The True and Living Way

“We shall prove our faithfulness to the gospel by being both fundamentalist and liberal; fundamentalist in the sense that we acknowledge no other foundation upon which to build either our thinking or our acting, either our private or our public life, than the Lord Jesus Christ as he is known to us through the Scriptures; and liberal in the sense that we are ready to live in a plural society, open to new experience, ready to listen to new ideas, always pressing forward toward fuller understanding in the confidence that Jesus is indeed the true and living way, and that when we follow him we are not lost.”

– Lesslie Newbigin, Truth To Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth

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“Political folkie, country farmer, travelling gypsy, born-again Christian, rustic dandy—Dylan has cycled through a series of musical characters as if playing all the parts in a one-man vaudeville act. It’s been thrilling and curious, and also—most of the time, at least—deeply persuasive. Can fans be blamed for coming under one of these spells—for believing that Dylan meant what he sang at the March on Washington, or wasn’t just messing around when he recorded ‘Self Portrait,’ or for preferring one incarnation above the others and lamenting or resenting that version’s demolition by Dylan’s own revisionism?”

– Ian Crouch, The New Yorker

Photo: Bob Dylan by Brigitte Lacombe

For the Healing of the World

There’s a lot of good stuff in N.T. Wright’s short book For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church. Wright begins by offering a series of reflections on “the God who is worthy of praise,” before considering what it means to “[reflect] God’s image in the world.” In that second section he gets around to addressing the question, in light of God’s glory and love, how are we to respond? What is our calling as the people of God? His answer is profound:

We are called, simply, to hold on to Christ and his cross with one hand, with all our might; and to hold on to those we are given to love with the other hand, with all our might, with courage, humour, self-abandonment, creativity, flair, tears, silence, sympathy, gentleness, flexibility, Christlikeness. When we find their tears becoming our own, we may know that healing has begun to happen; when they find Christ in being held on to by us, whether we realize it or not, we are proving the truth of what Paul said: God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, so that in him we might embody the saving faithfulness of God.

He goes on to say that there are three “varieties” or “levels” to this calling. The first level applies to us all, as a sort of least common denominator — “and such insight as we gain from that will help those who aren’t called to the second and third to pray intelligently, at least, for those who are.” Here then, are Wright’s three levels of Christian calling.

  1. Each of us individually and all of us corporately are called “to hold on to Christ firmly with one hand and to hold on to those around with the other, in prayer, discussion, generosity, gratitude, teaching or learning, caring or being cared for” — all of which God uses for the healing of ourselves and others. “Whatever skills God has given you,” he writes, “be prepared to use them as instruments of the gospel.”
  1. Following on the first variety, some are called “to be all this for the church,” specifically (but not exclusively) through ordained ministry. “Ordination isn’t the be-all and end-all of Christian ministry,” he writes, “but the church desperately needs ordained clergy, needs them now more than ever.” Such ministry requires a willingness “to share and feel the agony of the church’s follies and failings, and to know the power of Christ to restore and heal the church and set her feet back on the right path. That is a vocation not to be lightly dismissed.”
  1. Finally, “especially at times of crisis,” Wright suggests we ought to pray that God would call “people to do for the world, for society as a whole and in its various parts” what clergy do for the church — that is, to serve in a very real sense as healers. “We must pray that God will raise up a new generation of strong weaklings; of wise fools; of wounded healers; so that the healing love of Christ may flow out into the world, to confront violence and injustice with the rebuke of the cross, and to comfort the injured and wronged with the consolation of the cross.”

In a passage reminiscent of Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer, Wright elaborates:

We don’t need people to yell at these situations or to bully them. We don’t need people to back off and pretend it’s somebody else’s problem. We need Christian people to work as healers: as healing judges and prison staff, as healing teachers and administrators, as healing shopkeepers and bankers, as healing musicians and artists, as healing writers and scientists, as healing diplomats and politicians. We need people who will hold on to Christ firmly with one hand and reach out the other, with wit and skill and cheerfulness, with compassion and sorrow and tenderness, to the places where our world is in pain. We need people who will use all their god-given skills, as Paul used his, to analyse where things have gone wrong, to come to the place of pain, and to hold over the wound the only medicine which will really heal, which is the love of Christ made incarnate once more, the strange love of God turned into your flesh and mine, your smile and mine, your tears and mine, your patient analysis and mine, your frustration and mine, your joy and mine.

I hope you can find your own calling as a wounded healer somewhere in there. I think I can identify mine, and I’m grateful for the chance to be used by God, in my own faltering ways, for the healing of the world.

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Discerning Vocation Together

Mark Labberton took the helm at Fuller Theological Seminary a year and a half ago, following the retirement of Rich Mouw, of whom I am an unabashed fan (evidenced here, here, and here — and, if you need photographic proof, here). Needless to say that, in my estimation, Labberton has big shoes to fill.

In an interview with Christianity Today at the time of his election, he gave some clues as to where he plans to take Fuller in the years and decades to come. Observing from a distance, I detect a shift in the direction of preparing students for callings not simply within the walls of the church, but beyond. That turn is partly pragmatic, to be sure, but having recently read Labberton’s new book, Called, it’s clear he genuinely cares deeply about callings and vocations of all shapes and sizes.

A section of the book that I found particularly helpful is the chapter “The Way of the Beloved,” in which he writes, “We matter, and our calling matters, not because we’re the supreme test of anything but because we exist for the joy and satisfaction of our Maker, whose love alone enables us to flourish.”

Our primary calling, Labberton writes, is to be the beloved. “We are to live as the beloved together — with other human beings but with those in Christ’s family especially. We are the conglomeration of the unexpected. We are the recipients of the down payment of the kingdom of God by the indwelling Holy Spirit. All this becomes the makings of ‘one new humanity,’ the beloved community.”

When someone mentions the idea of “beloved community” we shouldn’t overlook its origins — with MLK and the civil rights movement — a movement that was grounded, remember, in a Christian vision for peace, justice, and reconciliation. There’s an awful lot we have yet to learn about this vision, and we’d do well to pay attention to the wisdom of “beloved community.”

It’s precisely here that Labberton situates his reflections on the importance of discerning vocation together. “My vocation can be discovered only in the context of our vocation,” he writes.“It only makes sense that it would be so, since belovedness is never isolated or singular. We discover and live our belovedness in Christ with and for one another. This is what church means.”

Being part of the church, Labberton continues, “means practicing the identity of belovedness together.” And this practice becomes most tangible — most believable, too, you might say — in the sacraments, and particularly in the Eucharist:

We come to the table together and leave together, remembering that our vocation starts and ends as the beloved community. Of course, that is easier said than done, and that’s why our doing it over and over is so important. We come in frailty and in joy. We come at times when being loved and loving are anything but clear or natural. We come in hope and also in brokenness. We come full-hearted and we come empty-handed. We come loving one another, but we also come in our division, in our resentment or of boredom with one another…

Life in the beloved community is often more broken than healed, more confusing than clear, more divided than one — but it is of the very essence of our identity and vocation. We live as the beloved, and we rehearse what that means in the communion of others who share it. It’s a space where we can get some things marvelously, wonderfully right. We can also do injury. No one said it would be perfect. But Jesus said it would be an easy yoke and a light burden. It’s the right work, even if it’s tough.

Therein lies our primary calling as brothers and sisters, and from it flows all our particular and varied callings, something I’ll have more to say about next time around.

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