Thursday, February 9, 2012

How Spiritual Growth Really Occurs?

"I have come to see how I am not the protagonist of God's story. In fact, I am not even a main character. This does not diminish my importance or value in God's eyes. It is simply a confession of the fact that God acts and initiates, and our part is simply a response to his initiation. But so often, we focus way too much upon our initiation and too little on what God does."

This is a paragraph from a book manuscript that I'm writing. Anyway, a friend has read an early draft of the book and found this paragraph to be helpful. I am been meditating on it over the last few days to see if it is really saying what I want it to say. Here I want to experiment with a few expanded thoughts.

Scot McKnight's book, The King Jesus Gospel, helps us to see that in order to understand what the Bible means by the word "gospel" that we need to think in four big ideas:
  • The Story of Israel/the Bible
  • The Story of Jesus
  • The Plan of Salvation
  • The Method of Persuasion
Usually we define of the "gospel" through the lens of "the plan of salvation" idea. But he states that when we do this we fail to understand what salvation is all about. He writes, "The Plan of Salvation flows out of the Story of Israel/Bible and the Story of Jesus. The Bible's Story from Israel and Jesus is the saving Story" (37).

If we make the "gospel" primarily about the plan of salvation—something which has largely shaped the imagination of the American church and especially American evangelicalism—then it's almost impossible not to read the Bible through the lens of my "personal"—and therefore individualistic—salvation experience. As a result, "I" then put myself at the center of the Bible. Every Bible passage becomes about "me." Then we come to the Bible with questions like these:
  • What does this passage say about God's plan for my life?
  • What do I need to change about my life?
  • What blessings will come my way if I obey this passage?
  • What is God saying to me through this passage?
As I write this, I realize just how much I've been taught and have taught others to read the Bible with such questions in mind. But this is unavoidable if we myopically read the Bible through the tiny lens of "God's plan of salvation for me." Then American consumerism—driven by free-market economic theory—shapes our imagination to make purchasing decisions purely on my self-interests. We turn God, the Bible, and his salvation into a way that I can have the "best life now." Doesn't this Bible call this selfishness? Doesn't the Bible say something about "taking up our cross and dying"? I'm sorry but teaching like that does not fit Adam Smith's idea of free-market economics. (I knew my undergraduate degree in economics would come in handy at some point in my life.)

I've been wrestling with a recipe for spiritual growth: Nine parts mystery and one part effort on my part. The more I walk with God, the more I see this to be true. It's not about me. Now if I don't offer my one part of effort and develop spiritual disciplines, I miss out on most of the nine parts of mystery. (In other words, this is no excuse for laziness.) But my one part of effort is not about trying to focus my attention more and more on what I need to be doing and how I need to apply some nugget of truth. My one part is to put my effort into allowing my imagination to be shaped by God's grand and mysterious story.

Let me say it again: My one part is NOT to focus on my actions and develop some pragmatic self-help steps for becoming a better Christian. My one part is to focus my heart, soul, mind and strength on the mysterious story of God's salvation of the world. And as I allow this story to shape me, my actions change. I relinquish control and my need to make myself a better Christian. My love grows organically. I become the kind of person that I was created to be.

This is God's story. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the main actor. I've got a bit role, but when when I really see what the Father, Son and Spirit are doing in the world, my role takes on huge significance. My life matters. I become a change agent for Kingdom life, not because I'm following someone's plan to change the world for God, but because I am truly different.

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