Part of the problem that Christians are facing today is how we present the Bible to others. I have more to say about this next Monday, but I want to first point out what I think is the main problem. For the longest time, Christians, or at least Protestants, assumed what Luther called Sola Scriptura. That the Scriptures were the authority for us. We became known as people of the book.
One of the things that characterizes Post-modernism is a deep distrust for power or any absolute truth claims. At least that’s what the people who teach my classes say. But I’ve found that’s not always the case.
I have found that what they have distrust for is not meta-narratives or institutions but for those that have exploited, abused or excluded others. And while it’s true that the Bible has been used at points in our history to validate all these things, I think that the Christian gospel is uniquely capable of saying something to this.
Let me give you an example.
Remember before Paul was named Paul. He was actually named Saul. That’s always baffled me. Why would he change his name? Or really just one letter of his name? To the Hebrew a name was more than just a label, it was the essence of a person. That’s why if you want to know the emotional state of a woman in the Old Testament just look at what she names her kids. There are seriously kids who are named things which mean “I am depressed.”
Saul was no different. In naming their son Saul, his parents were plugging him to the story of Israel’s first king. A time when they were on top of the world, when they were well on their way of building a dynasty. David’s just around the corner, and they don’t even know what an exile is.
The name Saul was a symbol for Israel in their hay-day.
But then Saul goes to Damascus, meets the risen Jesus and everything gets turned around.
He becomes a Christian, and it says that Saul grew more and more powerful. But what kind of power is this? Because the very next part it says that some of the Jews tried to kill him, and so the other Christians lowered him down the city wall in a basket.
The great Saul of Tarsus, a prominent Rabbi, in good with the religious elite of the day is now a fugitive. He’s spent his entire life pressing up, climbing the religious ladder and now he’s headed the other direction. You wouldn’t think that this would be something you would want on your resume.
But you would be wrong.
Because one time, Paul is feeling backed into a corner by a church that he helped to plant. They heard that he’s not a super-apostle. He can’t fit into the spandex. He’s not that impressive of a speaker. And Paul goes off.
He just starts bragging on himself. But about all the wrong things. He says that if he is going to boast he’s going to boast about his weaknesses. And he does, he has an impressive pedigree of failures, persecutions and weakness. And to cap it all off he tells this story:
“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of
the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the
governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me.
But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.”
It was the moment where Paul realized that at the center of the gospel is a powerful weakness.
Do you know what Saul means in Hebrew? It means the one we asked for, like the King. But Paul means something else entirely, it’s Latin.
It means small.
It’s true that history is written by the winners, and meta-narratives and over-arching storylines can be used as power plays over others. But the Christian message holds up as the pinnacle of history a defeated Jewish carpenter. That’s our symbol of victory. It’s a different kind of power all-together. One that doesn’t Lord it’s authority over others, but finds the deepest power of all in serving them.
I’ve found that many people who have a problem with our claims of truth, don’t really get it because they haven’t really seen it. Looking at our history post-Constantine we have managed to turn an upside down message right-side up.
Recently I was on a plane flight and I asked my seat mate what he thought of when he thought of Christians. His immediate response was to place the movement of Jesus within a certain political ideology. And he wasn’t interested in being associated with that. But I wouldn’t want to follow that Jesus either. I have found that most people who have a problem with the God of Jesus, or the Scriptures don’t really have a problem with the Bible, but with how it has been used.
What I think the world is hungry for is a glimpse into a different kind of power of a different kind of God.
One that chooses mangers over thrones, and whose followers choose baskets over crowns.