|KEYNOTES-Coming Out Ahead|
COMING OUT AHEAD:
Disconnecting, Connecting, and Reconnecting for Christ
An expanded version of the Keynote address given by Dr. Ralph Blair
at the Eastern and Western connECtions 2003
arlier this year I was at Wheaton College for the centenary of that brilliant observer of the 20th century, Malcolm Muggeridge. He was the consummate insider who was ever the outsider. In his memoir, Chronicles of Wasted Time, he tells of a recurring scene in his mind, "both sleeping and waking." He describes "standing in the wings of a theatre waiting for my cue to go on stage. As I stand there I can hear the play proceeding, and suddenly it dawns on me that the lines I have learnt are not in this play at all, but belong to a quite different one. Panic seizes me; I wonder frenziedly what I should do. Then I get my cue. Stumbling, falling over the unfamiliar scenery, I make my way on to the stage, and there look for guidance to the prompter, whose head I can just see rising out of the floor-boards. Alas, he only signals helplessly to me, and I realize that of course his script is different from mine. I begin to speak my lines, but they are incomprehensible to the other actors and abhorrent to the audience, who begin to hiss and shout: ‘Get off the stage!’ ‘Let the play go on!’ ‘You’re interrupting!’ I am paralyzed and can think of nothing to do but to go on standing there and speaking my lines that don’t fit. The only lines I know."
Ever feel like that? Miscast – gay in play that’s straight, Christian in a play that’s pagan. A fruit out of season. A fish out of water. With St. Mugg we might counter: "Only dead fish swim with the stream."
Still, might there not be a "coming out" onto the stage of the everyday world to a better outcome? Can we come out ahead instead? Yes, most definitely. And no, certainly not.
A popular endorsement of "coming out" claims that "Coming out reduces isolation and alienation and allows for increased support from other GLBT people and allows you to live a full life." Well, not necessarily. And in the deepest sense, of course: Absolutely not.
For serious Christians who happen to be differently oriented sexually, coming out can increase isolation and alienation. Coming out can disallow for support. And besides, as any serious Christian should know, merely "coming out" as lesbigayt is not what "allows you to live a full life." What allows you to live a full life is your coming out into Christ.
Evangelical Christians whose sexual orientation is not what the Evangelical establishment approves and whose Christian orientation is not what the lesbigayt establishment approves are in for a shock if they buy into such promises uncritically. People of dual identity must be, in Jesus’s words, "wise as snakes and harmless as doves" to cope in homophobic Evangelicaland and the Christophobic Emerald City. "Coming out" as gay to evangelical family and friends and "coming out" as evangelical to gay friends is fraught with isolating and alienating misunderstanding and hostility. To "come out" as "the other" in either venue is very likely to evoke: "Get out!"
I’d like us to get out of the tired lesbigayt rhetoric on "coming out" and get into coming out ahead. Coming out ahead is our daily Christian calling – no matter what may be our sexual identity.
From our first retreat back there in July of 1980, we’ve called each of our over fifty summer gatherings, "connECtions." We’ve spelled that with a big "EC" in the middle. Wesley used the same term in his day, but with an "x" instead of an "ec," as the English are wont to misspell.
I intended each connection to be a coming out from lifestyles of disintegration and disconnection into lifestyles of integration in connection to Christ. To be at peace with God in Christ, one’s life must be all of a piece – not all in pieces. We’re not to split life into sacred and secular, private and public, gay and non-gay. And so, as a Christian group, EC must submit everything to our Lord Christ. Everything!
Contrary to "the deadly purpose of the false guides," (Barnabas Lindars) Jesus said: "I came that you might have life in all its fullness." (John 10:10) Christ calls us to an abundant life, a gifted life in him. He said, too, that the abundance increases for those who have it, but for those who do not, what they only suppose they have, vanishes. (Matt 13:12) Why? Because, apart from life in Christ, there’s a sort of spiritual Second Law of Thermodynamics. Without Christ, souls decay and die a final death.
This increasingly abundant living is no less God’s desire for Christians who happen to find ourselves in a sexual minority than for Christians who happen to find themselves in a sexual majority. Our life, too, is to be the abundant life. Our outcome, too, is to come out ahead. It’s God’s will that all His children come out ahead.
