Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Remaining Thankful in the Midst of Falsehood

I finally finished Paul Weston's Lesslie Newbigin: Missionary Theologian: A Reader last night, a compelling and life-giving read. The end contained the following charge, which I found to be a remarkable synopsis and ending:

"To the end of history we are called upon to be witnesses to the truth in a world where it is contradicted, to engage in the kind of discourse in which through our struggle we learn more of the truth, and always to remain thankful to God whose providence creates a world in which falsehood can still exist without destroying us." (emphasis mine)

Somewhere between the semi-Pelagian desire to make a difference in this world and the Gnostic longing to simply escape this world, we are given power through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus to remain thankful to God in the midst of falsehoods that cannot destroy us. Surely this and only this is how Christians can follow Jesus in loving their enemies.

As Hauerwas likes to put it, we do not become peaceful because we expect the world to follow suit (so that we will change the world), but as followers of the God we know in Jesus - whose love takes the shape of the cross - we can do no other as Christians but be peaceful. So our lives are lives that do not stand alone or make sense apart from the crucified Lord we proclaim as risen from the dead.

The comparison here to Hauerwas' work is apt for the point, but perhaps misleading, too: Newbigin articulates a relentless vision of political involvement that Hauerwas is often read as lacking. While I suspect this deficit in Hauerwas is often exaggerated owing to his controversial pacifism, we do find in Newbigin an ambitious vision for a generous Christian society, still with the cross-shaped Kingdom as the center.

And at the heart of this Kingdom, this remarkable claim: we can always remain thankful to God whose providence creates a world in which falsehood can still exist without destroying us.

Is there any aspect of my life, your life - family, political, church schism or threats thereof, corruption - to which the announcement that we have been empowered to remain thankful in the midst of falsehood is not at the same time the end of every excuse with respect to our living the Gospel and very, very Good News for our souls?

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