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God Uses Disciples

2008 June 5
by Julie Clawson

I’ve been reading through Brian McLaren’s newest book, Finding Our Way Again, an exploration of spiritual practices. I am enjoying his down to earth everyday perspective on the spiritual practices and have appreciated how he has integrated other issues he has written about into his thoughts on these topics. Our spiritual lives must be integrated, so of course one cannot have a theology of the kingdom or engage in changing everything without those things affecting our spiritual formation. It is all part of what it means holistically to be a Christian and must be a lifelong process as well. On that dimension, I was struck by the following passage (sorry for the lengthy quote, I just thought it was good) –

When any sector of the church stops learning, God simply overflows the structures that are in the way and works outside them with those willing to learn. As the old hymn says, God’s truth keeps marching on. God can’t be contained by the structures that claim to serve him but often try to manage and control him.

But then, as soon as the center of gravity shifts and those within the structures are ready to learn again, the Holy Spirit is there, ready to move to the next lesson in the ongoing educational process called history. Again and again through history, although we want to create “right people” and “wrong people” columns into which groups are sorted, God flips the script and sees two rows that cut across both columns: the “proud and unteachable people” row on top and the “humble and teachable people” row on the bottom. Grace flows downward, Scripture tells us, in both columns.

I find this delightful, because it tells the traditionalists that their tradition doesn’t protect them from losing their way, and it tells the revolutionaries that their zeal and courage don’t provide guarantees either. It calls everyone to humility and teachability, and invites everyone to climb up to a higher altitude and look for the larger pattern of God for which God constantly works – the common good.

And this, of course, is essential to finding our way. Practices are not for know-it-alls. Practices are for those who feel the need for change, growth, development, learning. Practices are for disciples. We could say that rituals are practices of learners, and ritualism is the continuation of the practice by people who have stopped learning. Similarly, we could say that traditions are the heritage of a community of learners, and traditionalism is the continuation of the heritage by people who have stopped learning.

The life-and-death question for each of our churches and denominations may boil down to this: are we a club for the elite who pretend to have arrived or a school for disciples who are still on the way? p. 137

I like how this perspective gives all the power and glory to God. When good things are happening, it is all God overflowing who he is into the world. We can draw lines, point fingers, and call names at the divisive or the new, but when God is moving does it really matter?

This ability to be lifelong learners and grow in our practice of faith seems like such a basic necessity for believers, but I have run into so many who think otherwise. I’ve had people tell me that they refuse to read certain books because it may force them to consider new things about God. Others who claim that they are too simple or too old to alter their faith habits. Still others who are assured that they know everything there is to know about the faith so they have no need to engage in learning or spiritual practices. I have always been uncomfortable with such attitudes, but have to admit that in their own way these people still love God even if they are not actively seeking him out. So I like the image of God overflowing (as opposed to abandoning) these stagnant vessels to still move in this world. I’d like to think that I am a disciple – continuing to grow and be used by God – at least that is what I seek. But if anything it is a good lesson in humility to know that God can overflow whatever boxes I create for him and move powerfully in the world.

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  1. June 11, 2008

    B”H

    Hey Julie,

    Nice site you have here. I have been reading your posts on and off for a few weeks now.

    Thanks for posting this thoughtful reflection on Brother McLaren’s new book. I recently pruchased it, but haven’t started reading it yet. I like the idea you expressed that we cannot have a theology of the Kingdom without it affecting our spiritual formation. Being lifelong disciples should be the norm for all of us who take on the name of the LORD, but I agree it is His mercy which still holds us as His children even if, or when, we grow stagnant and resist change and learning new things. May we always be humble and tender-hearted towards one another.

    Blessings,

    Shlomo

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