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Monday, November 14, 2005

Thinking About Life Together

Krissy has some thoughts on her quest for community. In particular, she shares a great quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
"Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung up from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God's grace speedily shatters such dreams.

Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. [...]

Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial."
This is powerful stuff. The other day I caught myself thinking about the future, thinking about how what I really long for are deep friendships, meaningful community. Those are good things. But then it struck me - do I want to plant a church for my own sake, to fulfill my own needs and desires? Or am I truly motivated by Christ, to please him, to be about his work rather than my own.

Too many times, what I really want from the church is my own little wish dream. I want friends for my sake, not Christ's. What I need to desire is not others, not even the church (at least not as an end). I need to desire God.

Make no mistake, Christ is all about building the church. But it's for his sake, not ours; it's to bring his Father glory. Now we are surely beneficiaries of this redemptive effort, but we are not the the impetus or reason for his work.

Christ does indeed love us, but that love does not flow from us - it flows from him, to us. He doesn't love us because of some fundamental goodness in us, as if we deserve to be loved. He loves us because God loves us. And God loves us simply because he wants to.

I need to remind myself of that, or I will never find the fulfillment that I desire in community. Community is not about me, or even about us. We will find true community (and all the benefits that flow from that) only when we stop looking for community as an end in itself, as the object of our desires, and start looking at Christ, desiring him instead.

Fortunately, God's grace doesn't leave us to ourselves. It shatters us with a life full of hardship and dissappointments - it will not let us find rest anywhere but in God.

That puts a whole new perspective on grace, at least for me. Bonhoeffer's words are a needed reminder for me these days. Thanks Krissy...


At 11:22 PM, November 14, 2005, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

I certainly amen Bonhoeffer's words, and see them as an important watchword for whatever form of community we pursue in the future.

But...I'm going to very tentatively take issue with some of your resulting expressions. I refer to the following:

"Christ is all about building the church. But it's for his sake, not ours; it's to bring his Father glory. Now we are surely beneficiaries of this redemptive effort, but we are not the the impetus or reason for his work."

We Reformed say that kind of thing a lot (especially if we've overdosed on Piper like me!). And the Lord knows that we need a whole lot more glorifying of him and a lot less self-glorification.

And yet...and "for his sake and not for ours" really New Testament language, as pious as it sounds? What about 2 Cor 5:21 (For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God) or 2 Cor 8:9 (For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich)or all of Christ's expressions of love and desire for those the Father had given him?

I could go on. Yes, all is ultimately to the glory of the Father (hallelujah!)...but isn't there some sense in which God delights in doing things for our good? I guess this is really in my mind because of a series of lectures in OTHT these past couple of weeks about the depth of meaning in our being made in the image and glory of God. I guess my question our desire to glorify God, is it really necessary to denigrate ourselves, we who in Christ have been made the very sons of God?

At 11:24 PM, November 14, 2005, Blogger Mark Traphagen said... that last paragraph I meant to say "made in the image and likeness of God"...although Prof. Green pointed out that in the NT doxa (glory) is often connected with image/likeness language.

At 7:22 AM, November 15, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Hi Sage: I hear what you are saying, and I want to affirm the language. Christ does things for our sake, just as God sent his son because he loved us.

But there is a distinction, and it's an important one (I'm just not very good at expressing it).

When we hear "for our sake" we tend to think "of course God loves me, why wouldn't he?!?!" - as if there is something in and of ourselves, some inherant value in us, that God looks at and says "Ooohh... pretty, I really like that one"

And in fact, it's nothing like at all. We're despicable - he loves us in spite of ourselves, not because of ourselves.

Now once he loves us, we are certainly beneficiaries - that's where the 'for our sake part' properly understood kicks in: he sets his love upon us (God knows why), and then intervenes for our sake, for our own good.

He does not look upon us for our own sake, for the sake of any goodness inherent in us (there is none), and then act as a result of that.

So when I say "for his sake and not ours" I am trying to emphasize the _cause_ not the _result_.

And the whole reason I brought this up in the first place is very often the love/approval of others, rather than the love/approval of God is what _causes_ all my actions. In other words, what drives me is my desire for the good object, rather than for the one who makes the object good.

And that's really just idolatry on my part - it's like going to church because it makes me feel good, because I get something out of it that I want. If I go to church and experience God, I WILL get something out of it, but if I am doing it for the sake of that something, then I'm off base (and ultimately will never experience that something I'm pursuing anyway).

