Reality For The Rest of Us

I. What Do You Mean?

OK…OK…I am going to provide you with the answer to the most numerous question I have been asked since creating, authoring and launching The Porpoise Diving Life: What do you mean by the phrase; Reality For The Rest of Us?

I have attempted to be rather specific about this question on the site and in the interview I did with Emergent in May 2006. However, it’s clear to me that there is a more efficient way to do this that allows one to create understanding by illustrating distinctions through comparison with some of the basic tenets of purpose-driven theology.

Let me explain.

II. What’s It’s NOT?

Before I get into drawing distinctions that will hopefully lead to a better understanding, allow me to be perfectly clear regarding what has inspired me and guides me today, is not.

Since launching the site and sharing some of the material from the manuscript on February 9, 2006, we have received thousands of emails from people around the globe. Somewhat surprisingly, 99% of this ongoing correspondence is positive, encouraging, laden with thanks, and can be considered constructive. We’re humbled and grateful.

However, even more surprising has been the amount of hyper-critical, disparaging and down right mean-spirited feedback that has been woven within the fabric of this correspondence that is directed toward Rick Warren, his book, The Purpose Driven Life, purpose-driven theology, people who subscribe to purpose-driven theology, and the mainstream institutional churches that have adopted and incorporated this teaching. We have received emails, poems and articles by the dozens we have never published on the site that contain pointedly disparaging references and/or titles like, “The Porous Dripping Life, The Portion Driven Life, The Portly Dining Life, The Pretend Driven Lie, The Poser’s Designed Life, The Promise Dripping Lie, and The Pouting Drivel Life.” Why?

1. As I have stated publicly, ( see the interview “On Porpoise” from May 2006 ), I have been blessed by the work of Rick Warren and his book, The Purpose Driven Life. So has my wife and millions of people (forty-two million I have been told bought the book). The sheer numbers would lead any knuckle-head to appreciate the fact that God continues to pour out his blessings on people in the manner He sees fit. If you want to bash Rick Warren, and the way he has been used by God to dispense a blessing to so many, well, have at it. I just don’t want any part of it.

2. It’s counterproductive – There’s a myriad of strategic issues that the emergent movement needs to focus on. One of those strategic issues is building bridges, rather than succumbing to what so many faith movements become enamored with: themselves and their own brand of intellectual and spiritual snobbery that inevitably leads to suffocating in ones’ own self-righteousness. The Porpoise Diving Life has been created and will continue to be edited and published as a bridge-builder rather than a bridge-burner.

3. There’s more – Frankly, the emergent movement (and The Porpoise Diving Life) owe Rick Warren and the purpose-driven theology he authored, a great deal of gratitude. My faith journey is one where I have learned that most often, God leads me one step at a time. However, I need to be careful that I pace myself, and don’t trip on others, or myself, as I attempt to follow His leading. What Warren’s theology did for me (and I hope it does for you) is illuminate the pathway ahead, beyond where he left off. The emergent movement has an opportunity to consider Warren’s journey for what it is – the chronicle of a fellow faith sojourner. This is what the sub-title to The Porpoise Diving Life actually refers to: “Picking Up Where Purpose Driven Peters Out.” Our journey may not be in the same direction, encounter the same terrain, have the same demographic characteristics as the Warrenite expedition. We may not use the same compass, or even interpret the opportunities to define the mission and plot the route the same way as the Warrenite’s did, or are doing. Frankly, we may have the opinion that the Warrenite’s are headed in the wrong direction, or exploring terrain that has already been mapped out by others. Finally, you might have the opinion that the Warrenite’s are lost and taking a whole host of other folks with them. Fine!

