Will you repent?


This morning, Steven Davison posted a blog posting entitled “The New Lamb’s War – the Language and Worldview of Quaker Prophetic Witness” (http://throughtheflamingsword.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/the-new-lambs-war-the-language-and-worldview-of-quaker-prophetic-witness/#comment-1862). I think that Steve is my uncontestedly favorite blogger, now that Paul Hamell (http://entirelydifferent.net/) has left this world for the next, and some others, like “Brooklyn Quaker” Rich Accetta-Evans, have fallen silent in the blogosphere.  I revere Steve’s loving heart, brilliant mind, and wealth of knowledge; but we differ theologically. He’s put an immense amount of work into articulating a theology for Liberal Quakerism that stops short of declaring itself to be Christian Quakerism.  (See his http://throughtheflamingsword.wordpress.com/category/liberal-quakerism-an-exploration/.)  I, on the other hand, understand myself to be the property of Jesus Christ, a fact that makes moot the question of whether I’m a Christian or not.  I may be a valuable piece of property, a worthless piece of property, or something in between, but I’m bought with a price and live, no longer to myself but in Christ, under an everlasting covenant.

So Steve’s posting this morning pushed my “ignite me” button, and the first thing I did was post a response, which I reproduce here (with a few subsequent edits):

I eagerly await your presentation of the Lamb’s War, Steve. I’d like to think that while the Liberal Friends’ lambs are making their cavalry charge against the Man of Sin (whom James Nayler named as the enemy in this war; we’ll return to the question of who and what he is, but the impatient may want to look ahead to 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, noting that the Greek anthrōpos tēs anomias could also be translated “Person of Lawlessness”), Conservative and Evangelical Friends’ lambs will be sending their infantry divisions in on the right and left flanks, trapping the Man of Sin in a valley of no escape and forcing his unconditional surrender to an engulfing sea of bleating lambs. What better cause to bring these natural allies together for! We’ll also be doing the Man of Sin a favor, too. It’s no fun parading around pretending to be God when you’re “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

What a sad reflection on the condition of Liberal Friends, though! “Today, Liberal Friends do not generally share this worldview [of early Friends]. Our God—when we have one—is not primarily and essentially a lawgiver and judge. We are not comfortable with the idea of divine judgment, especially in its classic biblical presentation as destruction and suffering.” Your God, when you have one? — You mean you’re not a people of God any more? Some of you are sheep with a shepherd and some of you have no shepherd? How will you fight a Lamb’s War without your General?

I’d argue that the Christian God was never “primarily and essentially a lawgiver and judge,” anyway, but a Lover and a Forgiver, a Savior and a Cherisher, who always wished all His darlings, or Her darlings, to be saved, awakened from their terrible dream of fallenness, and reunited with their Divine Source in an eternity of perfect bliss. (For “darlings” read “all souls,” or “all sentient beings.”) This is the God whom Jesus likened to the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15) and then modeled by forgiving His own murderers from the cross (Luke 23:34), having made plain to his followers (John 14:9) that whoever sees and knows Him, Jesus, also knows the character of God. This is also the character of God that was revealed to Paul, who, in a marvelous tour de force of rhetorical irony (Romans 1:20-2:4), ends his thundering denunciation of us sinners and our “abominable” sins with “but it’s God’s kindness and forbearance and patience that leads us to repentance.” Not God’s wrath or God’s scariness, but God’s kindness, yes, God’s heart-melting tenderness.

You note that Liberal Friends “are not comfortable with the idea of divine judgment, especially in its classic biblical presentation as destruction and suffering.” All the worse! Because then that means that the destruction and suffering we experience daily are meaningless! If you explain our sufferings as the workings of karma (a concept that pervades Christian scripture, as in “as ye sow, so shall ye reap,” though the term itself is a Hindu-Buddhist import) but divorce the law of karma from a lawgiving God who ordained it, you’re saying that God had nothing to do with it. What is God, anyway, just an observer? How can an observer be a Savior? (God does come across as an indifferent observer in the Yoga Sutras, though a righteous avenger in the Bhagavad-Gita, and a nonentity in the Buddhist literature, so Liberal Friends who look to the East for their theology can make God be whatever they want God to be.)

