Thursday, October 10, 2013

Achtung Baby [Warning]

For many years as a Christian, I simply could not handle some of Christianity's trickier doctrines that have been upheld for 2,000 years. And for good reasons, I think. Some are just extremely difficult to
accept. So I walked around those disturbing "land mines" and focused on more palatable stuff like grace and faith and love and hope. I hoped, prayed, assumed we were all "saved."

Almost every church I've been to in my lifetime leads with, affirms and holds up God's grace at all costs. I'm a product of those churches. I'm happy about grace. I know that in surrendering myself to Jesus, especially as a sinner who will continue to sin, God's gracious acceptance of people like me is paramount. But as I've continued on in my faith and study of God's Message I've discovered, as a favorite Bible commentator F. Dale Bruner says, that Jesus's stories of grace usually "bracket" or surround messages of another powerful and radical doctrine: God's judgment and wrath. Stern warnings of Jesus (yes, even of Judgment and hell... gasp) are built into the New Testament narrative, which my selective-reading tactics and the unrelenting influence of a secular milieu previously caused me to skip over or disregard. But there is an unmistakable Achtung chord progression in Christianity -- and no one talks about it.

So I walked around those disturbing "land mines" and focused on more palatable stuff like grace and faith and love and hope. I hoped, prayed, assumed we were all "saved."

This deeply powerful teaching, often inserted between the more palatable stories of grace in the New Testament, in my opinion has largely gone radio silent in many churches. Why? Because it's incredibly uncomfortable and people like me don't think we can handle it -- especially in our present cultural moment. It is terribly offensive, utterly uncool (and most of us are fixated on being culturally relevant and liked), and laughable to the culture. Yet, still, it is a crucial part of God's Message. No one, including me, wants to go back to the "fire and brimstone" days. But have we thrown the baby out with the bath water? I believe so. In some ways, we've neutered the gospel message. Maybe that's why our church buildings in the West are swiftly being vacated and becoming community centers.

The New Testament stories of grace are like parentheses that surround other stories and sayings of another doctrine: God has a wrathful side and he will absolutely let it rip at the end of the age. Ouch. It actually matters how we live our lives. Like it or not (and I often do not), the words of my Lord are laced with fair warnings about this grave reality. Christianity starts with the news that a good creation of the world has gone horribly wrong -- and we are the problem, which is highly inconvenient. This is the point of decision, the line of demarcation, where many of us click away and simply decline the offer of Christianity. Me the problem? Give me a break. It's the soul-pricking, ego-wounding inconvenient truth that Christ predicted many would reject. But that seemingly claustrophobic message leads you to the spaciousness and contentment you're seeking.

In some ways, we've neutered the gospel message. Maybe that's why our church buildings in the West are swiftly being vacated and becoming community centers. 

Contrary to popular belief, although declining in the U.S., Christianity is thriving worldwide. And the communities of Christian faith that are growing and thriving in the world -- such as in Latin America and Asia -- preach a robust gospel message of "salvation"; they are not afraid of talking about this stuff. They don't gloss over difficult and even offensive messages. They call people to repent and get right with God. They realize that, in the end, there is an offensive element to the gospel and that's just the way it is. And they believe that a gospel often may offend before it can unleash the power of Christ in your life and thereby change and restore families, neighborhoods, and cities via holy living and acts of service, love, justice and care for those on the margins. (If we don't have a problem, or if we play down the problem, who needs a solution? Why even bother with the whole enterprise?)

My engagement with this stuff and how I portray it could be seen as a fear or guilt tactic. But if a friend was unknowingly driving his car straight towards a cliff, I would surely get a hold of him and tell him to stop immediately and turn back [Achtung!]. God gives us ample warning in the New Testament because he loves us, another provision of grace. And he'll keep pursuing you with his love your whole life.

God has a wrathful side and he will absolutely let it rip at the end of the age. 

There's a reason for this oft-quoted line of the Bible: The fear (awe) of the Lord is the beginning
of wisdom. (Prov 9:10) God is perfect love and perfect holiness, which is a bit frightening and should give us pause. He's not amused by much of the stuff going on in our world, in our squalid headlines, in our minds and in our hearts, in our words and in our actions. And like any good legal system, in the great Legal System of the Lord of all Creation, Justice will be served in the end. And God has given all authority to his beloved Son, Jesus, to carry out that final task. I'm the first to admit this could be the most counter-cultural, foreign, "uncool" and even despised message I can imagine uttered in Western society. But it is true. And there is enormous power in this message because it is precisely what we need.

It makes sense to get right with Christ, the reason for everything. With every fiber of my being I believe there's nothing more important I could ever commend to you, and with such confidence. For in the words of St. Paul, "I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of salvation for all who believe." (Rom 1:16)


I'm the first to admit this could be the most counter-cultural, foreign, "uncool" and even despised message I can imagine uttered in Western society. But it is true... it is precisely what we need.



Note: In case you hadn't noticed, the title of this post is a reference to my favorite album of all time, U2's groundbreaking Achtung Baby, released in 1991. It is one of the most acclaimed albums in rock history.

No comments:

Post a Comment