Episode 265 - Surprise, Surprise

Episode 229 · January 30th, 2019 · 22 mins 7 secs

About this Episode

A friend recently surprised me with the observation that Christians he knows who preach a "theology of glory" seem to be more welcoming, and forgiving, of real actual sinners than Christians he knows who preach a "theology of the Cross". In other words, the folk who you'd think would be the most merciful to people who've fallen aren't! And people with whose theology you can't necessarily sign on the dotted line -- such as pentecostals or African-American evangelicals -- are!

I'd have to say that my own experience confirms what my friend said. I've spent my whole ministry in a denomination which avers passionately that the chief sign of a Christian Church is its Radical Welcome and Radical Inclusion. (I agree with this, in principle!) But the "rub" is that the welcome doesn't always apply, at least to traditional Christians.

The question I'm asking is why. Why do Christians who protest they are proponents of the "relentless love of Christ" and "the fierce love of God" not practice it in specific cases? Why the exemptions in practice? I mean, I can barely number any more the excellent rectors I have known who have felt it necessary to become Roman Catholics. These are good, loving, and experienced pastors -- not squeaky wheels -- who have concluded that they cannot be themselves in their old environment. The "hard wood of the Cross" seems to be applied to everyone but themselves.

We are looking at un-integrated assertions concerning the Grace of God. The assertions are great. One agrees with almost everything being stated concerning the reach of God's Grace, whether it is stated on the theological right or the theological left. But they seem to find it hard to mercifully engage real sin, or real difference.

Listen to William Hale White's reflection on this odd surprise in the following short passage from his novel "The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford" (1881):

"It must be added that (the evening services in our evangelical chapel) afforded us many opportunities for walking home with certain young women, who, I am sorry to say, were a more powerful attraction than the prospect of hearing brother Holderness, the travelling draper, confess crimes which, to say the truth, although they were many according to his own account, were never given in that detail which would have made his confession of some value. He never prayed without telling all of us there there was no health in him; and everybody thought the better of him for his self-humiliation. One actual indiscretion, however, brought home to him would have been visited by suspension or expulsion."