Where can we find authentic Christian faith? In a church service? In an Amazon-Prime Series?
I’ve been interested in spiritual experience since I was a young man and became a Jesus follower. I’ve been interested in authentic spiritual experience ever since.
So last week I observed two quite different “events” that made me ask myself, were these authentic?
The church scene.
I walked in and we were seated seven rows from the front, just before the band of six started playing. The lead female was a short young lady less than 30 years old. She had jeans with small holes at the knees.
The lead male, a tall lanky young man who also played guitar, wore a beard and a ballcap and he had jeans with large holes at the knees.
The songs, just two long ones, were uplifting to me in a spiritual way. I looked around the gathering of maybe 200 people, and most people were standing and swaying or shaking their heads to the music. A few raised their hands in worship.
The pastor, a young man of 31, spoke about doubt, the last of a series on mental health. I would have liked to have heard him talk about anxiety in the earlier parts of the series.
It was a message that was practical in that we all experience doubt, so he said its best to accept it and move on – don’t let doubt stop you from moving after you’ve made a decision.
The message was based on a biblical story about doubt expressed by John the Baptist, imprisoned at the time, when he questioned whether Jesus was the Messiah, or should he wait for someone else?
This church was called Heart And Soul church in Princeton, Texas, an outer suburb of Dallas. It has grown to 300 strong in just over 12 months that it’s been there, meeting in a school auditorium.
I found the church service was compelling. And I thought of Richard Dawkins the famous atheist who rubbishes Christian faith. What would Dawkins think of this church service? Would he condemn the attendees, including many young people, and insist they were being misled away from his truth that there is no God?
I just wish he had seen the joy on the faces of the greeters at the door, and yes even in the car parking lot, who welcomed us as we walked in. The enthusiasm of the attendees as they sang, and the practical applications of the preaching on handling doubt, all seemed authentic to me.
The Amazon-Prime scene.
At another time last week, I clicked on the series The Chosen, because someone had told me it was good. Nicodemus, a leading Pharisee, shows up early preaching about performance-based faith – do this and don’t do that, and don’t fish in the Lake of Galilee on the Sabbath.
Jesus shows up, hair down to his shoulders and sandals on his feet, and Wow! What a character study! First, he’s a model for grace-based faith instead of performance-based faith. He said the Kingdom of God is about our life going forward, not about our past reputation and all those sins that branded us. We hand those over to God and we become forgiven, and in fact a transformed person.
Second, before he even got going on his ministry, Jesus attends a wedding in Cana. And yes, Jesus and his early band of followers are eating and drinking and dancing. Then the party runs out of wine. Disaster! But his mom leans on Jesus to do something. And he does — he fills a number of vessels with water and then turns it into wine. The partying continues.
What the film does is to flesh out the scenes and the gaps between the scenes, and yes some creative license is involved. But my over-riding take is that this adds light to the Bible stories.
Third, I’ve always believed in the miracles that Jesus instigated. The episode of The Chosen, where a crippled man was let down through the roof of a house, was superb. It highlighted the tension between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, who argued when Jesus said, “your sins are forgiven.” But also the happiness of the common people when Jesus healed the man.
This brought tears to my eyes, as I’ve always believed in those miracles, and the encounter with Jesus seemed so realistic to me.
Fourth, Nicodemus sought out Jesus to learn more, and they met furtively by night. It’s a powerful sequence in which a learned religious leader is told by Jesus that he must be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. And Nicodemus is flummoxed by this, but has the humility to ask Jesus to explain himself. Jesus responds cleverly with an analogy about the wind, saying you can feel it but you don’t know how it originates…. And so it is with things of the spirit. Such a believable encounter!
The settings seemed realistic too, with the Roman soldiers in armor always keeping a hand next to their swords. And Matthew the tax collector, a Jew, was hated by the Jewish people who had to pay their taxes to him. And the Samaritan woman, despised by the Jews, who engaged with Jesus when he surprised here by asking her to give him a drink of water at Jacob’s well.
I have not yet started Season 2 of The Chosen. But the series so far has been compelling and some of the scenes moved me to tears. Is it authentic? Yes, a resounding yes, from my “scientific” perspective. The series expanded my mind and solidified my faith, and in no way weakened it.
The Gray Nomad ….. What are your thoughts on The Chosen TV series?
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
[Gospel of John, chapter 3].