Fullness not Moderation = Life and Freedom

The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait. – G.K. Chesterton

A great many problems with our psychology, and function, and indeed general human life and well-being are solved when you throw out balance. When you throw out the need for logical consistency and allow emotions and ideas to exist together as overlapping spheres.

Christianity has such a paradoxical understanding of life. It throws out balance.

Moderation is boring anyway. It is seemingly wise but potentially a seedbed for stagnation and apathy.

Extremes are often frowned upon in our society. But what if opposite extremes could exist side-by-side inside a person. I want to make the case that this is actually the picture of health. Rather than moderation or balance.

As you read the words of Jesus and how he talks about how to do life, it is never balance, it is never to do or think or feel things in moderation. It is fullness. It is a series of fullnesses that seem contradictory to our logical minds and so many of us then throw his teachings out.

I feel like I am trying to describe something that I don’t fully understand yet, but it is something I am experiencing. The dots are being joined in retrospect. I feel like I am trying to represent the beauty and intricacies of a tree perhaps by attempting to paint it with too large a brush and too few paint colours, if that makes any sense. But Christianity involves living out a series of seemingly paradoxical states for e.g.

Fullness of Brokenness/Fullness of Restoration
Fullness of Poverty/Fullness of Wealth
Fullness of Freedom/Fullness of Slavery
Fullness of Rest and Assurance/Fullness of Striving and Tenacity
Fullness of Satisfaction/Fullness of Desire
Fullness of Death/Fullness of Life
Fullness of Joy/Fullness of Mourning
Fullness of Simplicity/Fullness of Depth and Complexity

Life is not found in mediocrity, and balance and juggling things, life is found in fullness, and Christianity gives you the freedom to live in such a way.

What a beautiful man, what a beautiful faith, what a beautiful life.

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Redefining the Gospel (An Introduction)

“The emperor has no clothes”
To an extent we are operating with a powerless, irrelevant, and lofty Christianity that fails to have real impact and application. Christianity has retreated from culture in it’s failure to be relevant and engaging. It has lost power and become a part time activity and an addition to our egocentric lives. “The emperor has no clothes” and perhaps it’s time to call it as it is.

Western Evangelicalism today is a faith that is stuck in a heady rationalism that is rooted in modernism. Science moved on long ago – from a cause-effect, dualistic Newtonian model to quantum mechanics and the inter-relatedness of all things. Philosophy has moved on. Biology has moved on. And I believe the ‘salvation-oriented gospel of decisionism’* is too individualistic and mechanistic and no longer relevant to a world longing for greater unity and authenticity.

A new ‘wine-skin’
Each generation of believers is called to re-interpret and re-evaluate the message of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God as it relates to their lives. And I believe we live in a transition period in Christianity. There must be a new wine-skin. For we are all products of our time, and Christianity is in a sense no different. I’m not talking about the core realities of our faith (e.g. the man Jesus Christ and the event of the cross), but the way in which these realities are interpreted and theologized and lived out.

All this may sound shocking, but if you think about it for a moment, this perspective gives us a lens through which we can now understand and affirm God’s involvement in the last 2000 years of history, instead of a protestant-reformed lens that throws out everything before Martin Luther. And it moves us towards a humility that can affirm the faithfulness of God – that He is at work at every point of human history.

An unboxable and uncontainable Jesus
In part, I believe we are moving from a gospel defined largely by Pauline writings, to a gospel that is defined by the words of Jesus. And as we do so, may we return to an understanding and an embodiment that finds its expression in every nook and cranny of our lives. Every second of our existence, every thought of our minds, and every affection of our hearts**. In some ways it is a return to the faith of the ancient fathers. So we have, in a sense, come full circle. And as we do so, may we recover a Jesus Christ that cannot and will not be compartmentalised to a Sunday morning. May we find that he is the one through whom all things were created, who holds all things together, through whom all things are related (out of interest – see ‘superstring theory’).  May we find a man who is concerned with every second of our working week, who is breathtakingly intimate, who is staggeringly hope-filled, who is mindblowingly beautiful, who is at every moment, redeeming and restoring and reconciling all things to himself.

We will perhaps find that the gospel is not a mere addition to our self-centred lives, but rather discover a magnificent tapestry which God himself is weaving right now. One which has been weaved throughout the whole of human history. One which will continue to be weaved until the end of time. One in which we are but a single strand, intricately woven in to perfection.

