Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Upside down...

I wonder if I’ll get used to God turning my mental and spiritual world upside down on a regular basis? So many unspoken – not to mention spoken – evangelical assumptions are getting exposed by the light of grace that I’m getting slightly vertiginous.

I was mildly offended the other day when I tried one of Beliefnet’s little “What kind of Christian are you?” quizzes and discovered I was supposed to be a “Jerry Falwell Christian”. Now given that the alternatives included Hilary Clinton and Bishop Spong I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it was a nasty shock all the same. It did however have the side-effect of spurring me to write this post.

For so many years I’d been sinking into a kind of grace vacuum. One of the comforting things about all but the finest and most self-aware evangelicalism is that there’s a set of rules and regulations to steer by... that the risks inherent in faith (John Wimber: “faith is spelled R-I-S-K”) are replaced by codes of practice. There are so many of them, going by names like “accountability”, “purity”, “Bible-believing”...

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking the actual things themselves. We all need to be accountable, we all need moral clarity, we all most certainly need the Bible at the very centre of our faith and praxis. What worries me are the packages that come with these words.

We affirm our faith in the Bible as the core of our understanding of God, as his word, as inspired by his Holy Spirit and “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” and we find we’ve bought into a hermeneutic that applies Old Testament strictures, and very specific, localised New Testament advice, uncritically to life 2,000+ years later and in a very different cultural setting.

We affirm our understanding of morality as having to do with the outworkings of Jesus’ “two greatest commandments” (Matthew 22:37-39) and we suddenly discover we’ve bought into a set of largely unwritten rules that excludes minorities and the marginalised from fulfilling God’s call on their lives in ministry, and that applies a “give 10% of gross income or else” rule to people living on means-tested benefits.

We affirm our need of accountability, and we discover we really shouldn’t accept a lift from someone of the opposite sex (or maybe it’s the same sex if someone suspects we may swing that way) unless there’s at least one other person of their sex (or maybe it’s our own sex?) (scratches head a while) in the car.

My point, if I haven’t laboured it too far already, is that we have to be so careful that our strongly-held convictions don’t lead us to buy into value systems that we don’t belong in, and that can lead us to unthinkingly reinforcing those sets of assumptions, promulgating them, judging others by them, seeking to re-arrange their lives in accordance with them...

You remember those wristbands that were so popular a few years ago, with the letters WWJD stamped on them? Perhaps we should revive the fashion. Would Jesus refuse to speak to a woman alone in case some busybody or easily led and morally challenged person got the wrong idea? Well did he? (John 4) Would Jesus refuse to accept God’s call in someone’s life because she didn’t measure up to the lifestyle yardsticks of the religious establishment? Did he? (Luke 10:42)

Andy Hickford has an interesting observation in an article in the April issue of Christianity magazine: “Then of course there’s Jesus! When it comes to Jesus and the law, it can be a bit confusing. Matthew 5:17 says that Jesus came to fulfil the law. Romans 3:31 says that he upholds the law. In Romans 7:6 it says that Jesus released us from the law and in Ephesians 2 Paul writes that Jesus abolished the law! So, just what is the relationship between Jesus and the Old Testament’s laws?! Basically, Jesus replaces the Old Testament law. In him it is all fulfilled and upheld, because he completes it. We are released from its regulation and condemnation- that’s what meant by ‘He abolished the law.’ However, its wisdom and history is fulfilled in Christ.”

It’s odd, but I’ve discovered more honesty and grace, more love and clear, courageous thinking on things like this within the “established churches” than anywhere else recently. I don’t know just what God’s up to with the Anglican Communion at the moment, but within these ivy-clad ancient walls there’s a positive explosion of Christlikeness going on. You've only to look in a few of the blogs in the Blogging Episcopalians webring (link in the sidebar) to see what I mean.

Grace, grace, grace... “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16-17)


  1. Keep these posts coming! God bless you!

  2. great post, man...keep searching, keep asking questions, keep observing, keep discovering

    don't just take everything that has been prepackaged by the western church and try to swallow it whole...you'll choke to death!