There is an explanation of the suffering we experience that is consistent with the Christian teaching that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 4:16), and that is that we chose to experience a world of suffering and death when we chose to have a will that diverged from God’s. This happens to be the central thesis of A Course in Miracles, for those Liberal Friends that follow that text, but it can also be found in John 3:19-20 and, in mythic form, in Genesis 3.

But with repentance, rightly understood, all that changes: suffering, death, the hapless victimhood of innocent creatures about to be cooked to death by the heedless, godless captains of a runaway industrial civilization. Once we’ve undergone the thorough change of consciousness that constitutes repentance, rightly understood (for the Greek metanoia means something far deeper than mere shame or regret over past deeds), it becomes an experienced fact that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Repentance is the almost-inevitable consequence of discovering that the Man of Sin, the Person of Lawlessness, is me, for from that discovery there is no other meaningful escape. (There’s suicide, of course; but is that meaningful?)  The question before Liberal Friends is, Will you repent? And the test of whether Liberal Friends’ theology is viable or not is, Does it invite repentance?


Tags: , , ,

9 Responses to “Will you repent?”

  1. Jim Schultz Says:

    John if what you are saying is what Pogo said years ago (We have met the enemy and he is us) I agree. I think it’s our own personal failure to live the life we are called to live 24/7 that allows the ills of the world to continue unabated. Consumerism appears to be the one world religion of Revelations and the title of your blog is a challenge to all of us who claim to honor the Quaker testimonies.

  2. Thy Friend John Says:

    Thank you, Brother Jim. Yes, I’m trying to re-say what Pogo said so many years ago, more clearly than I did here.

    Re-reading what I wrote, I can see that I was also trying to weep and scream out loud that Steve Davison’s attempt to mount a Lamb’s War without a clear shared understanding of who the Lamb is, and that we are His, and that we are nothing without Him, is doomed to failure; we won’t even have clarity about what our enemy is, nor what the Lamb’s weapons and strategy are to be. We’ll be an umbrella group, not a Lamb’s army, and we’ll be armed with the hot air of creaturely notions, not the fire of the Holy Spirit. And all this because we’re not agreed that we have to die to self before we can be the new creature in Christ.

    Some of us will be going into battle as the Lord’s lambs, and some as outraged American citizens wanting a more just secular society with a more wholesome relation to the earth’s resources. For the lambs, faithfulness is everything. For the outraged American citizens, concrete evidence of success is everything.

    This, of course, is to distinguish ideal types. Most of us, I’d guess, are a mixture of the two.

    Maybe I’m not weeping and screaming clearly enough. Maybe words and blogging aren’t my thing now, and I need to return to silence and pray that the Lord lift up someone else with a louder voice and simpler words than mine, or show me where I really belong now in the minister-elder-overseer-janitor spectrum.

    I see liberal Friends, as a whole, as sheep without a shepherd, but the fault may be in my eyeglasses’ making things look darker than they are, and the Day of the Lord as closer than it is.

  3. Steven Davison Says:

    John, you have touched on the dominant theme of my blog now for some time: that a Liberal Quakerism that is cut off from its Christian roots and identity, that has no clear, collective sense of who has called us into being as a gathered people of God, let alone sent us out as witnesses to the truth, that denies the Holy Spirit that gathered us originally (Jesus Christ) and sends us back into the world even now, is doomed to failure . . . and that this describes me, at least in terms of formative experience.

    I have not been bought, as you have, by Christ. The covenantal relationships that have shaped my spiritual life formed outside the Christian and Quaker traditions. They are an odd fit now that I’m here.

    But I do agree that our salvation lies in Christ. That is (for me), in the Spirit that gathered us and that continues to try to guide us. So I have my own weeping and screaming question: where is he?

    He has been awfully silent. Global warming heats up the planet of which he is, according to scripture, the creative Word. We are recrucifying him with ever species that we drive into extinction. And yet his people are more likely to be the problem than the solution. The Quakers he gathered are dragging their feet. We are a bleating herd sucking at the teat of carcinomic capitalism, just like everybody else.

  4. Kathleen K-G Says:

    I just left a reply on Steven’s blog post and now I come back here and see Steven’s comment. And now I am more confused than before.

    I haven’t followed your blog, so let me start by saying that I read that one post in a vacuum. Now that I read this comment, I think that your (Steven’s) blog post is more descriptive than supportive — i.e., that you’re saying, “This is the current state of liberal Quakers,” not, “This is the beautiful thing about liberal Quakers.”

