Sin and Repentance

Ok, so as most of you know by now, I have a problem with fundie blog addiction. I am seeking treatment, but thus far, I have not been able to kick the habit. This post is not about that, so bear with me as I get to the point.

Their main beef (as best as I can see) with both the Emerging Church and Rick Warren is that they downplay the need to repent from sin, and thus cheapen or even negate the gospel. Some will express concern in a loving way, and some will say that Rick and Brian are dancing a merry jig on the tip of Satan’s forked tongue. Because of my addiction, and my inability to write them off as total whack jobs, I’ve actually spent some time considering this critique.

I have not been able to shake off this question, and I want to present it here: do we minimize sin and repentance in emergent or postmodern church cultures? We’re quick to point out the hypocricy and ignorance of the fundamentalist church when it comes to national, social, or economic sin, and I think we’re right. We’re also quick to point out, again correctly, that fundies often have control issues and what they really want is for everyone to conform to their own personal tastes, which includes listening to music that sucks.

Are we straying from the radical and wonderful message of Jesus Christ by not emphasizing purity and holiness? Have we defanged Christ by downplaying the need for repentance, and is He pissed about it? Are we, in a desire to make up for the lack of love coming from the churches we grew up in, just being sentimental and irresponsible? How can we better articulate to people that God loves them passionately, but that their lives would simply be better were they to surrender their sin?

Dicipline is not the same as guilt. I feel guilty for being too fat, but dicipline could actually help me be healthier. It’s not up for debate. It’s not relative. My life would be better if I were 30 pounds lighter. Dicipline, deeply and inextricably rooted in love and grace, is a fundamentally good and Godly trait.

See… it’s funny… and perhaps the truth lies somewhere here… If you were to tell me that I needed to lose 30 (ok FINE!! 40) pounds, I would tell you to piss off and go eat a cheeseburger. My wife, however, has loved me no matter what I look like, and right now I am motivated to lose weight because I don’t want to leave her widowed by a heart attack at 49.

I cannot help but wonder if the emerging church were to get really serious about talking about sin, and take the time to allow our hearts to break with people suffering under the unnegotiable penalty of their sin, but restrained itself from setting up just another list of rules, could the Holy Spirit be fully released upon us to do what It does best… clarifying the specifics. We’ll do them no favor by helping them justify themselves without repentance, and we’ll have to answer to Jesus Himself.

And to Jerry Falwell, cause he’s always watching.

21 thoughts on “Sin and Repentance

  1. aly hawkins

    I’d probably have a lot more respect for the “tough on sin” contingent if they were as tough on sins of OMISSION as they are on sins of COMMISSION. In my view, if Jesus followers were falling all over themselves to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength and love their neighbors as themselves…well, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about lying, stealing, coveting, avarice, sloth, adultery, etc., etc., etc. We’d just be too busy.
    Defining “righteousness” as “not doing bad stuff” is totally missing the point – our definition of holiness is so small! When did we start equating “good little Christian” and “Christlike”?? One is holy…the other is just easy on parents and teachers.
    I think challenging ourselves and others to a supernatural standard of holiness is incredibly important, but I think efforts that start with eradicating everything that’s wrong with us is just impractical – and not particularly true to Jesus’ example. (Think of the numbskulls he picked for disciples.) Discipling ourselves and others HOW to live (rather than how NOT to live) just makes piles more sense…and is a sight more biblical, for all that.

  2. aly hawkins

    You know how sometimes somebody will post something about which you think you have a lot of important things to say, and then you say a few of them, and you totally think what you’ve said will set off a firestorm of super-earth-shifting conversation, but then what happens instead is that there is that cricket sound?

  3. Chad Post author

    You know what… I actually feel so much better for having simply collected my thoughts that I don’t give a hoot if no one else comments, and I thought your comments, Alicia Marie, were incisive as always.

  4. aly hawkins

    Thank you, my dear. I’ll happily settle for incisive, though I was aiming for universe-changing. At least “incisive” keeps the crickets at bay.

