The Gospel of King Jesus

Early in his ministry, Mark records Jesus coming to the region of Galilee “proclaiming the good news of God.” Some translations use the phrase “proclaiming the gospel of God.” The gospel. The good news of the Christian faith. Exactly what is that good news. Jesus tells us: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15). Good news? About a time? About a Kingdom? I thought the good news was about my personal salvation. What is all of this about a time and a kingdom? And what is all of this about repentance?

Let’s unpack this a bit. When Mark uses the word “time,” the word is kairos which means the significance of a specific moment or event. What is that specific event? It is the coming of God’s Kingdom, the time when God will reign over all the earth. The rule of Israel’s God will come over all of the earth. There is an echo of a passage from Isaiah:

“How beautiful on the mountains, are the feet of those who bring good news,

who proclaim peace,

who bring good tidings,

who proclaim salvation,

who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).

The kingdom of God is nothing less than the reign and rule of God. It has come to earth through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. It is what the late George Ladd called The Presence of the Future. We see signs of the Kingdom all around us now. We will see it in its fullness when our Lord returns to set all of creation right. This is the real good news of the Gospel.

How do we prepare to receive this good news? Jesus tells us that we must repent and believe. Repent from what? Our sinful self-centeredness which shapes how we live in the world. Believe what? That Jesus is the one who will bring God’s rule to bear in our world. If we put it into colloquial terms, we might say something like, “Listen up. It’s about time. God is going to take over. And you need to get yourselves right with him!” It’s a message not only for individuals but a challenge to God’s people to collectively get ourselves right with God.

This is much more than simply acknowledging that God exists or affirming some statements or teachings about God. It is not a mere transaction where we say what we think God wants to hear and then go on our merry ways. To “repent and believe” involves relationship. The key word is not “decision” as in making a “decision for Christ. It is not “acceptance” as in “accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.” The key word is “allegiance!” To be converted in the biblical sense is to declare our allegiance to Jesus Christ, and become his follower.

So what?

“So what? you might ask. “All that matters is that there is a place for me in heaven and I will be comfortable after I die.” But the point is this. While God’s purposes include individual believers, that is not the entire story. What is God up to in all of this? It’s pretty clear in the New Testament, especially in Romans 8 and in the final chapters of the book of Revelation. God’s project is to redeem and renew the entire created order, including us! Our individual salvation, while important, is only a small portion of a much larger story.

In reading the entirety of Holy Scripture, we can see God’s activity as a four-fold symphony that unfolds on its pages. The first movement is that of Creation. In other words, the heavens and earth and all they contain exist because of the creative activity of God. Genesis 1-2 do not describe the mechanics of creation and I am one who thinks that science and faith are not enemies, but complement each other. Hence, I see no need to worry about long it took God to do all of this because that is not the point of this passage.

The second symphonic movement is the tragic song of our rebellion against God, a rebellion that echoes what happened in the very dimensions where God lives. We call that “the fall of humanity” and we use terms like rebellion, depravity and (the one we are most familiar with) sin. I’ve seen a thousand definitions of sin but its essence is that humanity as a whole as well as each human individual have decided that we can live our lives independently of our Creator. To live as God designed us to involves living in dependence on him, on keeping his statues, and living out the agenda he gives us.

But after the tragedy of the second movement comes the hope of the great third movement in the symphony of Scripture–the movement of redemption and rescue. God could have simply walked away and left us to our own designs. Fortunately, he did not. God instead established a rescue plan for his creation, a rescue plan that includes us. The score of the symphony describes the plan and its culmination in Jesus Christ. Jesus comes announcing the Kingdom of God. But many of his hearers misunderstand him and think he has come as a political messiah–one who would reverse the humiliation of Rome and move the capital of civilization from Rome back to Jerusalem where they think it should be.

That is not what Jesus does. Instead, he comes as a suffering messiah and one who dies for the sins of his people, and indeed the entire world. As he describes in Matthew 13 through the stories he tells, that Kingdom has come but is now small as a tiny seed. But a time will come when all will see that Kingdom has become a giant tree that lives life to all. Jesus comes to die, but God raises him back to life as a picture of what all of God’s people and indeed all of creation will experience.

That’s the fourth movement, the movement that comes at a future point known only to God. Our risen Christ will return to earth and his entire creation, all of heaven and earth, will be restored to its original intent and design. And, if we are “in Christ” we will be part of a new creation rescued and redeemed, and like Jesus after his death we will be raised with him as this giant reclamation project reaches its crescendo.

