By Chaplain Mike
Go Galli, go!
Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today, is one of my favorite authors, and one of the most realistic and theologically grounded commenters writing about the church and Christian life today.
Back in 2008, Michael Spencer reviewed his book on worship, Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy, which is as fine an introduction to liturgical worship for evangelicals as anything Robert Webber wrote. He has written other books, which I can’t wait to get my hands on, and Galli continues to write thoughtful and challenging essays online for CT, including his biweekly Soulwork columns.
You would not go wrong with a steady diet of his writings.
I urge you to click on the link above for the Soulwork pieces immediately, bookmark it, and read at least one column every day.
One of the great contributions he has made to my life has been to help me rethink the pervasive evangelical mantra and concept of “transformation.” It seems like every church and teacher out there today is calling people to come experience services that offer “life-transforming” worship, Bible studies and discipleship programs that will “transform” our Christian lives, new corporate strategies and leadership insights that will “transform” our churches, visionary missional approaches that will “transform” our communities, even our world.
This is a classic case of over-sell. Our unbridled optimism about the potential for dramatic life-change and “impact” (another evangelical mantra) owes more to the myth of progress that we’ve eagerly embraced since the days of the Industrial Revolution than it does to how the Gospel actually works in lives, the church, and the world.
I’ll let Mark Galli take it from here. He says it so much better.
Galli’s first quote is from an interview he did over at the always interesting Mockingbird blog:
The other thing is the whole business of “transformation.” I notice how often that word comes up — our lives can be transformed, our churches can be transformed, our culture can be transformed. We imagine if we do everything right according to what the New Testament teaches us, that things will be completely changed. And if they arenâ€™t completely changed, I’ve either bet my life on something that’s not true, or the Gospel itself is not true.
I just keep on coming back to Luther’s truth that we are simultaneously justified and sinners. I keep on looking at my own life, and at church history, and I realize that when the Gospel talks about transformation, it can’t possibly mean an actual, literal change in this life of a dramatic nature, except in a few instances. It must be primarily eschatological; it must be referring to the fact that we will in fact be changed. The essential thing to make change possible has occurred — Christ died and rose again. (And in this life we will see flashes of that, just like in Jesus’ ministry there were moments when the Kingdom broke in and we see a miracle. And these moments tell us there is something better awaiting for us and God is gracious enough at times to allow a person or a church or a community to experience transformation at some level.) But we can’t get into the habit of thinking that this dramatic change is normal, this side of the Kingdom. What’s normal this side of the Kingdom is falling into sin (in big or small ways), and then appropriating the grace of God and looking forward to the transformation to come. (emphasis mine)
Then, there is this, from his Soulwork article, “The Scandal of the Public Evangelical”:
…after conversion, our holiness heritage kicks in. We preach, teach, and live “discipleship,” “obedience,” and “following” Jesus. We’re deathly afraid of cheap grace. We assume that with sufficient exhortation and moral effort, our sins will become smaller than a widow’s mite and our righteousness larger than life.
This is coupled with the long-standing evangelical myth that there should be something different about the Christian. A look. An attitude. A lifestyle. Something noticeable, something that causes the unbeliever to pause and wonder, “What does that person have?” Because it is such an integral part of our evangelistic method, we spend enormous amounts of psychic energy trying exude that.
But we find, more days than not, that there’s not much to that something. We drop our coffee and blurt out a four-letter word, or we drink too much at the office party, or we fail to enquire about the welfare of a neighbor who just discovered she has cancer. Most days, we seem to be no different from the rest of humanity.
And these final words from the same article:
…moral exhortations are no doubt needed, but we must never believe that “then and only then” will we Christians have something “to offer the world.” What we offer the world is not ourselves or our moral example or our spiritual integrity. What we offer the world is our broken lives, saying, “We are sinners saved by grace.” What we offer the world is Jesus Christ and him crucified.
When it comes to thinking about “transformation,” I am with Mark Galli all the way. If you go back and read what I consider to be Michael Spencer’s finest post ever on Internet Monk, “When I Am Weak,” you will see that he agreed too. In this area of theology and spirituality, we all swim together in the stream that Martin Luther opened afresh when he helped restore the Gospel to its primary place in the church, for sinners and for sinner-saints.
The evangelicalism we critique hypes itself as the only context for genuine transformation for people and the world, but far too often, it abandons life for technique. It is pervasively self-oriented, relentlessly focused on moralism and addicted to activism, and worst of all, insufficiently rooted and grounded in the Gospel. We don’t enter the door through the Gospel and then move on, pushing on down the road of progressive sanctification. We live in the Gospel, people who remain remarkably and consistently flawed, finding forgiveness and new life daily only by looking away from ourselves to our crucified and risen Savior.
It is not the job of any Christian to pursue transformation. We pursue Christ. Overcoming sin, experiencing life change and growing in Christian virtue — indeed, any and all blessings we enjoy in the Christian life — are by-products of knowing and walking with him in his works not ours.
138 thoughts on “The Evangelical Myth of “Transformation””
I’m inclined to agree here with Seth.
Many writers try to offer the reader meditations to help them better picture God and journey with / walk with God, realizing that their own offerings are in no way on a par with Scripture, and may contain errors – exaggerations, too much focus on one aspect of things to the exclusion of others, out and out incorrect things.
Other writers – let us call them “fundamentalists” – discover their own principles which are so absolutely fundamental to ethical action and one’s relationship with God, that they are placed on a par with – or above – what we have from Scripture.
These writers may do so, culling insights from other writers – and present such principles not as their own, but as – e.g., Meister Eckhart’s.
Some writers’ works are more susceptible to manipulation or exaggeration than others. Eckhart definitely falls into this category. Matthew Fox may write, “Meister Eckhart saw God as …” (bla, bla, bla) – causing us to jolt and stand in protest, and protest we should. However, very likely, Meister Eckhart did NOT see God as ( … ) – instead, Meister Eckhart invites us, for a moment, to envision this thing he describes (like, e.g., the droplet of water falling into the wine) and in doing such, to correct some mistaken presupposition we have about God.
Every institution is in some way “dogmatic” – has a particular mission, which embodies presuppositions – which, in a certain sense, it commends to belief. Dogmatics is essentially about what we commend to belief, and not about “teaching” in the modern sense of “communicating information about facts.”
When Matthew Fox then commends us to believe some attribute of God, as a fundamental reality – which reflects one of Eckhart’s reflections (but in which such reflection does not call upon us to believe what Fox insinuates) – Matthew Fox is being improperly “dogmatic.”
This habit is perhaps best called “misappropriation” of another’s thought.
Tillich is another author whose work is susceptible to misappropriation.
It’s worth considering: Much of the time when a church seems to be behaving “dogmatically” – saying, “we must believe this, and not that” – it is simply performing a course correction with regard to someone else’s improper dogmatism. It is saying: “This person or group was being dogmatic about this issue, in a way which is inappropriate.”
I think the image of Eckhart-as-reckless-heretic has been way oversold. He is more orthodox than most people imagine.
Sorry, lost track of this thread. Cunnudda, I wasn’t trying to smear Lutherans. Just speaking from my own personal experiences, in the particular tiny, off-the-grid Lutheran church I was raised in.
