poets, prophets and preachers: the beginning is the end is the beginning

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Monday, July 6th, 2009

poets, prophets and preachers: the beginning is the end is the beginning

well, day 2. poets, prophets and preachers. rob bell. peter rollins. shane hipps.

for a quick background of where i am and what i’m doing, you might want to return to yesterday’s blog post.
it’s been in many ways an overwhelming brain pummeling of just mounds of incredible and transformative information. in other ways, though, it’s been such a refreshing swim in the waters of escape and re-energizing and refocusing. it’s been an opportunity to hear voices of rethinkers and reclaimers. it’s been both mind-blowing and mind-fixing.
typically when i blog, it’s a very free-flowing easy thing. i sit. i write. i’m done. in this case, though, i’ve literally had my editor pulled up for more than an hour, pondering what the best angle was to communicate the experience thus far. i want to tell it all, but i also sense that telling it all would be novel-like instead of blog-like.
so, instead, i’ll try to distill things down to a manageable read by simply focusing on the biggest highlight and “aha” moment of the day.
the “aha” moment today—the mind blowing, transformative, generative moment—came during rob bell’s first talk, the story we’re telling. the fundamental premise was that in order to communicate the story of god effectively, we need to get to the story under the story under the story. we need to get to the true essence of the christian narrative. the explicit hypothesis was

where and how you begin the story and where and how you end the story determines the story you’re telling.

in other words, the order of how we tell the story inherently determines the nature of the content of and subsequent response to the story. so, naturally, one should start at the beginning and end at the end. what’s the beginning? creation. genesis. what’s the end? the apocalyptic revelation of john. omega.
what happens in the beginning? god creates and he calls it good. not only did he call it good, but he blessed it. what we find is a god who creates things that create. god creates trees that are able to recreate themselves. god creates people who are able to recreate themselves. god’s creation, then, become co-creators with god. there is an active participatory physicality to life on earth. god’s actions occur here. on earth. not “somewhere else”. it’s here. there isn’t a separation of spiritual and physical. soil and spirit are one. all things are created “good” and god blessed all things. there’s a created order. god > humans > earth. when things are rearranged, it is disruptive to the order that god created. nevertheless, there is a symbiotic relationship with god and god’s creation.
so, what happens in the end? in revelation 21, we find this:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. …for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

what happens in the end? the action returns to earth. the ending of the story is here—not “somewhere else”. where does god dwell in the end? here. on earth. the story of god is creating on earth and then drawing people back to him through repentance and redemption and, ultimately, recreating here on earth.
when we begin at the beginning and end at the end, we tell the story the way that it was intended to be told. we tell it the way god tells it.
unfortunately, though, we often don’t start at the beginning. we pick up in the midst of the story and never make it past that. what happens when we start in the middle of the story?
if you look at genesis 3, you find the story of the fall and the separation and depravity. sin enters the picture. but what do we know about sin if we read the story starting at the beginning and ending at the end? we know it’s temporary. it’s not how we started and it’s not how we’ll end. while sin is something to be taken very seriously, it isn’t the ultimate narrative. it isn’t THE story. it’s god creating and recreating here on earth where sin isn’t a part of the story.
so, what are the implications of a genesis 1 story versus a genesis 3 story?
gen. 3: removal of sin
gen. 1: restoration of shalom
gen. 3: tells us what we aren’t
gen. 1: tells us what we are
gen. 3: disembodied evacuation
gen. 1: participatory physicality
wow. what a difference. a genesis 3 focus tells us that life is about simply removing sin, whereas genesis 1/revelation tells us that we are on a narrative of shalom (wholeness, peace, etc.) restoration. 3 tells us what we aren’t inherently (sinful people), but 1 tells us who we were actually created (and will be recreated) to be. 3 says that the only purpose in life is to get out of this terrible, awful, wicked world, whereas 1 tells us that the earth is beautiful and simply in need of restoration which will happen in the end.
the implications are astounding and convicting.
business implications: it means we see the world from not just “the bottom line.” profit is not the only driving force. we also think about how it affects the environment and how it affects other people.
art implications: a genesis 3 approach is suspect of all things that don’t have a christian stamp of approval on it. a genesis 1 approach says that god blesses all creation and it’s our job—as the rabbis say—to be in a constant state of discernment of “light and dark.”
justice implications: a genesis 3 account says that people are broken because of their own sin and they basically need to figure it out for themselves. a genesis 1 account says that our jobs as co-creators is simply to put things back in their proper creation order.
as the session ended, bell offered a quote that was a great summation of not just these ideas, but the entire underpinning of the sermon, saying that sermons are “helping people see the new creation with their own eyes.” it’s not us. it’s helping them. it’s not simply constructed words, it’s engaging people so that they can see it through their own eyes.
great stuff. more to come in the next day or two.