However, I think it is incumbent upon us as faith adventurers to use the chronicles of the journey of other faith explorer(s), as reference material that cause us to intentionally evaluate the coordinates and mission for our own, ongoing, expedition. There’s nothing worse than being out on a hike with people who spend the day bitching and disparaging the people who recommended the jumping off point, the map, or the suggestion of going for a hike today, when, after all, we’re the one’s who are responsible to “take it from here and make of this day all that it can be.” You see, it’s all about God, you and me. As I’ve written, it’s all about us. We’re the ones on this part of the hike together. We need to re-focus on our Leader, The God of More, Jesus Christ. An essential part of this re-focusing is to examine the route, beliefs and methods of the faith explorers who have preceded us, those who might journey on other paths, as well as the content and tenor of the dialogue amongst ourselves. As Dallas Willard says:

“It is one of the major transitions of life to recognize who has taught us, mastered us, and then to evaluate the results in us of their teaching. This is a harrowing task, and sometimes we just can’t face it. But it can also open the door to choose other masters, possibly better masters, and one Master above all.” (1)

Does the above sound like a ringing endorsement for purpose-driven theology? It’s not. Does it appear to be the extension of an olive branch to people who have adopted a purpose-driven worldview? I hope so. Am I suggesting that the intensity and expression of cynicism directed toward purpose-drivers that I have recounted above is wearisome, as well as a cause for concern? Absolutely. Allow me to conclude this section with a pertinent quote from author Daniel Taylor’s epic work, The Myth of Certainty – The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment:

“Cynicism is the spiritual manifestation of the nihilistic tendencies in much of modern thought and reflective people are especially susceptible to it. Cynicism may seem an intelligent position, given the hypocrisy and stupidity of many human endeavors. Cynics often pride themselves on their greater insight into human nature and society, fancying that they see through sham and pretensions that fool everyone else. Ultimately, however, cynicism is both foolish and cowardly itself. It is foolish because it underestimates the God-given human potential for finding and creating meaning in life, and it is cowardly because it is afraid to risk anything in the human adventure.”(2)

We can and must move beyond where purpose-driven peters out toward a reality for the rest of us. In concluding these opening remarks, please understand the fact that I remain deeply grateful, blessed and encouraged by the emergent movement as “God has often used those with troubled hearts to speak in their society and to call His people closer to Himself.”(3) I continue to be one.

III. Ideas Have Consequences

In his classic work, Ideas Have Consequences, author Richard M. Weaver observed:

“Nothing is more certain than that we are all in this together….If the thinkers of our time cannot catch the imagination of the world to the point of effecting some profound transformation, they must succumb with it.” (4)

One of the transforming consequences of ideas is that they should spawn new ideas that take us beyond where we encountered the initial idea. (Sorry, that’s just the way God decided to create us). When a whole host of ideas are assembled together and neatly packaged into forty days of bite-sized tidbits that portend to capture the essence of the Christian worldview and the fundamental nature of truth…well, that’s when people like me begin taking long walks on an ocean beach and observe Porpoise diving above and beneath the surface of it all. You return from the beach, pray and start writing. You publish some of it on the internet. The next thing you know, thousands of people in nearly one hundred different countries are flocking to the site, sending you email encouraging you to write more, gratefully acknowledging their liberation from the illusion that they were alone. As one author says, “It is no small thing to find that there are others in the world who share your experience.”(5)

Although you may not consider it profound, the suggestion that “How we think about God matters,”(6) is a motivating force in my life. My faith journey as a Christian is also guided by the proposition that “Images of Jesus matter…that there is a strong connection between images of Jesus and images of the Christian life, between how we think of Jesus and how we think of the Christian life.”(7) For me, these images are not always perfectly clear, flawlessly integrated, easily defined and symmetrical. Sometimes they are glimpses, incomplete, foggy and appear like framed pictures hanging on a wall that are off-center. I have come to accept this as a blessing of the Christian life, rather than a malady to be cured. As one author says, “Jesus taught that when our pictures don’t look straight, God is often inviting us to enjoy them in their crookedness…It is on the crooked paths, in unwanted circumstances, that we find God’s plans for us – and some of the greatest things life has to offer.” (8)

