‘i, church’ – Let’s hear from from Steve Graybill

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‘i, church’ – Let’s hear from from Steve Graybill

My good friend Steve Graybill from Americaland, who has written for my blog before both on his strength weakness [which he identified, ironically enough, as a thirst for knowledge] and also on Sex in Marriage recently bought a copy of my book, ‘i, church’ on Amazon. He had some questions and thoughts which he shared with me via email and i asked him if he would write them into a post so that we could get more people engaging. Here is some of our back and forth conversation and some thoughts Steve had.

Steve and Helene

So, me and my wife, The Beautiful Helene (TbH) – when you can’t be original borrow – have had the privilege of hanging out with “FISH” a couple of times the past couple of years after meeting him at the Simple Way on a trip to “Come and See.” My wife being the awesome gift giver that she is bought a half dozen copies of ‘i, Church’ – two for us and some for us to give away.

I recently started reading the book and so far am really enjoying it. However, it is a bit weird to read a book of someone I would consider a good friend—a good friend despite not spending tons of time together, but some of the best quality time when we do hook up! I had a rather verbose FB message session with Brett regarding some questions with his book, which resulted in a brief dialogue, and Brett asking me to put the dialogue on his author page for further comment. So what follows is mostly what transpired, with some additions and editing from me on our conversation on ‘i, Church’.

[Steve’s First Message to Bret]t: Hey Bro, Enjoying the book–I am underlining the normal amount which is good. I have a number of questions which is also good. Perhaps one of us will get on a plane to get to the other or we can do a skype at some point but I have one question that I did want to present here more for food for thought than anything. You reference the parable of the Talents and it is obvious that you take the normal exegetical stance and see Christ’s referring to master in it as God. I will be frank, and say that I have never much liked this parable with that exegetical stance. In the past several years I have seen that passage exegeted with the Master representing the world not God, several times, this exegesis also aligns better with the other parable of the sheep and the goats in the same chapter in Matthew. Anyway, I was wondering if you had heard of this and your thoughts on it. Peace, Steve

[Brett’s Response]: hey Steve – i have heard the parable done from the other point of view [i think it was Pete Rollins] and i can see that – am researching Mark for a lecture i am giving today actually [5am here now so much later today] and came upon a piece yesterday [no idea where] where Jesus independently of that parable says the words ‘he who has will be given more and he who doesn’t will lose what little he has’ and so the meaning taken from that parable i feel is still a biblical principle even if that particular exegesis is not accurate [also with passages like branches not bearing fruit, salt losing its saltiness – that seems to be a clear principle throughout Jesus’ teaching?]

Not sure what you’re saying with regards to sheep and goats – is that master also not God? have not heard that before and need to go give it a read with different eyes and see but i have never had issue with that one because it does seem to back up God’s heart for the poor and marginalized – so give me more of what you mean with that one?

[My Response]:

-Brett, I am really struck with this saying of Jesus! So here is what came up in a google search for: “Jesus, whoever has more will be given.”

Matthew 13:12: Hearing the Word (Jesus)

Matthew 25:29: Talents (Money)

Mark 4:25: Hearing the Word (Jesus)

Luke 8:18: Hearing the Word (Jesus)

Luke 19:26: Minas (Money)

In Luke 19: The master owns up to him being severe (unforgiving) “You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.” In Matthew 25’s account we have: “…you knew that I reap where I do not sow and gather where I scattered no seed…”

The other three times where this phrase is mentioned in the Gospels is regarding hearing the words of Jesus.

What about Jesus Claim that you cannot serve both God and Money?

Matthew 6:24 has Jesus discussing laying up treasure in heaven and Luke 16 Jesus tells the parable of the dishonest manager—the master of the manager in this story is diametrical to the master we find in Luke 19 and in Matthew 25—he actually commends his manager for his shrewdness in reducing debts and making friends with people knowing that he is about to be fired and the parable ends with, “You cannot serve God and money.” In other words, the manager has given up worldly gain for heavenly gain (human relationships) and is commended by his Master for this decision.

What if Jesus’ use of this phrase, “to him who has more will be given,” is purposely given in two contexts to show, much like Jesus lays out in Matthew 6:24, that we have a choice. Do we want to push into God and have more of Christ’s presence in our life? Or do we want to operate in the paradigm of the world and have material objects be more present in our life?

Brett: I think we more or less agree on the sheep and goat parable. My point was that in the Parable of the Talents we have this money-hungry master that in essence adds to the homeless population, while in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats we see a God who is found in the homeless, the widow, the incarcerated—a God who opposes the cruel masters represented in the Parable of the Talents.

