Oh boy, I have a great appreciation for the life of Brennan Manning and the truths he shared through his writings. Apparently I’m not the only one. As I read a new post by Pastor Tullian this morning I was enthralled by the quote he used from The Ragamuffin Gospel. I had forgotten just how much insight was packed into that little book. Wow.
“Put bluntly, the American church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice. We say we believe that the fundamental structure of reality is grace, not works–but our lives refute our faith. By and large, the gospel of grace is neither proclaimed, understood, nor lived. Too many Christians are living in a house of fear and not in the house of love.
Our culture has made the word grace impossible to understand. We resonate with slogans such as:
“There’s no free lunch.”
“You get what you deserve.”
“You want love? Earn it.”
“You want mercy? Show that you deserve it.
“Do unto others before they do unto you.”
“By all means, give others what they deserve but not one penny more.”
A friend told me she overheard a pastor say to a child, “God loves good little boys.” As I listen to sermons with their pointed emphasis on personal effort–no pain, no gain–I get the impression that a do-it-yourself spirituality is the American fashion.
Though the Scriptures insist on God’s initiative in the work of salvation–that by grace we are saved, that the Tremendous Lover has taken to the chase–our spirituality often starts with self, not God…We sweat through various spiritual exercises as if they were designed to produce a Christian Charles Atlas. Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if only personal discipline and self-denial will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing. In this curious process God is a benign old spectator in the bleachers who cheers when I show up for morning quiet time. Our eyes are not on God. At heart we are practicing Pelagians. We believe that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps–indeed, we can do it ourselves.
Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency. Our security is shattered and our bootstraps are cut. Once the fervor has passed, weakness and infidelity appear. We discover our inability to add even a single inch to our spiritual stature. Life takes on a joyless, empty quality. We begin to resemble the leading character in Eugene O’Neill’s play The Great God Brown: “Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laughter? Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beauty of flesh and the living colors of the earth and sky and sea? Why am I afraid to love, I who love love?”
Something is radically wrong.
Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves while hiding our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat out denial of the gospel of grace.”