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Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Monthly Archives: June 2013

Late to the ‘party’

The other book I had with me on holiday was Rob Bell’s (in some circles – controversial) book “Love Wins”.

Yes, I’m pretty late reading it and passing comment and I’m sure that all possible comments have already been aired on the book, but I wanted to share some thoughts on what ended up being another fairly rapid read.

Interestingly, going back to read Rob’s earlier book ‘Sex God’ since I’ve been back from holiday and remembering a fair amount of ‘Velvet Elvis’, ‘Love Wins’ is really just further development of a thread that runs through a lot of Rob’s work.

Rob came in for a lot of criticism having written this and was called all sorts of things even before its release, even by people that hadn’t actually read the book (a dangerous policy if you ask me).
The first label levelled at Rob was that he is a ‘Universalist’. I didn’t get that impression from reading the book. Rob is definitely not saying “everybody gets saved in the end regardless”, he does however ask the question “what kind of God do we believe in?” Do we believe in an all powerful God that can find a way to redeem everything and everybody in His own way, or do we believe in a God that isn’t powerful enough to find a way to restore all things to himself?”

That’s quite a different thing and its quite a fundamental and important question.

There’s some very good explorations if what we understand by Heaven and Hell also. For example, in summing up the chapter on Hell:

“To summarize, then, we need a loaded, volatile, adequately violent, dramatic, serious word to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life that God
has for us.
We need a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep within our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God’s world God’s way.
And for that,
the word “hell” works quite well.”

Rob writes very gently and graciously and even if you don’t agree with his position, you would need to work hard to take offence, the book is more about asking the questions than specifically finding the ‘right’ answers.

Rob likes the parable of the prodigal sons and he uses it in this book because it highlights both extremes of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’, coexisting in the same place: it’s purely our response to God’s love and grace that defines which place we chose to exist in. Rob rounds up the story by saying:

“Neither son understands that the father’s love was never about any of that (being good enough to deserve the father’s love or bad enough for it to disappear). The father’s love cannot be earned,

and it cannot be taken away.

It just is.

It’s a party.

The final chapter closes with a great passage that encapsulates both the continual restoration of all things into God’s “shalom” and our response to God, His love, forgiveness and grace.

“I believe that the indestructible love of God is an unfolding, dynamic reality and that every single one of us is endlessly being invited to trust, accept, believe, embrace, and experience it. Whatever words you find helpful for describing this act of trust, Jesus invites us to say yes to this love of God,
again and again and again.”

The book is definitely worth a read, I have barely scratched the surface in reviewing it here, it is also the perfect companion to ‘After Magic‘ by Kester Brewin if you want to read two books together!

After Magic

I don’t get very many of them but having a holiday is good for me in many ways. One of them is that I can make some time to read. On holiday I read more of my bible, and I get to try and read some of the books stacking up on my reading list.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this year I have brought (and finished by day 2 of the holiday) the most recent Kester Brewin book “After Magic” a fairly slim volume but compelling and a cracking good read.

It could actually work as a final section to Kester’s previous book “Mutiny” – my all time favourite book of 2012, but it has rightly been written separately, as, though there are certainly some overlapping themes, shared material and concepts, to combine both into one volume might have clouded the ideas in ‘Mutiny‘ and been too much to absorb in one sitting.

Firstly, it is not for people that aren’t able to read with an open mind.
Secondly,it is a mature work of depth and whilst it deals with some complex theological and philosophical ideas, it is still clear and concise.
Thirdly, it is a profoundly challenging piece, sometimes paradoxical and regularly counter-intuitive, yet I found it difficult to outright disagree with anything in it.
Fourthly, I would encourage you to read it, whoever you are, whatever your belief system or background, I believe Kester has captured something radical, in as much as a radish is radical; something that returns to the roots of the Jesus movement, something that, if adopted by Christianity in general, could return people’s view of Jesus and his message to their compelling and beautiful origins.