I don’t like this at all. Sayings like this give way to “easy believism” of the worst kind. It is right up there with “Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary.” This kind of drivel is snatched up and clung to by people who treasure the “American dream” more than GOD.
It is a fact that throughout the Bible GOD’s people are called to be different. This is shown time and again in dietary patterns, work schedules, the refusal to bow to other gods, putting their life on the line for what is right in GOD’s eyes, and on and on. Would you rather be like the majority of Israel that bowed the knee to Baal or like the 7,000 the LORD reserved for Himself? (1 Kings 19:18)
Another thing, if we are supposed to be like everyone else, then why would Peter have said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”? (1 Peter 3:15, NIV 2010) There must be something inherently different to cause someone to ask you the reason, right?
How about passages like Ephesians 4:22-32 where Paul calls us to be different as we live in light of the Gospel? Did not the LORD Himself tell us we are salt and light? How can we be that if we act just like everyone else?
Lastly, if Jesus is our example (and He is – 1 Peter 2:21), then why would we act like other people? Jesus acted nothing like those around Him. Why else do you think so many were drawn to Him, even if in opposition? He promised us that we would be persecuted just as He was. If you are not being persecuted, you need to ask yourself, “Why?” I am not saying we will be just like Him before we see heaven or His return (1 John 3:2), but He certainly is our example.
My husband calls it Christian pornography.
I was thinking of Meister Eckhart’s extreme mysticism — but I don’t know. Luther might well have enjoyed him.
i.e. Tammy’s saying “Don’t Be Stupid.”
Which makes it (like a lot of other things) a Question of Balance.
“The Devil sends sins in matched opposing pairs, so that in fleeing from one we embrace the other.”
— either G.K.Chesterton or C.S.Lewis
People can get clueless. Remember the overarching theme of Monty Python’s Life of Brian? How people can get it wrong no matter what?
Right. The best translation of â€œBe ye holy as I am holyâ€ is â€œbe ye becoming other as I am other.â€
Does “other” in this case link into the “Mystery, Awe, and Otherness” that the original IMonk wrote about? (Another suggestion for IMonk Classic — his “MAO” article.)
Back in the Seventies, I ended up doing “the third possible result” maybe half-a-dozen times before I burned out. Not quite as bad as Eagle, but in the same direction.
“Revivals” these days are just entertainment spectacles. Sort of “The Heathen have Raves, We have Revivals.” (And who needs Ecstasy when you have an Anointed Revival Preacher to whip you into a frenzy?)
“Got their ticket stubs and other memorabilia…” Sounds like fanboys or groupies going to the Big Event, like Deadheads to the Concert or Trust-Fund Kiddie Anarchists to the Riot. Or Twitards making their pilgrimages to Forks, WA. At least at Lakeland you got to see Tatted Todd kick cancer patients in the nuts while channelling Emma the Angel…
HUG I think you might be on to something…
I don’t follow, Cunnudda.
Your last sentence is key. Just because we use a word that is found in Scripture doesn’t mean we are using it in the same way. These posts are meant to be a corrective of a false kind of “transformation” being promoted today.
I remember telling my discipleship leader that I wished I had been a junkie before I became a Christian because then I would really know if I were saved or notâ€¦
And THAT is the downside to all those Spectacular Testimonies (i.e. “JUICY! JUICY! JUICY!”) a lot of Christians go for. Sometimes I wonder whether all that is an unconscious attempt to sneak in all that Juicy Porn et al that’s forbidden to Christians — “I Was Immersed In A Life of Booze and Dope and Sex and Boy Was It Fun! But I Tell You This Only So You Can Avoid All Those Fun-Filled Sins!”
Oh, you’re so right. The Lutheran church is just filled with inert souls basking in their signed contracts for grace from God. “Leadme.org”? How about leading you to reconsider that ugly smear of 70 million people?
Interestingly, in a Lutheran church where you saw unregenerate character as a badge of honor, I was almost driven to suicide by the opposite: while in a self-loathing depression, I asked what it meant if you repented and kept committing the same sin, and some guy told me it meant you weren’t truly saved.
AMEN to your last paragraph: â€œIt is not the job of any Christian to pursue transformation. We pursue Christ. Overcoming sin, experiencing life change and growing in Christian virtueâ€”indeed, any and all blessings we enjoy in the Christian lifeâ€”are by-products of knowing and walking with him in his works not ours.â€
But let us be careful we donâ€™t throw out the baby with the bathwater!
â€œI beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but BE TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of Godâ€ (Romans 12:1-2).
â€œBut we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, ARE BEING TRANSFORMED into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lordâ€ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
May God bless you all and may you be transformed in the true sense of the Biblical terminology.
Mother Teresa is another matter entirely – a transformation AWAY from Christ and toward eastern religion.
Your are correct, Eric. We speak of what we know.
This thread is about the American “post-evangelical Wilderness”. The criticisms of not seeing transformation do not apply to the two/thirds world.
“Luther would not have liked Meister Eckhart…”
Why? As a boy Luther went away to a school run by people that came from that vein. He called Theologia Germanica the best book written next to the BIble.
Amen! I think D.A. Carson referred to this as “grace-driven effort.” Christian growth is not through “stasis” but movement; movement animated by the Gospel. Peace.
Sam, I don’t think that’s what Tammy means. What she is questioning is Christians throwing parties that resemble those of the world and claiming that this is evangelism and more spiritual than legalistically abstaining from alcohol.
Or the third possible result is Being Saved repeatedly, walking the aisle for that dramatic re-dedication of one’s life the umpteenth time—THIS time it’ll work! I came from groups like that and I know that so very many of the people mean well, but bad theology at the base does have a real impact.
For those interested in more from him, Galli is the speaker at an upcoming Mockingbird conference in NYC.
Go here for details:
That would be one of them – Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Godâ€™s will isâ€”his good, pleasing and perfect will.
It is a conundrum, indeed. The reason it is such a difficult problem is that our experience does not match up with reality as it is supposed to be according to the Scriptures. There’s really no way of getting around the plethora of verses making claims about the transforming power of the gospel/Holy Spirit. Yet, there’s also no way of getting around reality. And reality reveals that those claimes aren’t being fulfilled. Where does that leave us? I’m not sure.
MB, just wondering, could you mean the second line: ‘naught be all else to me…?’ I read that as “Everything else is as nothing to me; only Your existence matters..”
oh, I see the latest post links to that article. cool
This additional article might help understand Galli’s view on transformation:
The idea, I think, is not that transformation doesn’t happen. It’s that you don’t preach it, you preach Christ. Acknowledge it and move on, seems to be his view . Definitely don’t hype it. I liken it to food: are we supposed to talk about the composition of food, or eat it? Dwelling in the Gospel is eating it. Dwelling on Christian-life-isms is more like studying its nutritional makeup.
It was NT Wright for me. I think it’s very interesting…of course I grew up being taught that the Catholic church was probably the whore of Babylon, so it’s going to take a while before the word purgatory doesn’t set off alarm bells in my head 🙂
Yeah, I read that too. Coincidentally I was asked to lead a bible study on this topic a week and a half from now. Certainly gives me lots of material to work with.
