Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mark Galli - In the Beginning, Grace

Mark Galli is one of those authors I love to read. He's honest, humble and possesses penetrating insight. For those who aren't familiar with him Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today and the author of one of my favorite books, Jesus Mean and Wild. He also writes a biweekly online column called SoulWork.

He recently wrote an article called In the Beginning, Grace. He says that many have identified various problems within the evangelical movement. Having identified the problem people have offered up a plethora of solutions supposedly tailored made to resolve each problem. Galli says we have a kaleidoscope of answers.

"Some of these movements focus on the lack of personal morality, and so champion accountability groups or the spiritual disciplines as the key to renewal. Others attack our individualism and strive to create a church life that is more meaningful, everything from "house church" to "simple church" to "deep church" to "missional church" to "ancient-future church." Some are most concerned about the lack of spiritual fervor, and put their hope in the Holy Spirit as experienced in charismatic gifts. Some believe we're not thinking right, and they experiment with new ways of framing the faith, from postmodern theology to new perspective to neo-Calvinism to theology of the kingdom. Some say evangelicals are captive to white culture, and so advocate multiculturalism. Some say we just need to get back to the basics and start following Jesus."

The problem, Galli argues, is that "we frame the problem horizontally" and we tend "to undermine the vertical." He fleshes out this distinction between horizontal and vertical by looking at three popular solutions: 1) the re-emergence of spiritual formation, 2) renewal of social concern, and 3) increased awareness of the variety of races and ethnicities. Even in their better moments when one of these solutions is framed in the vertical it tends to come second to our call to action. So for spiritual formation, for example, he says, "If we continually put the horizontal first, spiritual formation will, as it has in other ages, morph into an oppressive human religion." As for the renewed interest in social concern he rightly observes "it has been the rare social justice appeal that grounds itself in the gospel of grace, in the Cross and Resurrection, in the miraculous gift of forgiveness, and in the immense gratitude that naturally flows from that gift." Finally, as for the appeal for greater ethnic variety he notes "as if the flourishing of church depends on our ability to make it more diverse. . . Missing here and in many such worthy efforts is an emphasis on God's power, not human example." (emphasis mine) I emphasize Galli's words in the last quote because I don't want any one to think he doesn't recognize the value of much of what he sees. The problem is they quickly become a solution in and of themselves apart from any need of God's power or grace. We are right back to the tower of Babel. He says,

"But when we presume on the grace of God; when we act as if it is a given and not a daily miracle; when we quickly and thoughtlessly say that 'everything depends on grace' and rush on to the real business at hand (what we have to do, and how we have to get other people to do, say, or experience something); when we assume that the problem is merely a matter of the will—we can be sure we are making a name for ourselves and no longer living and doing in the name of our Lord." (emphasis his)

So what are we supposed to do? The question is a natural one but indicative of our problem. We're right back to thinking of what we should do. Galli promises provide answers in later articles and I can't wait to read them. He concludes, "Sometimes, just when we're excited about doing God's work, we are called on to first wait, in particular for the judgment and grace of God to become manifest among us again (Acts 1 and 2). So, I'll "wait" for Galli's future articles to help guide us in what it looks like to live more vertically.

1 comment:

Scripture Zealot said...

Jesus Mean and Wild? I thought He is/was warm, friendly and nice.

A little off your topic, but I wasn't sure about this book because of the author. Since you recommend it, I'm putting it on my list. I love books about Jesus and I also don't like how Jesus is popularly portrayed so this should be right up my alley. Thanks.