Citizens of the Future

We who are followers of Jesus are citizens of the future. Paul makes that clear at the end of the first chapter of his letter to the Philiippian congregation. The Philippians, like all followers of Jesus, now have a citizenship far greater than any national allegiance. So, Paul wants them to live as citizens of a Kingdom that transcends all of time and space, a Kingdom that will come in God’s time and in God’s way. “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27ff).

How do we do that? Let me tell you first how we do not do that. Karen Swallow Prior, one of the finest evangelical scholars of our day, puts it so well:

“There is a deep, tragic irony in the fact that one of the traditional hallmarks of both [political] conservatism and [American] evangelicalism is the distrust of centralized power. Yet here conservative evangelicalism stands. And falls.

“In the name of conservatism, we conserve the wrong things.

“In the same of evangelism, we evangelize for the wrong gods.

“In the name of religion, we harm those entrusted to our care.

“Jesus had severe words for such actions: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.”

Perhaps, we followers of Jesus need to start by stop doing the things that Karen describes. From there, we can start the Kingdom work that God gives us:

In the name of Christ, we learn to conserve the right things. Things like the fruit of the Spirit, the classical Christian virtues that order lives that are healthy and whole, and integrity of human relationships.

In the name of evangelism, we evangelize for the right things, namely God’s rescue project for all of creation and for human individuals found in Jesus Christ.

In 2020, God is speaking to his people, especially those of us in North America. It is clear what events God is using–Covid-19, the conflict over continuing racism, the fragmentation of our politics, our deepening environmental crisis, indeed our growing inability to speak with others with whom we disagree. We need a huge course correction.

Karen Swallow Prior’s Let Liberty University Be a Lesson in Unchecked Power, which I have cited above can be found at https://religionunplugged.com/news/2020/8/27/let-liberty-university-be-a-lesson-in-unchecked-power.

Let Liberty University be a Lesson in Unchecked Power

A guest post from Karen Swallow Prior

This week, I wanted to write a reflection on the disastrous events at Liberty University, events that have played out in front of all of us on the national media and have created anger among evangelicals like myself who are engaged in Christian higher education, and ridicule from those outside of the Christian faith. Then I read Karen Swallow Prior’s blog post and decided that she said what I wanted to say far better than I could. Hence I share Karen’s post with you.

Karen is a scholar of Literature who taught English literature for over 20 years at Liberty University. Hence, she writes as one who has been affected by the seven-year struggle at LU that finally led this week to the ouster of Jerry Falwell, Jr. She writes not only about LU, but about its larger impact on American evangelicalism. I know you will appreciate her work.

I especially appreciated these words:

“As a conservative evangelical (and one who recently left Liberty University after 21 years of teaching there), I understand the conflicted, ambivalent relationship evangelicalism has and has had for 300 years with institutional authority. Evangelicals establish institutions with as much experience and finesse as a seventh-grade boy at a school dance.

“But this is not a drill. Churches, schools, universities, all Christian ministries steward in the name of Christ the most precious things in all of creation: human bodies and souls.

“That’s a lot of power. It’s even more responsibility. When power goes unchecked, all hell breaks loose.”

Here is the link to her excellent post where you can read the whole thing.

https://religionunplugged.com/news/2020/8/27/let-liberty-university-be-a-lesson-in-unchecked-power?fbclid=IwAR1juE-IYml7Hdpv0wMOVc-FPEtsZ2kID2RxdY_bCY_QjAYbz7RIsuGkSLE

“Left Behind”by the Political Evangelicals

“Left Behind.” That term was used in the Tim LaHaye/Jerry Jenkins books described as The Left Behind Series published in the first decade of the 21st century. The phrase refers to those who remain on earth to face God’s judgment after the “rapture” of the church which many evangelical Christians find in Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica (4:13-18).

While I disagree with the LaHaye/Jenkins interpretation for several reasons, let me suggest that the idea of being “left behind” in a deeper sense resonates with the broader theme of alienation found in the work of Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and other 19th and 20th century intellectuals. To be alienated from society and its institutions, even from our communities, families, and congregations is at the root of the division and angst that plague the United States in 2020.