Oooh, if I hurry up, mine will be the 100th comment here! 😉
I clicked on the link in the Trackbacks area at the bottom of the post and the blogger there is reviewing Scot McKnight’s book One Life and one thing the author writes there is: “This One.Life speaks about transformation in the here, in the now, and in the eternal futureâ€¦ the limitations to the transformation are ‘self’ imposed limitations. If I read McKnight correctly, he says where the Spirit takes over a life, that life becomes a transformative instrument of the Creative and Transforming God.”
I thought this was interesting in light of the conversation we are having here.
“The New Testament talks way too much about transformation in the here and now for me to see it as strictly eschatological. Yet at the same time I see a church that is powerless, and Christians who are not living transformed lives.”
Yes, this is quite a conundrum, isn’t it, Michael Bell. I read the Books of Acts and think, “What happened to the followers of Jesus? What happened to the Holy Spirit working among us, not in a ‘wacky’ way but in a powerful, life-giving, Jesus-loving, God-fearing way?”
I am of two minds here. The New Testament talks way too much about transformation in the here and now for me to see it as strictly eschatological. Yet at the same time I see a church that is powerless, and Christians who are not living transformed lives. I look forward to taking some time to synthesize these comments and ones from future posts on the topic.
Just to be clear, I did read this and what follows: “Is the transformation instantaneous?”
“We are changed from selfish creatures to selfless creatures.”
I wish, I hope, I pray for this. By my experience, and I see nothing in Scripture that says otherwise, this takes a lifetime and maybe longer.
i also think this mentality is behind the desire or cry for ‘revival’! it is most times for those i know that raise the cry their version of radical change to society or religious institutions or culture. they want the divine stamp of approval on their agenda. they want to see the smack-down of God’s heavy hand on the heathens in the streets…
but they are not wanting any personal transformation to take place. heck…they are the spiritual ones praying for it to happen to everybody else!
the category ‘revival’ has been so twisted into a crowd gathering gimmick it is one of the goofy elements of uber-Pentecostal-charismatic types. i know a few former church people of that persuasion that are no better a representation of Jesus now than they were before going to specific ‘spouts where the glory comes out’. they have made their trips to Canada, Florida, Kansas. got their ticket stubs & other memorabilia. but for some reason i do not recognize any transformation. what’s up with that???
Following this thread with great interest. I thought your statements, David, on measuring and comparison are where a lot of the problem (within the evangelical neighborhood) lies. Once we start comparisons, let the dog and pony show commence: complete with seminars, special weekends, testimonies, DVDs, and autographed testimonials.
I look forward to Chap Mike’s additives tomorrow. With all the snow in KC, I might have a lot of time to reread and think about this important theme.
My second least favourite hymn – I refuse to sing verse two. When we expect God to do nothing, that is pretty much what we will get.
My least favourite is “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s vein.” – but that would be a post for another day.
Wow….now I now why I have had no strong, Spirit led prompting to add to the blessing of the breaking of bread on Sundays. I leave it at “This is the body of Christ broken for us…this is the blood of Christ shed for us..” and that’s it. I’ve felt no real compulsion to add “Now help me blah, blah , blah….” You’ve given me stronger permission to keep the main thing the main thing.
yes…only God can transform us. we must want it of course. seek Him for it. but i do not think we can program it or guarantee it by doing certain things or avoiding others…
during the faith journey transformation happens. not something that has been standardized or reduced to 12 simple steps. it is ongoing. most times imperceptible. but i can recognize it in myself & others especially in my dearest friends that i have engaged with the past 40 or so years…
just recently while channel surfing a well-known pro-Israel preacher said, “the bible says…” [click-channel changed] really? the bible says? this is the result of a canned spiel overly stated in Evangelical circles. it lends the air of authority to those that dissect bible verse(s) for their particular point. the bible, as a written record has not power innate in its leather+paper composition. yet it is used+abused daily by those that use it more as a talisman than a road map or divine GPS device pointing ultimately to a Person…
it is the very real & necessary encounter with the Jesus of the gospels that determines the pace & scope of transformation. and as i have observed, that process seems to be tailor made to each individual seriously taking His “follow me” offer literally. this does not minimize the beauty of the bible. it puts proper focus on the reason for the bible.
there are many bible literate individuals whose faith is misappropriated to their knowledge with little encounter experience. these are easy now to spot. after following Jesus now for 36+ years i have recognized the characteristics of those that have been transformed more into His image. and funny thing, it doesn’t look anything like a bible…
Bishop Ware’s petition is as good a prayer as I’ve ever heard.
Agreed. Can we not embrace the fact that the process of Sanctification should make us more like Christ and thereby different from the rest of humanity? Not that this is a quick endeavor, or ever entirely completed, but real visible progress or change should be expected. I agree with the iMonk 101, this idea of “victory” is way overrated and over used. But let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. As quoted in the comment above: “We can discuss the magnitude of the change; but the direction of the change should be obvious”
I’ve actually never read the Great Divorce. My first real exposure to the concept was through Greg Boyd.
Eagle – There are millions of us, like Merton (see yesterdayâ€™s post) who have seen â€œthe absurdity of institutional Christianityâ€, and have chosen not to be part of that system. Some have done it knowing that they must to preserve their faith. Others, to go out to the masses who have no interest in â€œChristianityâ€ as they have seen it. Then there are those who have become disillusioned with Christianity and with the Christ it supposedly represents.
Often it is difficult to dig to the bottom of the pile and see if itâ€™s just dirt, or real treasure. The process may take awhile. Some give up before they dig through all the crap. Some just chuck the whole thing.
Peace for your journey. Itâ€™s kinda like a divorce. Ya gotta get a lot of the pain out of your system before you can move on. I did it and now I follow Jesus. I am part of the body of Christ, and in that sense I am part of the church. I do meet with other believers. However, Iâ€™m not part of the IC, the para-church stuff or any of that. It works really well for me. I found Jesus, but not in the church.
I know the IC works for some people. I have no desire to knock it, nor do I have any interest in questioning their relationship or lack thereof with Jesus. That whole system is just not the place where I live.
So much of what Galli has written rings true, but I have to admit that I hope it isn’t. I’m more likely to believe what was expressed by theologian John Murray: “There are numerous other considerations derived from the Scripture which confirm this great truth that regeneration is such a radical, pervasive, and efficacious transformation that it immediately registers itself in the conscious activity of the person concerned in the exercises of faith and repentance and new obedience. Far too frequently the conception entertained of conversion is so superficial and beggarly that it completely fails to take account of the momentous change of which conversion is the fruit.”
Have I bought into a myth?
I guess that was too short, and don’t want to look “coy” or something. See, I am a Lutheran and it appears to me that there is a certain amount of self-abasement evangelicals do. I suppose it is just semper reformada or something like that. As an outsider, it seems like this conversation is a little like the guy in the painting.
I really don’t want this to come off as snarky either. But, if I get this, it began agreeing with the idea that transformation is eschatological? Even hidebound Evangelical Catholic Lutherans see it as “already, not yet”.
I get the point about our salvation does not subsist in buying yet another book and attending another conference. I get the idea that businesses exist to sell church members products, but, well, are you throwing conversion under the bus?
