So I really like to read lots of books. Usually I am reading several at once. I tend to leave books at various points in my apartment (the bathroom, my bedside table, on the couch), and my location usually dictates which book I am reading at any given moment. This morning I read a few pages from one of these books (location to remain undisclosed). The book I happened to pick up was Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. McLaren is a pastor who has authored a number of books on the church and our shifting culture. A Generous Orthodoxy is partially a personal confession of his faith, but also an argument for how Christianity needs to proceed in today’s world.
So anyway, this morning I read just a few pages, in which McLaren was exploring what it actually means to call Jesus “Lord”, and critiquing the church for not actually knowing what it means. I want to share a part of that section with you:
The third meaning of Lord grows from the first two: Lord also means a master-teacher or rabbi, one who tells us what to do and how to live, and here we may go even further astray. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would write a book about how Christianity has successfully dethroned Jesus as Lord to such a degree that the “Jesus” who is preached, pasted on bumper stickers, serenaded in gooey love songs on religious radio and TV, and prayed to is an impostor. Here’s how I might make that argument:
1. We retained Jesus as Savior but promoted the apostle Paul (or someone else) to Lord and Teacher. (Even as Savior, though, we limited Jesus to saving us from hell, which explains why we have had comparatively little interest in his saving us from greed, gossip, prejudice, violence, isolation, carelessness about the poor or the planet, hurry, hatred, envy, anger, or pride.)
2. We did this in various ways: by assuming that the purpose of Jesus and his gospel was to get people’s souls into heaven after death and therefore concluding that the only really important thing about Jesus was his death (or birth, or resurrection) to solve our guilt problem that kept us out of heaven. Or by deciding that Jesus’ message was “spiritual” and therefore pertained to “eternity” and not “history,” and/or by deciding that Jesus’ live and teachers were completely interpreted by Paul (or a particular church hierarchy) so that they deserved little attention on that own, apart from the uses to which Paul (or whoever) put them.
3. We developed theological systems that taught us how to avoid many of Jesus’ teachings and reinterpret those we couldn’t avoid.
4. We made up for our demotion of Jesus from being our Lord and Teacher by saying or singing his name more often, and by saying “Lord, Lord” as much as possible, preferably with deep feeling and high volume. This allowed us to still feel like good Christians whether or not we did, or cared about doing, anything he said.
If we were to try to reinstate Jesus as Lord/Teacher, we would have to go outside the world of popular modern theology to find ways to think about the meaning of Lord/Teacher. We would have to go the the world of arts and trades to notice how a master violinist, a master carpenter, a master electrician, a master of martial arts passers on her mastery to students or apprentices. The only way to learn this mastery is through the disciple’s voluntary submission to the discipline and tradition of the master(McLaren, 94-5).
While McLaren does write part of that passage in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, he does bring up some provoking thoughts for us. Do you think his critique of today’s church is accurate? When you hear the phrase “Jesus is Lord”, what do you think it means? How do you understand it?