Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: faithfulness

The Case for Idealism

He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade like your father did. It’s your father’s lightsaber. – Obi-Wan Kenobi

No one could ever really disagree with the ultimate goodness of the wildly idealistic advice of Jesus and the idealistic way the first Jesus-followers ordered their lives. Here you have a teacher who claims it’s best to allow slap you twice, give aid and comfort to your enemies and to give more than you’re forced to give. Here’s a group of people who sold everything that was superfluous and shared it with one another and with the poor. Here’s a philosophy of life built on that wildly idealistic and, most would say, unrealistic charge: Do as you would be done by.

Idealistic. Unreasonable. Too high.

Because if I am slapped and I allow my attacker to slap me again, I’ll get hurt. If I don’t resist my enemies, they will cause more suffering. If I give aid and comfort to the opposition, I am a traitor. If I sell all I have and share it with like-minded Jesus-followers, I won’t be able to enjoy God’s material blessings. If I do unto others as I would be done by, I won’t have much time left for myself.

And so we feel like we have no choice but to pull back from the ideals laid out by Jesus and the first Jesus-followers. Because they’re unreasonable. Because they hurt. Because, while they look good on paper and make a great pie-in-the-sky ethic, they just don’t work in the real world.

And there is the tragedy. Because there is only one reason that the high ideals of Jesus don’t work in the real world: The world isn’t living by them.

And there is only one reason why the world isn’t living by them: The world does not follow Jesus.

And there is only one reason why the world does not follow Jesus: They do not value his Way as the best way.

And there is only one reason why they do not value his Way as the best way: Those who claim to follow him are not living out the wild, pie-in-the-sky ideals Jesus laid out, which would show to the world how glorious and wonderful and happy and freeing and energizing it is to be a part of the Jesus Movement.

And there is only one reason why those who claim to follow Jesus are not living out his wild ideals: They think they don’t work in the real world.

And we come to the end of a sad and pathetic circle. And we sit in our churches and bemoan the ethical state of our culture and cannot understand why people do not come to seek our Jesus. And we rarely stop and think, ‘Why would they seek a philosophy not unlike every other philosophy they are offered?’

I suggest that if we threw caution into the wind and lived in the manner expounded by Jesus and displayed by the first Jesus-followers, the moral decline of the planet would cease as everyone slowly came to see the beauty of the Jesus-life. It would be hard for the first who tried. But nothing good is ever easy, is it?

Full Plate and No Appetite

What’s going on? What’s important? What’s shaking? What do I have a deep and motivating opinion on?

Lots, of course! I got opinions out the wa-zoo (what a wa-zoo is and why my opinions are coming out of it, however, I fear I’ll never know).

I got an opinion on the recent series the Gospel Coalition did on “How Do We Work for Justice and Not Undermine Evangelism?” (Opinion: stupid question!)

I got an opinion on this neat little quote that precedes chapter 14 of Carl Sagan’s Contact. (“Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect…”)

I got an opinion on large, expensive church buildings and projects. (Feed dying people instead!)

I got an opinion on the style of preachers on WDCX. (“You need to follow Jesus more fully, buy these resources from us and we’ll tell you how!” Capitalism at it’s finest!)

I got an opinion of the popularity of shallow books like the Twilight series and anything written by Dan Brown. (Seriously, how did those get famous?)

I got an opinion on the way we use our magical technology. (The awesome powers of the cosmos at our fingertips so we can watch silly videos and share pictures with friends who will never look at them.)

I got an opinion on western employment habits. (40 hours is unnatural. Let’s give up some luxuries [like the 8-billion-dollar phone you only use to look at silly videos and share photos with friends who will never look at them] and spend more of our time being happy.)

I got an opinion on video games and movies. (The Horde always looks better than the Alliance and Star Wars is nothing like Star Trek.)

You want opinions? I got them. I got thousands of words worth of opinions. Nay, I say thousands of posts worth. You could spend half your life listening to my opinions (though I wouldn’t recommend it).

