July 25, 2014

Our Archived Faith

I often go back through the archives of this site, reading essays written by our founder, Michael Spencer. His words continue to challenge and encourage me as I walk in this evangelical minefield/post-evangelical wilderness. I got to know Michael by reading his older essays. Even as we then were author/agent, and then friends, the way I knew Michael best was through his writings.

We walk with Michael through his Calvinist days, then his flirtation with the Catholic Church, then with his prophetic proclamation that evangelicalism was on the verge of collapse. He wandered around, trying to find a place where he would fit in American Christianity, and finally realizing that not fitting was right where he needed to be.

One thing I would be very cautious in saying is that Michael grew in all of his wanderings. My caution is because of our use of the term “grow.” It implies, in our current culture, that where we are today is not good enough, and we need to keep working to achieve some new level. And if we don’t, then we are not doing our duty. It is the American education version of Christianity. Listen to the presentation of knowledge, pass a test to show you have grasped the knowledge, and graduate to the next level. We keep doing this until we “graduate” to Heaven and then we no longer have to learn.

I hear so often, “What do you think God is trying to teach you through this or that trial?” It’s as if God’s main role in our lives is to teach us things. And our role is to learn. Teacher-student. Yet I don’t see this picture painted in Scripture. When I read of God’s interaction with his creation, it is as of a lover. Often as a jealous lover, yes. That’s because we drift off after lesser loves, and he has to come find us and bring us back.

Or as a shepherd, who has to deal with sheep who constantly want to wander away from green pastures. And in case you think you are part of the 99 who stay put instead of the one who strays. guess what? There are no 99 “good sheep.” We are all the one who has strayed. We’re not learning anything. We’re selfish creatures who think we know what is best rather than trusting our shepherd. And once he has brought us back safely into the sheepfold, we’ll once again look for a hole in the fence so we can run away.

Or as the father who is waiting and waiting and waiting for us to return, knowing we will when we are hungry and tired and scared enough. And when he sees us tramping up the lane, our father will run—run, mind you—to embrace us.

There are other metaphors in Scripture that show us God, but I don’t see any as him as our professor. I do, however, see one picture over and over and over.

Grace.

If there was one thing Michael and I could talk about for hours (other than the Cincinnati Reds) it was grace. God as our lover, freely receiving us back even though we have been unfaithful, and will be unfaithful to our dying day. God as our shepherd seeking us out to feed us and care for us and keep us safe in spite of all of our efforts to run away. God as our father, running to welcome us back as his sons and daughters.

Grace. We constantly go our own ways, and God the lover/shepherd/father gives grace upon grace upon grace. Just like in the miracles we read in the gospels, grace is given without the recipient doing anything to earn it or keep it. And that is what makes it so scary to us. We would prefer God as a schoolmarm who gives us lessons and we work to earn a good grade. But that is not the God of Scripture. And it was never the God of Michael.

 

Comments

  1. “We walk with Michael through his Calvinist days, then his flirtation with the Catholic Church, then with his prophetic proclamation that evangelicalism was on the verge of collapse. He wandered around, trying to find a place where he would fit in American Christianity, and finally realizing that not fitting was right where he needed to be.”

    A great summary Jeff, although I always got the feeling he was desperately wanting a place to call home, but never able to find it.

  2. I believe that we are to become as God. God does extend us grace in spite of our efforts to run away, but at some point we do need to grow. I have the same hesitation regarding your description of grace as you have of the schoolmarm example, except in the opposite direction (neither extreme is helpful). Saying it the way you do makes it sound like we are both completely helpless and not accountable in any way for our actions. Of course we’re to be accountable for what we do, but it goes beyond that. The goal is to become a God and inherit everything the Father has and become the same as his son Jesus Christ, who also inherits everything the Father has (Romans 8). Jesus did many miracles that we read about in the gospels (and I’m sure many more we don’t read about), as you said, without the recipient doing anything to earn it or keep it. We should be the same. We should follow that example. We should become a shepherd. By loving and giving, we harness the power of faith, which is the power by which the world was created and by which miracles are wrought (Hebrews 4). James 1-2 also talks about faith, to quote someone other than Paul, discussing how faith without works is dead. But you have to be careful to take it too far. It’s not our works that save us. It is Christ who save us from sin through grace. If you keep it in the proper perspective that we are to become as God, it makes sense how the two pieces, faith and grace, work together. Christ’s grace saves us us sin, and the power of our faith makes us as God. It’s not our works that save us or make us as God, but if we do good works, those works are the fruits of our faith. That’s where the discussion of us being helpless and dependent on God’s grace limits our view. We start with God’s grace, then we exercise the power of faith to do mighty miracles in His name and grow to a point where sin and judging others is no longer relevant, because we are on a completely different playing field – God’s playing field. We learned in heaven before we came to earth, we are learning here, and we will continue to learn after we return to Him. There is no end. If there is no end to our learning, our learning is infinite, just as God’s knowledge is infinite, which is how we end up being like Him. Amazing grace, indeed.

