This morning, I read an excerpt of Phillip Yancey’s book “Church: Why Bother” where he told a story about going to an AA meeting with a friend. The man told Yancey he thought he would like the meeting because it was a snapshot of what the early church must have looked like. The man also said these meetings had replaced church for him and he felt troubled about that. Yancey said “I asked him to name one quality missing in the local church that AA had somehow provided. I expected to hear a word like love or acceptance or, knowing him, perhaps anti-institutionalism. Instead, he said softly this one word: dependency. ‘None of us can make it on our own—isn’t that why Jesus came?” This has me rethinking the traditional idea of grace and what Jesus means to us.
For as long as I can remember, people have told me that Jesus came to die for my sins. Nothing else mattered as much as this idea. As I matured, I began to read and study and found there were other interpretations of why he came. At one time, I enjoyed deep discussions about all things theological. I still do on occasion, but after a while, it started to feel like it was getting in the way of going out and doing. About the time I was figuring all this out, I had coffee (fair trade and organic; the lubricant of many progressive/emergent conversations) one day with Hugh Hollowell and we were talking about one such theological argument when he said there are painters who like to argue about whether oil or latex is best and there are painters who know what they prefer and they paint. He told me he tries to be the kind of painter who paints. I like that.
If I had to pick a theological system, it would probably be liberation theology. That one seems to best fit the things Jesus said in early in his ministry, like Luke 4:18-19 and the Sermon on the Mount. To put this into practice, I go back to something Hugh says a lot: God has a plan. That plan is us. I don’t believe God comes down and extends God’s grace to people in need. God puts it on the hearts of people like you and me to extend that grace.
Which brings us back to the statement of Yancey’s friend. When I read those words , I thought what if Jesus was about something totally different than what we’ve been taught? Considering that the idea that Jesus’ purpose on earth was to die discounts the years of his ministry and pretty much everything he said, not only is this possible; it’s probable. What if “No one comes to the Father except by me” isn’t about a magnificent afterlife for a few people, it’s about a decent life for all people? What if Jesus’ second coming isn’t a physical one, but one where we all live the way he did? What if the grace we need to get by in this world doesn’t come from God, but from the people around us who have been inspired by the example set by a man who lived 2000 years ago?
I’m sure some people think I’m talking out of my ass and that I’m a complete idiot. And, it’s entirely possible that someone will lob the old “false teacher” accusation at me. But, be honest, doesn’t what I’ve just described sound like a much better world than the one were’ living in now?