Perhaps it is best for all to just to ignore this post. There have been so many responses and perhaps if I read them all this has been covered.
You are having a very interesting conversation. I’m trying to understand why.
sounds like somebody’s been reading CS Lewis’ Great divorce – George Macdonald changed the way I look at heaven & hell with the idea of “Postmortem sanctification”.
Well I’m not sure it’s all that mysterious. We do have to grunt and strain and work. Not grudgingly–it should flow from the abundance of our joy and peace and thankfulness. But looking like Jesus means we’re getting our hands dirty. Washing the feet of others, both literally and figuratively speaking. I’m not claiming to be any better than anyone else, and if it ever becomes a contest, our motivation is completely upside down. Maybe the mystery is more along the lines of what C.S. Lewis said so well:
“You see, we are now trying to understand, and to separate into water-tight compartments, what exactly God does and what man does when God and man are working together. And, of course, we begin by thinking it is like two men working together, so that you could say, ‘He did this bit and I did that.’ But this way of thinking breaks down. God is not like that. He is inside you as well as outside.”
Perhaps Jonathan’s response isn’t the most charitable interpretation of Galli, but without a bit more context, and with the baggage of my own background, I’m afraid I hear in Galli exactly what Jonathan is saying. Again, this is just an initial impression, I am not familiar with his wider body of writing.
Sounds fair enough, Chaplain Mike, I look forward to it!
And JoanieD, that’s the most interesting issue for me as well. Not so long ago, any mention of the concept of purgatory would have made me roll my eyes and tune out. But these days, I find myself leaning heavily toward it. Not purgatory in the sense of indulgences and all that silliness, but purgatory in the original sense, of “purging.” Not punishment, but rather a refining of the character. Postmortem sanctification, in other words. And it’s not so much that I’m naturally attracted to that idea (the get-sanctified-free-and-easy-upon-death card is certainly more attractive) but it ends up making so much more sense out of otherwise impenetrable questions, and one can definitely make a Biblical as well as a church history case for it. Anyway, am I getting somewhat off topic now?
“After Pentecost and until the Return of the Lord, the church is meant to be the â€œvehicleâ€ of the healing life of God for the entire cosmos. That entails some actions.”
I like that, Dana. And the quotation from Bishop Ware is great. I read his book, The Inner Kingdom. Good stuff!
“Paul does not use that as an excuse to quit trying”
Yes! – unfortunately Protestants have given ‘trying’ a bad name.
“Finally, these words of Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware have been extremely healing for me.:
â€œTo keep us in simplicity, God may hide our spiritual progress from us, and it is not for us to measure ourselves.â€
This is an powerful and liberating statement. We don’t have to prove our spirituality or progress to anyone.
“Itâ€™s a forward progress at the Holy Spiritâ€™s pace.”
That’s a great way of putting it, Andy. The work that needs to be done within us most of the time does not get done quickly. There are exceptions, of course, and I am happy that there are those exceptions.
“And it is the actual lack of transformation that robs the church of Godâ€™s intended purpose and impact.”
I agree with this, too, Josh. On most days, I would say the Christian and the non-Christian look and act very much alike. Perhaps one difference is that the Christian MAY have a hope inside them because of the resurrection of Jesus that the non-Christian does not have. Also, a Christian SHOULD be the one that is not judging people, but unfortunately, I think we often see just the opposite. So, it’s really not possible to tell by looking and listening who is Christian and who is not.
And again…what do we MEAN by Christian? If we mean people who believe in the Apostle’s Creed, that may be easier to decide. If we mean that you are a Christian because you say you are, that’s something different. If we mean you are a Christian because you love unconditionally, that is something else. If there has to be a very obvious change in your life, that is still another thing. For myself, I don’t think anyone would ever see or hear me and think that I am more a Christian than they are, whatever that means. I don’t look or act “transformed.” (I wish I was, though…who WOULDN’T want to heal people the way Jesus did?!) But…I do have this hope inside.
Looking forward to your further posting, CM.
Thought connections to sacramental view, NT Wright echoes and other theological points:
Especially when I was younger, I’ve been a rather idealistic perfectionist. And the “sudden transformation” talk can be very disheartening and potentially harmful, especially to those of us who are perfectionists, or who have been hurt by hypocritical Christians, or who are very idealistic, desiring to be “sold out for God” and to “change the world for Christ”. I think what Galli is writing about is endemic to the revivalist/holiness style of Evangelicalism, which arose at the same time as Enlightenment ideals, esp with regard to “progress”, and which also gave birth to the scientific method -all about finding a set of variables that will produce consistent measurements.
In Evangelical theology, the fall of the first humans is seen to be a fall away from some kind of perfection, and through the Cross the Lord restores us to that perfection. The eastern church fathers saw the first humans not as perfect, but as full of potential, so their “fall” was more like a detour leading away from the path God wanted humans to walk. I’ve come to believe that the Christ Event, and entering into it through baptism, is God picking us up off the path of dissolution and death, and setting our feet on the path of real life. In that sense, he did it all. And, operating at the same time in our own lives right now, we have to put one foot in front of the other walk the path.
As we are united with Christ, as we are “en Xristo”, because of the Christ Event, we are set free in the demonstrated love and forgiveness of God (the cross) to live in the new creation that has begun (with the resurrection), and have the very life of God within us (through Jesus uniting human nature to his in the incarnation, through the gift of the eucharist, through the taking up of our nature into the Godhead in the ascension, by the gift of the Holy Spirit) to live our ordinary, everyday lives, encountering everything that comes to us in them, walking that path. Will we slip? Sure. Will we continue to live “inhumanly”, sinning against our (renewed) human nature, trying to ensure our own existence/survival outside of the life of God and to the detriment of our fellow human beings and the rest of creation? Yes, maybe most of the time. At every moment we choose, to love or not to love. Yet God has “leveled the ground” for us, so that we can exercise the freedom he gave us without being enslaved to fear of death. It’s so not about “faith vs works”. It’s about life, real life, the life of the age to come which has broken into history. It’s about growing into virtue – not to prove anything to anyone, much less God , but to become the human beings he always meant for us to be. And this is to be done simultaneously as distinct human persons and as and through the Body of Christ, which is what the church *actually is*. After Pentecost and until the Return of the Lord, the church is meant to be the “vehicle” of the healing life of God for the entire cosmos. That entails some actions.
As for “being perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”, the word “perfect” is not really a good translation. In Greek it carries the notions of: whole, complete, mature, the fulfillment – it’s related to Jesus’ cry “It is finished”. It surely is about being “other”, but it’s not really speaking to “sinless perfection” as the goal. In the entire pericopes in Matt and Luke, Jesus is saying that the acid test of being like God – whole, complete, mature, the fulfillment of what a being is to be – is being able to act in love toward one’s enemies, to do good to those who hate us: not only in the face of indifference, but – pointing to what is going to happen to *him* – *even while they’re trying to annihilate us*.