But coming out ahead depends on how we begin coming out and how we go about coming out. Coming out ahead depends on where we start. Indeed, how we come out from among this world’s priorities and how we come out into Christ, determines how we come out at all. After all, the abundant life is in Christ. The abundant life is in Christ because the abundant life is Christ’s Life.
In this centenary year of Watchman Nee, faithful Chinese Christian martyr, it’s fitting to recall that "Christ our Life" is what he called "the normal Christian life." Coming out ahead may mean death in a Communist prison cell, for coming out ahead meant death on a cross.
And such coming out ahead is not coming out of one closet in which we dare not speak of gayness only to come out into another closet where we won’t shut up about it. Coming out ahead is coming out of the dark wilderness of self-obsessed shame and coming out into the wideness of the light of Christ and His kingdom. If we don’t realize this, we really cannot be the light we’re called to be in Oz. If we let self-styled mavens of lesbigayt culture define what it is to be "In The Life" (so-called), we’ll fail to live the abundant Life that’s really worth living.
We like to say that "Evangelical and gay" is not an oxymoron. And this can be true. But our being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or what "Q" have you, does not qualify us for life in all its fullness. Life in all its fullness is Christ’s Life in his disciplined followers. But let’s face it: evangelical and (much of what passes for) "gay" and the other politically correct consonants can certainly be an oxymoron. It’s far too easy to overlook this. We’re too easily seduced by peer pressure for secular, even sinful, agendas that pose as the lesbigayt worldview – even as lesbigayt spirituality.
And when our heterosexual Christian brethren oppose our integration of the faith and sexuality, we all too readily succumb to their setting the agenda. We buy into their ignorance and hatred of us and then we hate them in return. In turning to such a tit-for-tat, we fail to turn our other cheek to them and fail to turn our full-face attention to Christ.
In order to come out ahead, then, let’s look at the gift of our Christian calling in three dimensions.
First, there’s our need for disconnection. We’re called to come out from among all the disconnections into which we have been flung and into which we fling ourselves. We’re to come out of all that is of this world’s self-obsession. That includes much within both lesbigayt subcultures and church subcultures.
Second, there’s our need for being well connected. We’re to come out into Christ. He’s the real Connection that we need. We’re to connect with Christ in the encouraging company of other Christians. And we’re to be open to the Spirit’s connecting mind, heart, body and soul together for our loving of God and each other – even our enemies.
And third, there’s our need for reconnection. As Christians, we can be ill prepared for same-sex orientation. As gay people, we can be ill prepared for living under the Savior’s guidance. But we need not remain so poorly prepared. In EC, we have a unique opportunity for reconnecting to integrating truth, week after week and year after year. And in the long sweep of Christian history, in the saints that surround us "as a great cloud of witnesses," we may seek sustenance in what we share that includes, but goes deeper, than sexuality. Yet we must know that nobody but Christ and nothing but Christian discipleship can keep on preparing us for such wholesome wholeness in which we’ll be coming out ahead every step of the Way in the Truth and the Life who is Christ.
We’ve been told that homosexual orientation is a disorientation. You may have told this to yourselves. But it’s now been three decades since the American Psychiatric Association deleted homosexuality from the manual of mental disorders. And contrary to the Religious Right’s claims, that revision was based in a two-fold criterion of science, not politics. Still, the Vatican is insisting that every expression of homosexuality is "inherently disordered." And faux-Freudian Fundamentalists are fooling around with "reparative" psychobabble that their circles used to shun as something sprung from Satan.
Now there’s no good reason to think that homosexuality is "inherently disordered" or the rotten fruit of faulty parenting. But there are many good reasons to conclude that much that passes for "the gay lifestyle" is, indeed, "inherently disordered" and fruit that’s rotten to the core: the stupidities of promiscuity, prostitution, pornography, party drugs – even under rationalizations of Queer theory and Queer spirit. These are disorders. They are "inherently disordered" and they lead to further disorder.
Lesbigayt people talk a lot about how much we’ve been abused in churches in the name of God. And we have been abused there. We need to talk at least as much about how much we’ve been abused in the gay scene and in the name of lesbigayt Pride.
To borrow from the wisdom of Lewis Carroll, not from Wonderland but from Bruno’s Revenge: "You can’t mean to say that Fairies are never greedy, or selfish, or cross, or deceitful, because that would be nonsense, you know."
