Husband. Dad to 5. Student Ministry Pastor. Follower of Jesus. Yatta yatta.

I SAID I WANT TO LIVE LIKE JESUS… AND I MEANT IT.

That’s the subject of my teaching for this coming Sunday in high school. And evidently a long post this morning….

So this morning I sit down to eat my breakfast and wait for it to be time to take my kids to school, and I see an interview with A.J. Jacobs. He’s a New York Times best selling author who has started to become accustomed to, and make a name for himself in, the genre of experiential novel. I made that genre up. I’m not sure really what you call it, but it’s like reality tv only in word form and on one subject. I’ll explain:

His first book – the one that put him on the New York Times a-list was “The Know-It-All”. For this one, he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica- 44,000 pages cover to cover- and records the craziest and most interesting pieces of trivia along with the experience of the journey itself along the way. Somewhere in there he competed on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire and became so annoying that his wife started to fine him $1 for every useless trivia piece he inserted into a conversation. It’s probably worth buying just for that tid bit. That sounds hilarious to me.

Anyway- book number two for AJ (which just hit store shelves) is called, “A Year of Living Biblically” in which he attempts to keep all of the rules and regulations of the Bible as literally as possible for a year. He sets out, so he says, to genuinely understand the Bible and religion and to seek to find a model of faith or belief to share with his young infant son as he begins tries to raise him in this crazy world. He begins as an agnostic and at the end says he’s a “reverend agnostic”. He says that means, “Whether or not there is a God, I believe in sacredness. Rituals can be sacred, the Sabbath can be sacred however you choose to observe it.”

There is an interesting interview with Newsweek posted online here. The interview was either read by Matt Lauer before doing the interview I watched this morning or was handed to him as a script or something, because it is almost verbatim the questions and answers from there.

In this experiment of living this way for a year, he decided to grow out his beard which causes his wife to refuse to kiss him for the final 2 months. At one point he gets in a minor altercation with a man in a park who confesses to be an adulterer and he tries to stone him with pebbles (not the point nor the Biblical methods truly used, but that’s probably not the point either).

Since completing the writing of the book, he has begun to feature a, “Bible Question of the Week” feature on his blog. Where he writes, “So if you have a question about the Bible, please email it to me. It can be anything even vaguely related to the Bible. It doesn’t have to be a profound theological question. It could be something like: “Why does the number 40 pop up in the Bible all the time? (40 days of rain, 40 years of wandering, etc.)”
I’ll do my best to answer. And if I can’t, I’ll outsource it to one of the Bible experts I met during my year. So feel free to email them to me at [email protected]

Hmmm. I might take him up on this one, just to see what he says. I think I’ll read his responses for a while nonetheless.

But as trite as this book sounds to me with it’s tongue-in-cheek humor, it also is profoundly true and needed. In the Newsweek interview, he admits that this is a bad hermeneutic to read the Bible literally without any contextual filter. Which I applaud, however he still sees the answer to this dilemna of what to do literally and what not to as more of a “cafeteria” picking and choosing of what to eat and what to ignore. Which makes, in my opinion, for the oxymoron of comfortable Christianity.

I must (not as one who has committed a year of my life to living Biblically, but my entire life to living Biblically) ask the question, “Am I this devoted to the task as he was for his year? Do I keep the statues and commands of the Bible and Jesus on my mind and heart as Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 119 challenge? Do others see me as radically devoted to living and serving God? Does my behavior resemble that of Jesus? Do I practice what I preach?”

Literally!?!?

I think I should. I want to. But at the same time, I do think that there is a meaning at the core of the teaching that is the true point of the teaching sometimes. For example, the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:29 “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” I have sinned a lot with my eyes. I still have two. I obviously don’t think this is a teaching I plan on following literally, nor did A.J Jacobs by the way, nor do I think it was what Jesus expected his followers to do, otherwise he would have been popping out eyes to save people, not healing them.

But this begs a question I’ve been messing around with for several weeks now: “How literal should I read the Bible and are those who follow it literally actually more Godly?”

As an example, one of the books I’m reading right now, that I’m a little late to the party on, is The Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne. A friend of mine gave it to me a couple of weekends ago and said that Rob Bell gave it to everyone in attendance at his “isn’t she beautiful” conference on the church and leading and stuff last January or something like that.

Anyway, I started reading it and one of the themes of the book is taking Jesus’ teaching literally. Especially if it involves possessions or money. He says that those who take Jesus’ teaching literally on selling all of one’s possessions and living a sorta nomadic lifestyle are more Godly and the “True Christians”. Here’s a quote from a part of the book where he records his summer trip to Calcutta, India to work with Mother Teresa and in search of true faith.

Eventually (Andy) told me his story. He used to be a wealthy businessman in Germany, and then he said he read the gospel and it “messed everything up”. He read the part where Jesus commands the disciples to sell everything they have and give it to the poor (Luke 12:33), and he actually did it. I had met some fundamentalists before, but only “selective fundamentalists,” not folks who took things like that literally. He sold everything he onwed and moved to Calcutta, where for over ten years he ahd spent his life with the poorest of the poor… I had gone in search of Christianity. And I had found it. I had finally met a Christian.

So, this Sunday, when I talk to students about “I said I wanted to follow Jesus… and I meant it”, what should I say?

I could tell them to live like AJ Jacobs and wear white clothes like Ecclesiastes says and not cut their hair and only have two sets of clothes like Jesus (and incidentally Mother Teresa too). I could tell them to gouge their eye out when they sin. I could tell them to forgive one another 490 times. I could tell them to sell all they have and move into a homeless village downtown.

But I don’t think much of that is the point. I won’t tell them to follow Jesus at an arms length and only in the comfortable stuff. But I won’t be telling them to read every story of Jesus’ encounter with a man or woman in the Bible as a play by play for “real Christians”.

Maybe I’m just being selfish and not really following Jesus myself. Lately, I hear a lot of sideline comments about how those who live in the suburbs are self-absorbed, money hungry, and American society moguls. I think Shane thinks that. That’s my read and the feel I get sometimes in the book, not his words exactly. It is mostly because of statements like one where he says that he’s a fan of everyone being welcome into the church, “whether than means not turning off transsexuals or folks who drive SUV’s.” I found that an interesting contrast, since evidently my sin of owning and driving an SUV is just the opposite extreme of choosing to date men while cross dressing like a woman. I really feel sorry for the transsexual who drives an SUV.

I’m trying to be a real Christian- a real thinking and living and breathing one. I take my Bible and my faith and following Jesus seriously. But I guess the question at hand might be, “When do I take it literally?”

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Brian Berry…I am excited to hear more about this!
    This book sounds intriguing.

  2. which book? I mentioned 3 in this post.

  3. If you’d like to hear A.J. Jacobs talk about his new book, “The Year of Living Biblically,” check out this audio interview link.

  4. This is a great post. Great things to struggle with. God bless as you struggle through it!

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