Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Grace and Modelling the Life of Christ

So once again over at Brian McLaren's blog, a link was posted to an article about Jay Bakker. Jay Bakker, if you have not heard of him is the son of the infamous Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, whose lives rocked the televangelist world when Jim confessed to an affair and then financial misappropriation in their ministry PTL. This article "God Loves Jay Bakker," chronicles Jay's life as the fall from the royalty, into addiction, to a new understanding of grace that is having him lead the charge against what some folks call "traditional" Christianity, but I think "established" Christianity might be a better word. "Established" is more reflective of what happens when Christianity gets entangled with the institutions of power in this world. To use the phrase "traditional" too easily allows us to throw far too much away, leaving us with neither the bath water nor the baby.

I heard Jay Bakker speak at National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. The venue did not suit his strengths, nor the format. He even mentioned how hard it was for him to speak for twelve minutes. I agree. Giving him a longer spot might have helped his focus. But of all the speakers there, he was one of the most Christ-centered speakers even if unfocused. The article does a nice job however of stating his position.

The problem with Christianity these days, as Bakker sees it, is not that it conflicts with our modern understanding of science—the Richard Dawkins critique—but that it conflicts with our contemporary views of morality. “The younger generation is just like, ‘This seems contradictory to people I love. Why are certain people being ostracized?’ I read about Jesus, and then I’m told that we should vote this way, but it seems like Jesus wasn’t for war. It doesn’t even seem Jesus liked war. How does ‘Blessed is the peacemaker’ become ‘Our God, our Jesus wants us to kill people?’ How does ‘Blessed are the poor’ become ‘We shouldn’t put money into tax issues that help them’?”

Bakker is certain that if Christianity actually modeled itself on the life of Christ, then these contradictions would disappear, leaving behind the most basic tenets: Jesus was resurrected, and he died for our sins. “There’s just something about the idea of grace and the life of Christ,” he says, “ that I can’t get away from.” The rest of Protestant Christianity, however, he’s basically prepared to ditch—a stance that pushes him beyond the far liberal wing of the Evangelical Christian community and into what is known as the “Emergent” ministry.

I would agree with much of what Bakker says. But I am also cautious. When we regard the life of Christ as our model, we must be on guard for the legalism that can creep in. If we fail to do what Jesus would do, some might say we fail. Of course, it does matter how one interprets Christ's life. Established Christianity might think Jesus is working to build the Kingdom through the institutions of this world. But it might not. Established Christianity might say that Jesus' aims were spiritual and we should eschew all earthly dealings. I think neither of these is accurate.

The very real question for us is not what Jesus would do, but what Jesus is doing in us now. Modeling our lives after Jesus is an issue of sanctification, not justification. It is done in response to the relationship that the crucified and risen Lord has begun in us through his initiative. We do not strive to do as Jesus did so that we might have a relationship with him. We strive to follow Jesus in the grace he has already showered upon us.

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