 

This is the first post in a series on ‘Redefining the Gospel’. More to come.

P.S. I must be clear and say that I am not not rejecting a ‘justification by faith gospel’. In fact I heartily affirm the truths of substitutionary atonement and justification by faith. Furthermore I also affirm the men who have preached such a message. I was brought into the faith through such a message. And today, I owe much of my spiritual nourishment from the Reformed, conservative evangelical church. I am merely presenting another perspective or facet of this beautiful diamond we call the gospel. These are perspectives and facets that have impacted me deeply as a postmodern Gen-Y that has always sought a God that goes deeper than propositional truth, a God who is bigger and more beautiful and more satisfying than what I was getting at church at the time. I want to be careful not to put down any denomination or  any line of doctrinal teaching. More than likely these are sincere men in sincere organisations, with sincere motivations. In the end, it is ‘each to their own’, and I realise what didn’t and doesn’t work for me works for many others.


 

*The “salvation-oriented gospel of decisionism” needs defining:
– Scot McKnight’s thesis in ‘The King Jesus Gospel’ is that the Evangelical Christian faith has a culture that is shaped by a misunderstanding of the gospel that is deconstructing the church. Primarily this is a “salvation culture” as opposed to a proper “gospel culture”. Evangelicals do not have the full sense of the apostolic gospel, but instead are “soterians” – those whose gospel focuses on personal salvation. This culture is one that fails to take into account the whole story of the Bible, one that places Jesus in the story of Israel as its telos/completion/fulfilment point.
– ‘Decisionism’ is a gospel that places too much emphasis on a personal decision to believe and accept Jesus into your heart thus reducing salvation to a one-time event/decision. It is one that has little biblical backing.

**I’m not saying that Pauline writings don’t apply the same way as Jesus’ teachings do, but rather that our mechanistic interpretations of them has led to lofty and irrelevant applications.

Some thoughts on what Christianity is, and what it is not (and some ruminations on freedom and authenticity)

Christianity is not a “religion” in the sense that we define the word today.

It is not a set of rules/restrictions that we place upon ourselves and others.

It is not an addition to our lives that helps us be nicer people.

It is not something we turn to in tough times to help us through.

It is not a nice standard by which society can run and crime can be reduced. Although, probably more correct is that society sees Christianity and it’s ideas today as wrong and intolerant and bigotted.

Christianity is life, or rather the way to life – life to its fullest and deepest sense.

Christianity is freedom in its truest sense. And along with freedom, authenticity. For Christianity does not impose itself as a set of holy or moral laws upon a sinful and broken human being whose nature is forever in conflict and opposition to it’s standard. Christianity changes the human being at the deepest level, so rules and regulations need not apply. And so we are left with a nature that follows the rules and regulations because it desires to and not because it is told to. And that is freedom in the truest and deepest sense.

Human beings do a great deal of pretending, and it is said that the greatest pretenders are in the church. This is not a function of true Christianity, but rather the broken nature of human beings who gather for church. It is the pride within us that wants to present ourselves to others as someone that is great and someone who has it all together

Authenticity and the liberty to be oneself in it’s reality (in all it’s messiness and brokenness and sinfulness) is intimately linked with the concept of freedom.

To be authentic takes honesty with oneself and a measure of humility. Christianity provides those means for humility – for when you are faced with an infinitely holy and supreme God, our messiness and brokenness is starkly illuminated.

In this illumination of what and who we are in our brokenness, the playing field of humanity is levelled. What we have over another person in our good works is utterly pathetic seen in the right light. We like to build ourselves mounds of dirt to see how high we can build them and then compare our mounds with other peoples mounds, while we stand at the base of the ‘Everest’ of God’s rightness and goodness.

And in that right assessment of the situation – there is the freedom to be authentic. To be authentic to God and to others, but ultimately to be authentic to ourselves. For no one is good enough, nor do we have to be. For while Christianity gives us sight of our true condition, it does not leave us there. The coal from the throne is taken and placed upon our lips. And Christ does for us what we could not, and cannot ever do – he makes us beautiful and pure and holy just as he is.

And in the heart of someone who is truly free and authentic, there flows forth rivers of joy and peace. Oh what a beautiful thing this ‘religion’ is!

And there is and shall be a generation who shall rise from the ashes of brokenness and sinfulness. They shall be clothed in white robes and they shall exhibit a depth of freedom and authenticity, joy and peace the world has rarely seen.