  5. michael lee

    Chad, this is a pretty well-hashed out summary of some of my same questions and thoughts about holiness and community and the emerging thingy. I don’t have much to add, except that your example of your wife and losing weight seems to me to be at the heart of the matter. I don’t have a voice in your life until I have a stake in your life, cultivated and genuine.
    See, except that even as I wirte that, I’m remembering that God annoints prophets who speak akwardly, confrontationally, and with incisive judgement into the lives of people that they have no relationship with (Jonah? John the Baptist? Paul?). He sent them out once, does he still?
    Aly, you’re right that a positive statement of rightousness bears more weight, and gives shape to a larger view of both gospel and kingdom. I think the missional framing of this might look something like “we are called to be transforming people in a broken world; allowing the holy spirit to cause in us greater conformity to the image of Christ allows us to be more effective at that great project.”

  6. Chad Post author

    I guess, being less then a year since first hearing the word “emergent,” or “missional,” I am a little more noobified then ya’ll. Reading A Generous Orthodoxy was like someone opening up my noggin and spilling out every secret thought I had ever had about church life. Actually hearing it out loud and in the open was a pretty mind blowing, and to be frank, I think I am just now getting a grasp on what the full ramifications of what implementing these thoughts and ideas might really bring.

    I’m not really a true rebel, you see. You who know me well most likely already know this. So to break fellowship with my upbringing (which I am not really sure I am doing, but it sure feels like that somettimes) is not something that I can take lightly. As I reread that statement, I would like to clarify that I don’t think anyone would or has suggested otherwise… :)

    There’s a person in my church who drives me bananas. I don’t know how to love him like Christ would have, and I really really want to… but he’s just driving me insane. When I first met him over a year ago, my heart went out to him and I tried loving him in ways that seemed sacrificial and selfless. I drove him around when his car was broken down to put up fliers to get his business jump started. I spent hours trying to counsel him in perhaps the single most messed up marriage I have ever witnessed. I sat him down and explained why it was not ok for him to sell his self designed jewelry in the sanctuary of our church between services. It didn’t take long for me to see that I am not yet equipped to deal with him. There is not one issue of his that I can address in any significant way. Loving and engaging him has been one of the most difficult things I have ever done in ministry.

    Fortunately, there are many people in our church who have taken up his cause in a way that makes me feel really good to call my church home, and I know for a fact that his material and spiritual needs have been met in real ways. Heck, we’re trying to see if we can sponsor him as a church so the INS doesn’t deport him back to the middle east where he’s from. But, having spent a year and a half observing and engaging him, I can say without much doubt that what I think he really needs at this point is a loving, graceful kick in the ass. He needs dicipline. His life is an unmitigated disaster because he lacks any sort of dicipline. No matter what we do for him, he will still be a massive suck hole of energy, love, and time until he gets his head screwed on.

    For a non-emergent, recovering fundamentalist church, we have done pretty well by him, I think. I’m a pretty pragmatic cat by nature… and impatient. I like it when things work, like (inside joke alert) hot butter and syrup with pancakes, for example. This whole “Loving people relentlessly and tirelessly” thing is messy and it scares the hell out of me.

  7. stigmund

    Hey there,
    Just found your blog today. You guys seem to have your heads screwed on, and, just going on this post and its comments, you all seem to be in a very similar place to me. I enjoyed it. Going to have a browse around. Also, if you haven’t already, read from a theologian friend of mine. Keep up the honesty and openness.

  8. aly hawkins

    Fearlessly and gently pointing out where people are going way wrong is (many times) the most loving thing we can do, but I think we sometimes get our timing screwed up. We try to make conviction and repentance the beginning of a relationship, but (Chad) your example of wanting to lose weight as a response to E’s love is more in line with what really happens. The relationship is already there, weight or no weight.
    Once the relationship is there, deepening of it should happen, which may involve 86ing funk that is in the way. The example of the guy at your church is a good one: he’s loved, he’s being helped, he’s a part of the community…and now it’s probably time to have a nice long chat about what are clearly some monumental, systemic issues left unattended (read: sin). But making him clean up his act BEFORE any semblance of a relationship is there is just anti-Gospel and anti-grace. It makes the initiative of God into a joke, since our relationship with God is obviously merited by not smoking, not chewing, and not going with girls who dance.
    I think I’m kinda preachy on this one. Sorry. I think sin is the most damaging element in the universe, and I don’t take it lightly. But I also think it doesn’t scare God, and I’m kinda sick of it scaring us.

