Brian McLaren‘s essay in The Church in Emerging Culture is very much like the books of his that I’ve read. He makes a number of good points, but on the whole it’s hard to pin down what he believes or what direction he would have the church take.
McLaren opens the essay by affirming that the message we preach never changes “if by message you mean the story that begins with ‘In the beginning, God created…’” (p. 191). Nevertheless, in the rest of the essay, McLaren wants to affirm, as well, that the message always changes in some way because it’s being addressed to a changing culture. Moreover, if our methods change, those changes are never limited to method; a change in method involves a change in message, too.
When McLaren talks about the gospel as a story, not as a collection of timeless moral principles, I’m with him. When he tells us that the gospel is “many versioned, many faceted, many layered, and Christ-centered,” I’m with him (though I agree with Horton that the variety in Scripture doesn’t allow us to pit, say, the theology of Paul against that of Matthew). When he says that the gospel is cumulative, starting with Genesis, I’m with him. When he says that the gospel isn’t just a report that we hear but is actually powerful, catalytic, and saving, I’m with him. When he rejects canned approaches (e.g., the sinner’s prayer, walking the aisle, etc.), I’m with him. And when he says that we all need to examine our methodologies to see if they’re distorting our message, I’m with him.
But when McLaren suggests that the message needs to change, I’m not with him. McLaren’s provides an example: his Jewish friend Sam, whose son was an Israeli soldier and stood up to his fellow soldiers who were tormenting a Palestinian and who ended up suffering for it. Is it possible, Sam asked, that Hitler could have prayed a prayer (e.g., “Jesus save me!”) and ended up in heaven after all the wicked things he did while his son, who suffered for the sake of someone else, could end up in hell simply because he didn’t trust in Jesus?
That’s a tough question, I grant. I suspect the question would make most of us uncomfortable if we were asked it to our faces, especially by someone we cared about. But what are our options? I don’t think McLaren wants to say that if Hitler did sincerely pray such a prayer he would still be punished because of the evil he did. But does McLaren want to say that someone who doesn’t trust in Jesus could still be saved because he was self-sacrificing?
In the end, McLaren says that he is still seeking, inviting people to join him in his search, and that he is less and less confidence that he can say “I have found.” Well, there’s some biblical truth in saying, with U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” None of us has attained to sinless perfection or to complete knowledge of Scripture.
But what’s the virtue of being a seeker if you never find anything, if you don’t land on anything and say, “Well, I’m not at the final goal yet, but I’ve found this I’m certain about this?” McLaren is very gracious, and in his concluding response to his interlocutors he indicates things he’s learned from all of them, but his essay leaves us with little more than an invitation to humility and a summons to keep seeking, which isn’t very helpful at all.
The third essay in The Church in Emerging Culture is by Frederica Mathewes-Green and it is by far the most enjoyable to read and the funniest so far. It’s written in the form of a self-interview, modeled after the “Icarus” section of Joyce’s Ulysses.
The first half of the essay makes the point that in previous generations, too, there were people who wanted to be seen as rebels, who wanted to shock people by their art or their behaviour. Those “rebels,” however, weren’t as shocking as they had hoped; their art is now found in museum exhibits. The implied application to much of postmodernism is appropriate.
But the second half of the essay, in which one would expect Mathewes-Green to present her positive case for how the church should interact with the culture of the world around it, doesn’t take us very far. Mathewes-Green is Orthodox, and several of her theological points are helpfully critiqued by Michael Horton, who frequently points out that Mathewes-Green is making either-ors out of what should be both-ands.
In the end, beyond prayer and a desire to know Christ, I’m not sure what Mathewes-Green’s program for the church really is. She talks about the importance of having one’s life transformed by Christ: While many people have tried to make Jesus acceptable to us, conforming him to patterns that we can be comfortable with and understand, Jesus’ alternate plan is to transform us into people who can know him.