Of course that would be nonsense. But we "Fairies" can be reluctant to say so. As lesbian author Paula Martinac notes: "the gay community [is silent or] slow to speak out" against the gay men who raped and murdered 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising, or the proudly lesbian mothers in Ohio who cruelly abused their five boys, or the greedily amoral gay Enron executive, or all those gay priests – yes, gay priests – who exploit teenagers. She’s right. Some of those who share our gayness, though not our evangelical faith, do see through the perversion that passes for Pride.
The executive editor of the gay New York Blade says that most lesbians and gay men have done a poor job at "mastering the art of integrating ‘the gay thing’ into a more complex and balanced life." (Chris Crain) Here’s Danny Roberts, the token gay resident of an MTV’s Real World. He rightly says we have to have "an identity outside of a gay identity." He rejects what he calls the "gay clone" scenario: "If you are gay, you have to mold into the ‘gay identity.’ That’s lame as hell," he says. He says he hates the gay clubs because they’re "all about hooking up. They are nothing but trouble," he says.
According to a columnist in the Advocate: "The gay movement hasn’t matured; it’s grown stale. Pride marches have turned into shopworn cavalcades of been-there, done-that decadence." (Christian Boone) Out-lesbian society columnist Liz Smith agrees with Bill O’Reilly’s saying that Pride parades are "offensive, foolish, and counterproductive." She says: "He’s 100 percent right. So sue me."
Gay columnist Michelangelo Signorile tackles a gay reader’s query about "What’s Wrong With Us?" Says Signorile: "I’m among the first to slap around a large segment of the gay scene in the urban ghettos for its shallowness, laughable attitude, intense focus on physical ideals – not to mention the sometimes-tacky fashion sensibility that comes with that – and for promoting the sex-and-drugs-is-the-be-all-and-end-all culture." Then he challenges his reader: "Are you going to whine forever, and allow that pathetic, superficial crowd to dictate how you’re supposed to feel? Or are you going to take yourself out of its grip?"
Lesbian social critic Camille Paglia observes that "Within 15 years of the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, an insidious totalitarianism infected gay activism." It still does. Objecting to such violence against individual integrity, Rosie O’Donnell says: "The gay community needs to stop pointing fingers at their brothers and sisters, saying, ‘Not gay enough.’"
As I’ve said, there’s disorienting disconnection even in lesbigayt religious caucuses, conferences and churches. Remember Paul’s disgust over the Corinthian Christians’ suing each other in secular courts instead of reconciling their differences among themselves? Remember the Risen Christ’s disgust over the false teaching and sexual immorality in the church at Pergamum? Remember Luther’s disgust over the church’s sale of indulgences? Are we as disgusted over the lack of discipleship, the false teaching, the sexual immorality, and all the superficial spirituality in our church circles? Are we part of that scene?
In his series on "A Christian Theology of Sexuality" at MCC’s Sunshine Cathedral, a long-time pro-gay Catholic priest pushed the propaganda that "There is no such thing as bad sex; only good sex, better sex and best sex." (John McNeill) Granting that "best sex" is within a close relationship (but with not a mention of monogamy), he said that "better sex" was (pardon his French) "fuck buddy" sex, and that "good sex" was an anonymous one-night-stand! How naïve can he be! And, at his advanced age, has he learned nothing about sexuality?
A recent lesbigayt Brethren/Mennonite publication pushed what its lesbian editor called "ideas [that] should replace … traditional norms." (Ruth Moerdyk) In answer to the question of authority in his life, here’s what one of the authors had to say: "As a queer man, the queer community usually takes priority." His next priority? "My lover." Then he notes: "My accountability as a Christian also ranks high." This sequence of convenience – and whatever he means by "Christian" – hardly reflects the theology that subsumes everything under the Lordship of Christ. He asserts naively: "Good sex is casual sex. We need to be much more casual about sex." Really?
Media-duped into thinking he’s thinking for himself, a second writer also begins with "my own paradigms … my own internal authority." Dismissive of biblical guidance and either oblivious or disdainful of readily available frames of reference worked out in the crucible of centuries of trial and error toward wisdom, he insists that: "Without readily available frames of reference, you have to trust your own experience." Not knowing if his readers’ interpretations of experience are at all trustworthy, he tells them to "trust their own internal authority" – doubtless fantasizing that his take is theirs as well.
