Saturday, January 19, 2008

Holy Highway, Batman!

The TV news folks have demonstrated some fascination lately with some people who are praying for God to turn Interstate 35 into a “holy highway.” You may have seen some of the reports. The one I saw showed some very fervent young people, most of whom were wearing Heartland School of Ministry t-shirts, praying aloud beside I-35 for God to change the areas along the highway.

That those young folks were wearing those t-shirts is not surprising, given that the movement comes out of the Heartland World Ministries Church in Irving, Texas, which is led by its founder Steve Hill. Hill was formerly the evangelist at the Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida, which hosted a famous revival that began in 1995 and lasted for several years (the church still hosts Friday night services associated with the revival).

The official name for the I-35 project is “Light the Highway.” The people behind the movement believe that they are in some way pointed toward this intercession by the fact that Isaiah 35 mentions a holy highway (get it?…Isaiah 35…I-35): "And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein." (Isaiah 35:8)

Now, as a trained biblical scholar, I know that this interpretation is silly. The proper way to study and apply the Bible is to do the hard work of exegesis; we should strive to understand the historical, literary, and theological context of a passage of Scripture and then make an informed application to our time.

As a believing and practicing Christian, I still know that this interpretive move is silly. I believe and know that the Spirit of God does guide us in our understanding of Holy Scripture. But the Spirit will cause us to interpret according to the heart and life of Jesus and will lead us to live the clear and plain teachings of the Bible. It is simply not valid by any legitimate interpretative measure to say that we should focus our prayers on I-35 because Isaiah 35 happens to mention a holy highway.

It’s very tempting to have some fun with this. For example, I could point out that Isaiah 20 says,

In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it-at that time the LORD spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, "Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet." And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.

Then the LORD said, "Just as my servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for three years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Cush, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt's shame. Those who trusted in Cush and boasted in Egypt will be afraid and put to shame. In that day the people who live on this coast will say, 'See what has happened to those we relied on, those we fled to for help and deliverance from the king of Assyria! How then can we escape?' "

Then, since I-20 runs through our city, I could start a movement called “Flash the Highway” which I would kick off by going stripped and barefoot along the highway and leading the people to do the same. We could call ourselves the Bared Buttocks Brigade.

To be fair, though, we should note what the Light the Highway website says about their view of their movement’s connection with the Isaiah prophecy:

Many scholars believe this spoke of the path back to Jerusalem for God's people. Other scholars believe that Isaiah was referring to the way to heaven through the Messiah.

Now, fast-forward 2500 years. All we want to see is a move of God in this incredible nation. Yes, there have been many prophecies over the last several years referring to this scripture text. What an awesome idea for God to begin moving up and down an Interstate that cuts America in half (from Laredo to Duluth).
We do not believe that Isaiah actually saw this Interstate, nor do we believe that I-35 is spoken of literally in this scripture, but we do believe that we can use this text in a symbolic way as a catalyst to begin praying, just like those who live on Interstate 40 can use Isaiah 40:3,
"The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God",
and those on Interstate 10 could use John 10:10,
"The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come
that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

Besides, what’s wrong with praying that the Lord would cleanse and transform the cities and towns along I-35? What’s wrong with praying that the people who live along that highway or any other highway will come to know the Lord? What’s wrong with seeking a revival in our land?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that: absolutely nothing.

I wish those folks wouldn’t hang their movement on such a tenuous connection with a Bible verse.

I may even wish they wouldn’t pray in ways that make them look like overly fervent zealots because I’m always too worried about non-Christians thinking that’s the way that all of us Christians are.

But I’m starting to get concerned that our concern about zealots translates into an unwillingness to be zealous ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not about to bare my buttocks along I-10 or even pray real loud alongside the street on which I live.

I do think, though, that I may start praying for this nation and for this world a little more seriously.

Did it really take something like the Light the Highway movement to make me think more about that?

Holy Highway, Batman!

1 comment:

Scott said...

Every weekday, I drive approximately 35 miles on I-35 to get to campus.

I have to admit, I have been cynical about the "Highway of Holiness" ever since hearing about it. While I would prefer not to be cynical, it is difficult to hear such an interpretation and not roll my eyes a bit.

But I do feel convicted about the cynical nature of such a reaction. Cynicism implies that I know better than others, and that is, at its root, essentially my pride speaking out.

Still, having attended a couple of charismatic churches in my 20s, I worry that many Christians see this as a completely legitimate means of exegesis. While I encourage the zeal of praying for one's nation (something I admit I do not do often enough), it still concerns me that the source of such a prayer isn't Romans 13 or 1 Timothy 2, which explicitly call for such prayers.