Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Grace and Truth

We talk about "liberal" and "conservative" Christianity, and we often do so in political terms - as we should because these are political words. But these political words have no place in our churches because what we have is not fundamentally a political difference, but a theological one.

See, what we often say is a "liberal" Christianity is actually just one that swims in pools of grace with buoys of truth anchored throughout the waters. What we see as a "conservative" Christianity is one that stands on truth and pours out grace like a waterspout piped into the ground. It's not that they believe different things; it's that they have a different starting point. A different emphasis. A different approach. 

And that's okay. We need both.

We need people who stand on truth to help us remember that there is such a thing at all. In a world where the dominant narrative seems to be that truth is subjective, that what works for one person may not work for everyone, and that we can't place a judgment on what anyone else believes, we need people who stand up and remind us what God's Word says. Because God's Word does say some pretty specific things about how we are supposed to live as a people, both in community with each other and in community before Him. There is right and wrong. There is heaven and hell. And amidst all the grace that we may be tempted, rightfully so, to pour out, there is truth. We need the people who remind us of this.

We also need people who swim in pools of grace. In a world where we are so tempted to make everything black and white, where it's easy to make snap judgments, where it's almost natural to assume that whatever we know or think or hope must be right, we need people who live in a place that requires them to come up for air sometimes. We need people who understand that black and white is nice, but most things are lived in shades of grey. This is where we do the messy work of loving well. And as much as there is truth that is right and wrong, there are human stories intertwined with it, and these are not so cut and dried. These are not so simple. These are real hearts with real wounds, real lives with real stories, and we have to be good at meeting others where they are. The buoys of truth that are anchored in grace give us a place to rest, but people in this theology spend most of their time swimming.

Take any issue, even the most politicized one, that seems to divide us into these icky political theologies of conservative and liberal Christians, and you'll find that at their core, they are really just issues of grace and truth.

Gay marriage is too easy. Let's take transgender rights, or the issue of transgender human beings in general. The truth side of this argument says that "God created them male and female." There's no room for "other." There's no room for "sort of." And God does not make mistakes. Okay. That's one side of the theological coin. On the other hand, the grace camp says, "But what if you feel like a mistake anyway?" Even if God doesn't make mistakes, does He love them? That's the other side of the coin. And we need both.

Because grace and truth do very different things.

Truth, by its very nature, can only affirm or condemn. That's it. Things are right or wrong. Good or bad. True or false. Yes or no. Truth necessarily must be this way. Grace, by its nature, embraces or rejects. It's a quality judgment. It can make no judgment about truth; truth is what it is. Grace can only judge the other things that happen around the black and white; that's why it's always practiced in shades of grey.

Back to our transgender example. There is much in the truth camp that can affirm a transgender individual - God created him/her. God doesn't make mistakes. This is fantastic news to someone who probably feels like a mistake sometimes - maybe I'm not a mistake after all. Maybe God has something intentional for me in being who I am. And here is much in the grace camp that embraces the transgender individual - God does love you. There is hope. Your very real story is woven into His very real story, and you're going to do great things.

You can't imagine one of these without the other. You can't believe either of these without both. You can't believe that God loves you if you believe you are somehow a mistake. And you can't believe you're not a mistake if you don't know how much God loves you. Grace and truth always work together. Or at least, they should.

Which is why we can't let political terminology get in the way. It's why we can't let words like "liberal" and "conservative" continue to try to qualify our love. Both are love.

Both. are. love. 

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