A Presbyterian lesbigayt newsletter features a lesbian’s celebration of "the Rainbow Flag of my New Faith." Says she: "Had I not been introduced to the ministries and outreach of More Light Presbyterians, I would not be where I am in my spiritual journey." And where’s that? Unitarianism – where "the biggest controversy in its history" is now raging over the mere mention of "God" in its meetings and materials!
Such religious revisionism and accommodation to non-Christian and secular assumptions is what Stanley Hauerwas of Duke calls the fundamental failure of liberal theology. People want a finessed faith to underpin opinions derived quite apart from historic Christian sources.
Yale’s Miroslav Volf agrees. He notes that "the faith that people embrace ... seems not so much an integral way of life as an energizing and consoling aura added to the business of a life shaped by factors other than faith." He says that these Christians "opt for an easy relevance by adopting vague religiousity and interlacing it with various secular languages (e.g. of psychology or social critique)." He sees the real "substance of faith …dribbling away." Volf notes: "I don’t need to go to church to be psychologized or given second-rate social theories. I can chill out on my deck with a cup of coffee and the New York Times for that." In contrast, Volf understands that ministry’s "primary function is to help make faith a way of life for persons, communities and cultures. … Christian faith," he rightly concludes, is "a way of life." Sadly, the "way of life" in so much of lesbigayt spirituality is indistinguishable from the "way of life" in the secular world.
One of the saddest accounts of disconnection I’ve read all year was a profile in the New York Blade headlined: "The Gospel According to Yolanda." It identifies Yolanda (otherwise Roger Anthony Mapes) as "an HIV-positive drag queen that delivers an uplifting message, even if a bit unconventional and done with a Southern twang." We’re told that the Alabama native is a "buxom blonde drag queen [who] doesn’t distinguish between onstage personality and everyday life." There’s integration for you. She’s quoted as saying: "I go by Yolanda, whatever, wherever. …I don’t make a huge distinction between Yolanda and Roger." But while she connects Roger with Yolanda, she disconnects Roger from Christ. Recalling her background in churches and a Christian commune, she says: "I had to sort of turn my back on Christianity. It got to be a choice between being gay and being a Christian. And I finally decided, you know, that having a dick up my ass was a lot more fun than praying."
Preachers, in what by now is surely a willed ignorance, forced her to choose between being gay and being a Christian. Do they yet really not know what they’re doing? And, by now, does she? She, too, has made choices. She makes choices. She wants what she calls "Yolandaworld – this niche for myself." She says she wants to "kick ass, and have people go ‘Woah.’" Her Web site shows her in a Pride parade, sprouting out-sized balloons of boobs and phallis. And we read that her "song for the christian [sic] right wing," called "Eat Me," won the annual Camp Pride Song Award. She recalls that "there is nothing in the world like being at a black Pentecostal church in full swing with people praising God, speaking in tongues, and passing out with the spirit [sic]. The music, the energy, and the power is awe-inspiring." But so sadly, she’s now cast her lot with the Radical Faeries, described on her Web site as "a tribe of spiritual gay men who incorporate magic, ritual and Drag to empower themselves." Read and weep.
I have an email from a gay Christian who was kicked out of his church as "unfit" simply because he’s gay. Let’s call him "Mike." He writes: "Beaten homophiles are so hurt by being rejected [by conservative churches] that they seek a group to give them aid and comfort. Unfortunately, only the theologically liberal are willing to take the outcasts in. The formerly orthodox believer then, albeit very slowly and reluctantly at first, begins to adopt the beliefs of the group that is willing to accept him or her. The old ideas and beliefs are so closely associated with the group that inflicted the psychological pain, that they are avoided. I pray that by God’s amazing grace to me through Christ Jesus my Lord that will not be my fate. It’s been so far, so good for me. I think that I still ‘contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.’" Thank God for Mike’s faithfulness.
