05 June, 2010

Accepting The Challenge of Jesus

NT Wright, in The Challenge of Jesus, continues to turn my thinking about real life inside out. And he does it in the best way, by splattering my thinking about Jesus.

The first six chapters of the book are a studied attempt to show wrest Jesus from the shaky throne He holds in our minds. Wright doesn't capitalize "He" when using pronouns to reference our Lord, and that's true of the whole book. Wright de-capitalizes Jesus, and unearths an uncomfortably alien Man in the process. Jesus is not a Western man, and we all know that. Many authors fill in Jewish details about Jesus. Wright goes further. Jesus is also not a universal man . Jesus is wholly Jewish. He wouldn't have connected with Postmodern American folk any better than Peter or Paul.

Six chapters of unwrapping what it means to this American to follow a Man (for the record, it will be a while before I quit capitalizing pronouns referencing the divine Man) with limitations more than covers the price of admission for this book. Wright tied my mind in knots as I slowly unwrapped the implications of the kingdom of heaven being Jewish, the sacraments of Christianity being substantive, the crucifixion in light of zealot history, and so much more. Each layer Wright peeled away cleared my mind, and somehow buried all my mental housekeeping. The book left me with years of rebuilding to do.

I don't want to talk about those six chapters. I need to talk about them, but time doesn't permit me to do everything I need to do. I want to think out loud about the last two chapters.

Wright closes this book with a good old-fashioned challenge.

Wright takes a long, hard look at today's mental landscape and acknowledges the valuable contribution of Postmodernism to humanity. The words "valuable" and "postmodern" have never cohabitated in a single sentence of mine before. I'm so Modernist I still believe stories should have happy endings and villians should be punished. Wright looks at Postmodernism and finds the value in their rejection of all things certain. He finds accuracy in their depiction of the fall, in their assessment of its reach, in their ultimate hopelessness facing the world that really is.

Frankly, I'm as unhinged by the frank revelation of the foundational hopelessness of my children and their peers as I am by Wright's reconstruction of Jesus. To say I'm Modernist is to say I still hope "it can all be fixed." I foundationally assume anything wrong can be put to rights and we're all together in trying to find the best way to do it. My children know better. They know we're all screwed, and no one else really even gets anyone else's pain, much less is working together to fix everything. (I wanted to use another word than "screwed" back there, but there's no synonym. It means bad things were done to us that left us crippled, but it doesn't quite mean we're doomed. And crippled is an antiseptic word, where my children mean a very, very septic act has been done to everyone.)

Wright says Postmodernists have forsaken all metanarrative, and after I unwrap for myself what that means, I see he's right. My children don't believe there's a big puppetmaster in the sky making sure it all turns out for the best, but I do. My parents did and all my peers still do. Christian or not, us Modernists believe there's a happy ending out there waiting for us to get to it. My children don't believe. They know. They know divorce happens to everyone and "winning" the Cold War births a War on Terror, and if we win that war we'll need to kill someone else until someone finally kills us. My children know that if there's a puppetmaster out there, he's a .... Well, I won't use the words they'd use, but they don't like him very much.

Wright doesn't challenge these Postmodernists. He challenges me. He tells me to embrace their accurate understanding of the fall. I weep as I type this, because I don't want to live in their world. I don't wish them to have to live in their world, but I certainly don't want to join them there. I don't want to release the metanarratives that've comforted me through these two generations, and certainly not so I can wrap their cold, accurate, crushing view of reality around my terrified heart each night as I go to sleep.

Wright's right. I must.

Before I'm done thinking out loud, I hope to have thought through one of his challenges. Wright applies his sweaty Jesus to the Postmodern mindframe, and it works. The Modernist Jesus Who's simultaneously puppet, master, and bliss-filled guru spoke to us who never really grappled with the horrors of real life. It takes the real Jesus to wrestle real life to the ground and take victory over it (a Modernist reinterpretation of Postmodernism if ever there were one.) The money paragraph for me is where Wright directly applies his sweaty Jesus to guys like me who program computers for a living.

I intend, over the next few posts, to work my way through to a real way of programming within the context of the real kingdom of the real God. I have no idea where this is going, but it sounds like a helpful metanarrative. :-)


Lynne said...

Wow! I know I'm gonna have to read this one -- it sounds so truthful, and that's what I love. But sometimes sheer emotional laziness give the metanarrative appeal. But it never works, and I've never been able to sit there very comfortably

Kansas Bob said...

Good thoughts Kevin. Look forward to reading more about this sweaty Jesus.

salguod said...

Wow, I think I'd like this book. As I was reading this and realizing that I'm not as modern as I may have thought. I can relate a bit to the hard cold reality of the despair of life, yet I feel that I can hope in a God who will ultimately set things to rights. Maybe I'm a not-quite-postmodernist. :-/