This is a paper I wrote for a class I am taking at Grace Theological College. The class is Spiritual Development and the paper could be given the title My Spiritual History and is written in light of a progressive discovery of the Bible as narrative.
My Spiritual History
While I could easily chronicle my spiritual history in terms of disciplines, I have found it helpful to explore how my appreciation of the biblical narrative has developed over time.
For a long time, my story was The Story: Jesus and Me.
Becoming a Christian was a matter of the beginning of my new relationship with Jesus. It was a relationship in which my sins were forgiven and I was aware of God as a reality. It was categorised by the experience of having been born again, and me, being different to what I was before.
Becoming a Christian was characterised by a new trajectory. The old trajectory would likely have resulted in my suicide.
For a long time, my testimony centred around my salvation from suicide. It wasn’t even so much about salvation from sin’s power and consequence.
I had become a Christian on my own, that is, in isolation from the life and ministry of a local church. It wasn’t immediately that I realised being at least associated with a local church was essential.
Sadly, my early experience of the church was influenced by economic and political ideologies and so rather than the church being the body of Christ, I saw its local expression as one part of the machinery of a capitalist leviathan.
The local church I sampled was mainstream, and I found nothing substantial in the few messages I was exposed to and was rebuked for using conversational expletives.
This local church wasn’t doing it for me.
The next church did. Amidst suits I felt welcome even though I was barefoot. The pastor preached from a bible in a pulpit. My testimony was added to as I included God physically preventing an attempted suicide. Though not insignificant, that remained the defining message of hope: God is one who saves by preventing suicide. There was still no meta-narrative.
As I began to grow in my knowledge of the bible, I began to grasp at what seemed to be isolated doctrinal points of view that apart from the occasional reference to other stated doctrinal commitments, represented a weekend variety show rather than a drama by one playwright/director of multiple inseparably interrelated acts.
Proof texting became my modus operandi when engaging others in biblical conversation.
Over the last 5-7 years, I have come to appreciate the concept of a unified biblical narrative that is less like a cargo net of separate doctrinal ropes that necessarily intersect, and demolishes any confidence I had in presenting a handful of texts without context in an attempt to prove a point, my point.
This growing awareness of biblical narrative has, additionally, lead me to view salvation as something much bigger (but certainly no less than) rescue from the absence of self-worth. But even when the presence, reality, and consequence of sin becomes one of many brushes that has painted a backdrop, salvation has become bigger than my rescue from my sins (though that cannot by any means be removed from the reality of what salvation is).
Rather than an antidepressant or notice of pardon for the individual, salvation is historical, not just in the sense that its components really happened, but that history as a whole is salvific. As clichéd as the notion might seem, history really is His Story, a single Drama portrayed in several acts:
I really do think a living appreciation of Scripture as drama represents spiritual maturity. While by no means decrying or deemphasising humanity as direct (and perhaps initial) beneficiaries of God’s acts in history, it does set it in the context of something cosmic: The creation of creation; the fall of creation; the redemption of creation; the consummation of creation.
How can you proof text something that takes generations, as like scenes of a play, a story is told?
Similarly, how can truth be restricted to a series of neatly catalogued but only marginally related series of prepositions?
How do I now view sin in the light of God governed metanarrative? Sin is abnormal on account of God’s good creation. Sin is a bi-product of our first parents transgression and fall into sin. Sin is that condition for which the death of Jesus atones and the shedding of His blood remits not just for me, but for the whole world, that the redemption of all things may be initiated in the regeneration of individuals who are then being built up as living stones into a temple for the restorative presence of God to be manifest. This then, leads to the consummation of a formally good, and formally sin-stained creation as creation itself is set free to enjoy forever the liberation of the sons of God.
What about church? In a sense it could be said that humanity was made for church, that is, for community divinely assembled. If not church, then humanity was certainly designed with communal intent. The fall, the rebellion of our first parents plunged that intent into an isolationist mentality where every islands issues were the direct result of another islands influence and ultimately the blame of He who knew, and sought to extend, a perfect and eternal sense of community. Redemption stitches back together the sharpest divide – between Jews and Gentiles (Ephesians 2:15). Yet there remains points of difference, areas of disagreement and disunity that cries out for something final – a unifying consummation where there will be a single, resurrected humanity.
I am not saying that this appreciation necessarily results in measurable growth in Christian maturity, but I think it has in my case. It has reformed my definition and personal understanding of sin. It has reformed my appreciation for and expectations of church both now (understanding how Karen Carpenter’s lyric could apply to Christian community) and in the New Heavens and New Earth.
The story’s true title has been rediscovered: Jesus and We.
So now, while the sawdust and offcuts of me-o-centricity remain, the dust often causing coughing fits, and the offcuts slips, trips, and falls, the house of self has had its main structure demolished from the foundation of biblical narrative.
In his final words to the recipients of his second epistle, Peter exhorts “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18) Few would deny that salvation as characterised by beginning a relationship with Jesus through new birth is a result of God’s grace. For years I believed this in such a way that limited grace to the doormat of God’s kingdom. Now in, growing as a member of a new family, fitting in was a matter of learning the way things were done, how to be through what to do. And yet though entry was grace, retaining a place and making that place my own (or being made to fit that place) was something more like self-will.
What did retaining a place, making that place my own and being made to fit that place look like? Character formation. Character that was two sided. On one side was a refusal, a renouncing of everything that belonged outside the door: ungodliness and worldly passion. On the other side, an embracing, an accepting, a living out of an ethic characteristic of the house: godliness, uprightness, and self-control. But rather than self-will being the valet, grace has stacked the board of education. So much so that the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all men and it is this grace that teaches us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passion and to live godly, upright, and self-controlled lives. Grace! The same grace that got me in the door dresses me for dinner. And going out and coming back in again, it is grace that reminds me I’ve mistaken sanitary pads for shoes, it is grace that gives me the strength to bend down over a pot belly edified by gluttony, to realise that the laces are loosed and all I need to is give my feet a little shake.
Now standing in the doorway naked, I simply extend my hands, Tony Stark styles, and so am clothed sufficient for eating with the King of the Universe.