off that something new is going to take place. Neither Matthew, nor Luke is self-referred as ‘gospel.’ Consequently, the narrator here is likely to be embarking on a new literary adventure, which may nevertheless fit loosely into the context of Jesus/Greco-Roman biography. Yet, what is new? The genitive construction, ‘gospel of Jesus Christ’ immediately raises a query. Should readers take this to be suggesting that Jesus Christ is this gospel or a proclaimer of it? To set off the prologue, it seems likely that we have a touch of purposeful ambiguity that encourages readers not to choose – Jesus Christ is both the proclaimer of and the content of this gospel. We should not always assume that ambiguity in biblical stories is negative, as it may in fact enhance meaning, rather than detract from it. What is important to realize is this: planned ambiguity of this sort, when it occurs, will help readers to envision truths in light of both-and – Jesus Christ is both proclaimer and content of the gospel, rather than either one or the other.


Living Spiritual Rhythms For Today