Friday, September 14, 2007

Deconstructing Archbishop Jensen

... or his message on Wednesday night, that is.

A number of people have actually asked me what I made of Archbishop Jensen's talk from Luke 18:18-30 on Wednesday night. So, on the presumption that my opinions actually have some weight, I thought I might provide an "outsider's perspective" of some things that stood out to me:

(1) Jensen started by talking about centrality of relationships in human existence, which was a self-evident starting point for a mission entitled "The Ultimate Relationship". He communicated this point particularly poignantly, speaking about the joys and sorrows that relationships bring us. It made me think about the fact that I have always held the supreme importance of relationships in my life as undeniably true. Funnily enough though, I have never sought to prove this logically. Sure enough, one could appeal to a biological basis for relationships, but I've held relationships as important even before this line of thinking had occurred to me. It was an important reminder that some of the greatest truths in this world are intuitive rather than logical.

(2) Jensen also talked about some of the things which militate against quality relationships, including individualism and consumerism. While I wouldn't agree with Jensen that individualism has been an "unmitigated disaster" as he expressed, I'd certainly agree with him that the relentless pursuit of individualism at the expense of community has proved to be particularly problematic, both individually and corporately. Of course, I couldn't agree with him more about the devastating effect that consumerism and materialism has had upon relationships. Jensen's reminder that we have become asset rich, yet time poor and hence relationship poor is an important corrective in contemporary society.

(3) In order to switch focus from human relationships towards our relationship with God, Jensen spoke about the reliability of relationships and the fact that there are certain points in life that our closest human relationships will fail us. In particular, he pointed out that death is a process we ultimately travel through alone. I thought that this was rhetorically powerful, precisely because I am sure that there has been a point in every person's life when they have felt the pain of feeling alone.

(4) After talking about the profile of the rich young ruler and his question, Jensen focused on Jesus' directive for the man to sell all of his possessions and come and follow him. I was really glad that Jensen didn't qualify this verse by adding the caveat that simply because Jesus asked the rich young ruler to sell all of his possessions, it doesn't mean that we are expected to do the same. I have heard many speakers do this - and it annoys me every time, because I see it as a concession to an increasingly consumerist and middle-class church. If people hear this request and are shocked, then I think the story has served its purpose. People are meant to be shocked because it is the Ultimate Ultimatum - The Money or the Son. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out, grace may very well be free, but it certainly isn't cheap.

(5) Jensen finished up with a standard "sinner's prayer" which was more or less evangelical in focus. While my understanding of the atonement is somewhat different from that held by evangelicalism, I have no great objection to this type of prayer itself. However, the prayer did seem strangely out of place given the context of the talk. For myself and others aware of the evangelical gospel, Jesus dying for our sins and paying the penalty are familiar concepts, but to the newcomer, such talk probably would have seemed bewildering considering that it didn't really figure in the talk itself.

All of the above said, I both enjoyed and appreciated Jensen's talk. I can't say I was "pleasantly surprised", because I have heard Jensen talk before and accordingly already held high expectations. This said, my expectations were not disappointed. Finally, I should point out that the message of relationship and discipleship of Jesus and the forsaking of the world to pursue these objectives that is central to this narrative is both familiar and of critical important to my more liberal church community at Space For God. I couldn't have imagined anyone in this community having too much to object to in the thoughtful and effective way in which Jensen presented these motifs.

1 comment:

michael jensen said...

Not much of a deconstruction then!