“Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven”

Whether seen on bumper stickers, heard during altar calls, developed from a narrow interpretation of Lutheran or fundamentalist theology, or perpetuated in fluffy paperbacks, the reduction of the gospel to cheap forgiveness is ever with us. This idea often comes from those who have taken Jesus’ parable (in John’s gospel) about being born again and made a theology out of it, usually ignoring much of what Jesus himself said about what beginning and living life as one of his followers meant.

—Mark Lau Branson in

Radix (Summer 1986)

Unnatural choices

The contemporary church needs desperately to bring together a concern for liturgy and a concern for justice, instead of endlessly forcing us to choose between them—or worse, forcing us to choose against both.

—Nicholas Wolterstorff in The Reformed Journal (Dec. 1986)

God with us

We cannot avoid the dangers and the reefs of which this life is full, without the real and constant help of God. Let us ask him for it without ceasing. But how can we ask him without being with him? And how can we be with him without often thinking of him? And how can we often think of him without forming a holy habit of doing so?

—Brother Lawrence in

The Practice of the Presence of God

No surprises

Remember Holiday Inn’s ad a few years back? “The best surprise is no surprise at all.” It was their promise that if you visit some new place, they’ll make it seem like some place you’ve been before. It always raised in my mind the question, “Is life to be lived as an adventure, or do we want to live in a more familiar, domesticated landscape?”

—Andrew Schmookler on

National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” (Feb. 19, 1986), quoted in Books & Religion (Nov. 1986)

A long pregnancy

Coming to the Lord is a shedding off process. Sometimes being “born again” takes a long pregnancy.

—George Taylor, interviewed in jubilee (Feb. 1987)

Wasted talents

You can have certain creaturely talents which are amazing, often. But if they are misdirected, not in praise to the Lord but in praise to oneself, or in praise of reason, or in praise of the almighty dollar, then the sin has ruined the good creaturely gift God has given us.

—Calvin Seerveld quoted in Focus (Fall 1986)

Heavenly Chevy?

If you [Americans] came face to face with God, you’d ask Him for a Chevrolet.

—Guru Bhagwan Shree

Rajneesh, quoted by Frances

FitzGerald in The New Yorker

Capturing the worst criminal

No man’s really any good till he knows how bad he is, or might be; till he’s realized exactly how much right he has to all this snobbery, and sneering, and talking about “criminals” as if they were apes in a forest ten thousand miles away; till he’s got rid of all the dirty self-deception of talking about low types and deficient skulls; till he’s squeezed out of his soul the last drop of the oil of the Pharisees; till his only hope is somehow or other to have captured one criminal, and kept him safe and sane under his own hat.

G. K. Chesterton in

The Secret of Father Brown

Forgiveness for whom?

No one is perfect. We readily admit that. However, we often seek to regain an expectation of perfection (through the back door) by extolling the false virtue of consistency. We happily excuse our own shortcomings with the assurance that our salvation is by grace, which means we do not need to be “perfect” to be pleasing to God. However, we turn around and demand that the actions of those around us be unfailing. The forgiveness we so readily claim for ourselves does not seem to fit their situations. We decry failure on the part of a fellow believer to control or overcome some particular sin, and assume that he is not really serious about his commitment to the Lord—“How can he be a Christian and still be doing that?

—James Sennett in

The Wittenburg Door (Dec. 1984/Jan. 1985)

Hopelessness breeds blessing

Our Lord begins where we would never begin, at the point of human destitution. The greatest blessing a man ever gets from God is the realization that if he is going to enter into His Kingdom it must be through the door of destitution. Naturally we do not want to begin there, that is why the appeal of Jesus is of no use until we come face to face with realities; then the only One worth listening to is the Lord.

—Oswald Chambers in

He Shall Glorify Me

Grave talk: No glib comments

When people started fearing death in earnest, they stopped talking about it.…

Philippe Aries in The Hour of Our Death

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