  9. Chad Post author

    I think I agree, and like I said, our response to him has really pleased me thus far. I also feel you on the whole fear issue. I think I am trying to look at it from the other angle, exploring some of the freedom that comes from healthy dicipline… hey that reminds me of a famous saying about choral music!
    I guess… and this is gonna sound like an indictment, so please please please don’t take it this way. I have been reflecting on the times when I have recieved the Rod of Guidance, and for the most part it was only in response to a time when I had wronged someone, either in reality or in a skewed perspective. That’s not really love… it’s fence mending after I stepped on someone’s toes. It may have been done in a loving and gracious way, and for that I am grateful, I just can’t help but wonder if there’s a way to be more proactive about it.
    Paragraphs are cool.
    I am in a season where I am trying to systematically break every bad habit I have spent 29 years cultivating, with varying degrees of success. I have just been impressed with how little I miss some of these things, and how good I feel about myself and God because of the process that I have submitted to. Self submission has turned out to be a really cool thing, and enforced submission sucks, there’s absolutely no doubt.

  10. aly hawkins

    You’re definitely onto something when you connect discipline with being proactive about personal and spiritual growth. I think that’s pretty much the only way to preempt those dreadful “okay, I love you, but you were being kind of an ass” conversations. (Of which I’ve been on the receiving end far too many times.)
    I think I’ll probably always need both. Spiritual disciplines are an anchor point, but I hope I never think I’ve progressed so far that I don’t need input and guidance from those around me. I can be fairly blind to my own short-comings. (No snide remarks, please. I’m being vulnerable here.)

  11. Morphea

    One thing that being a closet Zen Buddhist has taught me is that sin (or self-inflicted suffering would be the ZB equivalent, I think) gets out and addressed whether we like it or not. One thing I like about Emergent Thingy’s (thank you, Michael) approach to sin is that it’s kind of laid back. Not in the sense of addressing it, either pro-actively or re-actively (more on that in a sec, Aly and Chad). Oh, no. I feel sure that members of the body will deal with their short-comings and repent just as seriously as always (blind faith, there, Chad – I should say I HOPE they will). But pre-emptive lists of sins and safety zones such as watching NO Rated-R movies just in case will hopefully go the way of the Bakelite phone inside the emergent community. I hope.
    The thing is, I don’t think Christians, even laid-back-about-lists-of-rules Emergents can NOT address and turn from sin, since, going back to Zen Buddhism, sin causes pain, either for the individual or for the larger body. Hopefully the individual will go to the community for help with private pain/sin, and you may be sure that the body WILL deal with pain/sin that affects us all. Since anti-complacency seems to be one of the big watchwords of Emergent Thingy and all. This is all blind conjecture mixed with a big dash of hope for Emergent. That must be pretty evident.
    In that light, Chad, we’ll have to do a little of both in pro-actively and re-actively addressing sin. Aly’s right. Since we’re all maturing I feel certain that the scales will tip more towards a “I’m seeing this bad habit cropping up – time to go talk to Ash or somebody before I have a serious problem” and less towards “dude, I’m so sorry I ripped your head off after the offertory. Ash told me I really hurt your feelings. Please forgive me”. Pray god they do in my case.
    Aly, may I say in total truth that the best people I’ve ever met for telling me that I’ve been an ass are you and Ramon. I wonder if you know how rare people are who really DO speak the truth in love.

  12. Morphea

    Well, dang it, I found a problem in my logic. Sin causing/being pain and all. 1. Not all pain is caused by sin, for one thing, and 2. There will be disagreements about what sin IS. Again. What I mean is, [pet subject alert] people in the kingdom will do or be a certain way that will cause them suffering, but the jury’s still out about whether it’s wrongdoing on their part or just…sh*t happening, you know? Women getting abortions, people of the same sex in romantic relationships, couples divorcing, on and on. They will be in pain and go to god and the community for comfort and counsel, and (unlike weight loss, which I agree is a pretty non-negotiable life-improver. For health, I mean) at least from my perspective, the emergent church won’t be able to say “See, here’s your problem. Homosexuality is a sin and you’ve just got to knock it off.” At least, I hope most communities would be a little more circumspect than that, whatever their personal opinion.
    See what I mean? On one hand, Chad’s right, we don’t want to be candy-assed about naming wrongdoing and healing it, but many issues are so…relative (YES, relativism occurs in the Christian religion and people who think it’s of the devil are just bent. My opinion.) that we either do harm by sort of trying to ignore the issue (and thereby ignoring people who are truly struggling) or we do harm by saying “that’s bad. Quit it in the name of Jeezus” or “it’s all good, man. Do what feels right.”
    I’m an “it’s all good” kind of Christian – you won’t find me trying to help some guy pray himself straight, for instance. Sin in my book is unkindness, failure to look for need, or worse, failure to see a need and not help fill it, finger-pointing, pulpit-pounding, complacency, laurel-squatting and dishonesty. But even in my hyper-tolerant smugness I can see where my extreme relativism causes me to not be of much use to someone with a real, serious question about a sticky, possibly gray-area type of spiritual issue. I’m not saying that my way is right or wrong, mind you. It’s just a way of believing and every way, in my opinion, has its own set of limitations.
    I think that’s part of Chad’s fear for the emergent community – that my own limitations in addressing suffering echo the potential failure of a larger body that wants to be inclusive, tolerant, and easy-going as far as the List of Rules is concerned, but still wants to be able to truly deal with issues their people face every day. And even with all this bloody writing, I still don’t have an answer.

