Archive for February, 2011
“Christianity is not the move from vice to virtue, but rather the move from virtue to grace.”
~ Gerhard Forde
Thanks to Steve at The Old Adam Lives! for the quote.
But Christians are not just recipients of forgiving grace; we are also called to be those who extend the grace of forgiveness to others.
From Brian Zahnd’s Unconditional?: The call of Jesus to radical forgiveness. Check out my review of the book at aldenswan.com.
Bono (of U2 fame) on grace:
I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.
From an interview, a portion of which is reproduced here.
As I’ve grown tired of waiting for Westbow to get the additional e-book formats distributed, I have started working directly with Borders.com and BookBrewer to get The Gospel Uncensored formatted for book readers other than the Kindle, including the Nook, Kobo, and iPad. These formats should soon be available through Borders.com, BarnesandNoble.com, as well as from the iBook store. I just need to work out some formatting issues. These formats will probably retail for around $9.99, the same as the Kindle price—although I’m going to see if reducing the price is an option.
Check back for more details.
I really want you to read The Gospel Uncensored, and I’d like you to encourage other people to read it. Why? Because I really believe the Gospel will change lives and revitalize churches—as long as they’re not afraid to trust in God’s grace.
I’d also love to sell a million or so copies, but to be honest, that’s not why I published the book. I don’t know that I will ever earn enough from it to compensate for the time and expense that went into it, although it would certainly be nice. I really believe in its message, and I want you to read it. If I could afford to give you all a copy, I would. However, the best I can do is to let you download the free study guide and point you to the Amazon link in the sidebar, where you can buy it at a pretty good discount. I make less that way, but I’d rather have you read it than make a few extra cents.
The 70 Days of Grace Challenge
Because I’m convinced the book will change lives and revitalize churches, here’s my 70 Days of Grace Challenge: Just give me 70 days. That’s 10 weeks, or less than 1/5th of a year. Gather a group of 6 or 8 people, whether it’s the church board or a group of dedicated pew-sitters. If you’re really brave, get your whole church to do it. Get your discount books and the free Study Guide, and read through and discuss the book. Then, let me know how it went. If you want to try a more accelerated schedule, you can double up on the lessons and do it in 5 weeks.
70 days (or 35 days)—that’s all I ask.
I’m serious—some people will absolutely hate this book.
When Ken began preaching the sermon series that inspired The Gospel Uncensored, word spread. Soon, there were beaten-down and abused people everywhere. We had perhaps the most messed-up church in town, but only because that’s the kind of people the Gospel draws.
Many pastors hated it, because the Gospel is by nature subversive. Man-made constructs are no match for real truth—which is why many churches avoid the Gospel like the plague, opting instead for a sin-management approach. Pastors also hate to lose members; when people discover they’ve been abused or manipulated (or simply led astray), they either cause a bit stink, or they leave. Either way, it’s not good for church business.
The book should have the same effect.
Who will love this book
“A man must completely despair of himself in order to become fit to obtain the grace of Christ.” ~Martin Luther
The “messed-up” people of the world—those who know they are failures, who know they can’t measure up to any kind of religious standards—love the Gospel. It is music to their ears, and food for their souls. It was the ragamuffins who followed Jesus and clung to his every word. Peter put it this way: “Where else would we go? Only you have the words of life.”
It is for these people—among whom I count myself—this book was written. We not only love this gospel, we need it, desperately.
Who will hate the book
However, those who think they can work to achieve some measure of spiritual success—or even to earn their salvation—will hate the book. The gospel pulls the rug out from under their ability to achieve anything on their own.
Religion, as we have been told, is a crutch. In reality, religion is not a crutch, it is, if you will, a purported “stairway to heaven.” It is the Gospel that is a crutch. Seriously. To admit that you need grace is to admit that you are a cripple, unable to walk on your own. People will either embrace and lean on the crutch, or hate it.
Who else will hate the book
Many pastors and leaders will also hate this book, because it pulls the rug out from under their sin-management control structures. It is impossible to control grace. Grace is messy. Sins that are hidden by sin-management techniques become suddenly visible. And, perhaps what’s worse is that without the sin-management structures in place, we have to trust God. And, if a pastor or leader is honest, they will tell you that trusting God is often a terrifying proposition. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Aslan is not a tame lion.”
I will also acknowledge that there are those who simply disagree with our exegesis, and I’m okay with that. Paul pointed out that we will have disagreements, and that through disagreements the truth is made clear (1 Cor. 11:19). As the book itself discusses, Paul contended with Peter over the “grace vs works” issue, and Paul prevailed. It seems to me that Paul is so clear in his explanation of the gospel in Galatians that I fail to see how anyone could get a different meaning from it, but people apparently do.