Finally, these words of Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware have been extremely healing for me.:
“To keep us in simplicity, God may hide our spiritual progress from us, and it is not for us to measure ourselves.” (The Inner Kingdom, collected writings vol I)
leadme.org: good questions you are asking. I am particulary interested in, “We donâ€™t just sit back and bask in our marriage, we have to consciously work at it. At some point along our journey, we will have been fully sanctified, fully transformed into the image of Christ. Does that just happen automatically upon entrance into the next life? Is sanctification optional, in other words?”
I look forward to reading how Chaplain Mike will respond to your questions, concerns.
Huh? Christians should invite only Christians to their parties?
Indeed, Briank. And there will always be tension there…and that’s okay.
You are SO condescending in tone to so many on here. Are you aware of that?
An interesting insight about “change” vs. “transition”, even though it’s from a book that was not actually addressing spiritual transformation:
“Our society confuses them constantly, leading us to imagine that transition is just another word for change. But it isnâ€™t. Change is your move to a new city or your shift to a new job. It is the birth of your new baby or the death of your father. It is the switch from the old health plan at work to a new one, or the replacement of your manager by a new one, or it is the acquisition that your company just made.
In other words, change is situational. Transition on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change wonâ€™t work, because it doesnâ€™t â€˜take.â€™ Whatever word we use, our society talks a lot about change; but it seldom deals with transition. Unfortunately for us, it is the transition that blind-sides us and is often the source of our troubles.”
– William Bridges
I have tried to understand transformation in the context of living life with Christ (John 15:1-5). The most I can hope to do is to cooperate with God in His work within my life, through whatever means He chooses (community, spiritual habits, service, difficult circumstances, struggle with sin, etc.). But, there should be some fruit (see Gal 5:22-23) that results of living our life with Him. Again, we cannot program or study or do anything to make that fruit come about, it is His work, through His Spirit. Yet, we are called by Him to follow and do whatever aids us to remain in Him.
There is a reason why the exhortation to confess your sins one to another slowly became James’ exhortation to call the elders and receive not only healing but forgiveness and became the sacrament of confession. There is a reason why John says that if you deny that you are a sinner you are quite self-deceived and why John goes on to say that if we confess our sins God is faithful to forgive us.
The reason? Uhm, because we are sinners.
This does not mean that there is no transformation. But when Paul talks about transformation he uses phrases such as “mortifying the flesh” (King James), not beating the air emptily but with purpose and focus, and training your mind, your heart, and (yes) your behavior every bit as strictly as an athlete trains to win the competition. There is nothing instant about Paul’s view of transformation. But, even he admits in Romans 7 that the war is so intense that he ends up crying out to God. But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Paul does not use that as an excuse to quit trying. Rather, the availability of the forgiveness of God is what makes it possible for him to keep fighting the good fight so that at the end he tells Timothy that he has fought the good fight; he is ready to go home. But, he was never able to stop fighting the fight till the day he died. So, for him to die was indeed gain because he gained eternity!
You know I think this is again paradox. I know that inwardly God’s grace grips you and it does change you but maybe not in the way many evangelicals believe. When I was in college, if we went to a conference they would have time for testimony. I remember one group brought about 6 guys to get up and tell what had happened to them. I remember one was basically a sex addict who said his goal to have sex with so many people that he could potentially have any number of STD’s. (I found that really odd but anyway…) Of course he got saved and all of that went away. I remember thinking oh man I don’t have a testimony like that. Am I saved? One of my friends really struggled with this because she didn’t think she was passionate enough about her commitment because she was drawn to Christ at 8.
I find it disturbing that basically after all of this transformation talk one seriously starts to feel the need to leave the faith for oh say 6 months to a year maybe two, do all the biggie sins or at least the ones that we perceive to be the biggies, come back to the fold totally broken then “get saved” for real this time not like the other time. Isn’t that a problem? I remember telling my discipleship leader that I wished I had been a junkie before I became a Christian because then I would really know if I were saved or not…
Looking back on that, it makes it much more about our own personal transformation and how people can look at us and say wow as opposed to coming to Christ for forgiveness even for those little petty things that no one pays attention to that are still SIN.
Thanks Mark for this essay! I hear you are going to be speaking at Mockingbird in the Spring. I am really hoping to make that one.
Jeff, on second thought, I will write a clarification post for tomorrow. Stayed tuned, and I hope we can continue this discussion.
Right. The best translation of “Be ye holy as I am holy” is “be ye becoming other as I am other.” And this does not come by just sitting around. Neither Chaplain Mike nor Mark Galli are encouraging anyone to sit around and wait. But the transformation to “otherness” does not happen because we grunt and strain and work really hard at it. It comes by our looking steadfastly at Jesus. When we do this, we can’t help but follow him and, thus, become other as he is other.
Is that mysterious? Yes. If it could be explained, it wouldn’t be of God.
Well, I hear that, even though I’m sure I would disagree with a lot of stuff on the Monist site…
I’ve seen plenty of faking it in my lifetime, but I’d like to think I’ve seen some of the genuine article, too. And I guess that’s why I just can’t jump on the bandwagon that is completely skeptical of everyone who claims some sort of miraculous transformation. I see a danger in thinking that it never happens as well. It would be very easy to fall in a religious rut where even an act of God couldn’t get us out. That’s it’s own type of Phariseeism as well.
Also (and remember this is coming from an agnosticâ€¦) could it be possible that God made you that smoking addict in order to show you your flaws and mortality in order to prevent you from becoming arrogant, and self rightoues?
In my church tradition (RCC), very often the saints who were known as great faith healers were also chronically ill, and never received healing themselves.
“I remain convinced that we evangelicals oversell the faithâ€“which presents all manner of pastor problems”.
I think you are right, but we also must be careful not to undersell it.
For me, as a Lutheran (who grew up Catholic), ‘transformation’ is a process – hopefully a journey I embark on every single day. There may be some small visible changes – I may stop myself from responding angrily to one of my kids/spouse; I might try (and sometimes fail) to read my Bible every day; perhaps I may give to a charitable cause I would have ignored before. I’ll be on this journey for the rest of my life – helped by the Christian community, prayers, worship, the sacrament, etc. But I am not a different person than I was, I don’t think. I hope I am more intentional about how I live, and who I follow, than I was before I believed in Jesus Christ as our salvation.
If anything major has changed, I would characterize it as my desire to approach things more humbly than I used to. I hope this is not ‘works righteousness’, but a response to what Christ has done.
You should go to the mockingbird site and order the booklet “What the Church can learn from AA” It is amazing.
I’m a little embarrassed by the nice words in the post–but I’m not so humble as to suggest I didn’t like them :-)– but am especially impressed with the thoughtful commentary that it has produced. I have no allusions that I have the last word on the topic. I am prone to hyperbole, to say the least. But I remain convinced that we evangelicals oversell the faith–which presents all manner of pastor problems. At any event, I appreciate both the kind words and those who push back, as well. Lots of food for thought–and future columns!
Your comment requires a fuller answer than I can give on my handheld at the moment. I’ll post later this afternoon.