  13. Chad Post author

    Dearest Morphea,
    First of all, it’s lovely to have met you in person, so I can now imagine you typing these words and thinking these thoughts with a more accurate frame of reference.
    I think it’s important for me to say something for myself here: I think I am, at heart, an “it’s all good” Christian. I mean… that’s my natural resting state. I came from a family where celebrating one another really and truly took precedent over everything else. There is something to be said for a self belief that you are The Golden Child and that you fart rose scented incense. I have an ability to see the decency in people… really everyone… an ability I fear a lot of people who weren’t well loved don’t have. The bible says it’s easy to love your friends… anyone can do that… Heck, I even kind of like Ingrid, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.
    With that said, I am really resonating right now with the idea that, even though I still fart rose scented incense, my farts would smell even rosier if I were to clear some of the funk out of my colon. I kind of wish the people around me growing up had loved me enough to force me choose some things (and I think that’s key) and really do the time on them. Singing doesn’t count… I never had to work at it until I met this little cat named Jud my sophomore year of college, whose farts smelled rosier then mine, and made me want to work harder at it.
    Even though this thread was titled, “sin and repentance,” I think I really meant something like good and better, and being honest with ourselves, knowing that there are areas of our lives that He has been asking us to surrender for a long time. I am REALLY not interested in entering into a community of “works-a-holics,” or the kind of place where a clear distinction is drawn between are those who are Serious About Jesus and Those Who Are Not. I just think we really might be missing the boat if acceptance trumps transformation, instead of being the doorway to transformation. If transformation doesn’t follow and walk along side acceptance, we aren’t living good news at all, we’re just really nice.
    Perhaps the way the emerging church might really be different from the fundie / ev church is this: insead of giving people the list of rights and wrongs that they must submit to, we might get really serious about, in the context of relationship, asking each other, “What has the Holy Spirit convicted you about in your life, and what can I do to help you deal with it.”
    This rocks… check it out;&version=31;

  14. Chad Post author

    For the record, this will be the first of many posts using my digestive tract as a metaphor. Learn to like it.

  15. Morphea

    Rose-smelling-incense intestinal gas is OK. If you’d said that you farted patchouli, however, I’d have some serious questions to put to you about where you are with The Lord right now, brother.
    I pretty much agree with everything you said. And I figured you were one of those “It’s all good” types – can someone give me a better descriptor? I’m tired of making little quote signs. It’s funny, actually – you’re that way because you find the decency in everyone – you’re a loving guy. I, all to often, find that my acceptance stems from [what I perceive as] high-minded ideals about tolerance and left-wing political beliefs, and adopting said ideals hasn’t made me any more loving of a person. Though I’m generously loving and loyal to people I agree with, those I don’t “get” feel the rough side of my psyche, I fear. I still believe in my woo-woo ideals, but I’m saddened to find that I’m not any more tolerant, easygoing, or naturally loving than when I waved signs and screamed hate at abortion clinics.

  16. Morphea

    …and meeting The Chad, my dear, was logged in as one of the better experiences of my life.
    In fact, can I just say to those of you that I met last week that I was astounded at the friends my old friend Aly has collected around her? To a one I was delighted, impressed, fascinated and aroused by all of you – OK, the last one was a joke. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever met such a congenial, talented and intelligent group of people in my life. Ramon concurs wholeheartedly, by the way. I was only saddened that we didn’t have time to get to know you all much better. Thank you for a wonderful time.

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