But what is the result of those transformed lives? As Erwin Raphael McManus asks, what if there are two or three or more people whose lives are being transformed? How will that transformation become evident and work itself out in their interactions? And how will the culture they necessarily develop relate to the culture(s) around them?
Those questions Mathewes-Green leaves unanswered.
Michael Horton has the second essay in The Church in Emerging Culture. He starts by presenting a number of different things that “postmodernism” means, citing a plethora of names, to which Frederica Mathewes-Green responds amusingly, until the point when Horton cites both Walter Lippman and Steinar Kavale, prompting this comment from Mathewes-Green:
Man, it’s getting crowded in here! Hauerwas, maybe you can get on top of that bookcase over there. Steinar, you’re going to have to sit on Walter’s lap. And if any more intellectuals ring the doorbell, we’re going to turn out the lights and pretend nobody’s home (p. 115).Â
In particular, Horton says, postmodernism has an academic and a popular side to it although in each side there is great variety. He seems to find what he calls academic postmodernism fairly congenial, but he doesn’t spend any time on it. Instead, he focuses on what he calls popular postmodernism, which he sees as either incoherent or not clearly distinct from modernism. He writes:
Postmodernism â€”Â or whatever one wishes to designate our brief moment in history â€”Â is the culture in which Sesame Street is considered educational; sexy is the term of approbation for everything from jeans to doctoral theses; watching sitcoms together at dinner is called family time; abortion is considered choice; films sell products; and a barrage of images and sound-bites selected for their entertainment and commercial value is called news. This general trend in culture translates into hipper-than-thou clubs passing for youth ministry, informal chats passing for sermons, and brazen marketing passing for evangelism, where busyness equals holiness, and expository preaching is considered too intellectual (p. 109).Â
But what Horton seems to be describing here is not postmodernism but simply the way a lot of people in our society today act and think. As the opening of this paragraph reveals, Horton simply identifies the two. But why? I can well imagine postmodernists or those who share some sympathies with them opposing the trend of having sound bites pass for news. In fact, I can imagine postmodernists critiquing many of the things that Horton himself is critiquing. Horton appears to have overlooked the fact that no postmodernist is claiming that postmodernism equals the way things are today.
As the essay develops, more problems arise. Horton suggests that instead of speaking of modernity and postmodernity we would be better off following the New Testament distinction between “this present evil age” and “the age to come,” or life in the flesh and life in the Spirit (p. 113).
But as McLaren points out (and sometimes these first two essays read as if they were deliberately crafted to make McLaren stand out particularly well), Horton isn’t so much refining the discussion as changing the subject:
In answer to Michael’s rhetorical question, I would say, “We’re talking about two different things.” Those of us grappling with the need for change in the church are seeking to proclaim, in the power of the Spirit, the good news of the age to come in this present evil age, in which people live lives of quiet desperation in the flesh. Medieval, modern, postmodern, or whatever all occur in the present evil age â€”Â which is also, by the way, the age Jesus promised to be with us to the end of â€”Â in a world God created and still loves (p. 112).Â
If Horton’s point is that the gospel creates its own culture and stands in critique of all other cultures, be they modern, postmodern, or whatever, then I heartily concur. If his point is that the gospel must not be accommodated to postmodern culture anymore than to modern culture, then I also agree wholeheartedly. But if Horton’s point is that all these other distinctions are essentially irrelevant and that the only distinction we really need in this discussion that between “this present age” and “the age to come” or “life in the flesh” and “life in the Spirit,” then I think he’s missed the point.
Yesterday, I read a good portion of The Church in Emerging Culture: Five Perspectives, edited by Leonard Sweet. The five perspectives are provided by Andy Crouch, Michael Horton, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Brian McLaren, and Erwin Raphael McManus.
Sweet’s introduction includes a few helpful (though not detailed) criticisms of Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture and (somewhat helpfully) discusses various approaches to change and various views of what problems we face in the modern world.