The outcome of my own personal consumption, experience and evaluation of purpose-driven theology is that the picture didn’t look straight. Actually, it’s more like I had been fitted with a new prescription in the lenses of my eyeglasses. Although the eyeglasses seemed to fit on my ears and the bridge of my nose correctly, I seemed to begin tripping on myself and bumping into others with the new prescription. The idea that the new prescription afforded by a purpose-driven theology worldview would improve my vision had a consequence: I realized, as Rob Bell has written, “One of the central assumptions of the Christian worldview is that there is “more.”(9) Yep, that purpose-driven prescription helped me realize that I was living with an inner turmoil. This condition existed well before I tried on the purpose-driven lenses. I had to confess that I was one of those who had “not found with their adult mind, a God big enough to “account for” life, big enough to command their highest admiration and respect, and consequently their willing cooperation.”(10) The condition I found myself in was mine. I couldn’t legitimately blame the prescription that purpose-driven theology contained as the cause of my predicament. On the contrary, the purpose-driven fitting made me realize that my dilemma simply required a different prescription.

During those long walks on the beach, I started asking myself some important questions about the ideas I had about God, the consequences of those ideas, the images of Jesus and the Christian life that I possessed at the time. Honestly, I began to feel guilty and terribly alone by this seemingly insatiable inquiry. I felt like I was pondering all the wrong questions, when something author Mike Yaconelli penned freed me from this predicament. He wrote, “There are no “wrong” questions. When people are hungry for God, every question is “right.” Curiosity is the unknown fruit of the Spirit, and stealthy expression of God’s presence. Faith opens our eyes and brings us face-to-face with a new reality – a reality rich with new vistas of knowing.” (11)

As I looked out over the Pacific ocean, sun setting in the west, I realized the gift that purpose-driven theology had bestowed upon me: the passion to pursue a relationship with God, beyond the boundaries of the horizon. I began to realize that perhaps, “God is bigger than the Christian faith.”(12) Maybe there’s more to God than what we presently portend to comprehend. I was at a point in my life where, as one author recounted, “We must learn how to perceive the living God who is building a new world in unexpected places and shapes; indeed, we must learn what it means to enter the new world of God. In short, we must relearn the meaning of being a Christian.”(13) It was time to move on, pursuing the God of More.

IV. Toward a Reality For The Rest of Us

In April 2005, I read an interview with Rick Warren by CNN’s Paul Bradshaw, as recounted by Amit Bhatia.(14) The content of this interview intrigued me.. Warren was asked, What is the purpose of life? He responded, “In a nutshell, life is preparation for eternity…This is the warm-up act, the dress rehearsal.” Later on that afternoon, I read something by authors Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren that seemed to challenge Warren’s position: “When we talk about Jesus, we must make it clear that he is not just interested in our well-being in the afterlife. He is a Savior who is at work in the world today trying to save the world from what it is, and make it into a place where people can live together with dignity.”(15) It appeared to me that there were some folks out there, just like me, who were pondering the possibility that maybe, just maybe, this life is more than a dress rehearsal. Perhaps the “purpose of life” (if there is solely one) is not intended to be reduced to the confines of a nutshell.

Further along in the same interview, Warren declared, “God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy. We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that’s not the goal of life: The goal is to grow in character, In Christ-likeness.” I thought to myself, “OK…that’s fine, but what would the world become if we Christians simply sat around in our stuff, becoming content in our ever-increasing holiness. Once again, a reading of Campolo seemed to provide an alternative perspective: “Being a Christian isn’t just believing in God and being good. It involves a commitment to change the world. Christians are expected to be part of a movement that will make the world that is, into the world that ought to be.” (16)

Finally, Mr. Warren stated in the interview that, “He’s (God) more interested in what I am than what I do.” That was it. I couldn’t imagine God not being particularly interested in what I do with my life. Donald Miller seemed to capture the essence of where I was at when he wrote: “What I believe is not what I say I believe; what I believe is what I do.” (17)

I started defining what my faith looked like versus my understanding of some central themes of purpose-driven theology. If you’re wondering if you’re porpoise-diving or purpose-driven or in your faith journey, I prepared the following table to assist you. Here’s the table:

Porpoise-Diving or Purpose Driven?

