A Burning House
There is only one person on earth I know who is a bigger grammar nerd than I am, and that person is Brandon Washington. He is also a much better scholar and theologian than I am. I aspire to his intellectual carefulness and writing craft which so beautifully points people to Jesus. Now, I will be completely transparent to say that I know this man personally and have been positively influenced in my walk with Jesus because of him. Take that bias for what it is.
Brandon gave me the absolute privilege of being on his book launch team, and one of my responsibilities (read: complete and total gifts) was to pre-read his book in advance of today's release. I love learning from this man because I know his goal is to point me to Jesus. Each week I think of the things I want to say about how much Brandon has taught me about how to live a whole gospel. I've had countless opportunities to bring up Brandon's book in conversation since I was invited to read this incredible text.
Here's my entry point talking about it here: I teach high school juniors. These kids are delightful punks who think they know a whole lot more than they actually do, but I want to model how I am growing and living out my faith to them.
When I first met Brandon I was a twenty-three year old with a fresh ankle tattoo driving an old Mercedes with a take-out box duct taped to my headlight because it had just been stolen for the second time that year. I was a naïve white girl eager to serve the city of Denver on a summer trip and Brandon was one of the pastors of an intentionally multiethnic church in Five Points. Brandon assigned a 15 year old built like a line backer with aspirations to play college football to be my buddy and bodyguard as we walked the streets of his neighbourhood inviting people to a church plant outreach. The church Brandon pastored was feeding the hungry and living the whole gospel as they talked about a Jesus who saves and changes lives in their neighbourhood. Brandon met me where I was and offered me a place serving within his local gathering alongside people who looked different than me. He also laughed at me when I explained to him the placement of my first tattoo had a lot to do with Toy Story. We have vastly different life stories, but we are family in Christ. In my first interactions with Brandon, I heard solid orthodoxy and I saw consistent orthopraxy. This church lived out the beliefs they professed.
Brandon took the time to write a full book explanation about why some people think he’s weird for living out his beliefs - because he thinks that we should all believe Jesus meant what he said and wants us to make disciples of all nations - and all colours in those nations - and to represent these kingdom values right now on earth instead of punting the responsibility to a future eschaton.
My lessons last week covered eschatology, and I had my students reflect on why we bother thinking about the end of the world (this week's question is "Why should teenagers read the Bible?). Every time I give that lesson about the end of the world, I stand at my podium next to my wheelchair and declare we believe that there will be no leg spasms in my resurrected body. I also happen to believe God could miraculously heal me today, but I teach that lesson in my current disabled condition. I still believe we should work to make places more accessible to include disabled people even though my body has limitations that will be fixed in the final state.
A Burning House is a work of love where Brandon shares his hope that the evangelical church can acknowledge its own current brokenness and move towards healing. Just as there is hope for a future body healed of nerve damage but that doesn't stop me from making spaces accessible now, Brandon's book explains there will be a future integrated church but that is not excuse to be comfortable in segregated pews now. I'm living an ocean away, but I can see the wounds tearing churches apart, and I am grateful for the agents of hope and healing actively speaking out to bring reconciliation. Brandon's book has four parts because he is a careful theologian and scholar. As an educator, I can't tell you how important it is to define your terms. This is the entire first part of the book because Brandon has watched so many people talk past one another in conversations including trigger terms like "evangelical" and "race." I cannot tell you how many times I've watched a student's eyes widen in shock as they discover they were using the same term differently as their peer in a conversation. Brandon is careful and clear with this explanation of key terms in his argument. Again, the educator and champion for context that I am applauds Brandon's carefulness as part two traces the history of hurt and identifies the root of the problem. One of the biggest selling points of this book for me is that it has forty pages of footnotes. Forty pages. This man did his homework.
Last week, I set aside time for my students to pull out one statement from their doctrine sheets that they felt confident they could explain. I use the language of the English department as I tell them to write down a "state" and "prove" in order to "analyse" in a full paragraph on their test. These students struggle with this step and are often sloppy in giving any evidence to support their claims. I reiterate over and over, this is to help you when you have future conversations with people about what you believe. You can't just make this stuff up. One of my students recently asked me what people thought about me teaching from a textbook I wrote. "Well, I did a lot of research and quoted a lot of sources and had people with a wide range of degrees test read it for me, so I didn't just pull it out of my butt," I replied. She was sitting next to the student who had earlier in the semester told me, "It just doesn't feel right for this to be true." This moment last week was a chance to reinforce the concept that as Jesus followers we don't follow our feelings; we follow Jesus. The Bible has given us sound doctrine to live by, and there are wise disciples who have devoted their lives to helping us see how that applies to our current lives. Those forty pages of footnotes Brandon included show his thoughtful scholarship and prove that despite the fact he is an expert on this topic, he has consulted a wide base of other recognised experts to support his points.
Which brings us to part three. This is where things get exciting. Actually, they already were exciting, but there was a definite increase in my audible affirmations while reading this portion of the text. You see, once Brandon lays out the definitions and a full context for what he's talking about, he can present a message of hope for the church to heal from brokenness and division. One of the broken elements Brandon evaluates is the "truncated gospel" that is only about Jesus rescuing us from a future in hell rather than the life to the fullest Jesus wants for us now. The kingdom is "already but not yet" as many theologians cry. I was citing portions of one of these chapters in class when I talked about Jesus being our risen and ascended king. I've always told my students Christianity is more than a "get out of hell free card." There is life transformation that happens when you invite the Holy Spirit in. This certainly does not mean we are instantly perfect and have flawless theology, but there are some markers of good doctrine and good practice. Part four includes a whole chapter of positive examples Brandon researched. One of them is a professor who he had while a student in seminary. As I read Brandon's glowing description of Vernon C. Grounds representing good discipleship for Brandon to follow, I realised how Brandon Washington is a role model of a committed Jesus follower for me to follow.
While I hope and pray every one of you will go buy a copy of Brandon's book A Burning House right now (here's a link for the Americans), I recognise that what Brandon and I want most is for all of us to live out a full gospel today.
Why does thinking about the end of the world even matter? Well, as my students read the end of Matthew 25 where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats and tells the sheep they fed him when he was hungry and gave him water when he was thirsty. One sharp student developing a universal, eternal shared truth from that text put together that we don't earn our salvation but our actions have eternal consequences. Brandon is warning the church that our actions have eternal consequences; please listen to his words of conviction and seek out how you can represent kingdom values today.