But I came to a stunning realization. Blogs and news and sermons are all, in the end, made of nothing but opinions. And yet we call it all content. As if it were something. As if it did something. Maybe it used to do something, back where there were a few, well-informed voices (though I have no idea when that was). But today I have so many opinions thrown at me I find I only have time to formulate my own opinions about those opinions and throw them back. And then I’m tired and go to bed.

That’s the problem with all my precious abstract conversations. Since they exist in the abstract, they don’t truly exist. Because it is only my faithfulness that is the substance of the things I hope for. It’s my faithfulness that proves what cannot be seen. And my faithfulness is nothing more or less than the logical outworking of what I’ve signed up for.

So my opinions about how churches spend their money is about a useless as my preference for the Horde over the Alliance, because while it remains inert and in my mind alone, it does not exist. Our opinions are a plate of food before us. And I fear we have forgotten how to eat.

Statement of Faith[fulness]

I was a bit of a punk in Bible college. If you knew me well during that time you’d probably agree. I was high on theology, I think. My drug of choice was Calvinism mixed with a bias against anything popular. Not so good, looking back.

Whenever I was introduced to a new ministry or organization I would look it up in order to decide whether I liked it or not. How would I make that choice? Was it by looking at what they did? Was it by finding out how they had made a difference in the world? No, of course not. It was by checking out their statement of faith. The closer it was to what I had already decided was true (I had all of theology figured out back then) the better I liked it.

I look back at all that and I realize I was looking at the wrong things. I wonder, now, how I could have possibly thought that a statement of faith would have been able to tell me anything useful about a group or person. Isn’t a life of faithfulness better than being right about the inner working of the Trinity? So I had an idea. Instead of making a statement of faith for our lives, why don’t we make our lives statements of faithfulness?

A Statement of Faithfulness:

  • We will be born again from above and strive to be filled with the Spirit, as he was filled with the Spirit (John 3:5-8).
  • We will live a life of service, as he lived a life of service (Matthew 20:28).
  • We will lay down our lives to benefit others, as he laid down his life to benefit others (Mark 10:45).
  • We will love God with every fiber of our being, as he loved God (Matthew 22:37).
  • We will love our neighbours in the same measure and fervency as we love ourselves, as he loved his neighbours (Matthew 22:39).
  • We will live out the Sermon on the Mount, as he lived out his own preaching (Matthew 5-7).
  • We will shun religion, as he shunned religion (Matthew 12:1-8).
  • We will salt (preserve) the world, as he salted the world (Matthew 5:13).
  • We will identify with the scum and outcasts of society, as he identified with the scum and outcasts (Luke 7:34).
  • We will agree that anyone not against us is for us, just as he said (Mark 9:40).
  • We will forgive all and hold grudges against none, just as he forgave while being murdered (Luke 23:34).
  • We will assume suffering is normative, just as he assumed it to be normative (John 15:20).
  • We will live simply, just as he lived simply (Matthew 8:20).
  • We will rejoice with the rejoicers and weep with the weepers, just as he was also empathetic (John 11:35).
  • We will make disciples, not converts, just as he made disciples (Matthew 23:15).
  • We will refuse to commercialize or politicize this lifestyle, as Jesus also refused (John 6:15).
  • We will turn no one away, as he turned away no one (John 6:37).
  • We will pray long and hard, as he prayed long and hard (Luke 6:12).
  • After praying, we will serve long and hard, as he served long and hard.
  • We will take and make opportunities to attack injustice and hypocrisy and make things better, as he also did (Luke 11:37-38).
  • We will be Spirit-filled and wild, as he was Spirit-filled and wild (John 3:8).
  • We will make no apologies and will not conform to what the world or what religion demands of us, just as he refused to conform.
  • Instead of working hard to find the right words to explain what we believe, I want to work hard to live out what I believe.