Shane Sunn, whom you met this past weekend, likes to put it like this: do I love my wife because she cooks and cleans and gives me sex? (ie. because of what I get out of it) or do I love my wife because she is my wife (ie. because of who she IS, because of the commitment I have made to her).

I could say I love her "For her sake" in both of those scenarios, but what I would mean by that is very different in each case - one very bad, the other very good.

Does that clarify at all?

I think the point in all of this is we need to be very careful about our language - it's not enough to say what Scripture says, we also need to mean it in the way Scripture means it.

At 1:38 PM, November 15, 2005, Blogger Ainsley said...

I'd trackback, but blogger doesn't allow for it. Anyway, good post, (good enough for me to quote part!) and great points by both of you in comments.

At 2:12 PM, November 15, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Thanks Ainsley. I just re-read my comments and still found them fairly confusing. I think the distinction is extremely important though.

Is there anyone out there who can say this more clearly/succintly than I've done up about?

Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

At 9:03 PM, November 15, 2005, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response, Christian. I hear what you are saying, and I definitely agree that we must be careful to stand in no righteousness of our own for our acceptance by God. And yet...I feel a tension in Scripture that keeps me from going the full "I'm a useless worm" route of the Puritans. As I read Scripture, when we fell, something happened to the image of God in us; we lost something for sure. But we didn't completely lose it. As messed up as it is, the vilest sinner carries something of the image of God in him, and so I can't go with the "vile worm" language. Yes, "all our righteousness is as filthy rags"...but it is our righteousness, our attempts to make ourselves acceptable to God apart from Jesus Christ, that are filthy rags, not our "selves." I want to be careful here. I understand and believe that the fall affects every part of our humanity. But none of us is as bad in any of our parts as we could be. Hear me now, we're not good enough for God, but we're not as bad as we could be. Even the vilest sinner can't help glorifying God in some small way simply because he is made in the image of God.

More importantly, we are told that God purposed to get himself a people through his Son. Now its true that those people are chosen not for any merit of their own, but being chose we are told that we are dearly loved and delighted in by our Father.

And now I'm going to be a gadfly about the "if I get something out of it, my love has less value" thinking. I know what you're trying to say in that, but again I don't think real love is that simplistic; not in life and not in the Bible. Here I'm with Piper: the thinking that says I must no enjoy God or my wife or being in church or whatever, not seek any benefit from those things, is Kantian not Biblical. The Bible talks countless times about rewards and about "desiring God" and "forget not all his benefits."

Now again, you need to hear me in balance. I agree that if that's all we're after, the we're seeking idols. But I also think if we deny that's part of it, we miss a fully developed, mature love. You posited loving the "goodies" I get from my wife (cleaning, cooking, sex) vs. a "pure" love that loves her for who she is and for the sake of our covenant. I don't see the Bible putting those things in opposition. I don't think it's either/or but rather both/and. In fact, I'll be bold to say that seeking after that pure, altruistic love is unatainable and is an idea out of Greek idealism.

Let me turn another earthly example back at you. When we enjoyed Ryan's beers last Saturday night, did you sit there and think "I'm only thinking about this for what it is, a wonderful creation of God." Perhaps you did think that, and that would be good. But that wasn't all you were experiencing. You were experiencing the aroma and the taste and the pleasant buzz (and gentle readers, that doesn't mean "drunk")...and in enjoying all of those things, you were also glorifying God, for the Bible tells us that he made them for you to enjoy!

At 9:28 PM, November 15, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Hey Sage - it sounds to me like we're speaking past one another here.

I'm not saying that the image of God is completely gone, or that we are as bad as we could be, or even that we are worms. I'm also not suggesting that I don't love beer or sex or community. Nor am I saying that God doesn't give us these things as blessings ("for our sake" in the sense that we might enjoy them rightly and fully as redeemed children of God).

I AM saying that God does not give us these things because we have some inherit worth or value in and of ourselves ("for our sake" in the sense that we deserve them).

And, I am saying that these very good things which we love and enjoy - beer, sex, community, etc - these things can themselves become idols. In fact, the better a thing is, the easier it is to find my fulfillment in that thing, rather than in God as the giver of that good thing.

And community done well is a very good thing - it is a very powerful temptation. That's what the Bonhoeffer quote is about, and that's what I was tempting to address - the fact that I can easily idolize community and relationships, and inadvertantly loose sight of God as the one who makes those things good in the first place.