How many Yolandas are out there in need of that dear Someone more empowering than themselves and other lost faeries? How many Mikes are out there in need of fellowship with other Christians who, side by side with them, seriously adhere to the entrusted faith? If we in EC fail to share the embracingly Good News with the Yolandas and Mikes around us, we have no reason to call ourselves Christ’s disciples. If we don’t preach the Evangel, how are we evangelicals concerned?
Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, there’s a rash of rehashing of a religion that denies sin and the supernatural while indulging a superficial self and superficial sex. So alas, too many are sucking up the gay-sycophantic spirituality of a Bishop Spong or a Bishop Sprague with all the critical acumen of a Spongebob Squarepants. But the dean of the Duke University Chapel calls the preaching of these left-liberal bishops what it is: "a privileged, middle class" view of a religion of "affluent Western people who have so much power [they] don’t want to have a God who resurrects the dead." (William Willimon) In her day, Flannery O’Connor spoke of the same sad silliness. She said people who do not disconnect from the assumptions of this world want their religion to be "a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross." So she urged: "Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you."
Is that what we’re doing here in EC – pushing back against all the foolishness outside of Christ in order to be true fools in Christ? Pressed to conform to Queer Theology, let us in EC be ready and willing to appear to be even a bit too queer – truly queer – for Christ! Self-denying "foolishness" will be our coming out ahead. The sane alternative to this world’s craziness is to be crazy for Christ and his Kingdom that is not of this world. Let our coming out ahead be for the sake of the whole world’s coming out ahead – the whole wide world for which Christ played The Faithful Fool unto death and then was raised to glory.
Of course it’s not only lesbian and gay evangelical Christians who are in danger of failing to disconnect from the dominant society. Straight evangelicals also fail to disconnect from the dominant society. They, too, are too much of the world they’re in. And some among the theologically conservative are coming to see that this is the case. They’re concerned that much of American evangelicalism has seriously disconnected from biblical Christianity. The conservative Calvinists of the White Horse Inn ask rhetorically: "Is American Christianity more American than it is Christian?"
The temptation has always been to seek the approval of this world and walk in the ways of this world. The temptation has always been to be "in" and "of" this world. And, of course, that effort is rationalized in terms of religious "relevance." But Simone Weil wisely observed: "To be always relevant, you have to say things which are eternal." In the words of a great Lutheran theologian: "When theology says only what the world can say to itself, it says nothing. The feet of those who will remove it are already at the door." (Helmut Thielicke)
There must be a disconnection from all that disconnects us from the reality of God’s revelation and will. Here’s Volf again: "If wounded and sinful people are to find redemption, they need a robust understanding of salvation, one in which ‘driving out’ and ‘overcoming’ play no less important a role than ‘integrating’ and ‘harmonizing.’"
Christ is The Way for He alone is Truth and Life. He’s the Way out of ourselves and out of all that opposes Truth and Life. And He’s the Way out there ahead of us already, to meet us at every here and now.
Anyone who wants to come out ahead needs the right connections. It’s not so much what you know, as who you know, that counts. So let’s ask ourselves: In order for us to come out ahead, what are our right connections and who do we know who can and will help?
We begin by being already disconnected from the Right Connection with our Creator-Redeemer God. We’re estranged from the very One it really counts to know, the One who is, however, willing and able to help.
To connect with the glory that’s God’s goal for us, glory from which we fall so far short, we must come out of our closets of darkness and be open to His Coming Out to us in the warm light of Christ. Are we ready, willing and able to come out to Him? That’s the connection we need.
Do we have the connection to God that God deeply desires to have with us? Do we have the connection with God that we were created in God’s Image to enjoy? God created us out of nothing. Without God we would be nothing! Does this fact register with us? Do we make the connection? But God did not merely make us out of nothing. God did not merely make us into something. God made you and me out of nothing into a very special somebody in God’s own image. Does that register? Do we make the connection? Or, like Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, do we remain at arms length from God who reaches forth, but a fingertip tap away?
Loneliness and hopelessness overwhelm us. We try to escape in denial that’s delusion and distraction that’s destruction. But impotent improvising cannot erase estrangement. The gnawing awareness that something really is terribly wrong cannot be denied or hidden or escaped by pseudo-solutions of superficiality because it’s not a pseudo-problem and superficial solutions won’t do. We’re sick unto death. And only the One who can rise from the dead can help the dead.
