Is Your Christology Too Small?
For those of us who are charismatics this is a warning worth heeding. I understand the emotion, and don’t question the integrity, of those who fervently pray before every Sunday meeting or conference gathering, “Change us O God! May we never be the same again!” Yet I find myself reluctant to join in full fervour with them. Instead, I choose to focus more on the change that Christ has already wrought through his death and resurrection. As Stanley Hauerwas writes, “Paul does not think that the church has to make a difference. Rather, for Paul, Christians must learn how to live in the light of the difference Jesus has made.” Now, there is plenty that Hauerwas writes I disagree with, but on this point he is spot on. The apostolic message is consistent and clear: “This is what Christ has done, therefore everything is changed, live in the light of that.”
The dangers of constantly looking for ‘encounter’ with God is that it makes our faith contingent on the latest experience. It can actually discourage discipleship. Like the drunk who gets in a fight and says, “It wasn’t my fault – it was the booze,” we can say, “God didn’t meet with me in that meeting, so it’s his fault I’m not being obedient today.”
I believe in encounter with God. I am a charismatic after all! But my defining encounter with God was the day he caused me to born again. From that moment on I have been definitively changed, and the response required of me has been to live in the light of that transformation, confident of what it has accomplished now, and will accomplish eternally.
An obsession with the latest experience of transcendence reflects our cultural approach to relationships generally. Rather than faithful marriage that lives sacrificially in response to promises once made, the more normal expectation now is, “Are my needs being met? Is my sex life hot enough? Do I feel in love?” If the answer to such questions is “no” then it is typical to pack up and move on.
There was a day on which I got married. It was a good day, but to be honest Grace and I have enjoyed days since which have been much better; we have also endured much worse days. But that day is the defining day. Before it I wasn’t married; after it I was. This is analogous to my relationship with Christ – there are days when I feel much more aware of his presence in my life than others, but the way I feel on any particular day is not nearly so relevant as the fact that there was a day when he changed me. Discipleship, like marriage, is about working out that change, day by day rather than continually seeking another change.
If our Christology is too small we will keep running after the latest fad, and will give way to the kind of spiritual passivity that keeps us from active discipleship. A large Christology daily rejoices in what Christ has done, and the certainties that means for us. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Christians are changed people who are being changed into the likeness of Christ. Think about the implications of that next time you are headed to church!