Rarely is a thumbing through on Facebook beneficial. Yet, on occasion, I find myself in a real dialogue about things of the soul that actually matter. I was recently surprised by one of those moments. Here’s what happened….
As it always does, it began with a Facebook post.
We’re in a particularly unhelpful season with regard to white, male, evangelical commentary. If you recall, a few weeks back, Tony Perkins suggested in THIS interview that conservative evangelical Republicans only have so many cheeks to turn and that once each cheek has been offered and slapped (referencing his understanding of Jesus’ teachings on the humanizing and equalizing implications of non-violent direct action found in Matthew 5:28-42), one has permission to adjust one’s strategy toward violence in an effort to attain a more desirable outcome. This was the same conversation in which he suggested that Trump deserves a “mulligan” for consistent character gaffes because he’s such a “new Christian.”
Then, Jerry Falwell Jr. came to the quick defense of Trump’s integrity in THIS interview after allegations surfaced of an alleged affair between Trump and a porn star. Falwell Jr. emphasized Trump’s newness to the Christian faith and the evangelical value of unlimited forgiveness as reasons to be especially gracious.
Finally, John Piper wrote THIS article in which he (again) condemned women preachers and pastors and then took it a step further to assert that women who teach in seminaries should also be disqualified from positions of authority. For, as his argument goes, if they can’t be pastors, then they shouldn’t be allowed to teach aspiring pastors.
With shaking head, I jumped on Twitter to see how some of my friends, women in particular, were interacting with the latest. That’s when I discovered that Falwell Jr. had blocked me from his Twitter account. I imagine it has something to do with THIS open letter that I wrote in the wake of his celebration of revenge, his commitment to arm the students of Liberty University against Muslims, and his intention to train them for efficient kills.
So, I re-posted my open letter on FB with some commentary in which I identified the comments of Perkins, Falwell Jr., and Piper as the latest spread of non-helpful, divisive, and dehumanizing lunacy and invited them toward the hopeful alternative that is offered by a Jesus who looks nothing like us.
Because the FB algorithms are designed to channel my posts toward those who would likely agree with my analysis, the comment thread was relatively affirming.
And then, days later, I received a thoughtful comment in which a friend challenged my use of the word “lunacy,” identifying it as an attack and wondering if I actually thought that the commentary of these three was “insane.” I responded with this:
From my perspective, the ongoing endorsement, even blatant celebration, of violence, racism, nationalism, and oppression under the banner of Jesus/Christianity for one’s own benefit is lunacy.
My friend continued with another thoughtful challenge followed by his appreciation for how he’d personally benefited from the teachings of John Piper. An actual dialogue was taking place in a public space and I was gaining perspective. It was good. In particular, we had a very worthwhile back-and-forth about oppressive theologies and their impact on women that I encourage you to read.
Yet, there was one thing that he offered as he described his appreciation of Piper that caught my eye and that I’ve been stewing on ever since. He said this:
From his (Piper’s) teaching, I came to realize that I did not need to perform good works to keep God happy, but that through my faith in Christ, God was pleased with me, and I was at peace with him. If Piper’s biblical-based thinking is what you deem lunacy, I’m eternally indebted to his insanity.
God’s approval and how we seduce it seemed to be the central theme of my friend’s comment.
He indicates that, before benefiting from Piper’s theology, my friend believed that his experience of God’s approval was directly connected to his ability to prove himself worthy of God’s affection. Now, having encountered Piper’s teaching, his mind has changed. Rather than believing that God’s approval can be attained through external morality, he now believes that it is attained through his faith in Christ.
As I’ve reflected on his journey, I’ve realized that he’s identified a portion of my own. At surface level, our movement from “action” to “faith” as the primary cause of God’s affection seems like a massive shift. Yet, just a tiny bit of excavation reveals that very little has actually changed. Whether we believe that God’s approval comes by way of our actions or by our faith in Jesus, both options place us as the primary character who must consistently (via behavior or faith) prove ourselves to God and, in so doing, seduce God’s affection. Worse yet, both perspectives paint God into a distant, woo-able deity who selectively peddles favor based on human performance.
Let me suggest a third way, a hopeful alternative, to our experience of God’s approval that we can discover in Jesus.
According to the Scriptures, God’s approval cannot be seduced by our performance nor by our faithfulness but is already declared over us because of the faithfulness of Christ (Rom 4:25, 5:1; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-10). That is, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we discover an approval-wielding God encased in a physical declaration of our intrinsic worth. Because Jesus was faithful, the shalom that we shattered has been restored and we are the eternal recipients of God’s affection.
If that’s true, then the implications are massive.
- We no longer have to waste our time wondering what God thinks about us and enacting futile attempts at divine seduction.
- With confidence, we get to embrace the beautiful reality that through the faithfulness of Christ we already are God’s beloved.
- Our daily work is to allow the Spirit to permeate every fabric of our being with the knowledge of our belovedness.
- We get to live boldly and humbly out of our belovedness in Jesus-looking ways that compel others toward the One who loves us so.
This, friends, is good news…and it’s a journey worth taking.
Pick up a copy of Jer’s latest book, Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World, in which he delves deeper into the liberating, world-changing implications of living out of our identity as God’s beloved image bearers.