But then Sweet discusses the five perspectives in this book in terms of an extended metaphor, where participants in this discussion are described as Gardens, Parks, Glens, or Meadows. Maybe it was just that I’m still battling my fever but I can’t say that his metaphor made things a lot clearer for me. Just the opposite, in fact. More than that, having read Andy Crouch’s essay, I’m not at all sure whether he’s a Garden, Park, Glen, or Meadow.
Before I go further, a couple of comments about the formatting of the book. For some reason, the publishers choose to print this with wide pages, which makes it hard to read quickly. The print is also large: my arms aren’t long enough to hold the book far enough away. But then, interspersed with the black text of a participant’s essay are comments by the other participants in much smaller grey text. All of which together is a recipe for eye-strain.
Crouch’s chapter was, on the whole, disappointing, in part because it wasn’t clear exactly whose views he was interacting with and in part, too, because his approach was predominantly negative. Perhaps his chapter would have seemed stronger were it not for the comments interspersed throughout from McLaren and others. McLaren’s comments, in particular, were very helpful.
Crouch seems to be arguing that postmodernity is actually ultramodernity. Far from being (as McLaren and others have suggests) postindividualistic and postconsumeristic, Crouch says, postmodernity is extremely individualistic and extremely consumeristic. He presents the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral as an architectural symbol of modernism and the Mall of America as a corresponding symbol of “postmodernism,” which turns out to be more modernism taken to the extreme.
But, as McLaren points out, what Crouch calls “postmodernism” isn’t what he and many others mean by that term. McLaren grants that the Mall of America may be a symbol of ultramodernism, but that doesn’t make it a symbol of postmodernism.
My own sense is that Crouch tried to approach things this way: Many people talk about us moving into a postmodern culture, so Crouch simply looked at the culture he sees around him and concluded that this was what McLaren, et al., have in mind when they talk about “postmodern culture.” Well, no. That’s not it at all. And so Crouch’s bad methodology bred bad results in his essay.
Much of his essay, in fact, targets things that McLaren and other postmodernists of that stripe also target, namely individualism and consumerism, though McLaren at least, in one comment in response to Crouch, adds an important caution with regard to consumerism:
Buying and selling aren’t evil. They’re part of God’s world, and Scripture gives us moral guidelines to protect us from letting these good parts of life (a.k.a. “good work”) go bad (don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, do unto others, for starters). Andy himself makes and sells a magazine, and I’m sure he hopes to sell more copies of it. I would add that if you make canes, you are probably going to market them to older people and those who have been injured, not to parents of infants, to whom you will market diapers and rattles, which you will not market to teenagers, and so on. Andy’s magazine, I’m sure, has something like a target audience, and I’ll bet some demographic discussions take place in his office, or at least in his head at times…. So just as Andy is careful to warn “postmodern prophets” about oversimplifying or overstating their case, I want to join Andy in condeming the greed that seems to be one of the prime engines of our culture (post, ultra, or whatever), but I would also take care not to paint all commerce(creating, crafting, announcing, selling) as consumerism (p. 95).
That caution strikes me as something people need to hear right around this time of year when so many Christian voices are raised in response to the “consumerism” at Christmas time. While there may be some problems in the way things are done, the fact that people want to buy gifts and that stores want to sell gifts and even want to persuade you to buy their gifts isn’t wrong in itself.
One of the stronger features of Crouch’s essay was his emphasis on baptism and the Lord’s Supper, though that emphasis, too, was marred by Crouch’s insistence on believer baptism and his dismissive comments about infant baptism (for which Michael Horton rightly takes him to task).
Furthermore, the discussion of baptism and the Lord’s Supper was almost the only positive thing that Crouch included in his essay. It almost seemed as if he was saying that they were the cure to all the church’s ills in this era and the next (for which McManus and others rightly took him to task: What about churches which have practiced all these things and still ended up dead or wicked or compromised with the culture or whatever?).
