How Should We Then Live?

I attend a “mainline Protestant” church, an Episcopal Church, to be precise, and I’m currently exploring what God might be calling me to within the church. It is a fairly diverse church, but many of my friends at church are fairly liberal. When I was younger, I attended a wide array of different churches including some fairly conservative fundamentalist evangelical churches.

So, some of the recent discussions about what is happening with various different churches catch my attention. Recently, I stumbled across Peter Thurley’s On Leaving Evangelicalism (The Short Version). It references Rachel Held Evans, Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught-In-Between from a few years ago.

It seems like a lot of people are talking about being caught in the middle between conservative fundamentalist evangelicalism and liberal mainline Protestantism. There is a dualism that doesn’t see a middle ground, or, perhaps, something completely different. Thurley illustrates this with a reference to David Gushee’s Conservative and progressive US evangelicals head for divorce. Gushee draws the battle lines between “conservative evangelicals [who] mainly lean toward a Calvinist/Lutheran Gospel centered on Christ’s work on the Cross for the saving of souls, on biblical inerrancy and pure doctrine, and on conservative social values” and progressive evangelicals who “tend toward a Radical Reformation type Gospel centered on the justice-advancing ministry and teachings of Jesus, and on his message of the kingdom of God as holistic salvation and social transformation”.

Somehow, this sounds like a false dichotomy to me.

I thought about this today in church when our seminarian spoke about Jesus not coming to establish a new earthly Jewish political kingdom, and how we need to keep this in mind as we listen to current political candidates quoting scripture. To me, it sometimes sounds like the favorite verse of many of the political leaders is from last week’s Gospel lesson, the middle of Luke 4:6 “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me.” Context matters. In this case, it is the Devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness.

Part of the Old Testament lesson from Ash Wednesday seems to fit more closely with my liberal mainline Protestantism. Isaiah 58:6-7

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Another article that caught my attention this past week was Kate Bowler’s Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me, where she writes about finding she has stage 4 cancer after years of studying the American prosperity gospel. As I read this, I thought of Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss.

With all these things in my mind, the title of the noted evangelical, Francis Schaeffer’s book, “How Should We Live Then?” comes to mind. Where is the common ground for conservative fundamentalist evangelicalism, liberal mainline Protestantism, and maybe even some followers of the American prosperity gospel?

For me, some of the answer comes through a weird amalgamation of fundamentalist evangelicalism, Franciscanism, and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Part of my Lenten studies includes reading emails from the Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr.

"A true inner experience changes us, and human beings do not like to change." The Gospel is about our transformation into God (theosis), and not about mere intellectual assurance or "small-self" coziness. It is more a revolution in consciousness than a business model for the buying and selling of God as a product.

The word ‘theosis’ caught my attention. Wikipedia has

In Eastern Orthodoxy deification (theosis) is a transformative process whose goal is likeness to or union with God. As a process of transformation, theosis is brought about by the effects of katharsis (purification of mind and body) and theoria ('illumination' with the 'vision' of God)…

According to Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, the primacy of theosis in Orthodox theology is directly related to the fact that Orthodox theology (as historically conceived by its principal exponents) is based to a greater extent than Western Catholic Latin theology on the direct spiritual insights of the saints or mystics of the church rather than the apparently more rational thought tradition of the West. Eastern Orthodox consider that "no one who does not follow the path of union with God can be a theologian".

As I read all of this, my memories come back of my evangelical friends in college. “Have you found Jesus? Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Savior? Have you made Christ the center of your life?”

Last year, I had a deep religious experience where I was overwhelmed by an awareness of God’s love which is beyond comprehension, in spite of my own failings. This love wasn’t just some bible tract phrase or some grand concept. It was deeply personal and came with a call, to show that love to others.

I don’t see this as bringing prosperity, health, or any sort of power. I do believe that this love is something that needs to be brought into the political discourse, showing love to all candidates, no matter how challenging it might be. I believe it includes a call to love the sinner, no matter how offensive we think the sinner might be acting and recognizing that we are all sinners. I see it as including feeding the hungry, to provide shelter to the homeless, and clothes to the poor.

This is something I suspect I will frequently fail at, that we will all frequently fail at, but that we must all seek to do more. Two of the questions from the Episcopal order of Holy Baptism comes to mind.

“Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?” and “Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?”

As I think of my own discernment process and the process of others, the idea of putting our whole trust in God seems crucial. This is something that is done in communion with God, and not just our own doing.

Perhaps this is where Eastern Orthodox theosis, Franciscan transformation, and the fundamentalist idea of a personal Savior all come together. Perhaps this is what we need to be seeking during Lent and throughout the year as we seek to understand how we really should, then live.

(Categories: )