The Porpoise- Diving Life© The Purpose-Driven Life©
Author Ordinary Guy Baptist Preacher
Sub-Title “Reality For The Rest of Us – Picking Up Where Purpose-Driven Peters Out.” “What in the world am I here for?”
Theme 1 “It’s all about us! God, you and me.” Engaged. “It’s not about you.” – Detached.
Theme 2 Life contains a lot of questions Questions are invaluable in my faith journey. Christianity has all the answers.
Theme 3 Christianity is not about exclusiveness. It’s about inclusiveness. It’s a faith that adores the mystery of God. Christianity has the exclusive answers, for an exclusive set of people.
Theme 4 God cannot be contained in a box of beliefs. Canned Christianity – “Just believe and do this and you’ll be fine.”
Theme 5 Seek, Explore, Act…a life journey. Consume, Believe and Digest
Theme 6 The journey really begins at Day 41. Faith journeys have no end. The Christian worldview in 40 days of study.
Theme 7 Life is filled with circumstances, choices and consequences. Elements of predestination – Your life course was determined at birth.
Theme 8 Emphasizes the importance of relationship with God, questions, people and experiences. Emphasizes the importance of answers, right beliefs and traditional faith rituals.
Theme 9 Non-linear living – No matter what you believe, life is filled with the unexpected, the uncertain and the unpredictable. God reveals himself to us through them too. You’re not defective! You’re human. Linear living – If you believe and practice faith in a certain way, life will be predictable. If you suffer from the uncertain, the unpredictable and the unexpected too often, you just may be doing something wrong.
Theme 10 Purpose(s) of Life – Multiple – Impact this world with Christ’s love each day. Purpose of Life – One – Preparation for eternity
Theme 11 Recognition that there’s a reality for the rest of us. The 21st century worldview for Christians.
Theme 12 Stories about real people…real life. Biblical exegesis
Theme 13 Creative story telling. Biblical exegesis
Theme 14 You’re not alone. Become one of us.
Theme 15 Christians are expected to be part of a movement that will make the world that is, into the world that ought to be. The goal is to grow in character.
Theme 16 What I believe is what I do. Belief must be expressed in behavior. God is more interested in what I am than what I do
Theme 17 This life matters now. It’s no dress rehearsal mate! Life is preparation for eternity.
Publisher Internet Zondervan
Audience Anybody Evangelical Christians

V. Summary and Conclusion

Yes, I know. Dichotomies portrayed via the table above distinctly oversimplify comparisons.

One of the fundamental things I’ve stumbled upon during my ongoing journey toward exploring a reality for the rest of us is this: there is no them anymore. It all depends upon where you’re at, where you’re coming from and where you’re going. We create them. Perhaps the journey toward a reality for the rest of us requires us to discard some baggage…the burden of them. I know it seems counterintuitive. Yet, that’s the way God unexpectedly blows through the walls of the understanding I seem to surround myself with. I’m required to unpack and unlearn what I think I know. Listen to the following:

“Let me be very clear about God’s vision: It is probably not what you expect. It typically is counterintuitive because God refuses to be limited be his creation. It is not based on human consensus; his vision will stir intense emotion and debate, causing some people to seek other places through which they can serve him more comfortably while energizing others. His vision comes at a high cost because it demands significant personal change, fulfilled only with great effort, produces results in the long term, and necessitates teams of people working together rather than individuals doing their thing in isolation. And his vision is not based on incremental improvement of other’s ideas; his organizing concept for you is fresh and customized to your situation. Humankind cannot fathom the depths of God; neither can his vision be minimized by our limitations.” (18)

Finally, I hope this article encourages you to explore, to walk toward the God of More. Come to Him. Come prepared to learn, to unpack and unlearn. Come surrendered rather than armed. May you forget the need to perform, for whatever reason. Come just the way you are. The following captures the essence of my prayer for you:

“But when religion teaches us that God loves the wounded soul, the chastised soul that has learned something of its own fallibility and its own limitations, when religion teaches us that being human is such a complicated challenge that all of us will make mistakes in the process of learning how to do it right, then we can come to see our mistakes not as emblems of our unworthiness but as experiences we can learn from. We will be brave enough to try something new without being afraid of getting it wrong. Our sense of shame will be the result of our humility, of learning our limits, rather than our wanting to hide from scrutiny because we have done badly.” (19)

Reality for the rest of us…It’s all about us – God, you and me.