So, I have to admit that I could be wrong on some points, though I don’t think I am. As Martin Luther also said,
I shall never be a heretic; I may err in dispute, but I do not wish to decide anything finally; on the other hand, I am not bound by the opinions of men.
I am as certain about the Gospel as I can be.
Hot or cold
I have said half-jokingly that the best advertising I could get is for some famous pastor to absolutely hate the book. To me, the wort possible thing would be for people to find the book boring or inconsequential. As Jesus put it, “I”d rather have you cold or hot.” If someone could read the book and go, “so what?”, then I would feel like we haven’t stated the Gospel clearly enough.
So far, the people I’ve heard from all love the book. However, as odd as this sounds, I’d love to hear that it’s hated as well, just so I know that we’ve done our job.
Here’s an interesting question: What do you want from Christianity?
A long time ago I heard someone describing becoming a Christian as an act of “enlightened self-interest,” where we are motivated by what we hope to get out of it rather than a commitment to serve God and others. Looking at the Gospels, it seems that Jesus never turned people away for wanting something from him; in fact, it was those who didn’t want anything from him that he turned away. Even Peter’s great statement of faith, “where else would we go? Only you have the words of life” (John 6:68), speaks of Peter’s need for these words of life. So, this enlightened self-interest does not appear to be a bad thing.
Considering this, plus the fact that Christianity has, at least for many people in the west, become a consumerist endeavor—one in which we pick churches and even religions on what we perceive we need—then the obvious question becomes, “what do you want from Christianity?”
Here are a few of the comments we’ve received from readers so far:
“It’s well-written and easy to read.”
“I’m really enjoying the book … it’s like water to dry ground.”
“It’s excellent. Simply excellent.”
“Your book grabbed my heart…”
“Now I understand why I don’t like going to church!”
“I’m taking a long time to read through it, because it’s giving me so much to think about!”
Thanks for all of the kind comments! If you haven’t yet had a chance to pick up a copy, they are available at a discounted price (discounts are good!) from Amazon, and other online retailers.
(a repost from aldenswan.com)
One of my favorite songs from Sunday School was I Love To Tell the Story. I haven’t heard the song in years, but it seems like just yesterday I was singing it in the back seat of our car on our way to my grandma’s house for Sunday dinner. This probably dates me — this was in the early 60’s, long before Sunday School kids sang “Pharaoh, Pharaoh” (sung to the tune of “Louie, Louie”). Thinking back, I Love To Tell the Story doesn’t really seem to fit the mold of what you’d expect from old Lutherans, but I guess there were some cross-denominational influences even then.
The first verse starts, “I love to tell the story, of unseen things above; of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.” I don’t recall how most of it goes, but I could never forget the chorus:
I love to tell the story,
’Twill be my theme in glory,
To tell the old, old story
Of Jesus and His love. (lyrics by Arabella K. Hankey)
I don’t know that many people love to tell that story anymore. Even in church, there are so many distractions — you can sit through years of sermons without ever hearing the Gospel. In some churches children learn about tolerance and social awareness; in others, they learn various rules to follow so that they grow up looking like solid Christians. In other churches they sing songs with little or no real theology and hear touchy-feely messages. If they’re lucky, they will watch videos of the latest craze in youth ministry, geared to those with short attention spans. And of course, there are the snacks.
But it seems that very few are telling them the story.
According to a recent article on CNN.com, a study of teens across denominational lines showed that “most American teens who called themselves Christian were indifferent and inarticulate about their faith.”
Nobody is telling them the story.
Perhaps it’s because adults have lost their love for the simplicity of the Gospel. Do we think that our children will see us worshipping to vacuous songs with good beats and guitar solos and listening to boring sermons about financial responsibility and want to grow up to be just like us? Do we adults even remember what the story is?
A 2007 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion showed that as many as 57% of evangelicals thought that many religions could lead to eternal life. They know how to live purpose-driven lives, they are taught how to manage their finances and how improve their marriages, and many are politically motivated, but they don’t know the Gospel from a hole in the ground. The renewal movements of the twentieth century are over, and it seems that we are slipping back into that same sort of cultural Christianity that existed in the 50’s.
For some time, my wife and I have been concerned about the quality of our children’s Christian education. When our kids were of Sunday School age, we evaluated various Sunday School curriculums for a church we were in, and for the most part determined they were terrible. They were perhaps fine for becoming “morally therapeutic deists,” Kenda Creasy Dean’s term, but not for raising intelligent Christians. It’s no wonder that so many teens today believe Christianity is nothing special.
As a Lutheran, besides having actual Bible teaching in Sunday School we went through confirmation classes, learning basic theology as well as church history. And of course, we said one of the creeds every Sunday. We visited other churches, learning what makes them different from Lutherans. Do any churches still teach this stuff?
When I was still quite young, I knew the story. And, I understood it, and understood that it was important. I guess that’s why I am writing; I still love to tell the story.