my theology, my role, my responsibility, and grace

i was struck last night by a tension i live in.

my theology (thank god) has continued to grow and evolve and ripen over the years. this has been especially true for me in the past decade, as i’ve experienced a broader cross-section of the church. in the last few years, i’ve been wrestling with my understanding of the gospel, particularly. i was so encouraged just a few weeks ago at the junior high pastors summit (which i blogged heavily about), with scot mcknight helping me to “land” a bit more, rather than just having lots of questions, or merely uneasiness about a simplistic cross-the-bridge gospel.

and this role i have, with youth specialties, allows — even demands — that i don’t just keep my thoughts and growth personal and private. i feel a sense of obligation (in a good way) to help people experience a more-full-gospel — one that is holistic, and — in mcknight’s words — addresses the restoration god brings in all aspects of our life, with god, self, others, and the world.

but when i come into contact with believers who are in a different place than i, well… i get into trouble.

trouble, because, i often sense an interior-life haughtiness, a superiority about MY position on the gospel (which is ridiculous when i stop to think about it, since MY position has been in such flux). and that is a terribly slippery slope to be on. where is grace really active in my life if i do not allow the holy spirit to move in other lives as he has in mine? where is the humbling, grace-drenched gospel really taking root in marko if i do not extend that same grace (and humility) to people in a place where i was mere years ago?

i found myself trying to “corner” the student life guys last night– trying to uncover legalism or a partial gospel in their ministry (some of which comes with my role when considering a potential ministry partner — i don’t want ys to partner with an organization that preaches legalism or guilt). but it made me sick of me. to their credit, their responses to my prying and somewhat passive-aggressive questions were wonderful — beautiful, even.

apparently, i have some distance to travel yet in my own spiritual journey. and i pray it is not to a place of arrogance.

15 thoughts on “my theology, my role, my responsibility, and grace”

  1. Thanks – I am fairly conservative. I like to wear Brooks Brothers, I don’t have any tattoos, I don’t drink, I am from the south, and I have never had a gotee or any form of cool facial hair. Yet I read your blog, and many times I feel disconnected due to the above reasons. But I really connected with what you said in this post, and I think the reason is I mainly connected with your heart – or the desire behind your life, and I guess that is why I have been secretly reading your diary (which is what it feels like everytime I browse a blog). Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. I’ve so been there! It’s almost like when you come to understand and experience full and true Grace, you begin to feel like everyone else is in the dark ages. You want to “help” them so badly that when you attempt to “help”, it comes across as “I’m enlightened and you’re not.” What you end up doing is showing them the opposite of Grace.
    I think the only way to show someone full Grace is to do just that. SHOW them. You have demonstrate it over and over again in your own life before you can ever talk to them about it.
    I had two professors once try to show me Grace at the same time. The first taught it in a large introductory religion class. He spoke about it bluntly and in a way that directly countered the beliefs most of the students had grown up with. The two books he assigned spoke about Grace on a deeply theological level. He was met with hostility and a refusal to read the two books he’d chosen.
    The second professor chose to talk about Grace in a much smaller (8 people) upper level class. She also assigned two books. They were not written as textbooks, but as semi-recreational reading for the masses. (Thought provoking, none the less.) Another key difference is that all of us in the class had taken previous courses with her and had spent time with her outside of our studies. We knew her on a personal level before she ever spoke to us about her experience of Grace. I remember a time when I said something very legalistic in a lower level class with her. She hesitated and said, “Well, I can see where you’re coming from.” I could tell she wanted to say more, but she held back, knowing that it was not yet time. When she finally did speak to us about Grace in that upper level class, we were all ready to listen and prepared to understand, because she had already demonstrated that Grace to us. That class changed my relationship with God, my heart, and my life. As Steve McVey said, “I have come to know Christ as life.”

  3. thanks for this post…why do I too sometimes lack grace? it reminds me of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8 about knowledge and love…(although this i probably an incorrect understanding of this passage!)

