Monday, December 19, 2011

Jesus without strings: parsing the phrase (2)

This is a phrase I used a few days ago in my update on The Gathering's activities through 2011, and then initially described in simple terms in my first defining post. That first post identified with human expectations typically found in churches, which differ from the outline of Biblical morality and foundational beliefs which accompany the life of faith. Yet, I do believe that there are deeper issues of theology to be considered in the phrase "Jesus without strings."

In the tension of law and grace, or perhaps better described - in the void between law and lawlessness - there is a Jesus without strings.

Law is an outward force imposing not only definition, but impetus, persuasion, and even physical behavior modification techniques upon people. It is a subtle puppet master over us. The pull of a state law imposes fines, brings police action, and renders judgments when we transgress its defined lines of behavior. It is needed in a broken world, but as current events evidence, it is often oppressive. This is significantly different than grace.

Grace is an inward force. It is both an acceptance by God offered to us, and a power and understanding residing within us. Grace is not strings attached from the outside modifying behavior by threat of punishment, but a gentle action of volition. We connect to that which is good through love, and agreement with the activity of grace.

Grace is further empowering, because God is on the other side of the participatory equation. He gives power to accomplish the things we can not find the ability to complete on our own.

This agreement of love further cuts the strings of the law, because, as the apostle Paul describes it "against [love and the other fruit of the Spirit] there is no law." The love/grace combination stand as the void between law and disobedience or selfish rebellion.

Perhaps we have unfortunately positioned grace and law as opposites of one another in our theology. Whereas the opposite of law is probably unrestrained freedom or violent *anarchy. The love/grace combo stand in the space between law and its violation. Grace and law are in paralaxis to another. There is no place on the line accessing movement toward God where grace and law meet one another.

From an eschatological perspective: Jesus does not drag me toward salvation like a puppet being pulled toward a destination unwanted. I walk with Him in the direction of His deep desire. Grace is resistible (sorry Johnny C, I disagree with the L on your little flower). Paul speaks of this grace as having appeared to all men, and yet we do not all live in it. "For the grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men." (Titus 2:11)

The very resistible nature of grace shows how unrelated to law it is. It is not an opposite of law. It is something totally other. Like trying to compare apples and nuclear weapons there are only dissimilarities. There are no similarities. They are something completely different from one another. Grace is sustenance for the hungry soul. It is picked as well as provided. It grows without our understanding the mechanics of its development. Law on the other hand brings a scorched earth perspective to obedience - obey or suffer the consequences. It is complicated as it attempts to head off all the creative activities of sin and selfishness. It is unbending and threatening. It is necessarily held together by human activity as we regulate the actions of one another to keep it working.

The Kingdom of God is not a kingdom as we imagine this world's kingdoms to be. It is not driven by force. It does not drag its subjects kicking and screaming through its gates. Jesus does not work me like a marionette to bring me into His kingdom. He is indeed, "Jesus without strings."

Grace being so significantly different than law has radical implications on church life and Christian leadership. Those who are understand those implications will also understand how it relates to the phrase "messy church," and how that phrase is a positive one. But, that's a whole other set of posts. (insert a smirk and a wink)

* I have purposely phrased this as "violent anarchy," because I view grace as a type of anarchy. It is something which law has no connection or necessary interaction with.

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.