Some days I have moments of clarity. Unfortunately they are few and far between. Since I became a regular part of the congregations here in the outskirts of Leeds I have been trying to explain the complexity of Christian ethics. We live in a world that is quite different to the ancient world. The ethical dilemmas we face today are undoubtedly inconcievable to the gospel writers. And what would Moses make of the internet? What would he say about my sitting here and typing this? The question in itself makes my mind boggle as I contemplate my own inability to make sense of the implications of immediate communication and instant gratification in a world where our friends become status updates. Let alone contemplate something like the production of electricity by splitting atoms.
As Christians we are often led to believe that there are two options open to us. Certainly, the common caricatures we are presented with are such. One option is that the world is a cut and dried black and white place and that the bible will give us clear answers to all our questions. ‘What would Jesus do? Let’s have a look in the instruction manual’. The other is to assert that much of our heritage is outdated and outmoded and must be jettisoned as we forge our own way.
And this is where I have found myself for the last year struggling to articulate that there is something much more radical at the heart of our scriptures. As Steve Chalke said earlier in the year at Spring Harvest, neither of these positions take the scriptures seriously. How does our story connect with God’s story?
And then I clicked on a link to Jonathan Brink’s Blog entitled “Why would Jesus do what he would do?”. He has crystallised this into two very thought provoking paragraphs.
…story really matters. At the heart of our action is a story that informs that action. To take up our cross is an act. But to know why we take up our cross is a story. The opposite is true. If we don’t know why we should take up the cross, we’re not likely to do so.The brilliance of this question is the understanding that story informs our actions at the subconscious level. Our bodies learn a story about why and then agree to that story. This contract creates the basis for action at the subconscious level so we don’t have to continually think about it all the time. We can act from an informed position at a very fast pace.
It is through connecting our stories with God’s story that we can understand what His character is like. When we understand the more fundamental aspects of God’s character and discover more of what he shared with us as he walk the earth, the more we will be able to act in that manner.
Janathan’s thoughts are based upon a quotation from a book by Willard. Check it out via Jonathan’s blog.
8 thoughts on “Why Would Jesus Do What He Would Do?”
Robb, glad you jumped in on the conversation. How would you say this would affect what you do?
I guess I have been trying to articulate how living life as a Christian is more than a black and white set of rules to follow. Without seeing how Jesus lived his life and understanding the deeper reasons behind it we won’t ever start to live lives that reflect that.
An example would be Sunday where I was asked to preach on Luke 16:1-13. In itself it doesn’t make much sense. As part of Jesus whole life we see a part of his story that starts at the beginning of chapter 15 with a cast of different characters having a discussion. ‘The sinners’ have been developing as a group since the dawn of time and the religious authorities have been building up over the years leading up to Jesus.
If we connect merely with 16:1-13 in isolation with a black and white mentality whilst missing the point of the undergirding metanarrative and the principles within which the incarnate God interacts with this world in the person of Jesus, it is good to rip people off to win friends in this world. If we take it with the three proceeding parables in the context of Luke’s window into Christ with “the sinners” and the Pharisees and scribes, we find a condemnatory parable about a religious institution that builds up it’s own wealth at the spiritual expense of the poor and needy. All of which is done in the context of Jesus explaining that God will leave the flock behind to find the lost sheep….
I found your brief comments twanged the rubber band inside my head that has been trying to say “but is Jesus like that?” or “is that who God is?” rather than “well if we take kings X:Y-Z it clearly states that….”
What is God’s story? How does my story connect with His?
This is a good discussion Robb. I’m going to point out a few things that you probably already know, but are worth connecting with the discussion here.
1) I finally worked out what it was that really bugged me about the WWJD thing (over and above the cheesiness and commercialism, that is): The tense is all wrong – If this thing is really true, surely it should be What Does Jesus Do?, or at least What Does Jesus want me to do? This is exactly the kind of question you are asking at the end of your comment there.
2) For a discussion of the “implications of immediate communication and instant gratification in a world where our friends become status updates” see Kester Brewin‘s new book, Other, which i am half way through and is well worth a punt if you like that sort of thing (which i do).