This is another issue that bruised me. Could it be that the claim of “transformation” leads people to dishonesty? I mean you’re supposed to be a “new creation?” Right the old is gone, the new is present. Part of the reason why I rejected Christianity is becuase I saw that the culture was deceptive. My accountability partner for 8 years ended up living a double life with porn and sexual immorality. My reward for confessing sin in confidential channels was the wrath of the Pharises. Though I was enraged at my accountability partner’s deception I also acknoweldge that given how the culture is…he had to do it. In order to survive in such cultures that focus on “transformation” you have to present a facade. And Christians can excel at presenting facades…
Also it is always easier to focus on the issues you don’t deal with. For example..it would be easy for me to focus on alcohol or drugs as I don’t deal with those. Lust however, like a lot of guys, has been a challenge over the years.
I also have learned that many people due to the stress of such an envirnment can just swap problems. Okay you conqueer smoking…now in a way to deal with stress you take up eating, or porngraphy, or alcohol, or workaholism, etc..
I learned the hard way that Christianity was a fraud because of the overwhelming facade of instant change. By acknowledging that Christians have focused incorrectlty on sudden transforamtion…can it be possible that they reconsider how they handled homosexuality and a whole slew of other issues? Also (and remember this is coming from an agnostic…) could it be possible that God made you that smoking addict in order to show you your flaws and mortality in order to prevent you from becoming arrogant, and self rightoues? Coudl it be that “God” wants to keep you humble…?
Okay… that’s my .02
Jonathan, I don’t think you could have read Galli more incorrectly.
I recently finished Wright’s “After You Believe” and was thinking along those same lines. After all, “Be holy, for I am holy” isn’t just found in the OT — it’s quoted in the NT. And part of the definition of “holy” is “other”
As someone who would call himself an evangelical, I’ve read this entry with two minds (two minds that I think can be reconciled together).
First, there certainly is much overuse of the word transformation and there is much baggage tied to it. It has already been well explained here, and the points are well taken. As a pastor, one area where I certainly notice it is in the idea that if we’re transformed, that must mean we never struggle with what was once part of the sinful life. This has made it virtually impossible to confess without encountering judgment and exclusion from those who are supposed to be there to walk along side you. This is especially evident within the pastorate. It can be a huge risk to share struggles with colleagues let alone parishioners. An honest and forthright Christian walk can be difficult to maintain when you feel like your job is on the line if you speak candidly about your daily life (even with wisdom and appropriateness applies to what you share). This would be very similar to what HeadlessUnicorn was saying regarding chickens pecking the defective in the barnyard. This is only one aspect of “transformation” run amok.
However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that following Jesus leads to transformation. I think of the apostle John who, as a young disciple, was known as one of the Sons of Thunder, and showed why by suggesting that he call down fire on the towns that rejected Jesus. But by the end of his life he was known as the disciple of love. That seems to be evidence of some transformation.
While the statement that, “What we offer the world is Jesus Christ and him crucified” is right on, I don’t think it out of line to recognize that one of the evidences people look for is how “Jesus and him crucified” has impacted our lives. For some that impact may be very visible giant steps in their life. For others, it may be barely recognizable baby steps, like a heart change that is not yet seen by my eye, but that the Lord’s eye does see. It’s a forward progress at the Holy Spirit’s pace.
While I agree and understand the rant about evangelicals and our over emphasis and misuse of the word (points well taken), I would also caution against calling it a myth. I’ve seen too many examples of lives changed – lives still struggling for sure, but lives changed nonetheless.
I want to be careful to not be seen as saying this transformation as something I do, but rather that it is something the Holy Spirit does within me. I am sure John would attribute his more loving nature to Christ doing the work within him.
In the end, I look most forward to the final transformation where you and I will be in the presence of Jesus together.
Maybe our struggle with “transformation” comes from the mental image of a permanent change in substance even if that change is envisioned as a gradual one. I would agree with Chaplain Mike insofar as the human heart is and remains incredibly susceptible to seduction and deception. So change remains dynamic and can go in either direction. In any case, whatever good happens in us and through us can ultimately only come from God Himself. And it seems to me that our need for daily repentance and being filled and renewed is much like the Manna in the Old Testament. It spoils quickly when we think we’ve got enough stored up to last us. True relationship is not static like that.
My only concern is that the necessary realism in regards to our weakness can easily become a narcotic to immunize us from the challenge to repentance and change itself. Grace was always intended to assure of our uncnditional belonging but not to put us to sleep. And it is the actual lack of transformation that robs the church of God’s intended purpose and impact.
My thoughts as well, Jonathan, nicely said!
I’m fairly new to this site–just been poking around in the shadows here and there–and so I certainly don’t presume to have a solid feel for iMonk. That said, this post in and of itself reminds me very much of my own Lutheran background.
It was a profoundly comfortable style of Christianity. Attend church for an hour a week, perhaps Bible class for another hour, and then bask in the glow of God’s grace for the rest of the week. Of course, the heroes of the faith are out there actively advancing the Kingdom of God, and we all should strive toward that, but all that really matters at the end of the day is a kind of detached intellectual assent to Christian teaching.
Of course that’s somewhat of a caricature, but in some odd and difficult to articulate way, it really feels to me, looking back on it now, as if a lack of notable outward transformation was a sort of badge of honor, because it meant we were really relying on God’s grace, and God’s grace alone. Not that “blatant sin” was tolerated, but a very very middle-of-the-road approach to Christian living was implicitly idealized. Of course the pastors and leaders of this church would strenuously disagree with my assessment, but it’s the very clear impression that I got.
Now on the one hand, we all want to avoid this “comfortable” Christianity, but on the other hand we don’t want to slip into a self-important, legalistic, I’m-a-better-Christian-than-you type of Christianity either. Is the solution a bland middling approach?
Or is the true alternative to think of our relationship with God not in terms of a legal contract (that we have to keep intact either by doing the right things or by believing the right things), but rather in terms of a marriage covenant? It’s only by the sheer grace of God that he has called us to be his bride, but it’s not much of a marriage in which we’re not actively engaged in the relationship, and not investing blood, sweat, and tears into deepening the relationship. We don’t just sit back and bask in our marriage, we have to consciously work at it. At some point along our journey, we will have been fully sanctified, fully transformed into the image of Christ. Does that just happen automatically upon entrance into the next life? Is sanctification optional, in other words?
Don’t mean to misrepresent your views, Chaplain Mike. I’m more or less asking for clarification.
In the last few years, under the guidance of writers like Tom Wright, I have been greatly encouraged by the ideas that God doesn’t just save us from something, he saves us for something; that the church is to live with each other and toward the world as foretastes of the coming Kingdom; that we don’t just sit around after we come to Christ and try to stay out of big sins while we wait to be raptured, but instead we look for and try to join in how God is working to renew all things.
These were hopeful, even exciting, thoughts for me. But now Galli tells me (unless I misunderstand), nope, it really is about just sitting around, accepting that we aren’t and won’t be any different (outwardly) from the non-believer, and waiting for the eschaton. That’s kind of downer, I must say.
“Be Thou My Vision” makes a great prayer, too.
“I do find that what Galli proposes is a great corrective…” we need to correct, not convert over to the otherside of the problem.
it is not either/or, it is both/and.
we need a little buddhism in our thinking. Find the thrid way.
if we pull the guitar string too tight it will break.
if we let it too loose it won’t play.
it is somewhere in between. peace.
