My good friend Steve Graybill from Americaland, who has written for my blog before both on his strength weakness [which he identified, ironically enough, as a thirst for knowledge] and also on Sex in Marriage recently bought a copy of my book, ‘i, church’ on Amazon. He had some questions and thoughts which he shared with me via email and i asked him if he would write them into a post so that we could get more people engaging. Here is some of our back and forth conversation and some thoughts Steve had.
So, me and my wife, The Beautiful Helene (TbH) – when you can’t be original borrow – have had the privilege of hanging out with “FISH” a couple of times the past couple of years after meeting him at the Simple Way on a trip to “Come and See.” My wife being the awesome gift giver that she is bought a half dozen copies of ‘i, Church’ – two for us and some for us to give away.
I recently started reading the book and so far am really enjoying it. However, it is a bit weird to read a book of someone I would consider a good friend—a good friend despite not spending tons of time together, but some of the best quality time when we do hook up! I had a rather verbose FB message session with Brett regarding some questions with his book, which resulted in a brief dialogue, and Brett asking me to put the dialogue on his author page for further comment. So what follows is mostly what transpired, with some additions and editing from me on our conversation on ‘i, Church’.
[Steve’s First Message to Bret]t: Hey Bro, Enjoying the book–I am underlining the normal amount which is good. I have a number of questions which is also good. Perhaps one of us will get on a plane to get to the other or we can do a skype at some point but I have one question that I did want to present here more for food for thought than anything. You reference the parable of the Talents and it is obvious that you take the normal exegetical stance and see Christ’s referring to master in it as God. I will be frank, and say that I have never much liked this parable with that exegetical stance. In the past several years I have seen that passage exegeted with the Master representing the world not God, several times, this exegesis also aligns better with the other parable of the sheep and the goats in the same chapter in Matthew. Anyway, I was wondering if you had heard of this and your thoughts on it. Peace, Steve
[Brett’s Response]: hey Steve – i have heard the parable done from the other point of view [i think it was Pete Rollins] and i can see that – am researching Mark for a lecture i am giving today actually [5am here now so much later today] and came upon a piece yesterday [no idea where] where Jesus independently of that parable says the words ‘he who has will be given more and he who doesn’t will lose what little he has’ and so the meaning taken from that parable i feel is still a biblical principle even if that particular exegesis is not accurate [also with passages like branches not bearing fruit, salt losing its saltiness – that seems to be a clear principle throughout Jesus’ teaching?]
Not sure what you’re saying with regards to sheep and goats – is that master also not God? have not heard that before and need to go give it a read with different eyes and see but i have never had issue with that one because it does seem to back up God’s heart for the poor and marginalized – so give me more of what you mean with that one?
-Brett, I am really struck with this saying of Jesus! So here is what came up in a google search for: “Jesus, whoever has more will be given.”
Matthew 13:12: Hearing the Word (Jesus)
Matthew 25:29: Talents (Money)
Mark 4:25: Hearing the Word (Jesus)
Luke 8:18: Hearing the Word (Jesus)
Luke 19:26: Minas (Money)
In Luke 19: The master owns up to him being severe (unforgiving) “You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.” In Matthew 25’s account we have: “…you knew that I reap where I do not sow and gather where I scattered no seed…”
The other three times where this phrase is mentioned in the Gospels is regarding hearing the words of Jesus.
What about Jesus Claim that you cannot serve both God and Money?
Matthew 6:24 has Jesus discussing laying up treasure in heaven and Luke 16 Jesus tells the parable of the dishonest manager—the master of the manager in this story is diametrical to the master we find in Luke 19 and in Matthew 25—he actually commends his manager for his shrewdness in reducing debts and making friends with people knowing that he is about to be fired and the parable ends with, “You cannot serve God and money.” In other words, the manager has given up worldly gain for heavenly gain (human relationships) and is commended by his Master for this decision.
What if Jesus’ use of this phrase, “to him who has more will be given,” is purposely given in two contexts to show, much like Jesus lays out in Matthew 6:24, that we have a choice. Do we want to push into God and have more of Christ’s presence in our life? Or do we want to operate in the paradigm of the world and have material objects be more present in our life?
Brett: I think we more or less agree on the sheep and goat parable. My point was that in the Parable of the Talents we have this money-hungry master that in essence adds to the homeless population, while in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats we see a God who is found in the homeless, the widow, the incarcerated—a God who opposes the cruel masters represented in the Parable of the Talents.