  1. ted says:

    Consider this: I got cussed for saying that you were following Bell, and yet you are clearly placing his words above what God actually says.

    I'm afraid for you, your family and anyone who believes this distorted message.

    This is humanism NOT Christianity. It's actually an extremely well defined case for humanism. I'm not sure how much clearer Bell could say it.

    I'm not trying to win a contest here. I'm begging you to grab your family and run as fast as you can away from this.

    This article screams "MAN CAN", "God needs our help", "sin is a minor issue", "there's no anti-Christ to worry about", it's gaia/wiccan…anything but Christian.

    The massive overuse of multi-syllable words doesn't make this wisdom…or even intellectual…you just spent a pile of money to "learn" at least one thing that most of us learned in kindergarten: start at the beginning and end at the end.

    But this of course, is not a chronological issue. Bell's point is that SIN is not that big of a deal.
    I know you hate marginalization…and marginalization of sin is a deadly move.

    This explains why every emergent I've read or listened to is okay doing, saying, seeing, and listening to things that no true Christian should.
    They are basically saying: "Hey come join the emergents, we can cuss, drink, smoke, watch dirty movies, listen to filthy music, blaspheme God, (all while working the soup line) and condoning anything that is in fact an offense to a holy God (capitalization intended).

    We are NOT co-creators with God. That's blasphemy!

    Bell's work is the devil's work.

    I will be praying for you and your family. I'm fairly certain this will be deleted, but it won't stop me from praying for you. I will be blogging about this soon and you will be welcome to join in a 2 sided conversation.

    Lord Jesus, please open Ryan's eyes and deliver him and his precious family from this grip of delusion.


  2. christen says:

    Ted (capitalization intended), please pray for someone who is homeless, hurting, or lost. i really don't appreciate you including me in your ridiculous statements and apparent thoughts that we are not christians and are raising our children improperly.

    and please start your own blog.

  3. RAAB says:

    Speaking of distorted messages… I'd like to weigh in and say that at no point while reading this particular article did i get the feeling that the author was trying to sell me on any of the conclusions that were pointed out in the above response. I didn’t get that sin is merely a minor issue, and I certainly didn’t pick up on god needing my help. I did manage to pick up on the healthy amount of hostility towards Ryan in the above response though, and I think if we’re going to talk massive overuse of multi-syllable words then we need look no further than the last few blog comments. I think that for someone to claim to be so concerned for Ryan and his family, he is going about it in a very small and negative manner. Playing a little fast and loose with the word "delusion".

  4. derekablaylock says:

    I love God, Cigars, and Beer, Metallica; and God loves me back for what I love. He loves me back b/c creating was something first done by him and now we're using our talents to glorify him – even when I inhale. I have no children, but when I do I will be a co-creator (creating a baby that is in the image of God). When I write I'm a co-creator; creating a piece of work and I have that ability b/c art was first created by God. Until my mind withers away I will always be a co-creator. But I better watch it b/c I might get good at co-creating in writing and then there might be truth contained within the writings and I personally believe all truth is God's truth, which he might smile about b/c I just glorified him. Paint me as a happy blasphemer (in your definition) who I believe God is smiling about – I'm his creation, from Bob and Pam who are also implicated as co-creators. God loves them too. And if you have children, or write, or compose music, or sing, or work and use whatever talents you have been given then you're a co-creator and it's ok. God loves you co-creating too.

  5. ted says:

    well, i don't know the other 2 commentors, but i will be praying for you as well.

  6. derekablaylock says:

    well, I kindof appreciate that. Please know this is said out of respect and not in an antagonistic manner. Most of the time I will welcome prayer with open arms. Prayer is good. Prayer for God's wisdom (however we interpret God's wisdom) is even better. But your prayer seems selfish in that it hopes we'll believe what you believe. I believe my faith has evolved in to something more beautiful, complete, and hopeful than what it was before. So if you're praying for me, in general, for wisdom then I would thank you. Anything else will be a selfish prayer that I would not welcome and would ask you not to pray for me as it would be divisive amongst the brotherhood of faith. Amaharo.

