Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Becoming God's Person

Back before his cancer diagnosis, and associated treatment (PLEASE PRAY FOR HIM!) iMonk "riffed" about 'behavior modification" and 'the gospel.'
When I read this comment this morning, I immediately returned in my mind to my last visit to a church near me, a church I often attend when I am not preaching elsewhere. One thing about this church is predictable: I will hear about the necessity that my behavior must change. I must attend church more. I must do more church-related work. I must give more and witness more (and this despite that I am a full time missionary teacher working with mostly non-Christian teenagers.) I must support the church more. It is a constant example of the “church shaped spirituality” you’ll be hearing about in my book. Everything is about behavior. Behavior that must change. What I must feel. What God requires of me.

When I leave I am, literally, beaten down. The Gospel is a past tense matter and its time to get down to “application.” (Not a bad thing, but something that requires careful gardening.) The over-riding present tense concern is behavior, and I feel it. My behavior is not what the preacher believes it ought to be. And will I hear the “comfortable words” of the Gospel? Unlikely. Somewhere in the relationship between the evangel we proclaim, the offer to the broken and the demands of behavior change we make of the saved, there has been a disconnect. Readers of this site know this language. It is what, as I will say this fall, drives thousands of people away from the church for the sake of their own integrity to the gracious message of Jesus.
There is more I want to get to, but iMonk's set up here lends itself to a comment. There is a disconnect, but part of it has to do with the fact that we keep calling people to behavior related to church instead of behavior related to becoming the people God created them to be.

People are not dumb, they know when the lever of their faith is being used to drive them to support a flawed institution that only occasionally aligns itself with the will of God for themselves and the ones they love. God does call us to change and behave differently, but that does not necessarily mean teaching Sunday School at your church, and to tell me it does, even imply it, smacks of you trying to take God's place in my life.

Back to iMonk:
We’re on dangerous ground here, friends. Getting the Gospel of justification- a glad announcement of Good News- balanced with reality of Spirit-produced, Jesus-shaped “behavior” change is not just a matter of lining up arguments. It’s a matter of despair or confident assurance in God’s love. Say “required behavior modification,” and I am on the verge of despair, as are many, many others whose journey through evangelicalism has left them hungry for a place to stop and say “Here I know that God loves me, now, with no demands at all.” If you don’t think the sacramental presence view of the eucharist doesn’t touch many of us deeply at that point, you aren’t paying attention.

Why dangerous ground? Because we are talking about two hearts: the heart of the Gospel and the heart of every believer, that heart from which all true Gospel produced, God honoring, Jesus shaped change must flow. Behavior change is small change in the Kingdom if it is not a living garden growing out of soil saturated with the blood and body of Christ.
Here we get to the core. "Behavior Modification" is not directly a matter of will, but a matter of transformation. Spencer goes on to discuss books about the relationship of justification and sanctification - fair enough, sound like good books, but it was a bit disappointing to have the argument placed in front of me when the table had been set so deliciously for a discussion of hearts and the Holy Spirit.

The bottom line is this. We know how to apply our will to ourselves and we know how to bend people to our will - but changing hearts - genuine transformation - well, that is a task only the Holy Spirit can accomplish. And will intellect and understanding are not the enemy of the Holy Spirit we often use them as shields against Him and His efforts in our lives. If nothing else, we let "trying to understand" what the Holy Spirit is doing in our lives divert us from actually letting Him do it.

A thought that always brings me back to Jesus and the whole speck v plank in the eye thing. I believe that American Christianity, taken as a whole, whether you want to discuss Evangelicalism, or iMonk's "post-evangelical wilderness" or whatever is in a season of needing to remove the plank from its own eye.

We are holding the Holy Spirit at bay. Whether it be through intellectual activity, or worrying worship styles to death, or selling books, or trying to 'modify behavior' - we are diverting ourselves from the transformation that we should be enjoying. I am not proposing a break out of tongues or anything so wild here - I am thinking still small voice stuff - but we do need to start listening - we do need to get the hell out of the way.

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