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.