Last week I had the pleasure of attending Duke’s Covocation and Pastor’s School. It was a full docket of some pretty big names, NT Wright, Andy Crouch, and Rob Bell. When I saw the line up I knew I had to be there because I like Wright and love Bell. I am still trying to process my notes on the whole experience and people at my church have been asking what I learned, so I am going to try and post a summary and reflection of each speaker.
N.T. (Tom) Wright:
Wright started off asking a great question. “Why did Jesus live?” Now it caught me off guard because after being ordained I thought I had answered that question in my ordination papers. But as he continued I started to realize I did exactly what he was talking against. We seem to get caught up in the birth and death/resurrection of Jesus and we explain that the points in between. It is in the creeds “born of a Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate…” It is how much of Paul refereces the Gospel, birth-death-resurrection. But what do we do with the majority of the stuff in the gospels then?
Wright went on to explain that the church tends to think of the Gospels as teaching us four things…
- Jesus Christ told us how to get to heaven
- Jesus Christ told us how to behave and act, basically that he was a great moral teacher
- Shows he lead a perfect life and was sinless
- His life points to his divinity
But in reality the Gospels teach us something different…
- It is where the world’s history and Israel’s history come together
- They launch the church
- They tell us the story of Jesus as Israel’s God coming into the world
- They tell the story of the battle between the Empire and the Kingdom of God
Later on in the second lecture he went on to explain how the Gospel’s demonstrate “How God Became King.” With this he asked a very important question that we should be asking more in our congregations. “What would it look like if God ran this?” With the power plays, personal interests, and politics that can go on in a congregation we should take time to step back and ask “What would it look like if God ran this?” He went on to say that Israel thought God would come in and whip out all government. All the issues with the economy, taxes, oppression and all the rest. The Israelites were looking for an answer to their narrative and the gospels say “here it is.”
What the Gospels remind us is that God is reclaiming his kingdom, they give signs of renewal, and Jesus explains what he is doing. Wright then went on to explain his earlier metaphor that each gospel is like a speaker in a surround sound system. They all add something to the story being told and without one of them there seems to be something missing.
What does this mean for us pastors? Wright says the Gospels tell us what we are about. They give us our identity and purpose. We are to be Kingdom entrepreneurs and that the Lord’s prayer is something we are praying for here and now.
Wright’s lectures where good. They teased the mind and left me thinking about the questions he posed. How do I look at the meat of the gospels? In my early years as a Christian I would have said that the most important thing is Christmas and Easter. But now I see the huge importance, to still with the liturgical year, of Kingdom Tide. It is in these long weeks between the holiest of seasons that the work of God is done. It is then our lives are to mirror the Gospels by going out and healing the sick, feeding the hungry and taking care of the poor.
Why did Jesus live? What would Church look like if God ran it?