We’ve started using this book and it’s study guide for our “new” learning circle which “emerged” on Wednesday. I think it’s important if we’re already talking about “A Generous Orthodoxy” a parallel move must be on what “A Gracious Christianity” looks like.
I’m quite encouraged by all those who came for our first orientation session: their initials are(for a kind of record of participation) … CK, E, AY, BK, LL, N, JL, M, KM, R, P, D, PO, JN, GL, SL, JC, SS, SN … and SK. (MC, GK EK sent their apologies, JC could’t start his car, EJ was with bro!).
Let me pull out some excerpts from the “preface” and “introduction” (I’ll try to add on some comments)
“Friendship goes much deeper than agreement. It reaches down to the most basic levels of loyalty, faithfulness and trust. Friends are willing to let one another be who they are, but they also encourage one another to a higher plane of living. Perhaps most of all, friends speak truthfully to one another.” (p. 9)
The whole concept and experience of “Friendship” is becoming thinner these days. Worse is when it’s about how we can use each other, or where we are of the same status. I think it’s becoming harder especially at the workplace, where there may be an atmosphere of competition in order to advance in our careers and thus it’s hard to build genuine relationships. There are also other forces which makes it hard for “loyalty, faithfulness and trust” to be cultivated. The first thing that pops into my mind is how “tired” we have all become not just physically but also emotionally. And then, we tend to have false expectations in our friendships which blocks true sharing to flow.
While it’s hard, it’s not totally dark … there have been some friends who have truly encouraged me to a higher plane. They are able to speak truthfully and not just play nice. The amazing art is how they speak truthfully without a spirit of condemnation or condescension. On my side, it’s a learning process how to listen to what I need to hear more than what I want to hear. All of this …and especially the conversations friends engage in .. is centered on the triplets of loyalty, faithfulness and trust. Once those are lost … it’s much more an uphill journey. But when they are present, it’s life giving!
“What elements of the Christian faith will help them be agents of salt and light in the world after they graduate? What genuinely motivates students, or anyone else, to devote their lives to service, leadership, and reconciliation in church and society? What kind of education might best facilitate maturation in the areas of character; intellect, and Christian faith?” (p. 11)
I was tremendously encouraged that both the authors who are involved in higher education had these questions in mind as they interacted with the students of Messiah College. It’s sad that very often we are always pulled into polarizing poles of (1) Students are challenged to make a difference with their lives and this stops at the level of short term excitement to (2) Students react against what they may perceive as an unrealistic mode of existence and join the rat race uncritically or sometimes we just become jaded.
But what intrigues me here is it’s wonderful when you have professors and lecturers (like the authors of the book) who spur you towards more than the mere surface education we get. That’s precious … in a world where it’s easy for people in education to do it as a job (without seeing their value in the formation of young minds).
They go on connecting it even at a more personal level – the level of family and our own children.
“We are both fathers, and we care deeply about the legacy of faith we are passing on to our children, who are now adults in the early stages of their independent lives and careers. They were raised in the church and teethed on the stories of the Bible, but as mature adults, they have new questions about the connections between historic Christianity and contemporary developments in science, politics, the arts, business, medicine, religion, and culture.” (p.11)
Then Jake and Rod throw in the million dollar question:
“How does Christianity sustain their desire to love God, seek the common good, serve those in need, and celebrate life?” (p. 11)
I confess as I read the above .. my kids were in my mind. The children of BLC were on my mind. Some regrets surfaced on how I may have failed in some areas of ministry emphasis in the past towards younger people. It’s been a long road towards some level of freedom to reconsider these matters. But, the questions the authors raise are ones which I find I want to put some energy in. There are questions which are more “ranting” or “complaining” kind … they serve more to relieve our frustrations. But there are questions which open us up to “new directions”. The book is full of them. And the study guide even more.
“We are convinced that the good news proclaimed by Jesus when it is properly understood, will never foster hateful faith but will make us gracious instead. Christians acknowledge Jesus as their model, and accordingly, they seek to mimic, as much as humanly possible, the love Jesus exemplified in all he did. To our way of thinking, ungracious Christianity is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. Gracious love defines the core of God’s character; and gracious love defines the life and work of Christ. The more we understand that and the more we let those truths seep into our souls and color then way we see ourselves and others, the more gracious our Christianity will become.” (p. 12)
The members of the learning circle laughed when they pointed out I mistyped the powerpoint and had “ungracious Christianity is the core of God’s character.”! I somehow skipped a line … but sadly, this may be the perception of people these days considering how Christians behave to one another as well as to others who are unlike them. And before, fingers are only pointed to church leadership .. as one who’s a pastor .. I can tell stories after stories on how ungracious church members can be to their pastors or leaders. All are guilty … no exception. But that can be a humble starting point towards change, wanna join?
This book has an added dimension because one of the authors died of terminal disease before it was completed. For me, that adds an extra dimension in his words and what he’s trying to communicate in this book.
“Rod’s death occurred as the final pages of this manuscript were being completed. His theological and academic insights pervade the manuscript, and his pastoral concerns have deeply shaped its contents. While rod was exhilarated by scholarly pursuits, his real passion was always for people, all kinds of people. He liked to say faith is a verb, not a noun. Faith is more relational than rational. Especially, faith is incarnational. It exists in people — in flesh-and-blood people who hug those they love and who laugh and cry and die — much more that it exists in the abstract truth of any theological proposition. This does not mean doctrines and dogmas are inconsequential. It just means that faith goes beyond them.” (p.13)
I like the study guide because it gives great suggestions to actually PRACTICE what we have been discussing thus far. Here’s two which struck me (especially the one on family):
Try to become friends with someone you know disagrees with you about politics or faith. How might that friendship make you a better person
Often we treat our families with less respect than friends or neighbors. What does graciousness mean for the ways we relate to our spouses, siblings, and parents?
I’m looking forward to our next session together, where we can hear the stories from one another on how it worked out.
Here’s a little bonus from Prof. Scot Mcknight who earlier blogged about the book here
“Douglas Jacobsen and (now deceased) Rodney J. Sawatsky have co-published a wondrous little book called Gracious Christianity: Living the Love We Profess (Baker, 2006). The book is short, but that won’t stop me from savoring each chapter with separate posts. I will admit that any book that sees the gospel in terms of God’s grace that prompts us to act in gracious ways strikes a note of resonance with me, and that is what I worked out in Embracing Grace. So, I admit I’m biased. But I’d be convinced even if I weren’t.
Grace, the authors say, is the experience of receiving God’s love, and graciousness is our externalizing a grace that is internalized in us. Here’s a very good point: graciousness is “love offered truly lovingly” (19). It is respectful; it is not smothering love; it is not invasive or overwhelming. And true graciousness also knows how to receive love because it is, after all, a graciousness that begins with God’s loving grace.
How do we become more gracious? Jacobsen/Sawatsky suggest, rather importantly, that it is more than habituation (which is the Aristotelian legacy in spiritual formation) and involves the reception of a deeper more penetrating theology. So they offer a theology for gracious Christianity.
Jacobsen/Sawatsky work first with the Jesus Creed (yep, they call it that), filter theology through that creed, and then they look into McLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy and conclude this introductory chp with a plea for Christians of all stripes to be more concerned with living out a gracious Christianity.
How about this for a stunning statement in the final paragraph to the first chp:
“Christians currently account for almost one-third of the world’s people, two billion out of a global population of just over six billion. If the faith professed by those two billion Christians became even a little more gracious, the dynamics of the world community could be changed dramatically for the better” (26).
“In fact, God has for the most part chosen to change the world by layering small grace upon small grace, and living graciously as Christians allows us to assist in that work.”