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legalism vs. witness: moral claims in christian discipleship

It can be difficult to navigate the tension between the danger of legalism and raising the expectation of Christian discipleship to a high level.

There is no place for legalism in Christian discipleship. All of our kingdom-oriented action is enacted out of faithfulness and gratefulness on the basis of what has already been achieved in Christ. But of course none of this means there are no imperatives in Christian discipleship.

I know that personally I have been accused of pedalling legalism. As regular readers would be aware, I am passionate about and active in areas of social justice. At times I have offered prescriptions as to what I believe are just actions as we attempt to live in faithfulness to the gospel in the world. These prescriptions occasionally lead to accusations of legalism.

In saying this, I would wager that the same accusers often prescribe different standards of, say, sexual fidelity. Not that I am against fidelity (in fact I think it is quite revolutionary in our consumer culture!), but it does beg the question as to whether some would view such fidelity as a form of legalism.

Whose legalism? becomes a relevant question.

The Denial of St Peter by Gerard van Honthorst (c. 1623)

What, then, is legalism? Read the rest of this entry

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art and envisioning a new world

In the last few weeks I’ve been studying early Jewish apocalypticism. Perhaps the best known apocalypse is an early Christian text, the Book of Revelation, with a close second being a Jewish apocalypse, the Book of Daniel.

One of the things I have been convinced of is, in simple terms, the intention of apocalyptic authors to shift the symbolic universe of their readers. In short this means changing the lens through which readers view things, helping them imagine a better world. In terms of the early Jewish apocalyptic texts this looked like composing a transcendent narrative that inspired hope and resistance in the face of oppressive foreign empires.

This has got me thinking (again) about the place of other forms of art in encouraging resistance to evil and inspiring social change.

In order to remain committed to change in the world people need constant inspiration – without it their ability to envision a better world diminishes. Art has a transcendent, even mysterious, potential to energise us by critiquing the current reality, or imagining a new one.

Father John Dear (whose book Put Down Your Sword I have been reading devotionally for some time) says this: Read the rest of this entry

confessions of a failing radical: challenges of walking the way

This post was inspired by an amicable challenge set forth by my friend Simon Moyle, a peace activist and worthy Twitter followee, in the comments section of a recent post of mine.

But even prior to this challenge I have struggled with listening to Christian activists speak about their journeys and their perspectives. This is not because they are wrong, or uninspiring, or bad people. On the contrary the vast majority are beautiful, compelling, godly people.

But at a few points this year I have found myself secretly wanting them to share a specific kind of message. They will often speak about their theology, their most impressive stories of activism, living radically and following Jesus, or their well-articulated views on particular issues of the day…

…These things are important and valuable!…

… but I am often left feeling that these people are superhuman, and as a result I feel like I could never do what they do.

The truth is that what I really want to hear from these people is a message about failure, and losing hope. I want to hear a message entitled “The things that have gone wrong”, or “The things I have messed up”, or even “When I don’t feel like giving a shit anymore.” Read the rest of this entry

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