That's really the thrust of what I was getting at. And I think it's really important to understand how "for our sake" can be used in two very different ways.

At the end of the day, I think we need to be able to affirm two seemingly contradictory statements: it's not about me; and at the same time, it's all about me.

Both of those things are true, each in their proper sense.

At 9:32 PM, November 15, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

ps - I'd be interested in hearing other people weigh in here as well. Does what I am saying make sense? Or does it seem like I'm speaking out of both sides of my mouth here?

Maybe this is one of those cases where its clear in my mind, but I've not yet hit upon a way to convey it to others (the way things work in my mind is pretty strange at times!) :-)

At 9:59 AM, November 16, 2005, Blogger Molly said...

I haven't been following your discussion really closely, so take my comment with a grain of salt!

It occurred to me, though, as I was reading your comments this morning that there is almost certainly an element of *personality* coming to bear in what you want to emphasize and how you want to emphasize it. Sage, I don't know you nearly as well as I know Christian, but I would be interested to hear you both discuss how your personal tendencies (e.g. being more or less introspective, perspectives on community, how you were raised and what sort of church tradition you grew up in and might be reacting against) impact your message.

Like I said ... for what it's worth, I'm recognizing increasing elements of personality impacting how I read God's Word -- and the challenge is to find a godly balance!

At 3:41 PM, November 16, 2005, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...


What you posit is entirely possible, heck...probable! And a good reminder. Probably what we need to be doing here is careful exegesis of relevant passages (I've proposed some, and I'm sure Christian could do the same to support his thoughts) with a whole-Bible theology in mind, then careful, humble discussion in community to get past our prejudices.

As for me, I have to admit why I'm bothering to write these responses (especially now when I really don't have the time and should be working on papers). Two reasons, really, that I'm aware of. One is a sensitivity I've developed to tendencies in the Reformed world (at least by my perception) to overemphasize our sinfulness and worthlessness and my concern for how such an emphasis affects our own movement in sanctification as well as our counseling of others. I'm probably especially sensitive to all that because of my past in some pretty heavy-handed churches under heavy-handed pastors.

Second is some things we've been discussing in my Old Testament History and Theology class about what the image of God in Adam really meant (perhaps much more glorious than we've thought) and how Jesus as the Second Adam has restored that image. If we are in him, then we are in the process of glorification (not just sanctification) even now.

And maybe there's a third thing. I've been struggling with some deep personal issues of sin lately, and had begun to lose hope. The things we've been discussing in OTHT have had a dramatic effect on me, raising my sights Christ-ward and increasing my faith to live as who I'm becoming rather than wallowing in who I've been.

At 8:11 PM, November 17, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Sorry to be so slow in responding - duty has been calling, and I've got a lot of work to get done in the next 2 weeks. So very brief will be my response...

Molly - I think you are probably correct that personality impacts how we say things (the manner we say it, the thing we emphasize, etc).

I also suspect that our past experiences impact it as well - you can probably see some of this in Sage's last response, explaining some of the things he's reacting against.

In my case, I am reacting primarily against my own sinful tendencies to desire something good (friendship, ministry, whatever) to the point where that really becomes the object of my desire, rather than a benefit of my relationship with Christ. So my initial comment was to affirm what Bonhoeffer was saying - if we go into a church looking at it primarily as something to meet our needs, satisfy our cravings, etc, we're going to end up being disappointed. But if we go into it pursuing God, well, those are often the means he uses to minister to us.

Final thought regarding "image of God" - I think you are right on about this Mark: we need to have a very high view of God's image - not only in redeemed people, but in fallen people as well. That said, I in no way mean to imply that "it's not about us" means we are not somehow glorius, dazzling, etc, because of the image that remains.

I think maybe its more like a master painting - beautiful art may be the focus, but the artwork itself never gets the credit or the glory - that always goes to the artist who created it. I think we (and thus the church) are meant to be like art - beautiful and blessed in our own right, but it's never really about us in terms of credit - that always belong to God who redeems us.

That's my .02 for now! Thanks for all the input...

At 8:26 PM, November 17, 2005, Blogger Molly said...

Christian, your comment about admiring a master painting, yet giving the glory to the painter, reminds me of a CS Lewis quote that I read recently. I don't have it with me right now, but I'll try to make note of it and post it over the weekend ... ending my hiatus from SLD!


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