I’ll begin with the basic premise of the book and then discuss a few points that came to me as I was reading it.

‘After Magic’, drawing on many contemporary and historic sources of literature and cinema, refers to a number of ideas revolving around the structure of a magic trick: “the pledge”, “the turn” and “the prestige”.

  • ‘The Pledge’ – showing the audience something ordinary and ‘unchanged’.
  • ‘The Turn’ – making that ‘ordinary’ object ‘extra-ordinary’ (making it disappear or something similar).
  • ‘The Prestige’ – bringing that ordinary object back again.

Whilst people enjoy a good magic show, they don’t really believe what they see is actually magic, nor do they want the ‘trick’ completely explained because then it will loose it’s mystery and excitement. What people do is temporarily suspend their disbelief to participate and fully enjoy the spectacle.

The central theme to Kester’s book is that all superheroes need to renounce their super powers to actually reveal their true humanity. Kester argues that this is true in the dance with the divine also, the unrealistic and infinite demands of the gods that are worshipped, on route to them offering us meaning and power, purpose and wealth.

Kester makes a good case for the structure of a magic trick being adopted in the gospel story, with a slight twist on the traditional angle:

  • The Pledge: Revealing Immanuel – God with us
  • The Turn: Christ crucified
  • The Prestige: The resurrection of Jesus and his subsequent charge to his disciples to be his body acting as him in this physical world

Kester posits That only in renouncing his divinity and revealing himself through the medium of his human son can God truly divest himself of these infinite demands that we believe he has of us and only by moving through and beyond the super-natural, the belief that God is going to step in and magic things better for us in our tricky situation, and embracing real love in the way we live on his planet, can we truly be released to live out the life outlined by Jesus in Matthew 25 (and incidentally that of Mathew 5 also).

I feel like the underlying message of ‘After Magic’ is about living as if God did not exist, so that we use the abilities and power God has invested within us to work through all the challenges we face with real love, and not wait around for some supernatural intervention to make things right again.

I think that works as an argument. I don’t deny that there are times when God does step in and act in supernatural ways, I’ve met too many people, heard too many true stories and observed and experienced this on too many occasions to say that, but if we live in a way that is always waiting for the supernatural to happen to correct things, if we only worship out of some desire to appease or win favour, then we deny the power of God to work through people.

To get a genuine clear grasp of the depth of Kester’s ideas, you do really need to read the book, my summary skips a lot of important stuff and is rather a skim through. It’s a great read, well worth both your time and money.

A couple of ideas that came to me on reading the book:

I wondered whether some of the references to some of the writers (film and book) were drawing on an approach that they are essentially attempting to portray that “humans do really have all the answers to the problems of this world, future, etc. if only we look deep enough inside ourselves.” I’m not sure whether I do fully subscribe to this view and I’m not sure if Kester is actually supporting it. There is a reference in the book to an approach to Christianity that relies on people attempting to earn salvation and do the work of saving humanity themselves. I would echo Rob Bell’s words from “Love Wins” which say in reference to Philippians 3 “Let us live up to what we have already attained.”

“The Father has taken care of everything.
It’s already there,
ready,
waiting.
It’s always been there,
ready,
waiting…

…Jesus forgives them all,
without their asking for it.

Done. Taken care of.”

All that is left to do is to carry on displaying this God and this Christ in the way we live, in love as humans.

Which takes me to the next point which Kester looks at in his last chapter which is a fitting conclusion to the book.

On ‘living as though God doesn’t exist’, Kester suggests this naturally leads to the outworking of Matthew 1:21, in that we live from, through and out of that love, that we are saved from our selfishness and other destructive behaviours.
That really resonates with me and in a very real way, it will manifest ‘Immanuel’ – God with us, because God is love and this fits neatly with Kester’s interpretation of the phrase “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

So. Go and buy the book, you won’t regret it. http://www.kesterbrewin.com/aftermagic/

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