My Father used to say, “First you get saved, and then you spend the rest of your life working out what happened to you.” This is somewhat of an unavoidable truth. For a blind person to receive sight is not really fully explainable in anyway without resorting to the phrase “the power of God”. But to explain how a human being could be radically and fundamentally changed forever, at every level, requires endless analysis and discovery. Yet, understanding what happened on the first Easter morning is not first and foremost about understanding “what happened to me” but about understanding what happened to Jesus and what it means for the entire cosmos. Within that larger story, we find our own, smaller (though not to us!), personal stories. In my last blog, I made the point that understanding theology is not necessary for becoming a Christian. It is not intellectual understanding that changes people. Nor does adopting a new set of principles or a system of salvation. It is experience of the reality of the resurrected Jesus that changes people. Another way to say this is that it is faith in the risen Messiah that changes people. The Holy Spirit coming to dwell inside individuals is not a theory but a reality. That being said, in this blog, I would like to argue for the necessity of theology as we continue to follow Christ. Experiences change people but without the right education to inform the experience, we can become very misguided. I remember speaking with someone who was practicing lesbianism. We had attended the same youth group when we were teenagers and now, despite her lifestyle, she was insisting that she “has a great relationship with Jesus”. I don’t know what this young woman considered “a great relationship”, but I could not claim to have a great relationship with the Jesus that I know if I had been a practicing adulterer, liar, or homosexual. Why she believed she could have a great relationship with Jesus and still practice Lesbianism, I don’t know. Which one of us knows the real Jesus? We need more information. I have heard of a Chinese Christian denomination that was started when an Atheist Chinese man fell into a dry well and got stuck head first in hole. This man cried out to God saying, “If You are real and You get me out of this, I will serve you all my life!” Well, the man was rescued and kept his word. The only problem was the scarcity of Bibles in Communist China. All that this particular man had of any Bible was a page from the book of Acts. Therefore, based on his experience, he taught all of his people whom he had won to Christ that the only right way to pray was while standing on your head. He needed more information.
There are many different Christians who have particular pet doctrines that stereo-typically define them. Some Christians believe that the world is coming to an end, and very soon! Some Christians believe that the Biblical practice of “speaking in tongues” should be forbidden. Some Christians believe that you are not a Christian if you don’t speak in tongues. Some Christians are non-resistant and will not participate in government of any kind. Some Christians of been the Commander and Chiefs of our US Military. How does one sort through all this confusion to find the real Jesus? I think that there is more than one answer to this.
1. We need humility. We need to recognize that all of us are on a journey that began at different, albeit sometimes similar points. Everyone has an experience that scars or inspires, but all of us are sinners who react, overreact, and experience deep insecurity. Babies aren’t born mature as mature adults and neither are Christians. We must patiently and humbly grow, as we learn to embrace the Jesus who really lived, really died, and really rose again. 2. We need the Bible. There is much confusion in the Church because most Western Christians do not have a very deep comprehension or familiarity with the scriptures. Many people have a knowledge of doctrine without reading the scriptures and that can be a worse scenario than knowing nothing at all because it leads people to read the Bible only in order to find “proof texts” for positions that they already hold. We need to read the Bible a lot and allow it to speak for itself by reading large portions at a time whenever possible. The Bible has its’ own message that is often drowned out by too much commentary. 3. We need the Jesus of history. More than the Jesus of traditional teaching, we need to study history in order to root our understanding of Jesus’ historical context accurately. Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again at a particular time in world history. The Apostle’s creed says that it was during the reign of Pontus Pilate that Jesus suffered, and the apostle Paul said that “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent His son, born of a woman, born under the law…” (Galatians 4:4) A major part of what defines all human beings and what gives their life’s work meaning or value is effected by the historical “when” of their life’s work. If George Washington crossed the Delaware on a lazy sunny afternoon in 1773, nobody would have made a painting of it, or if they did, nobody would care. Accomplishments of significance are deeply rooted in history. Within history, Jesus lived, died, and rose again. If there was not a historical event of resurrection, then there would be nobody meeting Jesus today…because He would still be dead. But what did the resurrection mean within the historical context in which it is purported to have happened? That is a key question when it comes to determining what it means to follow Jesus. There is more to be said about the importance of grounding our experience in sound theology and doctrine, but I believe that I have said enough for now to make the point. Following Jesus requires a continual revelation of the knowledge of Him. It’s a journey of learning to know the truth and letting the truth set you free. And knowing Him is loving Him and being loved by Him. And that too, is an experience. So, finally, what we need is consistent, experiential, living truth. We need Jesus, the One who is really alive from the dead.