Still, Crouch’s essay was a reminder that all who wrestle with what the church should look like would do well to take seriously what baptism and the Lord’s Supper say about the church and what they effect. All of us who are baptized leave behind our old stories and enter the church, a new community with a new story, where we are one body and where we eat together at one table. And so the church must not become divided into various demographic groups but must be united as one new community, defined, not by our own personal experiences and tastes, but by Jesus Christ.
It’s Sunday evening, and for the first time in months (maybe years) I spent the whole day at home.
Yesterday, I woke up feeling achy. I figured it was just because I hadn’t slept that well during the night, but I finally checked my temperature in the late afternoon and discovered that I had a bit of a fever. We had a family from the church over for supper, though, and during the meal I felt tired but fine.
Last night, however, I had chills and my fever passed 100 degrees. I felt a bit better toward morning, but decided to stay in bed. Moriah stayed home, too, because Aletheia also has a fever.
Staying home, of course, meant that I wasn’t preaching. (It also meant, alas, that the congregation couldn’t have the Lord’s Supper.) But in God’s strange providence, we had already agreed to have Tim Gallant preach in the morning service (he’s here on vacation), and he had another sermon with him which we used in the afternoon service. Thanks, Tim!
Pray for us. I’m feeling a bit better, but Moriah isn’t and Aletheia’s temperature is still up.
What the well-dressed pastor is wearing these days:
I mentioned a few entries back that I was reading Brian McLaren‘s A New Kind of Christian. A little over a week ago, I finished the second in that trilogy, The Story We Find Ourselves In. As with the first volume, this one had some good mixed with a fair bit of bad.
In both of these books, but particularly this one, there’s a lot of talk about evolution. At least one of McLaren’s characters, Neo, wholeheartedly embraces evolution. It appears at times as if being a postmodern, emergent Christian is all about being both a Christian and an evolutionist.
I suspect that’s because McLaren (or at least his characters) sees six-day creationism and the approach to Scripture it entails as a barrier which keeps people from the gospel.
Now I grant that McLaren has a point. It’s possible to erect barriers which wrongly keep people away from Christ and His church. For instance, if someone presents all the claims of various “scientific creationists” as if they were Bible truth, their claims may turn people off. Furthermore, it’s a valid question whether someone must first embrace six-day creation before he may become a member of Christ’s church.
But not everything that turns people off is illegitimate. If someone rejects the gospel because he finds God’s commandment to Israel to exterminate the Canaanites repugnant, the church shouldn’t leap to remove that barrier. If someone rejects the gospel because he doesn’t like Paul’s teaching with regard to the roles of men and women, the church may not remove that barrier. And if someone rejects the gospel and won’t join the church because he finds six-day creation ridiculous, the church may not embrace evolution as a way of removing that barrier.
As an aside, I’m honestly not sure what’s so “postmodern” about belief in evolution. Evolution seems to me to be a modernist theory, and I would expect that postmodernists would deconstruct it. And surely, too, breaking away from modernism, while it might also entail a healthy scepticism toward some of the theories of “scientific creationism,” should also entail scepticism toward the allegedly objective findings of science.
Evolution also mars one of the better features of the book. In the course of the first half of the book, Neo tells Kerry “the story we find ourselves in,” which is, in broad lines, the narrative of the Bible. Unfortunately, instead of starting where the Bible does, with the story of creation and the fall, he begins with the big bang and skims over Adam and Eve and the serpent, apparently because he takes the Bible’s story as less than completely historical.
