When Are We Going to Stop Trying to Nail Jesus Down?

I am making my way through The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives.   It’s part of a larger project of engaging a fuller body of literature which I am calling, “A Year with Dallas Willard.”

Early on, it feels to me that Willard wants to focus on the ways that we’ve domesticated Christianity and God—reducing them to more manageable concepts, stripping them of their mystery and their dynamic natures.

Of course, these are my words, my conclusion.  But, just look at the “reductions” he piles up:

      • Too many make faith a segment of life and living (related to Church activities) – as opposed to being a matter of our entire being and presence in the world.

      • Too many segregate spirituality from physicality – to the end that spirit and body are unrelated, if not at odds with each other.

      • Too many reduce redemption or salvation to just forgiveness.  A precious gift, to be sure.  But, certainly not the journey to richer, fuller healing and restoration-transformation–in and with the risen Christ–which early Christianity celebrated and extolled. Here, Willard will point out that the cross did not really show up as a significant image in Christian art until the 5th Century.  Up to that point, the empty tomb (and the new order it signified) was the focal/foundational image of the Faith.  (Putting it all together, we might borrow from Wesley here: that too many have turned our walk with God in Christ into justification [an in initial “I do” to God… and forgiveness]—with little regard or consideration for Grace’s role and place in sanctification [i.e., our ultimate transformation].)

I have my suspicions about how and why this happens.  At the root of it all, we are creatures in need of a sense of control and certainty and security.  Paradox, the inverse of this reductionism, is hard and messy and confusing.

I remember John Ortberg discussing how difficult change is—and especially in and for the Church.  When all the rest of the world is rocking and swaying, he suggests, the church is the one place we hope and expect to return to each week that is the same.  I think we want and hope the same for our Faith.   “A Mighty Fortress is Our Faith.”

Truth, though, as I see it, is that…

      • Christianity is a living, breathing dynamic that transcends static doctrine and positions and reductions,


      • while the cross is a good beginning in that Faith (and understanding it), it is just that (a beginning)…


      • life in Jesus is so much more than forgiveness (i.e., his “taking out the trash”) but it is His ushering us into a fullness and wholeness that goes so far beyond what we might “ask or think or imagine”


      • faith is a matter of all of our lives—body, mind and spirit… here on earth as in heaven

2,000 years ago, in an effort to control life and preserve some sense of stability, enemies of Jesus nailed Him down and put Him in a box.

The question, for me, is when are we going to stop doing that same thing?  When are we going to trust and believe that He’s been loosed to range the Universe—a maverick who refuses to be domesticated to our lesser sentiments?  And though it defies all our simplistic reductions and leaves more questions than answers, when are we going to decide to join Him—really join Him—in that wild but glorious ride?

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