[One more post from me on Matthew 25 that was at the end of the FB message just to create tension]:

Several months ago I heard a message on the Matthew 25 passage in question (Talents) that kept Master as God and honed in our the faithfulness aspect of it that I really appreciated. I see where positives and teaching points from both exegetical stances–how crazy it would be if Christ meant it as a “both and” scenario and not an “either or.” Late here and heading to bed–maybe I can copy and paste a big chunk of this convo onto your author page with some editing?

[A small addition to that post]:

The one thing from the message that stuck out to me besides the faithfulness aspect was what was not emphasized. I don’t necessarily agree that Jesus presents these parables as a both and scenario, but I am not a theologian and even if I were one, a good one anyway, I would have to admit that I do not have a monopoly on exegesis and hermeneutics. Anyway, during that message it was emphasized that it does not say: “Well done, good and hard-working servant,” or “Well done, good and incredibly driven servant,” but “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Having faithfulness being the teaching point of the message made that interpretation of the passage relevant and useful for me.

[My next message to Brett]: OK, Damn, another one: From ‘i, Church’: “The pattern in so many local church congregations is the paid staff and the minority of the people in the church doing the majority of the work which is mostly aimed at the church building/members. The majority of the people who frequent the building on a Sunday are quite happy to spectate. Come and watch a show if you like and then leave largely unchanged.” This made me think of Dave Schmidgall’s quote of NCC is a place where we want you to be a part of what God is doing through NCC and NCC is a church that wants to be a part of what God is doing through you.

Dave is my Campus Pastor and he has followed through with Helene and me more than once on that part about the church being a part of what God is doing through us. Another quote of his is “criticize through creation.” If you have a beef and complaint with the church and want to complain for the sake of complaining I am not going to give you much of an ear, but if you want to criticize and have plan for action then let me hear it and let’s get moving!

[Brett’s Response]: “NCC is a place where we want you to be a part of what God is doing through NCC and NCC is a church that wants to be a part of what God is doing through you.” sounds like a great [but long] car sticker but not fully sure what it means – are you talking specifically as a building in terms of using their premises for ministry vibes? i do love the “criticize through creation” concept although not 100% – it has merit and most of the time should be applied but sometimes not having an alternative answer yourself doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be muted on pointing out the fact that something is wrong… cos otherwise your motto is “Let’s continue doing it wrong til we figure out a way to do it better.” and sometimes things done wrong just need to be stopped altogether and then you can figure out a batter way of doing things – but i do get it and agree with it largely in principle… thanks for the questions.

[My Response]:

-Well, Dave’s wife happens to be a darn good business woman with ethics—not sure if you remember the Bittersweet Mag I gave you, but that is Dave’s wife’s use of her business for justice in the city. Anyway, she has a rented space for her business that use to double as their home until recently—anyway they have more than once allowed us to use that space during the evening for Kingdom purposes. That is

being a part of what God is working through us—they were even able to allow a couple to use it for their wedding—God is all about weddings!

-Helene and I volunteer at a hospice house in DC called Joseph’s House. While volunteering there we met a resident at the house who had another house in DC that was not habitable at the time and we asked our church if they might support us in renovating the house. They followed through with this giving us a small budget to work with. While the outcome of that experiment is still yet to be determined, that is being a part of what God is working through us.

-Helene and I are trying to make our spare bedroom a place for transitional housing for trafficked women in DC—currently this does not exist at all in DC. We approached NCC with this and they are partnering with an NGO in DC to create a pilot program for this. That is being a part of what God is working through us.

So, criticize through creation: several people have approached NCC with statements such as you are not doing enough to advocate for the homeless, what are we doing to end trafficking in our city?, HIV/AIDS is at epidemic proportions in DC, NCC needs to be doing more! We are not advocating for Children the way that we need to be what is NCC doing to address these issues. These are the criticisms that get thrown back at us—you are part of NCC head this up if you are passionate about it and NCC has your back. Those are our 4 key issues with our church right now and there are considerably more folks not on staff then on staff taking up the banner for those issues—Criticize through creation.

What about your thoughts? What have you liked or disliked with Brett’s book? What actions items are you taking away from it?

What are your thoughts about the church being a place that has you participating in the things that church is passionate about and having that church support you with Kingdom causes that you are passionate about? How is that playing out in your life? How are you criticizing through creating?

[To find out more about ‘i, church’, click here]

About the Author:

Brett Fish is a lover of life, God, tbV [the beautiful Valerie] and owns the world's most famous stuffed dolphin, No_bob (who doesn't bob). He believes that we are all responsible for making the world a significantly better place for everyone.

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  1. Kelvin Jones May 6, 2015 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    Steve/Brett, A quick comment on Matt 25 (the talents). The context here is the end times (starting in Matt 24:3) and Jesus is explaining events that are happening within this context (bearing in mind that no one knows the day or the hour). Thus, the returning Master/Groom in all of these parables is Jesus/God because He is the only one who will return during the end times. Thus, “the world” as the Master cannot be in view here.