For me, the most significant â€”Â and, I suppose, most enjoyable â€”Â part of the book was in the middle, where one non-Christian character determines that she wants to be baptized and to be a follower of Jesus. She explains that she doesn’t understand the Trinity yet or how Jesus can be both God and man or how the atonement works, how Jesus’ death can deal with our sins. But she’s also close to death. She doesn’t have much time to learn everything (and how many of us can honestly say that we understand the Trinity?):
How much do you have to believe in Jesus in order to take communion? … Look, if I have to get the whole Trinity thing, and the whole divinity thing, and all those theories … that’s all just beyond me at this point. But I’m starting to believe the story I’ve been hearing from you … and I don’t have that much more time, you know? And I don’t know how long it’ll take to get really sure, or if I ever will, and … and sooner or later, I guess, I’ll just have toÂ … to take a step … that is, if I’m allowed, if it’s permitted (p. 110; only the first and second-to-last ellipses are mine).
A couple paragraphs later:
Look, I have tried to … to understand this from the outside. I’ve tried so hard. In the hospital I would just lay there thinking and praying. But I don’t think it’s going to make sense ? unless I try to understand from the inside. So I … I want to be in (p. 110).
And then, a couple pages later:
I don’t know about all the doctrines, or theories or mysteries, as Dan called them. I don’t know all that stuff! That’s the problem. Can I do this … am I crazy to even want to do this … if I don’t have all that understanding? I want to believe. I want to believe all of it. Do I believe enough though? You have to know that, not me. That’s why I asked what I asked before. How much do I have to believe? (p. 112).
Those are important questions, questions that Reformed people ought to be asking, too. In many Reformed churches, heavy emphasis is placed on catechizing new converts, sometimes for a year or more, before they are baptized, admitted to membership, and welcomed to the Table. Would we want to tell this woman: “Well, believe in Jesus. But until you embrace all of these doctrines, we won’t baptize you or bring to into the church or admit you to the Table”?
On our last trip to Moscow, I listened (while Moriah slept) to a lecture Jim Jordan gave in Bend, Oregon, on “Rethinking Evangelism.” In part of that lecture, Jordan addresses the intellectualism that characterizes a lot of Reformed churches, especially in their evangelism, in the light of infant baptism. If we believe that the babies we baptize are full members of the church (and all the more so if, as in some Reformed churches, we admit all baptized members, including the children, to the Table), then what does that say about how much knowledge we need to be baptized, admitted to the church, and so forth?
While I have serious questions about a lot of what McLaren says in this book, I do appreciate some of the questions he raises and particularly this one. Having grown to know McLaren a little bit through his writing, I suspect that, even if he and I would answer a lot of questions in different ways, he’d be glad that his book helped me to think through some of these issues more.
Last week was exceptionally busy. On Monday morning, I flew from Grande Prairie, arriving in Chicago late in the afternoon. I’m the chairman of the URCNA‘s Theological Education Committee, and that evening that committee met with the corresponding committee of the Canadian Reformed Churches. For some time, our committees have been discussing what to do about the training of ministers should the two federations unite.
The meeting went fairly well. There was a good brotherly camaraderie throughout the meeting, even though in the end the two committees did not agree on a proposal. Both committees will need to report to the two federations’ upcoming synods.
The committees met at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, my alma mater. I joked that the last time I’d been in the board room, I was being examined. I’ve been to the seminary a couple of times since graduating, but in some ways it feels as if I’ve barely left. It’s hard to believe I graduated eight years ago!
One of the highlights of the trip was the chance to visit with Pete and Diane Smith and their family, and in particular with their son Nick. When I was in seminary, I used to spend a lot of time at the Smith’s home and briefly tutored Nick in Latin. Now Nick is in his final year at Mid-America!
Another highlight was the opportunity I had to sit in on one of Nelson Kloosterman‘s New Testament History classes. Dr. Kloosterman was introducing the book of Acts, and it was hard for me not to raise my hand and answer questions as if I was back in school again. Unfortunately, I could attend only the 8:00 lecture because my meeting started at 9:00.
All of my flights went well, as did the hour-and-a-half bus rides to and from O’Hare. I managed to read about 70 pages of John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory as well as a good bit of Mark Driscoll‘s enjoyable The Radical Reformission, about which I’ll say more later, and Andrew Greeley‘s first novel, The Magic Cup, a version of an old Irish tale, related to the Arthurian Grail legends.
