Monday, October 08, 2007

More wisdom of Eugene Peterson

Yet more quotes from the excellent 'Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places'

“It is the devil's own work to detach the language of salvation from the setting of salvation, to separate words from personal relationships, to make salvation a ‘cause’ or a ‘project’ that can be conducted as efficiently and impersonally as possilbe. But the gospel will not permit it.”

“For a people like us, trained in a culture of getting things done (pragmatism) and taking care of ourselves (individualism) sacrifice doesn’t seem at all obvious, neither does it seem attractive....(but) the way we share in Jesus work is to live a sacrificial life in his name. "

“I didn’t come to the conviction easily, but finally there was no getting around it: there can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience in following Jesus, no wholeness in the Christian life apart from an immersion and embrace of community.”

“People can think correctly and behave rightly and worship politely and still live badly – live anaemic lives, individualistically self-enclosed lives, live bored and insipid and trivial lives.”

“Sectarianism is to community what heresy is to theology, a wilful removal of a part from ten whole. The part is, of course, good – a work of God. But apart from the whole it is out of context and therefore diminished, disengaged from what it needs from the whole and from what the whole needs from it… we wouldn’t put up with an art dealer cutting up Rembrandt into 2 inch squares and selling them off, so why do we so often positively delight and celebrate the dividing up of the Jesus community into contentious and competitive groups?”

“The impulse to sectarianism has its roots in selfism, the conceit that I don’t need others as they are but only for what they can do for me. Selfism reduces life to my appetites and needs and preferences.”

Peterson argues, in section 3 of the book (on 'Community') that our preferences for sects of the like-minded over communities (which are much messier) is just an expression of our individualism, and the idolatrous belief that we can organise community better than God can. If we gather with others in the name of Jesus, but restrict who we gather with in accordance with our own preferences and prejudices, then this is simply narcissism - self-love - worked out in relationships. It's not real community, and it's not real church.

The trouble is that the internet makes it easier than ever to join communities of the like-minded and find reinforcement for our own points of view (or prejudices, depending on how you name them!). As such, whilst facilitating debates between people who'd not otherwise have met, it also makes it a lot easier to organise partisan groupings. The Anglican church already seems to have more of these than it has members (Forward in Faith, Affirming Catholicism, Modern Churchpeoples Union, Reform, New Wine, Anglican Mainstream, Accepting Evangelicals, Church Society, to name just the ones I can think of off the top of my head). I accept that some of these have roots in other things than just espousing a particular point of view (e.g. New Wine, which I belong to), or predate the internet, but I can't help thinking that the Paul who wrote 1 Corinthians chapter 1, with it's stern rebuke of partisan groupings in the church, would be less than impressed.

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