And He’s been there and done that. He was pleased to create us to enjoy Him. He made Himself one of us to live out His love for us as one of us. He took all our rebellion into the man he made Himself to be on our behalf. And on a cruel cross, He loved us unto death. He loves us into Life. In His death and resurrection we, too, die and are raised for that connection which was His loving intention from before the beginning
And, speaking of before the beginning, that was "when," as it were, there was only God. But even "then," God was, is, Love, for God is eternally: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That God is Love, even before the beginning of creation means that the Triune God has His own connections, His own communion, within the Trinity. For God to be Love did not require His creation of us with whom He wishes to fellowship. He is eternally The Divine Fellowship. That’s one of the significant lessons for us in the fact that God is One in Three Persons. The doctrine of the Trinity is not a cumbersome concoction of the ivory tower. The doctrine of the Trinity is a biblical reminder of the fact that connection is vital to God Himself. The Trinity is Self-sufficient Connection.
And so, right connections are there at the very Heart of everything. And yet, in creating us, God reaches out for further connections – between Himself and us, yes, and between you and me and one another.
In 1980, at our very first summer connECtion, I began my keynote address by quoting from the fourth chapter of Ecclesiastes: "Here is one who lives alone. … This is useless, too – and a miserable way to live. Two are better-off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help the person up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help. If it is cold, two can sleep together and stay warm, but how can you keep warm by yourself? Two can resist an attack that would defeat one alone."
I went on to illustrate how far short the Evangelical establishment falls in understanding such wise biblical insight when it comes to the need for intimate connection between same-sex oriented people. I quoted from an InterVarsity magazine article extolling singleness. It was titled: "The Gift Nobody Wants." The author prattled on and on about "how freeing" is the idea that "marriage may never come!" But let the Golden Rule be damned, for the celibacy-celebrating author was, himself, a happily married man.
As even the internal connections of the Trinity are to be shared in connections with us, those connections do not exhaust God’s will that we be connected with each other. Even when that first man had a wonderfully close connection with God in the cool of the Garden, God acknowledged that it was not good for that man to be alone. So God gave him the gift of connection with another like himself, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.
We still need such human connection to others like ourselves – in our families, our friends, in a life companion, and in the fellowship of our Christian sisters and brothers.
When Miroslav Volf was recently considered for the deanship at Harvard Divinity School, he told Harvard’s president that he would want to lead the divinity school back to its roots in constructive theology and halt its slide into all the relativism of a culture studies approach to religion. He said he was not interested in leaving Yale to preside over a school where evangelical belief was unchic. Of course, he didn’t get the job at Harvard. People don’t like to be told they’re on the wrong track and need to get back to basics. But in words of a one-time Left-wing theologian who’s now an evangelical at a liberal seminary: "Every generation is subject to being reminded when necessary where the center is." (Thomas C. Oden) That’s why C. S. Lewis urged that for every new book we read, we should read two old books. He knew that the old books "contain precisely those truths of which our own age is neglectful." We can be so stuck in our own short-sighted time and place that we fail even to notice that we’re stuck.
From the wisdom of the Proverbs we’re admonished: "Do not remove the ancient landmarks which your ancestors have set." (22:28) Those ancient landmarks can be as fundamental as the very verbiage of our views. Even by the outstanding liberal theologian, Paul Tillich, we’re told: "There is a mysterious fact about the great words of our religious tradition: they cannot be replaced." Says Tillich: "All attempts to make substitution – including those I have tried myself – have failed. They have led to shallow and impotent talk. There are no substitutes for words like ‘sin’ and ‘grace.’"
And yet, in the view of some liberal preachers of a sinless and graceless pop theology, sin is, in Eric Butterworth’s words, merely "self-inflicted nonsense" and all the so-called grace that’s needed is found in self. Says Butterworth: "We alone have the power within us to solve our problems, relieve our anxieties, and pain, heal our illnesses, improve our golf game or get a promotion." But Tillich knew that words such as "sin" and "grace" go to the very depths of our condition and it is in our depths that "they gained power for all ages. There they must be found again by each generation, and by each of us."