For the past two weeks, I have felt “left behind” by much of American evangelicalism to the point where I question how much longer I can continue with it in this current form. My work in Christian churches, organizations, and schools for the past forty-five years has offered a unique window on the politicization of evangelicalism in this country. And, while I have done what I could to encourage evangelical unity in speaking and practicing the gospel, events of the past couple of weeks have pretty much convinced me that American evangelical Christianity is fragmenting with much of it in grave danger of slipping into idolatry and heresy.

Why? Because American evangelicalism has bought hook, line, and sinker what Jacques Ellul has termed “the political illusion.” What Ellul means is that whenever individuals, communities of any kind, or nations view our personal, interpersonal, and societal problems as primarily political and solved only through political means, we have bought into the greatest lie of the modern age. We think and believe that civilization depends on the success of our candidates and our party, and the failure of those who may see things differently than we do. When we embrace the political illusion, we embrace idolatry against the living God.

This is not to say that Christian involvement in community, national, and world affairs is intrinsically evil. But once we embrace the political illusion, it’s a very short step toward excusing anything immoral or unethical as long as it helps our people and our party win. Ironically, Holy Scripture teaches us to trust God and not our own understanding (cf. Proverbs 3:5-6). We are to trust God, not the illusion that we can solve all of our problems through political means.

A few days before Christmas, Mark Galli, outgoing managing editor of Christianity Today, gave voice to what many like myself think is necessary in holding accountable the current President of the United States for behavior that in our view has disgraced the presidency and harmed the United States. He reminded us that ends do not justify means, that Presidents are not above the Constitution and the rule-of-law, and that it is not permissible to threaten a foreign leader or country to accomplish personal interests. That is a tough sell among evangelicals because many think that the President is accomplishing exactly what they desire–conservative justices for the United States supreme court, vigorous defense of religious freedom, and restricting undocumented immigrants at the U.S. Mexico border by building a 30-foot wall.

Burn in Hell

So, imagine the consternation among the religious right folks when confronted with a supposed crack in the evangelical armor. I reposted the Galli essay on my Facebook feed and when I noticed several other sites posting it, I responded with my view that Mark Galli got it exactly right, and that I and others wondered why it took so long for a major evangelical magazine to speak about this. I wasn’t quite ready for the vitriol that I received from evangelical supporters of Trump. For example:

* You have “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (something that I have yet to find listed n the DSM-V or any other psychological manual).

* Who are you to criticize the man that God put in office?

* Do you love our country?

* You must be in favor of abortion.

* You are a leftist just like those folks at Christianity Today!

* Who are you to judge Donald Trump?

* And best of all: “Burn in hell you Satan worshiper!” (This one struck me as a bit unhinged so  I reported him to Facebook.)

This represents more than the usual Facebook back-and-forth banter that can at times come off as harsh and crude. I love a good argument and I can dish it out as well as receive it, to the point where I have had to go back and apologize to individuals with whom I have spoken harshly. None of us are immune from interacting this way on social media, especially with people we do not know or probably will never meet.

I understand why many evangelicals are distressed by cultural events of the past half-century. I share some of that distress, though I think their criticisms are far too narrow. For many, that distress has led to anger and anger to a desire for a strongman who will hit back with harsh words and direct action. In a media-saturated world, we celebrate when those we perceive as our opponents are verbally attacked and experience what many of us have coming from their pens and their voices.

The words expressed to me above unearth in my view, the real significance of Mark Galli’s essay.  It is not so much that he called for Trump’s removal from office after being impeached by the House of Representatives. In earlier impeachment proceedings, Christianity Today called for the impeachment of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Instead, Galli brought to the surface long-smoldering tension within American evangelicalism over the religious right and its attempts to align evangelicalism with the fortunes of the Republican party. That division was ramped up in 2016 with the claim that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump, and the words directed at me above reflect its depths.

Destruction and seeds of renewal

Those divisions have revealed a rotten, ugly core that infects all that it touches. And, until American evangelicalism returns to being a Christ-centered Christian movement, the infection will spread and probably destroy the movement in the United States. My hope is that a Christ-centered movement will emerge from the wreckage that is now piling up. There is no quick fix. A renewed American Christianity will take years if not decades, and will never happen apart from the Spirit’s work in our lives and in the church. Here are the signs that I seek:

* A renewed evangelical movement will ground its theology in Holy Scripture as seen through the ancient creeds of historic Christianity–specifically the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Evangelicalism’s historic myopia has caught up with it and has damaged its theological core.

* A renewed evangelical movement will no longer worship celebrities and politicians, and will cease making excuses for them. We have become just like the surrounding culture and are celebrity-driven to the point that we identify with personalities who confirm our biases and interests and will excuse them because they are “on our team.”

* Evangelical renewal will lead to humility in word and deed. I hear a lot of talking but little listening and not much compassion for each other in our interactions. A Christ-centered evangelical movement will practice the fruit of the Holy Spirit of which compassion is an integral aspect.

* Renewed evangelicalism will once again believe that the gospel is for everyone. In this day and time, I wonder if most American evangelicals believe that the gospel is good news for Democrats as well as Republicans, for persons of color as well as whites, for immigrants fleeing suffering in Central America as well as citizens, for women as well as men. I think many in our churches and in society wonder the same things.

* Finally, a renewed evangelical movement will no longer allow theology to be reduced to ideology and will no longer excuse immoral and illegal behavior on the part of its sympathizers.

Politics that is postmodern and post-truth

Let me explore this last point more deeply. We live in a deeply confused age. It is not as bad as the 1850s when the United States was torn apart by slavery and political division, and ultimately by a brutal Civil War. But, something is going on that should give all of us pause. One of the great challenges of 20th century Communism was the Marxist assertion that ideology determined reality. George Orwell said it so well in 1984. “But I tell you Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon only perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party.” Moreover, in Orwell’s view, the Party has won when you deny the reality that you see with your own eyes.

Orwell’s critique was directed toward those who would allow ideology to interpret reality. Now, we have gone far beyond that in postmodern America. Politicians in both major parties have a new technique, and now use technology and the media to destroy any semblance of reality. Now, realty is no longer necessarily shaped by ideology. Instead, we are brought to surrender through scores of interpretive possibilities. For example, a passenger airplane is shot down over Ukrainian skies. Intelligence points toward Russian troops in Ukraine. But, Mr. Putin asks us to consider a variety of explanations. Perhaps the Ukrainian army did it. So, we investigate and discover that is not true. Putin  then moves on to another possible explanation. And on it goes until we throw up our hands in frustration and ask along with Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” Reality becomes undiscoverable, and we simply deny the reality of what we have seen with our own eyes. Across the world, including the United States, leaders with an authoritarian bent have found postmodern ways to exercise power with postmodern means.

They have a specific strategy that works every time. First, tell lies and attack those with whom they (and you) disagree. Second, get those in parts of the media sympathetic to them or their ideology to repeat the lies and attack.  Third, once sympathetic media pick up the story (FOX on the right, MSNBC on the left), the lie becomes reality for their fellow travelers and supporters. This is crucial because postmodern authoritarians know that we tend to believe what we regularly hear. Fourth, tell their supporters that there are many possible explanations for why the lie is true to the point where our resistance is broken down and we say “whatever,” because none of us has time to pursue all of this. We’ll gladly agree that two plus two equals five if we can be left alone.

Do you see how destructive this is? Our souls are hallowed out and we give in to the political correctness and ideologies that best adhere to our self-interests. Our love for Christ and his presence are replaced with fearful addiction to the political and ideological merchants of our day. That is exactly what I think is underneath the desperate hate that my interlocutors on Facebook thought they had to resort to. If their leaders are bankrupt, then their very identities are deeply threatened.

American evangelicalism has become plagued by post-truth post-modernism, the same kind  that we claim to find on the ideological left. There is no difference between left-wing students threatening Ben Shapiro at Cal-Berkeley and Donald Trump calling another Republican a “loser” because he had the audacity to get shot down and spend five years being tortured by the North Vietnamese in the so-called Hanoi Hilton. The only difference is degree, not kind. It is ugly. It is corrosive. It has infected evangelical Christianity in a big way. Out of love for Christ and a love for the truth, I am unable to continue with this charade. Division is upon us, and for the first time in my life, I think that is a good thing. I look forward to leaving far behind the “Franklin-Jerry-Paula” albatross that hangs around all of our necks these days. If that is what it means to be “left behind,” then count me in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Third Theological Revolution

Two times in my adult life, I have experienced dramatic change in how I understood and practiced Christian faith. The first occurred in my early twenties with a transition away from a more emotionally based faith (that even included some association with classic Pentecostalism) that could not address the intellectual questions I was wrestling with in college. The catalyst was a little book by John Stott titled Your Mind Matters and the heft was delivered by Os Guinness’s powerful tome titled The Dust of Death published by InterVarsity in 1972. Guinness not only help me to grasp the significance of the 1960s but offered an evangelical faith that spoke to the hard questions sparked by the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the various social revolutions that had emerged in the United States.

Finding a faith that spoke to the modern world

So, I found a biblically-based understanding of faith that served as an anchor for a season of deep emotional pain and stress that I experienced in the mid-1970s. If you are like me, you know that the stresses of our early young adult years can play all kinds of havoc on our persons, especially when we need to struggle with how our faith relates to the modern world. And, my introduction to the modern world of working in a Christian school for a couple of years was not a very happy one. In fact it was bad enough to drive me into therapy.

But Stott and Guinness were good guides, especially as I went off to Fuller Seminary to finish my first advanced degree and serve the Advent Christian Church with my vocation. Eventually, I wound up in Charlotte and found a whole set of new challenges–especially adjusting to how Christianity was practiced in the American South. I remember seeing my first public Ku Klux Klan demonstration in broad daylight at the corner of Independence Blvd. and Idlewild Road five months after we had moved. “You’re not in Kansas (or California) anymore,” I thought to myself.

Moving away from rationalist faith

Seeing the Klan do their thing was only part of it. I witnessed some pretty tough church fights and struggled to come to terms with how Christians could be so cruel to each other. I had seen the same thing in California, but this time it touched off the start of another important transition in how I looked at the faith. But the challenge reached a crescendo in 1989 at a theological conference I attended outside of Chicago. Here I saw the dark side of American Evangelicalism. The evangelical elite was attempting to draw doctrinal boundaries and a few presentations got pretty ugly, especially when one of the views I held was denounced as heresy by a TV evangelist. (No, it was not Jim Bakker.)

I didn’t react very well and looking back, I should have simply folded my tent and walked away. Driving home, I realized that I had pretty much bought into the standard Evangelical way of thinking. Believing the Bible, but analyzing it using the canons of logic and human reason. I was a Carl Henry evangelical, and all of a sudden I realized that would no longer work, and that I had become what the UNC Chapel Hill historian Molly Worthen would later describe as an “Apostle of Reason.” Richard Foster had opened my eyes to the affective dimension of faith, and now it was time to jump in. And, out of that, my faith came to a point where the cognitive and affective could be integrated in a way that would draw me toward what the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 6 as “union with Christ.”

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Western Christianity began defining faith as a transaction, as an enterprise, as something that can be manufactured by technology. We spend inordinate amounts of time patrolling our theological borders looking for the “undocumented” among us.

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And there I have lived for the past 25 years,  learning to read Scripture through a different lens and devouring works by Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright, and especially  Henri Nouwen, Dallas Willard, and a number of writers on the spiritual life. So I reached my sixties thinking that all was well–that is until 2016. It was a rough year–another back surgery,  the demands of a busy academic schedule, the death of my 95-year-old mother whom we had moved from New Mexico in early 2012, and a season when it seemed like the United States and American evangelicalism were coming unglued. I wasn’t looking for it, but I should have known. It was time for another major transition in the way I understand the Christian faith. This one has been sparked with my dissatisfaction with the sad state of American evangelicalism in America 2019.

Life in the Trinity

Anyway, I’m still working this one out, but I want to communicate its broad strokes. It has to do with a fresh reading of the early creeds and confessions, especially the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, and my growing conviction that much of American Christianity has cut itself off from the historic Christian faith especially in terms of how we grasp the Triune existence and work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Western Christianity seems to have reduced Christian faith to a transaction–a decision that somehow makes one right with God without the ongoing work of the Spirit. But the more one reads Holy Scripture, the clearer it becomes that the essence of Christian faith is relational–relationship with God and as a result learning practices that deepen that relationship and enable us to express it among the people of God and among people outside of the faith.

First the best way to read Scripture is through the the bifocal lens of the early Christian fathers and the creeds and confessions.  Scripture grounds the gospel in human history– in concrete events surrounding our Lord’s death and resurrection. Moreover, Jesus teaching about the Kingdom of God frames the Christian faith in the biblical symphony of creation, fall, redemption, and consumnation (what N.T. Wright calls “new creation”).