I arrived back home on Wednesday evening, caught the shuttle bus from the airport to a nearby hotel, and walked the rest of the way home. The weather was considerably colder than it had been in Chicago, but not bad. It was a great joy to be back home with my wife and daughter. This trip was the first time Moriah and I had been apart since our wedding.
The rest of the week was a bit of a scramble as I prepared two sermons and did some other work. On Friday night, we noticed that the temperature in the house kept dropping. Sometime after 1:00 AM, I turned up the thermostat â€”Â and nothing happened. I turned it as far as it could go, and still the furnace didn’t come on.
Finally, I called the heating company and a mechanic came over. It didn’t take him long to figure out what had happened. The furnace switch was off. It’s up on the wall behind a door in an area used for storage. That afternoon I had moved a bunch of boxes around and must have bumped the switch. So I paid $96 for him to flip the switch and turn the furnace on again.
On the other hand, he also showed me that the switch was badly mounted and a hazard and he pointed out that because the furnace was used to keep the house warm during construction the blower was full of dry wall dust, to say nothing of a rock an inch in diameter and a plastic bag which made the furnace sound noisy. I’ll have to spend more to get the furnace cleaned, but at least I know about the problem now.
In other news, I tried contacts recently but after a day of being irritated by them and after weighing the cost, I decided to stick to glasses. My old glasses broke while I was washing them and so I got a new pair. It had been seven years since my last eye exam, but my prescription hasn’t changed. That’s good news!
Happy 25th birthday, Moriah! Every year of your life, you grow from glory to glory and it is my great joy to be your man. You are my glory, and I love you!
The other day, I read a couple of articles by Andy Crouch and I commend them to you, too:
* “Stonewashed Worship,” on the quest for “authenticity” in worship.
* Compliant But Confused,” on why so many teenagers are so inarticulate when it comes to talking about their faith (but not when they talk about other subjects).
A PROPHET IN HIS HOMETOWN
(July 31, 2005, Sermon Notes)
When a new king arrives, everyone reacts. Some welcome him; others oppose him. That opposition may take many forms. You can attack openly, work against him secretly, or just brush him off and try to ignore him.
That’s what happens when we proclaim Jesus as Lord. Nobody stays neutral. Everyone responds, some in faith and some in unbelief. In Mark 6, Jesus comes to His hometown and His presence and His message provoke a response, but it is a respond of amazing unbelief.
NAZARETH’S AMAZEMENT AT JESUS (6:1-3)
Mark’s Gospel reaches its first climax with the raising of Jairus’s daughter. But then Jesus goes “from there” â€”Â from Jairus’s house â€”Â to “His hometown” (literally: “His father-town”). It’s Nazareth, but Mark doesn’t call it by name here; instead he describes it as the place where Jesus grew up, the place where Jesus’ father had lived, the place where His mother and brothers and sisters live.
Jesus’ disciples are with Him on this trip, which indicates that this is part of their training (Mark 3:14). In fact, given that Nazareth wasn’t near Capernaum, it appears that this was a special trip to teach His disciples something important.
What happens looks like what happened in Capernaum at first. Jesus teaches on the Sabbath in the synagogue, preaching the same message He always preached. But He didn’t get to finish His sermon. Mark tells us that Jesus began to teach but then questions arose.
People weren’t asking Jesus questions; they asked each other. They recognize that Jesus is like David and Solomon: He teaches with wisdom. They recognize that Jesus has great authority and performs mighty works. But they don’t respond in faith. They don’t let Jesus teach. They don’t listen to Him when He calls them to repent. They don’t rejoice in the good news. They aren’t persuaded by His miracles: miracles in themselves don’t create faith.