    • Don, some of this sounds like Mormonism.

    • DON…WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOA BUDDY! You’re giving me flashbacks of the Mormon kool-aid I drank.

      • Isn’t the Mormon view that man (but not woman) becomes ‘a god,’ so to speak; not like God, but a god in his own right, ruling his own realm? What Don wrote reminds me more of the Eastern Orthodox view of theosis, but I will gladly stand corrected. Help me out.

        • My understanding Jon is that they will become like God. They will be God’s with their own planet to rule. Their wife will spend an eternity pregnant giving birth to spirit babies and having endless sex with her husbad. Think of a Mormon God as the Hugh Hefner of the spirit world! :-P

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    It is the American education version of Christianity. Listen to the presentation of knowledge, pass a test to show you have grasped the knowledge, and graduate to the next level. We keep doing this until we “graduate” to Heaven and then we no longer have to learn.

    Just like the fast-track political career of a certain “Barry” Obama. Each election a kickoff to the campaign for the next, each office only a steppnigstone to the next higher office until there is nowhere higher to climb — then what? Spend all your time climbing to the next level and you’ll never have a chance to just partake of life where you are. And when you run out of levels to climb, you won’t know what to do and just flail around.

    It could be said of the Baby Boomers that they spent so much time and energy “finding themselves” that they never had the time or energy to HAVE a self to find.

    One of the things I like about Judaism is its emphasis on living your life in the here-and-now.

  4. Jeff, speaking of Michael’s prediction of the coming evangelical collapse: I had been lamenting the shift in the meaning of the word “evangelical”, noticing that it has become more “fundamentalist” or “religious right” in recent years. I’m particularly concerned about this during election years, but this article by Jim Wallis says otherwise, that because of the results of the election the term “evangelical” may be shifting demographically away from the religious right and toward minorities and a social concern for the poor. One notable quote from Wallis:

    The biggest mistake the religious right made was to make the word “evangelical” a political term. Evangelical is a theological commitment, not a political one. It’s about the centrality of Christ and the authority of the Bible. It’s following Jesus and our obedience to the Scriptures that leads us to defend the poor, protect the most vulnerable, welcome the stranger, seek racial reconciliation and justice, be good stewards of the environment and peacemakers in a world of war.

    You can find the article here:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-wallis/the-new-evangelical-agend_b_2137388.html

    • Funny, I have been noticing some fairly heavy trends in Evangelicalism leaning to the political left.

      • I had not noticed that, particularly during election years. But I’m glad Jim Wallis has. It has seemed to me that the term “evangelical”, which was promoted by Billy Graham half a century ago and meant to distinguish from “fundamentalist”, has been hijacked by the fundamentalists. No doubt there are those among us who resist the trend, but some just bail out altogether or call themselves “post-evangelicals”.

        Problem is, those who move too much to the left or who get too involved in social gospel often lose the gospel for good works. It’s what my pastor keeps calling the “tension” within the faith. Gotta have a balance.

        Really glad the eleciton is over. Now we can relax and get on with normal events, like CIA sex scandals and renewed Israeli-Palestinian wars. And pardon my cynicism. Election year is hard on me.

  5. Jeff….I want to ask you a few questions. I’m not trying to be difficult…I’m just curious. In evangelicalism I saw many people manke idols of their pastor, or leader. For example in Crusade I saw many students worship the Crusade director and him having a little following. Then I saw in the reformed crowd the people who follow and worship John Piper or the likes of Mark Driscoll. Having seen that I have some questions.

    1. How do you keep from making Michael Spencer an idol?
    2. Do Christians who gathor here run the risk of turning him into an idol?
    3. At I-Monk are we doing to Michael Spencer what some of the reformed folk do to John Piper?

    I’m just curious that’s all….

    • I don’t think that is problem. I find I am able to keep my shrine to Michael confined to one room of the house. :)

    • Good questions, Eagle. Here are my sleep-deprived thoughts on the matter.

      1. If we were to make Michael an idol, he would haunt me until I stopped. And yes, I mean that.
      2. Sure. Left to ourselves, we will make anything into an idol. We haven’t changed one bit from the Israelites who decided they needed a god they could see, so they fashioned a cow out of gold. That is why we open the floor to all for comments, even those who disagree with those of us who do the majority of the writing here. We need to not be left to ourselves.
      3. Michael would have been honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as John Piper. But no, we are not elevating Michael to the fourth person of the godhead…

  6. Today’s posts have been encouraging. (I wonder when all this grace talk will sink in) Thank-You Jeff! I have been in a raw place and what you shared from Michael S treasure chest earlier and now this, well, it is the icing on the cake. From one beggar to another, thank-you for sharing your bread.

