The longer I live the more I identify with what I heard Dr. Reuben Welch say years ago: “I believe fewer and fewer things, but the things I believe, I believe more and more.”
I am an inveterate reader. There are usually several books I am reading, both secular and religious. I read journals, secular and religious. I enjoy historical novels, particularly related to Naval history from the 16th through the 19th centuries. I read theology, philosophy, and sociology. I read the scriptures systematically, finding alternative approaches to that each year. My ideas, beliefs, and philosophical presuppositions are frequently challenged. I am stimulated by those who stir my mind and heart to be open to Truth in forms and from sources that are outside my own experience.
That is not to say that Truth is “up for grabs.” My beliefs are anchored in the conviction that God has finally and fully revealed God’s self in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. By the Spirit of God, the living Presence of Jesus Christ within and among us, we are continually being encountered by this God. The God who encounters us is like Jesus. Always has been. Is now. Always will be. Any understanding of God that is not like Jesus is, at best, a distortion. At worst, it is rank heresy.
If we allow the encounter with God to bear the fruit that is intended, it will lead us to God’s self, embracing us in grace. That grace is not restricted. It is given to all. In the tradition in which I have been formed, we call it “prevenient,” or “preventing” grace. We do not originate the grace, nor can we, in our own strength, respond appropriately to the grace. Even our ability to respond is a grace gift. But, if we will respond with an open heart, an enquiring mind, and a willing spirit, we may be existentially and radically rearranged to such an extent that we may become an always maturing reflection of the Holy Love of God in our everyday, every-relationship living.
This is not likely to occur in isolation from others. It most healthily occurs in community, in walking with those who are themselves seeking, who are profoundly being shaped by a humble surrender of themselves to personal, passionate devotion to Jesus Christ.
This is not likely to occur in the context of much current “culturally relevant” Christianity. In fact, it has been my experience and observation that a passionate personal devotion to Jesus Christ (an Oswald Chambers reference) as the pattern for living (i.e, Matthew 5-7) will face intense resistance, even from some other Christians.
When political expediency supersedes love of neighbor, cultural and political relevance reigns. When racial prejudice and cultural bias, whether conscious or unconscious, is tolerated, even fostered in the church, cultural and social relevance reigns. When the economic benefit of the few is valued above the welfare of the many, oppression reigns. When moral norms are rejected and disregarded as a relic of the “repressive past,” moral confusion reigns. When any of these and other cultural “norms” reign, Christ is de-throned, and chaos is inevitable.
The antidote is not guns and bombs. It is not walls and detention centers. It is not “communism” versus “capitalism.” It is not in casting off of moral restraint.
It is in the humble surrender of our self-centeredness, our self protection, our inveterate self-absorption, to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ as Lord. It is in a humble, balanced, reflective reading of Scripture, in community with other seekers. It is in honest accountability, mutual support and encouragement, consistent, sustained relationships, and a conscious effort at living out the great commandment to love God supremely and to love others experientialy and preferentially.
It is not easy. It is not likely to be appreciated. But it is the only hope for our world, our nation, our churches, and our homes.