Updated: Jul 9, 2019
The world has changed.
I see it in the water.
I feel it in the Earth.
I smell it in the air.
Much that once was is lost,
For none now live who remember it. (J. R. R. Tolkien)
They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps has already landed. (C. S. Lewis)
Those of you who know me won’t be surprised that the first quote comes from The Lord of the Rings. In these words, Tolkien laments the changing landscape of post World War II Europe. But these words ring strangely true in our time as well. While the world did not change overnight, it is definitively different from 10 years ago. Almost unrecognizable from 20 years ago. Access to information has grown exponentially. Remember when you needed to walk to the library and consult an encyclopedia to find out if the Peregrine Falcon is the fastest animal in world (it is)? Now we can simply ask Alexa. Indeed, without ever leaving the couch we can access information on just about any subject on the planet (Area 51 a possible exception). How we communicate has also shifted, increasingly moving toward digital platforms. I have friends that I haven’t seen for years and the only way we have stayed connected is via Facebook! Some of my friends I only text; my parents I only phone. Technology has and continues to change how we remain connected.
What we believe (and how we believe) has also changed. I have conversations with people who have radically different ideas of what the good life is. People differ on what matters and what doesn’t and have opposing views on how to get there. In some circles, the good news Jesus came to announce is considered narrow, oppressive and old-fashioned. Truth is contested and people are encouraged to embrace increasingly personalized ways of meaning (as evidenced in a workshop presenter I once met who introduced herself as a Mennonite Buddhist). How do we remain faithful to something most people around us think is completely irrelevant? How does the complexity of our world (re)shape our faith? And to be clear, these complexities do not just exist between Christianity and the world; they exist within Christianity. Choose any issue and I can find Christians—many of whom I deeply respect—who land in different places in what the Bible says, what the Bible means, and how we are to respond. Back to Tolkien: “The world has changed… Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”
It can be tempting to wish for another reality, to long for an imaginary golden age when everyone believed the same thing and faith wasn’t quite so difficult. But this time has never existed. The world has always presented a challenging environment in which to be Christian. Faith has always required daring.
They say Aslan is on the move. I have thought quite a few times about this quote over the past few months. It comes from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Even if you have never read this story and you have no idea who Aslan is, you still get the impression that something important is being communicated. And you’d be right. This proclamation (spoken by a beaver, no less!) marks a turning point in the story. Somehow you know that from this point forward, everything changes.
Over the past number of months, I have attended a course on preaching, read several books, listened to a handful of podcasts, and had countless conversations that have led me to this conclusion: Aslan is on the move—God is among us and doing something. I don’t have a complete picture of what that is or will be. But I sense that God is waiting to do something unexpected, something miraculous. There have been some significant changes at Varsity Bible Church this past year. I am guessing there are more to come. These changes are not merely for the pursuit of novelty; these changes emerge from paying attention to God, from discerning the times and learning how to communicate the good news in a post-Christian culture. If the world has changed in the past 15 years, then the church needs to change as well.
Interesting enough, both Tolkien and Lewis were part of a gathering they referred to as the Inklings. It was a group comprised of academics and poets who met to praise the value of narrative and encourage the writing of fantasy. The books that emerged from this group (The Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia being the most well known) danced around a similar theme: God (named or not) is doing something unexpected. VBC is my version of the Inklings. It is here that I meet with men and women to praise the value of God’s narrative and encourage if not the writing of fantasy, at least the cultivation of imagination. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God had come near. So… has it? What would it look like if Jesus were acknowledged in this moment, in this situation, among these people?
When it came time to explain the nature of the kingdom, Jesus appealed to the imagination through the telling of parables. A number begin with the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven is like…” What is this kingdom and what does it look like in western Canada in 2019? This summer we will be exploring these parables together. Come. Listen. Be challenged. Be surprised. Aslan is on the move.
Note: To give our bloggers a little reprieve, this blog will resume in September.