Sunday, November 13, 2016

the four chairs

It is not quite 'In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord', but still, in the year that Rush Hour was released, I played with chairs. I was with some Baptist youth pastors on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. After the training day was over, we headed for the movies. 1998. I've been playing with chairs ever since.

The idea was to equip them to see how the Bible story, spread over multiple centuries and written by dozens of human authors, is actually one single divine story of restoration and rescue. It all started, as it has often done, with a quotation from John Stott:

The Bible divides history into epochs, which are marked not by the rise and fall of empires, dynasties or civilizations, but by four major events - the Creation, the Fall, the Redemption and the End.
(JRWS, Issues Facing Christians, 34)

The imagination ticked away ... simpler words were chosen (as Stott does himself): Good, Bad, New, Perfect ... and the ideas have been evolving ever since (with help from friends like Geoff New). This week a class of 32 MTh students, here at SAIACS (Bangalore), engaged with the chairs...

The four chairs in a tribal area in Northern Thailand
Here is how it works:

Constructing the chairs: telling the story
Each chair is brought out, one at a time - and described.

The GOOD chair, with themes like creation, design, order, relationships constituted (God:humanity, humanity:humanity, God:creation, humanity:creation), community and image of God...

The BAD chair, with themes like sin (intense in Genesis 3-11; persistent ever since), guilt and shame, evil, judgement, suffering, death, each relationship broken and the image of God stained...

The NEW chair, with themes like 'redemption predicted (Gen 3.15), redemption initiated (Gen 12-Malachi - covenants & law & prophet-priest-king & wisdom), redemption completed (the Gospels), redemption celebrated (the rest)'; the kingdom of God, the cross of Christ, the resurrection, the age of the Spirit and the church...

The PERFECT chair, with themes like hope, destiny, eternity, second coming, final judgement, 'God is in control & Jesus wins' (Revelation), absence of tears & pain & death & 'groaning' & sin & brokenness, heaven...

Playing with the chairs: understanding the story
Here the fun begins, with lots of potential for interaction and discussion (and slipping quietly in the back door is a deeper understanding of the story).

How many chairs are needed to complete the gospel? Why?
How many chairs were in the gospel you accepted as a new believer? Come up and share your story.
What bad & false teaching slips in when a chair is removed, one at a time - leaving only three chairs?
What are the implications for God's people when teachers get stuck in just the one chair?
What truth can be depicted by stacking the middle chairs - and which way do you stack them?
etc etc etc
The bad chair, occupied by my friend and colleague, Dr Rennie - in a remote part of the Mainland.
Sitting in the chairs: indwelling the story
These chairs tell God's story of the world. They are his worldview and by sitting in them, one at a time, we can begin to live in that worldview as well. To use that great word from Michael Polanyi, we indwell the story. As we sit in the chairs, as we indwell the story, it becomes our way of looking at the world - or, better still, the lens through which we look at the world. Take a topic, any topic - hold it (with an actual object, symbolizing it) as you sit in each chair ... asking questions like these ... and allow a biblical worldview on the topic to take shape.

Sit in the GOOD chair and ask about God's original design and purpose, about the good thing that has been stained, about the image of God, and about how the topic engages with the four relationships.

Sit in the BAD chair and ask about where sin and evil have reached, about how the original design has been subverted/sabotaged, about the groaning and brokenness and suffering (and live in it and feel it a bit, too) ... and shed some tears over the sadness.

Sit in the NEW chair and ask about what the difference Christ can make (together with the cross & resurrection & kingdom & Spirit & church), about what healing and freedom and salvation is already possible, and about where the big words can become involved (redemption & reconciliation & justification & sanctification & forgiveness & compassion ... and truth).

Sit in the PERFECT chair and ask about what will happen at the end with this topic, about what healing and freedom and salvation (in all their fullness) look like, about how glory & hope & destiny & wholeness & justice transform this topic, about what 'God is in control & Jesus wins' means for this topic, and about what no more tears & no more pain & no more death & no more groaning & no more brokenness feels like.

My daughter, Alyssa, playing with sunflowers instead of chairs.
Moving the chairs (around the Table): responding to the story
This is Geoff New's main contribution - and it is beautiful. He notices how each of the four chairs can be 'overheard' in the words of Jesus at that Last Supper.

The GOOD: the divine desire for fellowship
And he said to them, 'I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.' (Lk 22.15)

The BAD: the human propensity for breaking fellowship
And while they were eating, he said, 'Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.' (Mt 26.21)

The NEW: the divine reconciliation with humanity
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, 'Take and eat; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.' (Mt 26.26-28)

The PERFECT: the divine restoration in the new heavens and earth
I tell you, I will not drink from the fruit of this vine from now on until the day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom. (Mt 26.29)

Kinda makes you want to be Getting up out of the chairs (and be) worshipping because of the story!

nice chatting

Paul

1 comment:

Fred Brunell said...

Yes - and I too am still playing (not with chairs, but other imagery). Like Alyssa's take. Take a look at tis great painting by David Arms (and other of his work too!).
http://davidarms.com/journal/2012/06/gods-story/
Have a four-week sermon series coming up in new year where I've been asked to "do something with art". Thinking of telling the Story through the eyes of artists through the ages... anyhow, we'll see...
Cheers, Fred