I love my blog readers, they are not many but they are faithful. Recently a new but dear friend has been reading my blog from the beginning, charting the twists and turns of both my life and my faith. This has provoked more than a few very interesting questions.
One of the more poignant questions refer to a post I posted back in 2006 where I write:
In the spring 2001 Warren Downey preached on the subject. He said most young Christians start out with 100% truth as they tend to forget the grace God has extended them, as we get older in the faith and we fail more frequently we start preaching grace more and more because we ourselves do not measure up to the standard God has set. The more we sin, the more we tone down the truth so that we will be more acceptable in the light of our own words. We often mistake this for humility. Where in sad fact it is often watering down of the gospel to ease our own concience.
I also wrote the following:
A fluffy bunny soldier is a soldier who no longer recognizes the authority of scripture and therefore promotes a fluffy bunny version of Christianity, it is the opposite and counterpart to no compromise and therefore is a compromised soldier, one whom has fallen in love with the world and want to make the gospel as easy as swallow as possible and therefore round off any sharp edges, removes the thorns, and leaves only the the lovey dovey message of a God of grace but not a God of truth or Justice.
Do still believe this? The answer is, as it so often is these days, yes and no. I believe that the dynamic of moving from truth to grace is a journey many Christians make, I also believe that their motivation often is their own failing to live up to the religious standards they have set up for themselves (or that the institution have set up).
So in a sense I believe this is still true. Although my perspective has changed more than a little.
1. The human condition
When the post was written I was convinced that humans are evil, born in wickedness and incapable of goodness aside from what god inspires after you have become born again and a new creation in him.
Problem: there are loads of good people who are good doing good who do not claim to be born again. Also young children are not evil. They may be selfish and socially unskilled.
Now I am convinced that there is such a thing as original glory. Human beings where cated in the image of god and have an inherent capacity of goodness. I do believe that we live in a broken world, we have lost he glory and innocence of Eden (I believe this is a beautiful image of the fiercely egalitarian hunter/gatherer society). The kingdom/vision/dream of god is to bring us to this place of loing relations with god self, the natural world and the people around us.
2. The scandal of God's grace
I used to believe that while god's grace was enough to forgive anything it was tempered by my ability to please god. Hence the truth/grace dichotomy. By this view God's grace is limited by the truth of our sinfulness, while god forgives, god only does so when we repent (which means we are ally, really, sorry).
Problem: the first problem here is that our sinfulness becomes stronger than god's grace.
Now I see that god's grace is truly scandalous (or even vulgar as Brennan Manning would have it). There is nothing I can do or say to expedite god's love. The most central belief I hold is that god is love. We have been taught that love is Agape, Phileo and Eros. Agape is god's unconditional love and guess what, it's unconditional! It does not require us to change or even repent. Phileo is the fiendship love this is god's way of relating to us as co-workers, co-creators, colleagues. Eros is the creative, passionate love of god where we become more than friends, more than children but as intimate at lovers, where god fills us up and blends with us god's spirit mingling with ours god's essence imprinting on us.
3. What is sin
I used to see sin as a transgression against the law, deserving of punishment. Becaus god was holy (in the sense of set apart) my sin was an obstacle between me and god and while I could leave sin at the cross and bridge the divide between god and me this only really applied before I became a Christian and after only if I was really, REALLY sorry. When I sinned the holy spirit left and I was alone to deal with the mess I had gotten myself into. Additionally sin was defined by a long list of dos and don'ts. This list was decided by whatever pastor or institution we where currently in, different churches viewed different sins as more or less serious.
Problem: Again, sin overpowers god's grace. Most importantly it becomes my job to transform myself as I must first deal with my sin before the holy spirit can transform me into holiness.
Now I do no longer view sin as a crime but rather as immaturity. Paul clearly states repeatedly that we are free from the law, the law holds no power to convict or condemn us any more. Sin is simply the ways in which we are not yet mature, when we know better we do better. Our relationship with god is unaffected by our sin, like the loving mother god works with us in the middle of our sinfulness to help us grow and mature. What is affected by our sin is the consequences of our poor choices that we face in our every day life. now sin is all the ways that I hurt or screw up my relationship to the world around me. Sin is also all the ways I miss my cue, I miss the opportunities to live out of the love of god and embody god's kingdom, vision, dream in this present moment.
4. Spiritual formation/stages of faith
Back then growing with god meant only one thing, sinning less and by that becoming more holy. Hopefully this would then mean a closer connection to god.
Problem: when sinning less only means, not smoking, not drinking, not swearing, not lusting or simply conforming to our own new legal code it does not result in a better relation to god. It results in a life governed by rules and regs as opposed to a life of freedom.
Today I see spiritual growth not as sinning less but as loving more. Not only showing love but being love in every situation and relationship. Someone said, where there is love, there is no sin. So maybe the one gives the other
I also believe that we move through these stages of faith (the best example I've seen is Fowlers six stages of faith). When I wrote the blog post of 2006 I was clearly in stage three, communal faith, where my faith was not owned by me, rather I believed whatever my faith community believed and any dissenting thought was a threat to my faith and stability. I am in a very different place now.
Water or wine
So have I become soft, a fluffy bunny? Have I simply watered down the gospel to accommodate my own sinfulness?
I seriously do not think so, while the love priority and it's unconditional love and grace may seem like a cop out. It is a much more demanding way to live, to love. Rather than watering down the gospel it is instead transformed into a strong and full bodied wine.
Celebrate with me, friends!
Raise your glasses—”To life! To love!”
(Song 5.1, Message)