Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jesus without strings: parsing the phrase

 I used the phrase "Jesus without strings" in my yearly update on the activities of the The Gathering, and it seemed appropriate to parse the phrase, and describe what I was thinking when I rather loosely released it.

"With strings attached" is a phrase used to describe an offer, which once presented does not come alone, but has hidden expectations or demands attached to it.

Christianity often appears to come with strings attached, and many people have felt that these strings were hidden strings. The message of the Gospel comes with the declaration of being a free offer: salvation by grace through faith. Then with a few days, weeks, maybe even years of attempting to follow the way of Jesus, there appear to be expectations from the community of that same faith which seem disconnected from a personal relationship with Christ.

Specific doctrinal points rise up as speed bumps in the road of faith. One is forced to agree with these points of belief or have a bumpy ride. When and how Jesus returns; whether we are "once saved always saved" or there is a possibility of walking away from Christ; doctrines of spiritual warfare and the activity of the devil; minute details concerning the sovereignty of God; or views of Heaven and Hell become major points upon which our ability to fellowship with one another is determined.

Political orientation often pulls hard to the left or to the right as an attached string, which appears to decide the depth of one's commitment as a follower of Christ. Those on the right (of American political thought) view those on the left as immoral or controlling. Those on the left view those on the right as equally immoral on different issues, or stupid. Somehow it suddenly appears that political affiliation, or special interest issues are critical to living a life of faith within many communities of faith.

Other strings have a moral force. Behavior modification is enforced and even things unrelated to basic Christian morality somehow become necessary to a life of faith. Don't wear this. Don't go here or there. Don't eat or drink this or that. Don't hang out with those kinds of people. The initial call of the Gospel turns into a community acceptance list, as once hidden strings begin to reveal themselves.

In saying this, I am not saying that there are not foundational important issues of faith. I am not saying that there are not political issues of concern to the heart of God, or that our behavior should not be modified by our faith. I am saying that doctrine, politics and behavior are not the path into our life in Christ, and should not be the primary points of maintaining a relationship with God and His people.

I also do not believe that person of Jesus attaches strings to us in the way a puppet master manages the actions of his marionettes. I admit, I have a fairly radical view of freedom, and very low view of determinism. Although there are points of our human experience which predetermine our position in life, our response to specific situations, or our ability to succeed, these are not by any means a micro-management of our behavior. They do not give evidence of a God who manipulates the minor details of life, or forces our hand to control our daily actions, choices, emotions and thought. The hand of God does not come with puppet master strings attached.

For me, my faith comes with a radical sense of freedom, and with that freedom great potential and - dare I say, with the possibility of being misunderstood as contradictory - personal responsibility.

Yet, this Christian faith, once understood at a simple level, should have no other strings attached. I yearn for such a faith in a local experience - one without strings attached.


Adam Gonnerman said...

When I first saw the title of this post I was a little concerned. Clearly following Christ comes with some pretty strong and overt strings attached. Dying to self, loving God with everything one has and is and loving others as self. This is discipleship in its most essential form. Reading what you wrote, though, it looks like you are talking more about assent to human-made theological and political concerns. Good thoughts.

Pastor Phil said...

Thanks Adam,

There are some more thoughts I will be adding in another post, but they are more either more eschatological in nature, or further based in concepts of freewill versus determinism and the practical outworkings law versus grace.

I think there are deeper issues of human freedom and God's design on creation at the heart of this simple thought.

Bruce said...

I think repentance is certainly part of the gospel, and if it isn't outlined clearly and up front, it looks like strings attached. And if the costs and demands aren't outlined up front, I question about whether it's the gospel at all.