Adventurous Theology for the Twenty-first Century
Bruce G. Epperly
Annie Dillard advised people attending church to put on crash helmets and wear seats belt in the pews because what we invoke in church is life-changing and life-shaking. God, like Aslan the Christ-figure described in C.S. Lewis’Chronicles of Narnia, is not tame, but transforming, lively, and awesome. When God shows up in the confluence of divine call and human response, surprises abound. The fourteen billion year and one hundred billion galaxy adventure of our universe should fill us with awe and wonder, not only at the grandeur of the universe but the Creative Wisdom that brought forth – still brings forth - majestic galaxies and the intricacy of our own bodies, minds, and spirits.
Over the next several weeks, I will be reflecting on Acts of the Apostles as a primer for today’s adventurous Christians. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel proclaimed that one of the primary religious virtues is “radical amazement” and this sense of amazement is what we find throughout Acts of the Apostles. Some suggest that Acts of the Apostles is an idealized account of what the church can be when it is truly spirit-centered; others see Acts as a description of the honeymoon period of the church, when the church was unfettered, free, and open to divine surprises at every turn. Still, Acts of the Apostles is an important text for Christians today. It is an invitation to a holy adventure in which we expect great things from God and great things from ourselves. It is an open door to experiencing beauty, wonder, and miracle in our own lives. Our universe is far from domesticated and leaps of quantum energy enliven our own lives and the world around us. Today’s churches need to be surprised and set free to find God in the most expected places, including within the church itself.
The author of Psalm 8 captured the wonder of the universe long before the first moon landing or photographs from the Hubble telescope.
O Lord, Our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!You set your glory above the heavens….When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,The moon and the stars you have established;What are human beings that you are mindful of them,Mortals that you care for them?Yet you have made them a little lower than God,And crowned them with glory and honor.
In the immensity of the universe, in which our solar system is but a dot, God is working in our lives, giving us the gifts of creativity, artistry, technology, and spirituality. A great God, beyond imagination, is moving in our little world, is calling us to be partners in the creative process. Despite its cosmic insignificance, our little world is the portal to the divinity who makes holy all planets and galaxies.
I believe that Acts of the Apostles is a guidepost for adventurous living and a challenge to Christians to open their imaginations and hearts to God’s presence, moving in the cosmos, our congregations, our lives, and the planet. Acts presents us with a Spirit-filled world and invites us to embrace a Spirit-centered life of prayer, healing, hospitality, adventure, diversity, and justice-seeking.
I see Acts of the Apostles as a post-modern gospel, describing a church at the margins, making it up as it goes along, open to astonishment and new ways of seeing God’s presence in the world. The margins for these first people of the Way of Jesus were also the frontiers of faith. Just as the Spirit is unfettered, so too is the Way of Jesus that takes us into all the world and embraces creation in all its diversity of race, culture, religious practice, and life style. Our parents in the faith balanced fidelity to the God of Jesus Christ with an awareness of religious and cultural pluralism. They knew they had to break through their own parochial understandings of God to be faithful to God. They knew that they had to relativize – and challenge – the Laws of God given to Moses to follow in God’s new pathways of the Spirit. In the spirit of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, they did not reject God’s covenant with the Jewish people, but saw that evolving covenant as unfettered and all-embracing, welcoming and declaring “clean” all the nations of the earth. That is our calling, too – to embrace the past as we awaken to new dimensions of fidelity for our time.
So, be ready for a spiritual adventure! Strap on your safety belt as you open yourself to God’s vision for our time, reflected in the transforming words of Acts of the Apostles. God is still moving in our world; God is still speaking in our lives; God’s faithfulness is everlasting and God’s mercies are new every morning. We need not be afraid of pluralism, for God is our companion as we faithfully and creatively respond to wondrous diversity of human culture and spirituality. We can become the people of the Way – the everyday mystics, healers, and visionaries – as we venture forth into the frontiers of the twenty-first century.
Bruce Epperly is a seminary professor and administrator at Lancaster Theological Seminary, pastor, theologian, and spiritual companion. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, a response to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. His Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry, written with Katherine Gould Epperly, was selected 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. His most recent book is From a Mustard Seed: Enlivening Worship and Music in the Small Church, written with Daryl Hollinger.