    Am I getting closer to understanding your point of view? Because I am all in favor of speaking up and letting other liberal Friends know that the majority of what they’re professing falls squarely within the gospel’s commands. I think what’s most confusing to me was your description of liberal Friends being closer to Buddhists and Hindus. And the implication that early Friends were concerned about the nature of the soul — I’m not a great historian but my understanding was that early Friends were more concerned about living a life in alignment with God’s will than with the nature of the soul or other things that we’ll never be able to answer definitively here on earth.

    By the way, I think there are many terms that would be helpful to “rescue” from the political right, such a prayer, Christian, humility and submission. Many of us experienced those types of words being used as weapons against us but when we can let go of the hurt, we can stop being reactionist and start using those powerful words with honesty.

  5. Thy Friend John Says:

    Since Kathleen K-G’s comment seems addressed to you, Steven, I’ll leave it for you to answer her and not confuse things further, other than to say, Thank you, Kathleen; I think I’m quite in agreement with you. My prayer for the political right is that right-wing Christians will re-read 2 Timothy 2:24 and take it as a call to stop voting (which I consider a carnal weapon, being adversarial and non-loving toward the opponent), leaving the purely political and economic right-wingers with not enough religious dupes to swing elections for them.

    And now to answer you, Steven: I’d like to comfort you for any sting you may be feeling from Rhonda’s words. If you were the son of the devil you wouldn’t be able to hear the words of Christ or _want_ to hear them, and the lusts of your father ye would do, John 8:44. If you were wanting to do the lusts of the devil you wouldn’t be trying to reignite the Lamb’s War, and you certainly wouldn’t be agreeing that our salvation lies in Christ. And you wouldn’t be weeping and screaming, “where is He?”

  6. Jim Schultz Says:

    Matthew 13:24 to 30 might answer why God stands by while we destroy His creation.

  7. Marshall Massey Says:

    John, you make some excellent and welcome points here. I could not agree more with your observations about the presence and meaning of the law of karma in the Christian tradition.

    The Lamb’s War seems to be a badly misunderstood concept in modern Quakerism. I believe you do well to try to disentangle it from the secular-liberal (“progressive”) agenda, and from other forms of self-salvation. I would add, though, that it equally needs to be disentangled from religion-peddling and theology-peddling. I doubt that Christ gave his life to establish a world full of theological wranglers and people who say “Jesus, Jesus” on streetcorners. So long as we seek the Lamb’s guidance at every turn — with a heart that genuinely hungers to be led by him! — practice love and mercy and prophetic honesty in every way he exemplifies and teaches, labor under his gentle direction for the care and restoration of gospel order, and walk humbly and adoringly with our God, I sense he will approve,

  8. Thy Friend John Says:

    Thank you for this, Marshall. I have to admit that every blog posting I do feels to me like a partial failure, a failure to say everything that my heart is telling me, to express the whole truth that I think the Lord is making me aware of. Fortunately I feel encouraged to keep trying, thinking “next time I might do better,” and hoping that someone like you will say “don’t forget this other side of the picture, too.” As you have just done!

    Your words are very precious to me, Marshall, and very timely: it’s the first day of Ramadan, in the Western Hemisphere at least, and I’m writing to a Muslim friend about what I find my life in retirement to be all about: gratitude to God for a life that asks much of me, but doesn’t ask too much of me; horror at the madness of the world all around me; and prayer. And I may wind up writing the entire report without doing any theological wrangling, or shouting “Jesus, Jesus,” though I’m sure my friend Wiqar knows that Christ Jesus is as precious to me as the prophet Muhammad is to him, on both of whom be peace. Writing to Wiqar will hopefully help me write a long-overdue letter to my beloved friend Yidi, an Orthodox Jew. Having such friends reminds me that what we have in common, besides our differing theologies, is monotheism and our love for the One God who loves all repentant sinners with such infinite tenderness.

  9. keijo leppioja Says:

    Yes every the day we will do our best to follow Christ in blessing and in joy and if we falll into sin we will repent and no more do sin and be holy as our God is holy and very knowing about us althings right now,thanks and bless,in Jesus name,keijo sweden

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: