Back (…yet still on Sabbatical)

25 07 2008

I’m back and it feels great! My time off from blogging has done me the world of good. But good can be such a relative term these days. Recently I got stung with $2,500 tax bill. It seriously delayed ourplans for the end of the year. But I have to trust that God is Good. What else can I do?

Recently I checked out the top 100 best sellers on the Amazon Christian Bookstore. I was quite surprised. Horrified is a better word. It seems most people think Pop-Psychology books are Christian books. Either that or most Christians are more interested in Psychology than the Bible.

Let me list a few to show you what I mean:
– The Five Love Languages
– Do Hard things: A teenage rebellion against low expectations
– Boundaries: When to say Yes and when to say No
– The Winners Manual: For the game of life
– Jack Canfields Key to Living the Law of Attraction
– For Women Only : What you need to know about the inner lives of men
– For Men Only….
– The Success Principles
– Become a better You
– To Bless the space between us: A book of Blessings.

I could go on and on.  This is something that has concerned me for some time. Why are Christians so obsessed with being “successful”? Why do we assume that success in this life is God’s ultimate plan for us?  Let me define successful as rich,  popular, and a winner in life. Today Western society has a lot in common with Corinth (and Rome for that matter) at the time of Paul. The ideas of Rank and Status pervaded the society, creating social hierarchies designed to keep the elite at the top and everyone else “in their place”. Sadly many of these ideals and maxims have infiltrated the Church.  We have become trapped in our comfort zones, and reject anything that challenges our self esteem. The very idea of self esteem is an un-biblical maxim. It means that we find our self worth in the things we do, the people we know and our own special God given abilities. It is man centred theology. Unfortunately we have only ourselves to blame. In the West we are the creators and victims of the cult of the individual. These best sellers are symptomatic of the infection. But this has not always been the picture. John Calvin wrote 400 years ago that in knowing God we come to know something of ourselves. Clearly He recognised that the Christians identity is not found in anything we are, but in the person of Jesus Christ.

There is very little trinitarianism in these books. Very rarely do they refer to Jesus or the Holy spirit. Rather they make use the word God. As if He is some amorphous blob or force in the universe. In this life there are very few guarantees apart from death and taxes. But one thing we can count on for sure is the Character of God revealed in Scripture. He is God the Father, our Father in heaven. The Divine and Sovereign one who ordains all things. He is God the Son, Jesus Christ, the God who put on flesh and dwelt among us, who  experienced all the pains of being human. He is God the spirit, the Holy Spirit. God’s empowering presence, who walks with us every step of the way, who will always protect and care for us, and who dwells within us. This is the God we serve. However we still live in a world under the sway of the evil one, and marred by sin. Pop-Psychology books seldom refer to these truths when presenting their “man as the centre of the universe” theology. 

These books promise so much but deliver so little.  My heart goes out to the socially inept, the failures, the divorced, exhausted, burnt out, and those burdened with weight of the expectations of others. For them these books serve as reminder of their short comings. I know because I’ve been one of those people. I’ve heard sermons preached about how “Riches are a blessing and Poverty is a curse”. It had a nasty sting when I was broke.  I’ve heard sermons that said “God is always speaking so I should always be hearing” when i was feeling distant from God. It was only once I discovered that there were others who felt the same as me that i began to dig deeper. Arminian theology had plagued me with fear and doubt. When I became a Calvinist I felt a lot like Martin Luther. It was as if I had a huge weight lifted off my chest. Knowing that my sins would never cancel out God’s Grace and Election was the best news I had ever heard.

We’ve been fed the lies that if we just had better relationships, better self esteem, a few more friends, more prayer time, more reading in the scriptures, more money, and are doing more Good works then somehow we will have a better relationship with God. Somehow everything would be OK and success would surely follow. After all winning does equal success. Success leads to greater self esteem, which in turn leads to a better relationship with God. So God must want me to be successful in life. Or so the theory goes.  
I have learnt that the most successful Christians  are the ones who rest in the Grace of God. Those who realise that the only deeper experience of being a Christian is experiencing God’s grace in every facet of life. Whom the Son sets free is free indeed. Tom Wright, in his Commentary on Mark, says that when Jesus rose from the water after his baptism, the same words the Father spoke over Him are the words God speaks over each of His children, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased”. True freedom comes from being chosen not from having the ability to chose anything you want. Its strange that we don’t live that way. Paul wrote the Galatians for much the same thing, slamming them for allowing themselves to be in bondage to the Law that they were never under in the first place. This is one my big blind spots. Somehow i want to return to a way of life where the rules are simple and clear cut. Hard work equals reward. Yet Grace gently reminds me that this is not the way forward.
Bono said it best when he said that Grace is “the thought that changed the world”. It is radically countercultural. It strikes at the very core of society. We earn almost everything in life. We are told from the word go that there is no such thing as a free lunch. From then on someone is grading us on how we peform. But Grace is truly free and freeing. By definition we cannot earn it. Even a secular dictionary would define Grace as unmerited favour.

In closing I pray that you too would experience the rest God came to give us through Jesus. We could search our entire lives and never plunder the depths of His Grace, Love and Mercy. Dont fall for cheap immitations of Grace that promise far more than they can deliver. They will leave you empty and in bondage to fear. Trust that He who began a Good work in you will complete it to the very end.
Perhaps now my title makes sense. I may be back and blogging away, but I am still on sabbatical in the sense that I am resting in the Grace of God.




2 responses

26 07 2008
m slater

Glad to see you back. Assuredly the Christian community has focused far to much on making our lives better as a or the central point of our faith, often with the statement or implication that it is we who ought to be making things better on our own power, which we can if we just follow three easy steps or whatnot. Truly though we can not do these things of our own strength, only through God’s grace and mercy. We have a role to play, and how that works out is complex at best, but I don’t believe God wants his grace to lead to our passivity. Rather it should lead to a new and dynamic passion for God and his will, accompanied by the freedom that God’s grace brings to our lives.
As for the books you listed, seems a mixed bag. Some of them in the ‘your best life now’ strain are quite unhelpful. Relationship books though, if they are the right ones approached in the right way, are not a bad thing and can be very beneficial to those who read them so long as fixing relationships is not placed as the point of the faith but rather a result of a new kind of life. Human interaction is always fraught with perils, and learning from the wisdom of other believers walking the same path can provide valuable assistance.

27 07 2008

Yeah there is a lot of truth in that. We are not saved to be a holy huddle, us four and no more. The point I should probably stress is that God’s Grace and Election leads to freedom in the life of the believer. Love, Gratitude, and action are responses to that gratitude are the responses to what has already taken place. Salvation is a monergistic work.

I agree on the relationship books, although that was not my point. I wanted to emphasise that these were the top selling books in the Christian market. My concern was that we would rather have a quick fix answer to our problems wth a few bible verses thrown in rather than wrestling with and learning good theology. While its not a guarantee, I think good theology builds a better foundation for the Christian life than self help books. For me self help books dont adequately answer the questions of Identity.

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