Oprah Winfrey recently revised her book club to include what she calls "the classics." She admits: "It has become harder to find books on a monthly basis that I feel absolutely compelled to share." So she’s looking into "the classics." But one of her "classics" is Butterworth’s 1968 self-help Discover the Power Within You! Move over Shakespeare! Make room for me writ large. It’s no surprise that the term "classic" can merely pose as a guarantee of time-tested worth and be, as with "classic" Coke, nothing but a PR cover-up.
Tom Oden found his way back to orthodox theology after admitting to having been a "fad theologian" in the 1960s. He says he "distrusted even the faint smell of orthodoxy [and] was in love with heresy – the wilder, the more seductive," the better. He’s back to basics now.
Franchising our forebears-in-faith is wise. It’s what Chesterton called "the democracy of the dead [that] refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about." But the presentists are still present – privileging only the latest limb out onto which they’ve crawled since crawling out of bed this morning. Let us not go there. Learning from the bright minds and warm hearts, long in dust and glory, better prepares us to love God with all our minds and hearts.
Yet, of course, "we can sin to the right as well as to the left," as an evangelical theologian put it. (Bernard Ramm) And Pietists knew there’s such a thing as "dead orthodoxy." Another evangelical cautions that "many of the arguments Oden deploys against any and all departures from the consensual teaching of the early church were raised against Luther by his Catholic critics." (Roger E. Olson) So we must discriminate in our discernment of a past which is both a part of us and apart from us.
And we must go back sufficiently far enough through the past – all the way back to the Bible itself. We must read it well. And then we must remember, with Puritan preacher John Robinson: "The Lord has more truth yet to break forth out of his holy word."
Christians are called to work out, in all diligence and awe, the many implications of our being crucified with Christ. (Phil 2:12f; Gal 2:20) We’re assured that even the will to do this, and the doing itself, is God’s own gracious work in us. Paul so identified with Christ’s death and resurrection that he trusted that he, at least in some sense, had already died and risen with Christ. Paul’s ego was no longer Paul’s life.
This truth is for us. We’re all invited to so identify with Christ’s death and resurrection that our ego is no longer our life. What an identity group: we in Christ and Christ in us! The hope of glory! And yet God’s gift of each unique personality comes out to fullest flourishing in just such identity in Christ.
He invites us to lose our self-centered lives that we might find true and abundant life in Him. So when we lose, we win! Jesus laid down his earthly life for us and then found his Father’s enLivening Love even within a sealed tomb.
All our lives we search for affirmation, looking in vain for assurance of acceptance in sex, fame, money, pretenses of Pride and in idolatrous use of even worthy relationship. But the only affirmation that can quench our thirst is God’s affirming "Well done, you good and faithful servant." C. S. Lewis knew of this "longing to be acknowledged" and discovered that the glory promised in Christ is this "being ‘noticed’ by God," or as Paul put it, being "known" by God. (I Cor 8:3) Lewis adds a reminder of Christ’s warning that it is possible to hear, instead, "I never knew you. Depart from Me." (Matt 25:12, 41)
Might we be those "half-hearted creatures," that Lewis lamented, "fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us?" He said: "We are far too easily pleased." Are you far too easily pleased?
Coming out ahead may mean sticking our necks out. But not for nothing! We’re purged and perfected for Paradise in Christ in all the ups and downs of our "everyday, ordinary life … sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life," as Peterson renders Paul’s words. (Romans 12:1) It’s in the everyday that "we are saved – just to the extent we are one with Christ in faith and love [even in God himself as] abundant fullness." (Kathryn Tanner)
So if, at last, we come out into the glory of God’s goal for us all, we shall lack nothing that we can receive from Him. And yet, as we’re reminded, "because of the nature of [our] walk with God and [our] service to others, some will have much more capacity to enjoy God and to rejoice in God’s goodness." (George Vander Weit)
Watching for that Day, let us take every opportunity to prepare these days – in all diligence and awe – by disconnecting from so-called life (that is death), by connecting with Real Life (that is Christ), and by a reconnecting fellowship in Christ’s Body, our fellow believers across the ages and around the world.
Coming out of where we don’t belong and coming out to Whom we do belong, we come out ahead in the One who is, Himself, Abundant Life. Alive in His Love even now, we can love Him and all who need, as well as we, to come out ahead in Him. He is the Way out of ourselves. He is the Way of Truth and the Way of Life – no question about that. The question is this: Is He, Himself, today, our way of life?