    “There are no 99 “good sheep.” We are all the one who has strayed. We’re not learning anything. We’re selfish creatures who think we know what is best rather than trusting our shepherd. And once he has brought us back safely into the sheepfold, we’ll once again look for a hole in the fence so we can run away.”

    (I want to ask: Really really do you really believe that? I know I am not alone in feeling like this, like I am the only one who strays or is selfish or thinks I know what is best i.e. my husband should be healed from a chronic illness) How come so many Christians act as if they have a handle on their sin nature, their doubts For example, a person who wrote on the other thread on grace: “Change your actions, then your heart will change”

    If discipline can change a person then who needs Jesus? I did all that good/action stuff for years, you know the drill, praying a hour every morning, reading & memorizing the WORD, fasting, serving on a ton of committee’s, listening as a lay counselor to wounded women, on & on. And my truth is I didn’t change, my heart didn’t change. So I am limping along in the dark, longing to truly know our Merciful Lord.

    • Gail, you answer your own question. Our heart does not follow our actions. The key is not us. We are dead. It is Christ who now lives in and through us. If we try to be disciples by our own actions (discipline), we will only get in the way of Life Himself who lives in us.

      And yes, I really really do believe that.

    • Exactly.

      The answer does not come from within us…but from the outside…from Christ Jesus to us. We are dead. He gives us new life. Over and over and over again.

    • I just really freakin’ love you, Gail!

    • If discipline can change a person then who needs Jesus? I did all that good/action stuff for years, you know the drill, praying a hour every morning, reading & memorizing the WORD, fasting, serving on a ton of committee’s, listening as a lay counselor to wounded women, on & on.

      ——

      Gail, this is part of the reason why I fell away from Christianity and became so cynical. All I was taught was sin management. Avoid this, don’t be idle, do that, keep your mind busy, talk to your accountability partner, confess, confess, etc… Then through life I had a situation in which I overcome an issue through secular means. It knocked the wind out of me that I still am unsure. Here I was…taught for years that I need Jesus to overcome (fill in the blank) _________ then all of a sudden it happened and I was left holding the bag. WTF…I asked myself. I leanred that I didn’t need God. Plus it opened up my mind into how dishonest evangelical culture can be. Because now I was EXPECTED to credit Jesus when I couldn’t. I looked at the communities I was in and had this terror filled feeling. I felt trapped and wanted to flee. I didn’t want to lie. I want to be honest. This is how the Ted Haggard’s and the CJ Mahaneys get started and they live a dishonest life and feed it. One way publically, another way behind closed doors. No…I’d rathor be honest. If I am going to fuck up…it will be openly for people to see as well as behind closed doors. But man I loved your commnts.

      BTW…thanks for the card when I was ill Mom! :-P Consider this a hug!

  7. “…..when he sees us tramping up the lane, our father will run—run, mind you—to embrace us.” THIS never gets old!! Every time my eyes land on any sort of prodigal story of the whacked out kid, I relate. Every time there is a unique perspective on the Father’s response, I ponder it in my heart and know that all this crap I worry about is nothing – NO. THING. – compared to this father running after me. Daily.

  8. What a wonderful banquet of responses to wake up to this morning.

    Jeff- I assume the Spirit will have to help me get to where you are at, you sure are a breath of fresh air. Maybe I need to get Between Noon and Three off the shelf and read again.

    Eagle- I can always count on you to call a spade a spade, I have read & resonated so much with your story, and sometimes you shock my socks off & make me laugh so hard I cry. I was going to go postal on God if you didn’t recover with all your limbs from that horrid infection. Hugs!

    Rebekah my friend, love to you too.

  9. Jeff,

    While it is true that no where in Scripture is God referred to as a professor, Jesus allowed himself to be addressed as “teacher.” I do understand the danger of an over-emphasis on “growth” within parts of the Church today, but I think it is wise to be careful and not find oneself “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”

    I think these Scriptures speak to that:
    2 Cor. 10.15 speaks of the growth of one’s faith; Col. 1.9f speaks of Paul praying for those in Colossae to be filled with the knowledge of his will so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (no Christian preached grace more than Paul). Then there is 2 Pet. 1.5-11 where Peter encourages those who “may become partakers of the divine nature” to “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue”, etc. Peter gives a reason for that in v8 along with gracious warnings in vv9-11. Later in 3.18, he speaks of growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. These words from a man who not only was personally instructed in grace by Paul, but received a lesson in grace in the first person by our Lord himself.

    All things are ours through the grace found in Christ. Grace doesn’t preclude spiritual growth but fosters it having set us free from the bondage of sin.

    I have grown in my love and understanding of grace and its work in me and the body of Christ. A good portion of that I learned from the writings of Michael Spencer and others here at Internet Monk. I never met Michael Spencer but from reading what I have, I would say he grew a lot. And because he did, I have.