Thursday, November 20, 2008

When You're On, You're On

On the recommendation of a family member, I recently read Michael Yaconelli's little book, Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith. I didn't know quite what to expect. On the one hand, I remember the days when I used to get The Door and the anticipation with which I would read Yaconelli's Back Door columns. They were the most serious pages of a highly non-serious magazine and he could cause you to laugh and think at the same time. On the other hand, I wouldn't have pegged Yaconelli as one who could write a full-length book — he always seemed just a tad too scattered and disconnected to be able to pull that off well. Additionally, the family member who recommended the book has one major theme around which most of what he thinks and reads revolves. In brief, it goes like this: "I love Jesus, but I hate the Church." This sentiment doesn't sit well with me and the increasing frequency with which I am reading and hearing it troubles me. I knew that Yaconelli had to hit on this theme for the book to be on this particular family member's recommendation list. So, with a mixture of expectancy and trepidation, I opened the book.

A glance at the table of contents reveals that some of my concerns were valid. Yaconelli was trying to get the reader's attention with shocking chapter headings and bold statements about what it really means to live a life of faith. Here are the titles, see if you can notice a pattern: dangerous wonder, risky curiosity, wild abandon, daring playfulness, wide-eyed listening, irresponsible passion, happy terror, naïve grace, childlike faith. He seems to have gotten a year's worth of use out of his thesaurus in just coming up with those! And the chapter contents themselves are filled with similarly exaggerated and superfluous statements that don't hold up well under Biblical or theological scrutiny. But, since he likely wasn't writing this as research for a Ph.D. dissertation, I won't fault him too much.

But I do want to credit Yaconelli with hitting the nail on the head with one vitally important point. In context, he is discussing the Gospel of Luke, chapter 7, and John the Baptist's lack of certainty about whether Jesus is really the Promised One that the people of God were supposed to be waiting for. After all of the groundwork that John and his disciples had laid, Jesus' ministry sure seemed to be harvesting mixed fruit. So, with pressure mounting and public opinion turning against this new Jesus movement, he sent some of his own to ask this supposed Messiah what in the world was going on. Here's Yaconelli's brief paraphrase of Jesus' words to a worried John:

"The Jesus who can rescue you is the One you can trust even when you're not rescued." (p. 118)

What a simple but powerfully poignant way to put it! John was eventually imprisoned and beheaded, but he had to trust Jesus anyway. Likewise, Jesus may not rescue us in the ways we think that we ought to be rescued. This doesn't mean that He can't, just that He has a good reason not to. And we have to trust that His reasons not to rescue are better than our reasons for His rescue. I read these words on the way to the hospital the day before Andrei Elijah's birth. I haven’t forgotten them, they are deeply meaningful and they will likely prove to be so whenever me, or a member of my family, faces the darker side of life in this fallen world.

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