Christianity 21:Adventures on the Emergent Frontier – Part Three: Jonathan Merritt

“The God who created us is better than the God we created.” That’s Jonathan Merritt’s testimony to the Grace of God which enveloped  a young man struggling with what to do with Jesus.

Jonathan Merritt of the “Faith and Culture” blog of the RNS (Religion News Service) recalls his life as the son of a Baptist pastor who remembers when a day of emptiness came and he felt that “God and I were an old married couple”. He empathizes with the scores of young adults who have similar stories of emptiness as they feel increasingly alienated from inherited faith – particularly in an angry parent God.

In his seeking for a fresh encounter “with the God who is”, Merritt allowed the Grace of God to fall upon him and work in his life in ways he could not imagine. In his own experience, he recalls the Biblical account of Jacob’s dream, one of the most engaging accounts of deep human experience included in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Merritt points out that in coming to Jacob, God places no conditions on him – no moral obligations “other than a beating heart”. God loves Jacob and envelopes him because of who God is, not because of who Jacob – or any one of us – is. Like Jacob, we must eventually open our hearts and minds to the dream of God and open our hands to the holy in our midst. Jacob named his place of God-encounter “Bethel” – The House of God”. The Holy is all around us.

Merritt reminds us that Jacob did not immediately accept the grace poured out upon him, but tried to bargain with God. He simply cannot believe grace is real. That, says Merritt, is our story too. “The Lord is in that place, and I did not know it,” reflects Jacob.

So a question faces us that is reflected in Jacob’s experience: Could God and Jesus be better than we imagined? Can we see beyond the strictures of ‘institution’ to embrace a new vision of God’s constant unpredictability? Like Jacob we need to accept that the “Good News” shows up in the strangest ways in the strangest places; God never shows up the same way twice.

At Pentecost, “People spoke words they didn’t know they knew”. Are we called as 21st century Christians to do the same? Can we live into the fact that God comes when needed most, but is least expected? This time in which we live can be our Bethel and our Pentecost, Merritt reminds us. That’s quite the challenge.

Indeed, the God who created us is better than the God we created.

Merritt’s answer to the question, “what’s the one big idea for Christianity in the 21st century?” is simply that we need a renewed vision of who God in Jesus is and who we are as open recipients to God’s Grace and God’s constant unexpected surprises.

Next: Two “Big Ideas” for the Christian Future from Paul Rauchenbusch and Noel Castellanos. Paul is the grandson of well-known American Christian thinker Walter Rauchenbusch and Noel  is with the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) founded by Rev. John Perkins, respected American civil rights advocate and community activist.

Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam, and a blog master at NW Anglican Blog. He recently attended the Christianity 21 gathering in Denver, Colorado.


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2 Responses to Christianity 21:Adventures on the Emergent Frontier – Part Three: Jonathan Merritt

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