This morning I read the thirteenth chapter in Beautiful Outlaw. Up until this chapter, the book is filled with glory — so many wonderful truths to be absorbed. But then there is the Loving Jesus chapter and a little of the author’s frustrations with his more structured brothers slips in making it necessary for the reader to sift through the tainted insights to find the truth. His perspective isn’t new. It is typical Evangelicalisms: over emphasis on Jesus (leaving God and the Holy Spirit shadowed by basic humanity), and an implied fed-up-ness with liturgies. It would be easy to dismiss this chapter. Eldredge has, after all, thrown the baby out with the proverbial bath water.
Not all Christians who prepare their prayers, who memorize catechisms, who address God formally do so because we are trying to keep ourselves distanced from Jesus. He accuses churches like mine of making “cunning ploys …. to keep us from the kind of intimacy with Jesus that will heal our lives. And change the world.” (page 148)
But here is the thing: it is always easier to see the other guys sin — so he sees the potential pitfalls of my Reformed Presbyterian, TULIP loving church because he isn’t in it, just as we reformed folks can see his evangelical sand traps. Jesus is not our “homeboy”, reverence is not pretension. Hey, buddy, Abba doesn’t mean Papa! But when we adopt that hardy har har attitude we are failing to love our neighbor and in doing so, we are not loving the God who created our neighbor.
So yes, I’m sure some of us reformed folks come before God and mindlessly sound off our confession without meaning it — and that is our sin and we need to be careful not to do that. At the same time, we must not count ourselves as better than our brothers and sister’s who haven’t structured their church liturgy and who sing praise songs instead of Goudimel.
This is not to say all critique is off-limits, but we should be careful to remove that pesky log before attempting a needle extraction from other Christians.
Near the end of the chapter, Eldredge does say something that cuts right to the heart of a very Calvinistic temptation,
“…doing things for God is not the same thing as loving God. Jesus loves the poor — so, movements have arisen that make service to the poor the main thing. Even though Jesus never said that being poor was more noble or even spiritual. The latest craze is justice — so we rush off to the corners of the globe to fight for justice ….. and often leave Jesus behind. We actually come to think that service for Jesus is friendship with him. That’s like a friend who washes your car and cleans your house but never goes anywhere with you — never comes to dinner, never wants to take a walk. But they’re a “faithful” friend. Though you never talk. How many children have said, “My dad worked hard to provide for us — but all I ever really wanted was his love”?
Which just goes to prove my point, nobody can see your shortcomings like someone else can. So read the book (win the book!), it is really good — and don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.