In their questions they distance themselves from Jesus: “Where did this man get these things?” They don’t ask Jesus for an explanation. They simply ask each other in amazement because what they see and hear from Jesus doesn’t fit with what they think they already know about Him: Jesus is nothing more than the carpenter, Mary’s son, the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon.
This is the lesson that the disciples need to learn for their own mission: Resurrection is followed by rejection. Some people will not believe even if a person rises from the dead. To some people, Jesus would only be “Jesus of Nazareth” and all the wonders He did â€”Â even His resurrection itself â€”Â wouldn’t persuade them that He was Lord and Messiah. And still today, people stumble over Jesus because the gospel looks foolish, because they don’t want to submit, because they think they understand Him well enough already â€”Â and because they aren’t impressed by His ministers either.
In Nazareth, the people reject Jesus because He’s “the carpenter,” the builder. But the irony is that Jesus really is the builder, the one constructing a new house of Israel. And that is precisely why they need Him.
JESUS’ AMAZEMENT AT NAZARETH (6:4-6)
In their amazement, Nazareth rejects Jesus. And now Jesus is amazed and in His amazement, He rejects them. But first He puts their rejection of Him into its proper context: “A prophet is not without honour except in His own country, among His own relatives, and in His own house.”
What’s happening to Jesus isn’t unheard of. Rather, it fits the pattern we know from Scripture, and it’s the pattern that the disciples will also experience, the pattern we experience today. Often in the Old Covenant the Gentiles listened to the prophets when Israel wouldn’t. Elijah had to flee. David, too, had to flee from Saul but found refuge with the Philistines.
The people of Nazareth think their rejection of Jesus is wisdom, the result of insight that the rest of Israel doesn’t have. They know Jesus! But Jesus sets their response to Him in the light of Scripture as just one more instance of Israel’s rebellion against Yahweh and His prophets. Jesus is despised, and His own people did not esteem Him (Isa. 53).
Their dishonour has consequences: Jesus “could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them” (6:5). It isn’t that their unbelief drained away His power. He still had the power to heal. But He couldn’t heal those who didn’t come.
Unbelief keeps you from Jesus and prevents you from enjoying His healing power. In the context of faith, Jesus conquers death and raises people to life (Mark 5:21-43) because death itself is only sleep for those who believe. But now we see that unbelief is more deadly than death.
In spite of the widespread unbelief, though Jesus does find some who are sick who respond in faith and He lays His hands on them as He did on Jairus’s daughter â€”Â the posture of blessing â€”Â and heals them. Even widespread unbelief can’t stop Jesus from establishing God’s kingdom, and that’s comfort for the disciples who will face rejection after Jesus’ resurrection. It’s comfort for us.
More than that, Jesus’ brothers are named in this passage, as is His mother, and it appears that all of them later came to trust Him. He appeared to James, His brother, after His resurrection and James became one of the great leaders of the church in Jerusalem. Though it may seem as if the gospel isn’t doing much when we preach it, in the end it may break through the unbelief of those who reject it now.
Still, the dominant note here is not comfort or joy but sorrow and astonishment at Nazareth’s unbelief. Jesus marvels at this unbelief, not because He didn’t understand it but because unbelief itself is so astounding. In the light of all that Jesus has said and done, unbelief is unbelievable!
And so Jesus rejects Nazareth. This isn’t a final rejection: He doesn’t destroy Nazareth; He still leaves time for the people there to change their minds. But He withdraws in judgment, not bothering to try to answer Nazareth’s questions, and He goes to other towns instead. In fact He never enters another synagogue in Mark’s Gospel.
The king’s arrival demands a choice and everyone responds. Some people won’t believe, no matter what wonders Jesus does, and that unbelief is deadly. If you stumble over Jesus, you end up outside God’s kingdom. But all who trust Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus “the carpenter,” foolish as His gospel may sound, insignificant as He may seem, experience His power, the power to restore them to wholeness, the power to build them up into God’s house.