3) This idea of story ties in with a lot of what Don Miller has done in his books, looking at our lives as stories and understanding that the creativity of a creator God is in many ways similar to the creativity of a stupendously good author. This presents us with loads of challenging and intriguing questions – what is my character’s place in this story? what is my character’s motivation? what does my character want in this story? what needs to change about my character to make this a good/interesting story (and, therefore, a good/interesting life)?
4) When i understand my story as part of an unbroken, ongoing narrative that contains the whole of the story of relationship between God and people recorded in the Bible and in many other writings too down through the ages, it changes my understanding of the Bible, and of me, and of God, and of the relationships betwixt all of the above.
5) The comment in Mr Brink’s original post about the link between actions and story resonated. It reminds me of the link Jesus makes between disciples and fruit. Usually we view this as: Q – how do i know if i really believe in Jesus, A – look at the impact your life is having on those around you. Conclusion – oh shit, i’m a total failure.
Mr Brink’s post made me think perhaps we should look at it the other way around, which is much more liberating: Q – how can i make better choices/live a better and more interesting life/be more beneficial to those around me [ie fruit] A – Seek to have a relationship with Jesus, and seek to have a relationship with people who are well in love with him and know him well (this can go all the way back if you like – a whole chain of disciples stretching from you right back to the walking-around-Jesus-with-skin-on. My story in the context of the great ongoing story.) [discipleship].
Which brings me neatly onto:
6) Conclusion – Its all about relationship, stupid. The tendency in me to construct a worldview based on prooftexts instead of on relationship in the context of a continuing story, is the same tendancy that caused early Jewish Christians to insist that new believers be circumsised, is the same tendancy that caused the Pharisees to tithe herbs, is the same tendancy that leaves the elder prodigal son outside of the party, is the tendency to act out of duty – or in the worst case, a slavery to a perceived reward/punishment system – rather than out of loving relationship. So actions, choices and pronouncements should always flow out of the context of relationship with Jesus.
Jus like that, as Tommy Cooper would say. Now i need to go make some of that work in practice…
sorry Robb – faulty html – will try again
Ha ha – I’d already fixed it by the time you reposted it =D
I will now spend some time responding with words other than “wow – that’s good” 😉
1) I have always found it to be a little trite. As though asking the question WWJD is more important than responding to it. It is something I have seen people asking without first asking the question “Who is Jesus”?
I always liked Timbo‘s response:
He probably wouldn’t make a multi-million dollar industry out of selling bracelets.
2) I will definitely give it a go.
3) I haven’t read that particular book. However, this was something we looked at on my MA. I guess that may be one of the reasons that Jonathan’s blog inspired me. I don’t see many people in my daily life talking about or engaging with the narrative culture in which we live. Most people I encounter want one of the two quick fixes because they don’t have time to live out a journey. I guess this plays into #2. Or #2 plays into this. Depends on how you look at it.
How many people have given up on blogging and gone to twitter because 140 characters is enough.
I bet most people haven’t bothered to read this far down this comment!
4) Indeed. Very insightful.
Once we start to think in these terms, we all become part of the same story.
5) Excellent point. I think what I was trying to get to in this blog was that some want to use the text as a get out clause allowing the rest of the Christian life pass by. The relational aspect. The relationship between ‘self and God’ and ‘self and other’.
One of the things that is coming out in Jonathan’s blog is the need to constantly write your story each day. I wanted to emphasize the daily discipline of prayer, study and relationship that develops that yearning for the heart of God.
Good to hear from you. Next time I’m up your way we should go for a pint again!
1) Classic Timbo =]
5) Yeah, daily discipline and genuine relationship is where i start to struggle =[
6) That is an excellent plan, and very relational to boot! It would be an immense pleasure. Would love to catch one of yr gigs sometime, too. Please keep inviting me – i’ll get round to travelling down one of these days.
Dude – we all struggle with 5!
And I look forward to seeing you at one of our gigs man 😉