A Violent, Terrible Grace

It seems that we long desperately for grace to be on our own terms – kind and gentle, similar to what we find in the writings of Henri Nouwen or Brennan Manning.  And it often is!  But there are times when grace is clouded.  No one who lived in the moment of Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus would say that was grace, but when given new eyes to see and new ears to hear Paul would look back and see that the violent encounter was, in fact, the mighty grace of God.  Same thing with all of these stories from Flannery O’Connor.  I see that a little in Dostoyevsky, too…maybe Walker Percy.  Now in truth I’d much prefer that grace be revealed to me in a gentle way, but in our fallen state, some times God must speak to us – work in ways we cannot see – by shouting.

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Quick Hit

Mark Galli of Christianity Today has a nice piece on what church should look like.

Should Churches Be As Friendly As a Bar?

Key quote:

“Furthermore, you don’t really belong to a group until people feel free enough to tell you what they really think of you and free enough to talk about the deepest, most troubling realities.

 In a place where people really belong, they are free to talk about the most uncomfortable things—sin and salvation, hate and forgiveness, suffering and hope, death and life. And they learn the fine art of forbearance and forgiveness. Merely friendly churches avoid such unpleasantness. But churches that take people seriously cannot avoid it.

 God forbid that we would become cold, aloof, and rude to one another! And what a delight it is to walk into a church and to be greeted with warmth and befriended in practical ways. May our churches be known for their hospitality—but also so much more.”

The Centrality of the Gospel

My church – the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama – is hosting a conference for youth leaders.  Here’s a link to some information on the conference.

The Centrality of the Gospel.

In Praise of Urgency

I have never been much for urgency in the Christian life.  I have tried – almost to a fault – to avoid legalism that appears as a need, i.e. suggesting we should not build a beautiful church building because there are starving children in Burma.  And I have always been annoyed when urgency invades every sphere life, and Christians lose the ability to appreciate every day events.  I’m talking, of course, about those pastors and theologians and bloggers who analyze every nook and cranny of life to see how it can be restructured for the glory of God, all the while bastardizing the Westminster Confession.  Eat Lucky Charms for the glory of God!  Garden for the glory of God!  Shower for the glory of God!  Of course we should do just that, but let’s not imbue the whole thing with a perverse sense of pressure and guilt for failing to glorify the Lord with our bed-making.

Nevertheless, I am quickly losing patience with Christians – individuals and organizations – that are not urgent about the Gospel.  Now let me set one thing straight.  I really don’t have an issue with Christians taking up a cause.  So I am not attacking the local Christian Crisis Pregnancy Center or the Christian-based pro-life, anti-death penalty, save the whales or end the way organization.  But those groups that are Christian in nature and spirit who spend time blathering on about being a champion and who never, ever confront their participants with the reality of sin and their desperate, overwhelming and practically pathetic need for the Cross – I have no time for them.

I mean, for Heaven’s sake, why would a “Christian” organization spend time telling students to work hard and have integrity without getting to the Gospel?  Those things are fine in their own way, but they are ultimately dead ends.  We are trapped in sin, and no amount of hard work and perseverance is going to rescue us from that bondage.  Paul did not ask “what will deliver me,” as though a little hard work might do the trick.  He asked “who,” knowing the answer was another One beyond himself.  When I sit through presentations I often wonder if the washed-down, positive thinking of these organizations is a reflection of the limitations placed on these groups by First Amendment rulings and what not.  Maybe so.  But if a Christian group cannot be explicitly Christian, it should just shut up and go home.  Otherwise they have muddied the Gospel by suggesting that what they preach is a Gospel of hard work and discipline and how to be a winner.  These are half-truths, best preached on the football field and even then they do not always work.  (Don’t believe me?  Lineup some high school football players who won’t sniff a locker room after graduation.  Ask them if hard work and integrity helped them meet their goal of playing college ball.) 

In terms of message, no Christian organization should preach anything other than Christ and him crucified.  And we should preach it with the urgency of dying men preaching to dying men.  We should be mockingbirds, repeating that old, old story over and over.  We should not waste time on cubic zirconium platitudes about hard work, discipline and respect.  We should preach that we win by losing and we live by dying.  Our Lord Jesus Christ was not born of a virgin and made man, died, buried and resurrected on the third day so that we might pull ourselves up by our boot straps and do the right thing.  We are beggars and this must be our constant song.

Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works.

–Robert Farrar Capon