Monday, July 4, 2016

Have Christians become what Jesus came to stop us from being?

This post is adapted from an article I recently published on 

Morgan Guyton is a fairly popular online presence, blogging for years under the title Mercy Not Sacrificenow part of the Progressive Christian Channel at Some will immediately balk at the word "progressive," but, although Guyton can be very political at times, his writing does not always fit the typical rhetoric of the Left. As Edwin Tait asserts in his review of Guyton's new book on, "the book is far more than yet another attack on the distortions of conservative Protestantism, and the Christianity it offers should challenge anyone who thinks that 'progressive Christianity' is just a watered-down, culturally accommodated version of the real thing. This is a winsome, beautifully written, passionate presentation of the central truths of Christianity."

"Mercy Not Sacrifice" is, of course, based on Hosea 6:6, which reads in the NIV: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings." Jesus quotes this passage in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7, telling his critics they have not understood the significance of the passage in Hosea. In Chapter two of How Jesus Saves the World from Us (Mercy, not Sacrifice: How We Love People), Guyton points out the word "mercy" in Hosea could be translated "steadfast love" (as in the New Revised Standard Version) or "loyalty"—"the kind of unconditional love that people have within a family." In verse four, God compares Israel's love to morning mist or dew which quickly disappears. God wanted people to be loyal to him instead of going after other gods. The Pharisees thought they were being loyal to God by judging Jesus and his disciples for eating with sinners and plucking grain on the Sabbath. But Jesus says they are not understanding loyalty to God involves how they treat others. "Jesus' interpretation means that the best way to show God steadfast love is not through a stringent life of sacrifice, but by extending mercy to other people."

This is reminiscent of what the Apostle John writes in his first epistle: "...if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?" [1 John 4:20 NLT] We too often forget our love for God is demonstrated in how we treat people. Our devotion to God is shown, not by being nit picky and critical of what people do – as if God needs us to keep people perfectly in line, but by showing mercy. Isn't that how we would want to be treated? As the master in one of Jesus' parables puts it, "Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" [Matthew 18:33 NIV]

The first chapter of the book describes how we are able to love God because of the mercy he has shown us. If conservative Christians have any doubts about the gospel Morgan is promoting in his book, they should be relieved by what he says in the chapter: Worship, Not Performance: How We Love God. There can be no doubt about the author's commitment to justification by grace through faith. He writes, "God loves it when we do our best. god loves hearing us sing our hearts out and watching us perform the deeds of our lives with excellence. But God doesn't want us to do anything out of an anxious need to justify ourselves.... the Christian gospel teaches that instead of being justified by our good deeds or right answers, we are justified by God's grace." He goes back to the beginning with Adam and Eve and discusses how the Fall caused them to lose their innocence and become self-conscious. Humans now learn to hide under "masks of social performance" in order to look good to other people – and to God. Jesus can to save us from that so we could freely worship him instead of trying to perform well enough to be accepted.

Many conservative Christians have forgotten their roots and what the gospel is really about. This comes out in our judgmental spirit and self-righteous attitude toward others. Morgan would call this toxic Christianity. But he doesn't exclude himself as part of the problem, as implied by the "us" in the book's title, "How Jesus Saves the World from Us: Antidotes to Toxic Christianity." In a recent blog post, he gives this humble assessment of himself: "A wicked thought came into my mind when I learned about the shootings in Orlando: This is why people need to read my book. Thankfully, before I could post anything stupid on Facebook, the Holy Spirit convicted me with a second thought: This is why you’re still toxic."

Morgan would be the first to admit he is not perfect. His book is not perfect. But hopefully people will give his book a try in the same spirit of humility he tries to bring to his blog. There are twelve total chapters which follow the same pattern: This, Not That: How We... He describes what he believes are toxic attitudes, what these attitudes should be replaced with, and how we should live. You may not agree with everything he says, but, as someone wisely said, in order to grow, read those with whom you disagree.

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