The early Church Fathers (and mothers) understood this far better than we do. I do not claim that these early Christian writers spoke with one voice on all matters. But I am saying that if we read early Christian writers like Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine we discover an understanding of faith far more biblical than our modern encrustations allow us to see, especially because how we understand things is clogged by our addictions to technology and American individualism.

Even more, the sixteenth-century reformers, especially Luther and Calvin, understood this and their work reflects a love for the early Christian creeds and the value of the early Church fathers. They were in touch with the early Christian writers in ways that we are not. The Catholic scholar, Robert Louis Wilkin, argues that what emerged from early Christian writing was much more than mere teaching and writing. They crafted an intellectual and affective understanding of life and worship in all of its dimensions that was grounded in what the church taught about Jesus Christ.

Second,  adoption is the key metaphor in understanding the essence of Christian salvation. What happens when we commit to following Jesus? We are adopted as sons and daughters of God. In John’s gospel, over and over Jesus reflects on his oneness with his Father. It is the essence of his identity. Then, in Romans 6 Paul reminds us that followers of Jesus are “united with Christ” meaning that our very identity is shaped by our ongoing relationship with the risen Christ. Through Jesus Christ, we become adopted sons and daughters of God and through our adoption we are united with Jesus Christ in ongoing  relationship. Just as Jesus is the Father’s natural Son, so we are adopted sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ. This leads to the following.

Third, the Christian life is “life in the Trinity,” where we learn to relationally participate in the Triune life of God as his adopted sons and daughters. I think I’ve known this intuitively but since 2016 it has come front and center especially as I’ve watched so many evangelicals sell their souls to the political idols of our day. About 250 years ago, Western Christianity began defining faith as a transaction, as an enterprise, as something that can be manufactured by technology. We spend inordinate amounts of time patrolling our theological borders looking for the “undocumented” among us. Even when we find agreement with others in different groups on 90 percent of what we believe, we become like those evangelicals at that 1989 conference I attended ready to go to theological war over things that we perceive as a threat.

My Christian friends in eastern churches like the Coptic Orthodox and the Armenian Orthodox churches see the goal of the Christian life in far different terms. This is not to say that they are anywhere near perfect in following Christ or that they don’t have conflict over theological and political matters. Or that they have no need for reform. But while Western Christianity sees faith as transactional, Eastern Christianity sees it more in relational terms. Nowhere is that better seen than in how Eastern Christians understand the Christian life, what the theologians call “sanctification.”

Western Christians given their transactional approaches to faith see the Christian life reflected in outward practices. Catholics see outward participation in the sacramental life of the church as the ground for Christian life. American Fundamentalism has viewed it in terms of avoidance–non-participation in practices defined by their leadership as “worldly.” Mainline Protestants see it as participation in activities related to their approved understandings of “social justice.” Evangelicals have tended toward the need for theological precision, an impossibility given the conflicts between Baptists and Pentecostals, Methodists and Presbyterians, and a host of disagreements about how best to frame Christian teaching. Eugene Peterson describes all of this for what it is: “Spiritual pornography is prayer and faith without relationship, intimacy with Jesus reduced and debased into an idea or cause to be argued or used” (Tell it Slant, 2008).

Eastern Christianity (and not just Eastern Orthodoxy) tends to view the matter differently. The Christian faith involves learning to participate in the divine life of the Trinity as his adopted sons and daughters. One of my Gordon-Conwell colleagues commented about the importance of this discovery for his own faith. “Oftentimes, I would wake up and wonder how I could find Christian community. Now, I wake up and realize that I don’t have to go find Christian community, because I am already living in community with the the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Exactly.

For a few years back in the 1980s, I subscribed to USA Today. Then I stopped for this reason: Every time I read their editorial page it presented a new “issue of the day” for me to worry about and for me to “virtue signal” that I was fired up and concerned about their flavor of the day. That is an exhausting way to live. What is better is learning to know God and participate in his Triune life. From that posture, I can then live with purpose while recognizing my human limits. I cannot fix America or the world. I cannot even fix myself. But i can align myself with the Triune God because he is sovereign and he sustains me as I live in community with him simply because I am a recipient of his amazing grace.

As I said above, I’m still working out all of this especially as I witness the decline of American Evangelicalism. Perhaps that decline is best because we can stop with the “virtue signaling” and allow the Spirit to draw us deeper as individuals and communities of faith into what actually matters–the Triune God himself.