I’m reading an interesting book, ‘The Divine Conspiracy’, by Dallas Willard. Here’s a particular quote which sums up for me some of the dilemma I’ve seen as a Christian blogger, between Christians at different ends of the spectrum:
When we examine the broad spectrum of Christian proclamation and practice, we see that the only thing made essential on the right wing of theology is forgiveness of the individual’s sins. On the left it is removal of social or structural evils. The current gospel then becomes a gospel of ‘sin management’. Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message. Moment to moment human reality in its depths is not the arena of faith and eternal living.
From The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, Chapter 2, The Gospels of Sin Management pg 49-50 in my copy.
While blogging, I’ve seen the evangelical, redeemed and Pentecostal movements generally preaching that apart from all else, if you confess your belief in Christ, you are forgiven your sins. You know that if you die, you will get to heaven. The goal is to see as many people confess this and therefore be ‘saved’ as possible – this is the most urgent priority.
Redemption is far more about what happens after you die, not going to hell, than about experiencing redemption on a daily basis. In Pente circles at least, these days, discipleship is often more about raising up ‘leaders’, to plant new churches or proselytise to bring in new members, than it is about encouraging that quiet, daily inner growth and reliance upon God, which transforms character from within, but does not necessarily turn everyone into a leader of sorts. I imagine there are however some teachers who do encourage the latter – but where is it in terms of priority generally?
I’ve also come across the left wing of Christianity, who make some very good points about social justice issues. As my Christian growth took place in various evangelical churches, this was fairly recent exposure for me – I didn’t realise when I was younger that being involved in Greenpeace, or war protests and so forth, could be an essential expression of Christian faith for some. Maybe I was just a bit slow, but I can at least say that I _never_ had that put to me in church. Now I realise some Christian groups, as Dallas Willard seems to imply above, regard this as an essential expression of Christian faith, and would probably see a person’s faith as very one dimensional without evidence of this kind of involvement with ‘the other’ in their lives.
Dallas Willard appears to say that actual inner change, an experience of the life of Christ within us _now_, is part of the redemption. (I totally agree with him, and pray for this kind of inner growth as time goes by, and the kind of revelation of God that will transform more and more.)
I don’t think these churches would disagree with him, but their messages don’t typically aim for this kind of change so much as other programmed types of involvement that achieve their good ends – just not the good ends that are inside us necessarily. There are behavioural checkboxes to tick, such as tithing, or involvement in a ministry, or attending a home group, rather than inwardly making choices to live in Him whenever there is one to be made, in a quieter fashion, and growing in this abiding over time – of course the results of this are seen, but not in a programmed sense.
Evidence for this, I think, is where a church puts its program needs ahead of treating individuals with love. One very public example would perhaps be Mike Guggliemucci’s father putting attendance at a Men’s Camp ahead of spending time with his publically disgraced son. There are many other smaller examples but I won’t begin listing them.
If churches changed their message to place more emphasis on inner transformation and focused more on getting that revelation of the love of God – and living it as their number one priority – do you think there would be less scandalous behaviour in the church, greater unity within the faith, less abuse of power, and the growth of the kind of community that outsiders can genuinely see a difference in – a light – that they’d want to be part of?