  4. by the way,—-
    i’ve brought kids to SL before, and we’re going back in a few weeks. I never felt like they were pushing legalism or guilt on me.

  5. I think the pressing and probing is good. The passive-agressiveness is not so much. I think in these situations you need to know your journey and your hermaneutical biases and be just as up front with them about that.

    i.e. I know that this may seem strange but the baggage I carry is ___________ and so I need to ask you ___________________ questions

  6. bethany, just to be clear. i didn’t say they were that way. i wondered if they would be, and found they weren’t.

  7. Great realizations and reflections. I’ve often been guilty of similar offenses, but continued exposure to difference among others is helping tame my ego and broaden my horizons. Exposure to certain others, however, deepens my disdain for unhealthy, unsustainable, untenable theology and praxis in ministry.

    According to some Myers-Briggs Type Inventory descriptions, though, it’s just my nature to be “unusually self-confident” (INTJ). I’m curious about your personality type, Mark.

    On “grace taking place in others’ lives,” I hope that’s where our Christian education and faith formation is alive and well — slow, painstaking, sometimes unsuccessful, often frustrating gardening of sorts — watching ideas take root and grow.

    Seeds of theology… growing into giant oaks — NOT bigger seeds! This is a wonderfully illuminating analogy shared with me in seminary. But what about those ideas that grow like kudzu and weeds?! I know, I know, there seems to be a parable or two about that.

  8. GRACE the word itself is almost musical. A state of GRACE is the ultimate human achievement, and yet ever only the most sublime of gifts from the Father. GRACE, the heart of God revealed in the human soul. I fear I shall always be an egocentric adolescent when it comes to GRACE believing I now understand the mechanics of eternal love because I have been kissed for the first time.

  9. So what would be your definition of legalism. I was talking with a fellow youth worker today about this very subject. I would say his denomination (and Bible school) is fairly legalistic. He disagreed based on his definition of legalism… which I wasn’t quite able to figure out. Also, what’s the difference between guilt/condemnation and conviction? Do you think it’s wrong to help people (students) to realize that they’re sinners and need God’s grace? I haven’t had time to read your thoughts from your jr. high retreat, but seem to remember something about this in there.
    It hit me rather hard when I, a non-alcohol, no smoking, no tattoo, no tv, no rated-R (you get the idea) realized that, based on what Paul said about freedom in Christ, am the legalistic one. Yet I’m the one trying to live a holy life, avoiding sin and those things that might cause my heart and mind to move towards sin. How can I experience freedom while also pursuing holiness, and trying not to cause my brother to stumble (who might consider what little freedom I have sin)? All that to say that I appreciate your openness and willingness to discuss this issue, Mark.

  10. paul — good honest question.

    i’m sure a theologian could give you a better response than i can. but…
    first of all: someone being a alcohol-drinking, smoking, tattoo’d, tv-watching, r-rated movie goer does NOT mean they understand freedom in Christ, anymore than you NOT doing those things means you’re a legalist.
    i would define a legalist, simply, as someone who — like the pharisees — bases righteousness on behavior.
    yes, behavior is important; but the behavior jesus (and the whole bible) seem to put emphasis on are things like feeding and clothing the poor, standing up for justice, and things like that.
    that said — while i cannot judge whether or not you are a legalist from your behavior choices — the issue is motivation.

  11. Legalism and freedom are the difference between right and wrong and good and evil, Not refraining from a thing but the obtaining of a greater thing. Holiness will never be acquired by any forms of abstinence but only from the obtaining of grace within.

  12. Paul,
    Brooks Brothers , excellent clothing for a southern gentleman
    Or just cool clothes that make me look skinny

  13. I don’t know how you ended up — or if you’ve “ended” at all — feeling about StudentLife. But I’ve had nothing but amazing interaction with those people. Life impacting interaction…

    I can’t wait to see what comes about, should you decide to partner with them.

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