Dive in! Get wet! It’s The Porpoise Diving Life.

Bless you.

Notes:

[1] Willard, Dallas The Divine Conspiracy- Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, HarperSanFrancisco – A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., Copyright © 1997 by Dallas Willard, p. 272.

[2] Taylor, Daniel The Myth of Certainty – The Reflective Christian & The Risk of Commitment, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL Copyright © 1986, 1992 by Daniel Taylor, p. 122

[3] Taylor, Daniel The Myth of Certainty – The Reflective Christian & The Risk of Commitment, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL Copyright © 1986, 1992 by Daniel Taylor, p. 26.

[4] Weaver, Richard M. Ideas Have Consequences, The University of Chicago Press, Copyright © 1948 by The University of Chicago, p. 187

[5] Taylor, Daniel The Myth of Certainty – The Reflective Christian & The Risk of Commitment, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL Copyright © 1986, 1992 by Daniel Taylor, p. 151

[6] Borg, Marcus J. The God We Never Knew – Beyond Dogmatic Religion to A More Authentic Faith, HarperSanFrancisco-A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, Copyright © 1997 by Marcus J. Borg, p. VII.

[7] Borg, Marcus J. Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time – The Historical Jesus & The Heart of Contemporary Faith, HarperSanFrancisco-A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, Copyright © 1994 by Marcus J. Borg, pp. 1-2.

[8] Taylor, Tom PARADOXY – Coming to Grips With the Contradictions of Jesus, Baker Books, A Division of Baker Publishing Group, Copyright © 2006 by Tom Taylor, p. 14.

[9] Bell, Rob Velvet Elvis-Repainting The Christian Faith, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI Copyright © 2005 by Rob Bell, p. 19.

[10] Phillips, J.B. Your God Is Too Small, A Touchstone Book – published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. NY,NY, Copyright © 1997 by Touchstone, p. 8.

[11] Yaconelli, Michael Dangerous Wonder – The Adventure of Childlike Faith, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO Copyright © 1998, 2003 by Michael Yaconelli, p. 44.

[12] Bell, Rob Velvet Elvis-Repainting The Christian Faith, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI Copyright © 2005 by Rob Bell, p. 27.

[13] Marsh, Charles The Beloved Community – How Faith Shapes Social Justice From the Civil Rights Movement to Today, Basic Books – A Member of the Perseus Books Group, Cambridge, MA Copyright © 2005 by Charles Marsh, p. 214.

[14]http://www.southasianconnection.com/blogs/18/ Interview-with-Rick-Warren-by-Paul-Bradshaw.html
[15] Campolo, Tony and McLaren Brian D. Adventures in Missing The Point – How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered The Gospel, Zondervan Grand Rapids, Michigan © Copyright 2003 by Youth Specialties, p. 105.

[16] Campolo, Tony. You Can Make a Difference – High Voltage Living in a Burned Out World, W Publishing Group Nashville, TN Copyright 1984 by Anthony Campolo, p. VIII.

[17] Miller, Donald. Blue Like Jazz, Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville, TN Copyright 2003 by Donald Miller, p. 110.

[18] Barna, George A Fish Out of Water, Integrity Publishers, Nashville, TN Copyright © 2002 by George Barna, p. 77

[19] Kushner, Harold S. How Good Do We Have To Be – A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness, Little, Brown and Company Boston, MA Copyright 1996 by Harold S. Kushner, p. 39.

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