[One more post from me on Matthew 25 that was at the end of the FB message just to create tension]:
Several months ago I heard a message on the Matthew 25 passage in question (Talents) that kept Master as God and honed in our the faithfulness aspect of it that I really appreciated. I see where positives and teaching points from both exegetical stances–how crazy it would be if Christ meant it as a “both and” scenario and not an “either or.” Late here and heading to bed–maybe I can copy and paste a big chunk of this convo onto your author page with some editing?
[A small addition to that post]:
The one thing from the message that stuck out to me besides the faithfulness aspect was what was not emphasized. I don’t necessarily agree that Jesus presents these parables as a both and scenario, but I am not a theologian and even if I were one, a good one anyway, I would have to admit that I do not have a monopoly on exegesis and hermeneutics. Anyway, during that message it was emphasized that it does not say: “Well done, good and hard-working servant,” or “Well done, good and incredibly driven servant,” but “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Having faithfulness being the teaching point of the message made that interpretation of the passage relevant and useful for me.
[My next message to Brett]: OK, Damn, another one: From ‘i, Church’: “The pattern in so many local church congregations is the paid staff and the minority of the people in the church doing the majority of the work which is mostly aimed at the church building/members. The majority of the people who frequent the building on a Sunday are quite happy to spectate. Come and watch a show if you like and then leave largely unchanged.” This made me think of Dave Schmidgall’s quote of NCC is a place where we want you to be a part of what God is doing through NCC and NCC is a church that wants to be a part of what God is doing through you.
Dave is my Campus Pastor and he has followed through with Helene and me more than once on that part about the church being a part of what God is doing through us. Another quote of his is “criticize through creation.” If you have a beef and complaint with the church and want to complain for the sake of complaining I am not going to give you much of an ear, but if you want to criticize and have plan for action then let me hear it and let’s get moving!
[Brett’s Response]: “NCC is a place where we want you to be a part of what God is doing through NCC and NCC is a church that wants to be a part of what God is doing through you.” sounds like a great [but long] car sticker but not fully sure what it means – are you talking specifically as a building in terms of using their premises for ministry vibes? i do love the “criticize through creation” concept although not 100% – it has merit and most of the time should be applied but sometimes not having an alternative answer yourself doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be muted on pointing out the fact that something is wrong… cos otherwise your motto is “Let’s continue doing it wrong til we figure out a way to do it better.” and sometimes things done wrong just need to be stopped altogether and then you can figure out a batter way of doing things – but i do get it and agree with it largely in principle… thanks for the questions.
-Well, Dave’s wife happens to be a darn good business woman with ethics—not sure if you remember the Bittersweet Mag I gave you, but that is Dave’s wife’s use of her business for justice in the city. Anyway, she has a rented space for her business that use to double as their home until recently—anyway they have more than once allowed us to use that space during the evening for Kingdom purposes. That is
being a part of what God is working through us—they were even able to allow a couple to use it for their wedding—God is all about weddings!
-Helene and I volunteer at a hospice house in DC called Joseph’s House. While volunteering there we met a resident at the house who had another house in DC that was not habitable at the time and we asked our church if they might support us in renovating the house. They followed through with this giving us a small budget to work with. While the outcome of that experiment is still yet to be determined, that is being a part of what God is working through us.
-Helene and I are trying to make our spare bedroom a place for transitional housing for trafficked women in DC—currently this does not exist at all in DC. We approached NCC with this and they are partnering with an NGO in DC to create a pilot program for this. That is being a part of what God is working through us.
So, criticize through creation: several people have approached NCC with statements such as you are not doing enough to advocate for the homeless, what are we doing to end trafficking in our city?, HIV/AIDS is at epidemic proportions in DC, NCC needs to be doing more! We are not advocating for Children the way that we need to be what is NCC doing to address these issues. These are the criticisms that get thrown back at us—you are part of NCC head this up if you are passionate about it and NCC has your back. Those are our 4 key issues with our church right now and there are considerably more folks not on staff then on staff taking up the banner for those issues—Criticize through creation.
What about your thoughts? What have you liked or disliked with Brett’s book? What actions items are you taking away from it?
What are your thoughts about the church being a place that has you participating in the things that church is passionate about and having that church support you with Kingdom causes that you are passionate about? How is that playing out in your life? How are you criticizing through creating?