Ambushed by Grace: The Virtues of a Useless Faith - Thomas W. Currie III
Currie calls us to seek faithfulness to Christ over usefulness. The gospel is not a tool to organize empire or provide therapy for self-realization. Like Mary in the presence of active Martha, we need to recover joy in our life together with Jesus before we seek usefulness. This joy "is the true promise of the gospel and the true life of the church" (2). It is easy to substitute "business" for "faithfulness."
Worship matters. And who we worship has profound significance in our lives. Worship confronts us with the question, "Whose world is it, after all?" In contrast with those who seek to separate faith from important issues, this question - "Whose world is it?" - underlies nearly every public issue we face. And worship does not "solve" the problems, but names them. "Worship is not oriented toward 'problem-solving' but rather toward faithful living in the midst of 'problems' that are not so much 'solved' as they are named" (13). Therefore, "the most obvious political question - Who governs? - becomes at its heart, the most unobvious theological question - Whom do we worship?" (13).
The Trinity matters. Jefferson's "self-evident" truths that supported America's founding documents force Jesus out of the discussion of God. If truths about God are "self-evident" then the revelation of God in Jesus is unnecessary. And because he did not seek his own happiness but gave his life in love for others, "he was, in fact, an embarassment to the exercise of human rights and the fulfillment of human life" (22). If one seeks self-realization, the cross is useless. Jesus does not simply provide a good example or give us useful information to build up our self-esteem and help us realize ourselves. Jesus reveals God and sets us free from sin and death. We must never forget that spirituality can be just another means of self-realization. Christians "walk by faith and not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7), for "the blindness of faith actually sees better than self-evident sight" (37).
The Church matters. But the church matters, not because it saves, but because it points to Jesus Christ: "What the church has to offer the world is not its knowledge, not even its salvation. The church has never saved anyone, a point our Reformed parents knew well and one that made them skeptical of serving up salvation to the culture as if it were a commodity. No, what the church has to offer the world is the only gift it has ever received: Jesus Christ" (40). We don't have to convince the world of how strongly we grasp Christ. Instead, we boast of the strength of Christ's grip on us: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ" (Romans 8:35).
The gift we offer the world is not useful - love is never simply useful - but essential: that of a community of Christ. "The church is the place where, in the fellowship of Jesus Christ, we learn to love those whom we have not chosen but who are presented to us as a gift: our parents, our friends, the stranger, even our enemies" (43-44). In light of this gift, "the most pressing task before the church is to receive itself as a gift of that Lord and claim that inseparability. We are called, I believe, to love the church, not to take it for granted, not to bemoan its institutional failings, not to long for its institutional success, not even to cultivate the virtue of a prophetic loneliness, but to cultivate the vineyard God has given us, to confess that in the church's worship and work, God cultivates us. We ought not to call common what God has cleansed. Implied in this love for the church is also a love for what belongs to the church: to cultivate its worship, to offer there our best, to love its preaching and honor it as the bread of life, to love its fellowships and sacraments as the sign of God's inseparable fellowship with us" (44).
Preachers must reject trying to be useful according to the world's mold, and seek to be faithful to Jesus. "There is, on the face of it, nothing more absurd than a preacher trying to point to something quite beyond his comprehension, something as mysterious as grace. But, in fact, that absurdity does not constitute the preacher's chief dilemma. For the great mystery of grace is precisely its comprehensibility. What puts the preacher into a predicament is not the fact that God is so far beyond us that none of us can understand him, but, rather, the fact, the alarming fact, that God has come so close to us we can see with startling clarity the mysterious depth of his love... The blinding clarity of such a gift is, of course, what scandalizes us; it comes in human flesh, being born in something less than impressive surroundings, dying in rather questionable circumstances. We see all of that. But what is given in all of that is not something hard to understand but, rather, something that is hard to accept" (66). Great, profound, provocative book!