  7. ted says:

    As this problem grows, people who believe that God's word does not and should not be adjusted to appease the culture, will experience more and more aggression. It will go from calling my prayer "selfish" to "kill the Christians". I know you don't see it now, but what is actually going on, is that the emergents are actually blending new age and world religions into one big new "exciting" "bigger" church.

    The terms like THE SHIFT and the premises taught by all of the men are very, very old methods and well planned ideas from the new age movement. Dig into some of the history of the New Age movement and see for yourselves that they have said all along that the Christian church must change or die. Their phrasing is almost identical to everything I'm hearing from the emergents.

    Here's the real dilemma. It doesn't seem to be enough to try to prove that the emergents are changing God's word, or welcoming universalism, or adopting new age platforms, or saying that all religions are okay, because in the end, even when they say that isn't true…they actually believe and teach all of those things.

    Once truth is certified as ambiguous, anything goes. And that to me is the emergent church. Well, anything goes except true biblical Christianity. So, if you want to be angry at me or call me selfish because I care that my friend is involved in something that is dangerous. That's okay. I would rather take flack for caring and saying the hard things than to give in to reimagining God's word to please the world.

  8. Adam Moore says:

    Just wanted to let you know I added you to the list of people blogging PPP. You can check out the list here:


    Let me know if you know of anyone I missed.

  9. Morgon77 says:

    New Age states that I can be self sufficient, and I can find peace inside of myself.

    Followers of Christ say that I can only find wholeness and peace through Christ, through taking on the image of Christ.

    What Bell, Wright, Rollins, Pagit, McLaren, McKnight, etc. have all stated is that the purpose of Christ is to SAVE THE WORLD.

    What their detractors keep saying is that God hates the world and is looking forward to punishing people, so the truth is that we must join God's club so that he won't be able to have vengeance on us.

    Ted calls us to flee toward the vengeful God rather than toward the saving God, the God who makes all things new, the Saviour who came to bring life, whose ministry is one of regeneration of all of creation.

    I know which of those gods I don't believe in, and which I don't see affirmed in scripture.

  10. MamaMia says:

    I can't help but wonder if Bell is pitting Gen. 1 against Gen. 3. After all, there is a Gen. 2, and most scholars have come to a general consensus that this is the oldest part of Genesis (i.e. the actual "beginning"). Yet if our focus stays on creation and re-creation and co-creation, is the actual thesis of the Bible truly addressed? Morgon asserts that Bell and his colleagues claim that the purpose of Christ is to save the world. Okay…assuming that Morgon's statement is correct…save the world from what? From Greenpeace? Perhaps it would be wise to step beyond Bell's parameters of Gen. 1 and Gen. 3. A good place to start would be Gen. 4, where God says to Cain, "[s]in is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." Then the backstory fades into something much more pointed, which is the issue of sin and repentance and redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ. As for the ending? Revelation talks about a NEW earth. Not necessarily a restored one. In fact, it talks about the first earth passing away. Which is actually quite a mirror of the spiritual as well — the old sinful nature passes away when we repent and accept Christ's atoning sacrifice, and a new creature is formed. The old is gone, and the new has come. A sinless world? Yes. Absolutely — because of Christ's loving and unprecedented sacrifice — when He comes back. And He says He will.

  11. Morgon77 says:

    What comes after redemption, though? We just sit around and wait to be evacuated, while searching for more club members? Was John just being hyperbolic when he said "For God so loved the world"?

  12. derekablaylock says:

    MamaMia, regarding, "Revelation talks about a NEW earth. Not necessarily a restored one. In fact, it talks about the first earth passing away."

    Reveleation 1:16 also talks about a sword coming from Jesus's mouth which is either one kick-ass Jesus or we need to use some intelligence in interpreting scripture in regards to what is literal and what is symbolic. I mention this b/c maybe we can't figure everything out like we think we can. If we can figure God out then I'm serving a God that maybe isn't as merciful, gracious, and loving of ALL of his creation as I truly imagine him to be.

  13. taddelay says:

    In addition, a study of early Christian beliefs on afterlife will show that it took several hundred years to evolve into a view that one goes to heaven somewhere else after death. Early church held to the jewis belief ( note all OT prophets) that god would come to reign hear on earth for all time (also prophesied in Rev.21) and we would live here with him.

    NT Wright did excellent, readable scholarship on this in " surprised by hope"

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