    Regards

    Kelvin

    • Steve G May 7, 2015 at 7:15 am - Reply

      “Well, that is just, like your opinion man.” : )) I can see that though. Care to comment on 24:34 with that stance? Verse 43 also mentions “master” where it does not appear to allude to God but the owner of the house. Finally, while agreeing with you regarding the context you allude to in Matthew 24:3 the context for what appears to be the same parable in Luke 19 is not in the context of the end times.

      • Kelvin Jones May 8, 2015 at 10:37 am - Reply

        Hi Steve,

        A quick reply.

        V34: in this context Jesus is the Thief. He is expanding on the statement that no-one knows the hour or day and Jesus will return when you are not prepared. Clearly the master here is the person who must be prepared for the return of Jesus. Obviously “master” is not always Jesus/God. The context dictates.

        Luke 19 might seem like the same but was not delivered in the same context as Matt 25. There are similarities but there are also significant differences; e.g.:
        – parable in Luke is told when Jesus was near Jerusalem, before His triumphal entry; in Matthew, the parable is told when Jesus was in Jerusalem, a few days later.
        – Luke there are ten servants; in Matthew, there are only three.
        – Luke, the man who went away is a nobleman who leaves to obtain a kingdom; in Matthew, no such information is given.
        – Luke, the man who went away gives each servant the same amount of money (one mina); in Matthew, talents are given to the three slaves according to their ability.
        We must recognise that these parables (Luke vs. Matt), while similar, were told on different occasions and contain significant differences.
        – …and more

        24:34: Context is the “signs of Jesus’ return at the end of the age”. The disciples asked: how will we know when you return ? Jesus uses the fig tree as illustration saying that if you see the leaves of a fig tree it means summer is coming. Fig trees get their leaves in spring and bear fruit in the summer. Thus, when you see the signs (Matt 24) of the end of the age, that generation will not pass away. Thus, the culmination of the signs and the return of Jesus are within 1 generation.

        This is not my opinion but the word of God. :))

        (thanks to Brett for allowing us to dialogue through his blog.)

        Kelvin

        • Steve Graybill May 8, 2015 at 4:10 pm - Reply

          Thanks Kelvin, You write: “This is not my opinion but the word of God.” Respectfully, I would say that this is where we disagree rather strongly. Correct me if I am wrong, but I am perceiving that you see the Bible in its entirety as “The Word of God.” In the past couple of years I have abandoned that thinking–many would call that blasphemy–it may be–I will only ever know when I meet Jesus face to face. For me I see the Old Testament as two competing narratives. One of a blood-thirsty, violent, exclusive and retributive god, one really that Jews essentially adopted from the pagan cultures of the time. The second of a loving, grace-filled, forgiving, mercy-filled and inclusive God longing to reconcile and restore mankind to relationship with him/her/it. While the prophets still contain parts of the retributive God they really are the catalyst that begin the shift toward the forgiving, loving and forgiving true God. This latter God finds its culmination or apogee in Jesus–God in the flesh here to demonstrate for humanity the true character of God the father. Much of what I see in the Old Testament, including much of Mosaic law is where man simply does not get it.

          The Bible, for me, is not a constitution of black and white, perhaps it is not that for you either, it is full of greyness. Much like Jacob wrestling with God I think we are called to do the same. I would say, again for me, it is more paramount that I approach the Bible with faithful questioning rather than unquestioning obedience.

          I would love more of your thoughts Kelvin–I can see that you are passionate about the Bible and actually spend a good amount of time enmeshed with its pages and do wrestle as well even if in a bit of different context than me.

          And yeah, Thanks Brett for creating space for folks to dialogue–I love that you perpetually stray from being a monopolizing voice on your blog and make it incredibly inclusive!

          • brettfish May 8, 2015 at 4:13 pm

            i would add that i would challenge a statement like “this is not my opinion but the word of God” as it doesn’t leave much room for interpretation and if we’ve learnt anything through the years it is that the bible is not a standalone ‘Word of God’ that can’t be misused, misquoted, used out of context and mistranslated. This is how i see the Word of God speaking in this situation” would probably be a more accurate and safer version… i, for now, still see the whole Bible as the Word of God but agree that it has to be read in context as whole to fully come close to understanding what was and is intended and how that is relevant for us today.

          • Steve Graybill May 8, 2015 at 4:52 pm

            Brett, I see our hearts align so much with Christ’s passions even though we both fall miserably short, well me anyway. I would love to hear your take on some of the really vicious passages in the OT that have God responsible for genocide. How have you processed them?

  2. Steve G May 7, 2015 at 6:02 am - Reply

    Hmmm…There is a great example of criticizing through creating in the last paragraph on pg. 161
    : ))

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