I’d like to see what JMJ from Christian Monist has to say about Transformation.
Over at Christian Monist, he often blogs about the Evangelical idea of Instantaneous Dramatic Transformation upon Being Saved (TM), and how this sets the Christian up for a BIG fall later on when Everything Hasn’t Transformed Instantly. The two results of this are giving up completely or faking it big-time. And you’re often forced into faking it (Holier Than Thou) because the first one to break the Masquerade gets turned on by all the others — like chickens pecking a “defective” to death in the barnyard.
Well, I agree with both your and Davidâ€™s comments here. I have sadly seen holiness become sort of a contest, especially when I was younger.
“Holiness” as in “Holier Than Thou”?
Yes, we are talking past each other here. But the word ‘Communion’ we all should agree w/ & try to live in communion w/ God & w/ each other. easier said than done.
The SIMPLE (evangelicals have trouble w/ simple) Word, Table, Baptism, & Basin (don’t forget the Basin & towel!) can bring us to grace. It shows us we are all in the same boat trying to find paradise. Peace.
Wow. I really, really love this bit:
“I donâ€™t know that Iâ€™ve talked about grace in the radical nature in which Paul and the New Testament talk about it unless people are shocked and appalled by what Iâ€™ve said. The doctrine of grace is so radical and so contrary to our assumptions about what religion is about, that once we express it in a clear fashion, it will appall people.”
Grace till it hurts!
Bravo, Allen, bravo!
I would agree with Fredrick Buechner who said:
if you want to know what the original church was like, go to an AA meeting where all they have is each other and God, and they say to each other: ‘We cannot live whole lives without each other and a higher power.'”
“What we offer the world is Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
man, that hits home.
I’m happy to agree with you. What nobody mentions, though, is that love is also HARD WORK. Loving some people is easy; loving most people is much more difficult. Acting on that love, particularly with people that every impulse tells you to avoid, fear, or dislike, is seriously hard. Transformational indeed, but hard. If you’re looking for easy life changes, Christianity is really not where it’s at, despite what some people will tell you.
I like that one, too.
“We pursue Christ.” The Church of Philadelphia pursued Christ. They were weak. I want that.
I once went to my friend’s graduation from a rescue mission for addicts. It soon became clear that big, flashy “life-change” is what was expected and preached. At his graduation- minimal acknowledgement of Jesus, but lots of stuff like “read your Bible every day” and “get a good job” etc. That friend relapsed in a big way, spun out in his studies, got a girl pregnant, and stopped talking to all his friends.
Not that it’s a one-to-one ratio or anything, but I’m pretty a steady diet of this stuff actually drives people towards addictions, not away from them.
The key word is “dramatic” as in “drama”, and what we envision when we hear that word.
“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” is the simple prayer that Jesus taught us. He did not attach a eschatological asterisk* or footnote next to it.
He did further explain what that transformation would entail:
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us, as we forgive others
Let us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
Perhaps that is a well-rounded description of the transformed life.
Phil writes: “Itâ€™s far too Lutheran for this Pentecostal boy”
This is what I was responding to. I don’t know anything about Mark Galli., but I agree w/ most of what he is saying. I just think we keep falling into this trap of constantly characterizing those who are trying to make a difference in people’s lives as “work-righteousness”, Osteen followers, or people who have forgotten the gospel. We need to find a middle ground because many people are in the Evangelical wilderness but do not share the exact same Law/Gospel – faith /service perspective as Luther.They should not be vilified & hopefully their is room for them here.
no hard feelings. peace.
I totally agree. The external Word which comes to us, from outside of ourselves in the Sacraments, is what we can truly believe in. Not our “transformation” or “progress”. I believe this is why Jesus commanded the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, that we could have something tangible to turn to, aside from ourselves, for the assurance of His work in us.
Right on, Steve.
Christ 100% …us 0%
We are DECLARED righteous for Jesus’ sake.
The entire life of the believer is repentance and forgiveness.
Luther’s explanation of the 3rd article is spot on, and many Lutherans no longer believe it.
Amen. I work at a therapeutic shelter for kids, and it’s completely secular. I need this word too. I struggle with hope a lot.
(This kinda contradicts my comment above, but hey, paradox)
“purse” = “pursue”
This creates an interesting paradox for me. On the one hand, I agree with Phil. Change is real and it is tangible. Zaccheus is a great example. Transformation surely may not be as immediate and intense as his was, but just the fact that Christians regularly serve the broken and give sacrificially and pray for one another is evidence of real transformation. Changed people do that. Sure, non-Christians can do that too, but I certainly would not have before I encountered Christ.
Speaking of myself and my testimony, I do find that what Galli proposes is a great corrective for the way we do personal testimonies. It’s quite true that we do overdo personal transformation. I think we should see it more as a progressive transition towards Christ-likeness rather than an instant “I was this, now I’m totally different” mentality. When we testify, it should be more about Jesus and what he’s doing rather than what he magically did in that one time act. That way we wouldn’t take it so hard when we, or normal people around us, or celebrity Christians “fall.”
I also agree with Phil that there is a Kingdom ethic involved as well. The tension is that the Kingdom is coming but has already come. It’s easy for me to keep waiting, yet over the last year I’ve been challenged to embrace the presentness of it. I think we should expect God to work powerfully in people’s lives and to heal and to redeem the tragic and to set the captives free. But we need to be willing to purse the long road we walk alongside Jesus and bring his gospel to the broken. I think we give up because we don’t see things happen quickly enough.
This strikes me as the sort of issue where hundreds of years of diverging terminology is going to have people talking past each other while more or less making the same point. Is there a change at the point of regeneration? Depends on what you mean. The short answer is, “Well, yes and no…”
At the risk of starting something that could get ugly, I think it’s worth pointing out that a more sacramental view could circumvent the whole debate altogether. With evangelicalism’s emphasis on conversionism/revivalism, this sort of debate about the nature and degree of transformation has to come up. Perhaps with a more sacramental view, our approach could be a bit healthier? I’d like to hear others’ thoughts.
And good ole AA still works.
BTW Galli is not Lutheran, nor was Michael Spencer. Nor have I been, apart from the last couple of years in an ELCA church. And as many Lutherans will tell you, that is not being a true Lutheran either!!!
I don’t think MG is saying transformation doesn’t happen. Just usually not as advertised today.
Nicely questioned! Their are those that believe that Chist is the Great Example, not the great exception!
I agree with you. There are many here who have been burned out by Evangelicalism. There answer is pretty hard core Luthrenism, that’s fine. To each his own. We all have our different lives of following Jesus, But I think your points are very true. Some of us want to see the Kingdom of God in our lives & our communities even if it is only a shadow of what is to come.
David Cornwell is right as well. I think we are often talking about 2 extremes instead of working for the middle ground. ( we should all just read more George MacDonald 🙂 – and Love always Love
Well, I agree with both your and David’s comments here. I have sadly seen holiness become sort of a contest, especially when I was younger. I do not see it so much in my current church, thankfully. I tend to hear morality presented along the lines of, “if you choose to live in such a way, you are not living the life Christ intends for you”.
I do agree that there is far too much a tendency to “upsell” the Gospel to people, though. Some speakers would be right at home on a late-night infomercial.
My biggest hesitancy in saying that transformation simply doesn’t happen is mainly based on the fact that I actually have seen a few people who have undergone pretty miraculous transformations pretty quickly. I wouldn’t say that’s the norm, but I don’t know if I’d call the whole concept a complete myth. I guess it’s like anything in evangelism. There is a tendency to something that has some truth in it and warp it until becomes something completely unrecognizable.
This is a good reminder and challenge for those of us who are in a â€œTransformationâ€ occupation. Christian drug and alcohol rehab is far too often guilty of focusing on the actions of transformation and leaving hearts standing at intake.
Oh yeah, and church history, present era included, would look much different.
I submit that if transformation were as dramatic as we hear claimed, we would have no New Testament.
The problem comes when we try to measure our transformation. For in so doing we end up making comparisons to the “sinful world” or “secularists” or the those “right to choose” people or “homosexuals.” And to prove it we hang a bumper sticker on the car. What we think is transformation or sanctification is as tainted with sin as was the righteousness of the pharisee.
When we start giving ourselves grades, if we are honest, it will be an F=Failure. Holiness movements and its offspring attempt to use measures. First work of grace equals salvation or new birth; second work of grace, sanctification. It is sort of like shifting gears. I’m in high gear; you are still in low gear. When will you join me in holiness?
Evangelicalism as a whole makes the same mistake albeit with terminology to fit whatever theology it is wedded to.
There is one aspect of transformation that we experience is death to life. In Eph 2:1-10, all people are dead in their sin and it is through God’s mercy and grace that gives us life. This transformation is 100% God and 0% us. Even our ability to believe, faith, is a gift from God. Even our good works are God’s doing!
In Luther’s Small Catechism on the third article of the Apostle’s Creed, he writes:
The Third Article.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean?–Answer.
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.
I think if by “transformation” we are talking about the outside of the glass, then this is spot on. On the other hand, the Bible is clear that there will be a transformation on the inside – the old doctrine of regeneration. This will work itself out in some pretty weird ways – Mother Theresa is a good example – and some more mundane ways, like the mother who daily works hard to provide for her children’s needs. But this is a heart thing. As other have said, the Spirit gives us love and selflessness. Not that this means we haven’t still got the “old man”. Interesting conversation!
â€˜This is coupled with the long-standing evangelical myth that there should be something different about the Christian.â€™
I think what he’s getting at is that we shouldn’t be looking for a big, flashy difference—sudden removal of addictions, power to heal miraculously, etc. But I think we *should* be different in terms of how we deal with suffering and adversity. It’s the patience in suffering that is supposed to distinguish us from the rest of the world and actually cause the world to come to us asking why.
I don’t know. I agree with parts of this, but I can’t agree with all of it. It’s far too Lutheran for this Pentecostal boy. If there is nothing different about Christians whatsoever in this life, then Christianity becomes little more than a fire insurance policy. Now I do agree that it’s not a matter of us becoming different so that God can finally use us. But I think if there’s no hope for healing of our brokenness at all in this life, or hope for us to overcome addictions and whatnot, than what is Christ offering the world? If He only offering a way to heaven, than simply kill us all now. But that’s not the Christ I see in the Gospels. I see the Kingdom ministering to people’s needs. I see people like Zacheus who was so transformed that he was literally a changed man. So what the author fails to explain to me is why we shouldn’t expect these sorts of changes today.
Love is where it is at. We will fall short & we will succeed like every one else, but we must Love.
I love the old folk song (maybe not that old for some of you) ‘and they will know we are Christians by our love’.
Not our success, not our popularity, not our Righteousness, but our IMPERFECT Love.
but I would argue that Love is “Transformational”
“…when the Gospel talks about transformation, it canâ€™t possibly mean an actual, literal change in this life of a dramatic nature…”
I claim that it absolutely does mean an actual, literal, dramatic change which is very simply described. We are changed from selfish creatures to selfless creatures. Our focus is no longer on ourselves, which is the way of the world, but on Christ. Why do we seek to distinguish ourselves from our fellow man? It’s simple. In terms of game theory, we go from being organisms that seek to maximize our own payoffs to being new creations that seek (or should seek) to maximize the payoffs of others. That’s why Christianity is far more radical than most Christians realize.
Is the transformation instantaneous? No. As St. Paul says, we were transformed, we are being transformed, we will be transformed. One problem, however, is that there is still this element of “what’s in it for me”, i.e. they way of the world, in preaching, teaching, and the desire of ears that want to be “tickled.”
We can discuss the magnitude of the change; but the direction of the change should be obvious.
“or we drink too much at the office party”-Mark writes this in as somewhat an opposite of what we might do to the ideal evangelistic method. Sadly, I’ve seen this AS an evangelistic method in a way. Some who beleive that if they drink or throw parties and invite non-Christians, the non-Chrisitans would somehow think they are “cool/hip” and not the “stuffy Christians” who look down on those that drink. Strange little things we do to believe we are somehow helping God transform others…OR ourselves.
‘This is coupled with the long-standing evangelical myth that there should be something different about the Christian.’
I like this. I have often thought, that if Christ is our example, and He humbled Himself by assuming flesh and becoming a man, thereby intimating Himself with our humanity, then why do we seek to distinguish ourselves from our fellow man? Why is our methodology seemingly the exact opposite of Jesus’?
Galli is quite a wonderful read and I don’t miss his Soulwork columns. I read him as going somewhat beyond the idea of backsliding to the point of suggesting concerns about such things are to be transcended. Being people who listen and obey subsumes the question of transformation, backsliding, and for that matter defining or tracking our progress on our agendas of good work performance.
“…but far too often, it abandons life for technique.” — Have you been reading Ellul? 🙂
This topic occupied my mind for a long time while in the post-evangelical wilderness. I spent over a year studying the history of this transformational teaching in the church.
I believe the efforts to be transformed by books, conferences, preaching….is mostly an outgrowth of Americans need for short term fixes, and capitalistic efforts to make money off those desires.
I became convinced that if you remove the capitalism, there is a core truth. As Christians, we are called to be transformed into the Body of Christ. This transformation doesn’t happen as a result of some preaching, music, conference, or book. It happens as “life happens”. There is a simultaneous process where God gives us grace through the events of life, and we admit our need for God through the events of life.
I wish I could shorten the process, but I can’t. It is very painful, and much more painful for some than others.
I like that Damaris, and will remember it to include in my prayersâ€””modest progress toward better things.”
Reminds me of the hymn, “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart”â€”
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art;
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.
Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
O let me seek Thee, and O let me find!
Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.
Luther wouldn’t have liked Meister Eckhart, but I think this quotation of his is relevant to the issue of transformation.
“Grant me a clear and sober and genuinely prayerful mind with real intuition of thy will, together with the love and joy that make it easy to perform. Lord, vouchsafe me always modest progress toward better things, and never to backslide.”
I like the humility of his request — modest progress toward better things and not to backslide. And we have to assume that he prayed that every day, knowing, like one of the church fathers on his death bed, that he had barely even begun to repent, even after a lifetime of the resurrected life.