I begin with the best of intentions, but rabbit holes multiply like bunnies, and are nigh on irresistible. I’m teaching a course this fall on Evangelical spirituality, and so it started with Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality and some online research around his ideas on propositional truth. But then I got waylaid by one of those click bait articles (yes, we’re all targets) on Lady Gaga’s sartorial evolution (the raw meat gown is a never-ending what? really?), where it mentioned in passing that Lady Gaga was a practicing Christian, so I went to the Washington Post article that described her “provocative” faith.
While thinking about this, I visited Facebook, where a friend’s blogpost on Orthodox worship led me down the Saint John Maximovitch rabbit hole. His life and story were generally familiar from reading a biography of 20th-century Berkeley-grad Orthodox convert, Father Seraphim Rose, and I spent some time pondering the saint, his experience of the uncreated light, and Father Rose’s spiritual journey from Methodism to atheism to Berkeley studies in Taoism and finally to the Russian Orthodox church, and I wondered what they would think of Lady Gaga, or she of them.
Then I course-corrected, and got back to something more akin to Evangelical spirituality by working a bit on the Keswick movement and its adherents, which introduced me to Canon Dundas Harford-Battersby and his higher Christian life teachings. Which took me to J.I. Packer (definitely back to Evangelicalism now) and the introduction he wrote to the 17th-century Puritan John Owen’s Sin and Temptation where Packer reflects on two-stage salvation teaching (Keswick-style).
Leave aside the meanderings, and this is what I’m left with: multiple versions of Christianity; multiple versions of what it really means to worship God, to follow the call of Christ, to engage the gospel and its import for the world. Would any of these—Francis Schaeffer, Lady Gaga, Saint John Maximovitch, Father Seraphim Rose, Canon Dundas Harford-Battersby, J.I. Packer, or John Owen—recognize Christ in the other? I know Paul talks about God’s wisdom being “manifold,” but really? This is diversity gone crazy.
One rather heady philosopher/author who founded a spiritual think tank in Switzerland and who argued powerfully for absolute truth and the consequences of it in human life. One predictably provocative singer who “preaches” through her music “Christian values not of exclusion and discrimination but of empowerment, grace, and self-acceptance.” One Russian Orthodox saint whose life was renowned for miracles to the degree that he was called the “wonderworker.” Another Russian Orthodox priest whose journey out of privilege and the peaks of academic success into self-abnegation and renunciation flouts the very idea of “the American dream.” One 19th-century English Anglican who longed for a deeper, richer, more Spirit-filled life of Christian holiness, and believed he found a way to attain it. One 92-year-old British Canadian author, scholar, and theologian who channels the Puritans. And one certifiable Puritan, straight from 17th-century war-torn England.
Does a relationship with the Triune God, known through Jesus Christ, bring us new life by inviting us into self-denial and a singular focus on the Crucifixion?
“As Christ’s rejection and death are the first steps in the order of redemption, so our rejection and death to things and self are the first steps in the order of true and growing spirituality.” (Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality)
Is a relationship with the Triune God through Jesus Christ about loving everyone and helping them know they’re accepted?
“Her prayer is the same as countless progressive Christians who recoil at the hypocritical judgment of fundamentalism yet still seek to follow Jesus. She prays to an affirming God with expansive love, not a narrow-minded magician in the sky who damns nonbelievers to eternal conscious torment.” (“The Gospel According to Lady Gaga,” Washington Post)
Is the Triune God, known through Jesus Christ, so profoundly holy that normal human behaviors can and should be spurned for the purpose of spiritual zeal?
“He had a small cell on the top floor. In the cell were a table, an armchair and several chairs and in the corner — icons and a lectern with books. There was no bed in the cell since Vladika did not lie down to sleep, but prayed by leaning on a tall stick with a cross-bar on top. Sometimes he prayed on his knees; most likely when he prostrated himself he would then fall asleep for a little while in that position on the floor. That is how he exhausted himself!” (“Archbishop John the Wonderworker”)
Is a relationship with the Triune God through Jesus Christ about cultivating an increasingly intense life of ritual and moral rigor?
“St. Seraphim, in his spiritual instructions, says that the Christian must be ‘swimming in the law of the Lord’—and this doesn’t mean just making the Church a little part of one’s life; it means going deeper and doing more. Of course, we start a little at a time. If you have been going to church just on Sundays, you can begin to go to the Vigil on Saturday night, and to feast-day services. If you’ve been trying to keep the fast of Great Lent, you can begin to go to more of the very moving services of Lent—the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, the Praises of the Mother of God.” (Fr. Seraphim Rose, “Orthodoxy in America”)
Is our relationship with the Triune God through Jesus Christ meant to result in a higher life of victory over sin and of peace?
“I said to myself, Has not my faith been a seeking faith when it ought to have been a resting faith? And if so, why not exchange it for the latter? And I thought of the sufficiency of Jesus and said I will rest in Him—and I did rest in Him. … As the hours passed the presence of the Lord grew more and more real till at length I had, in the vision of faith, a sight of the glory of the Lord!” (The Keswick Story)
Does a relationship with the Triune God through Jesus Christ look like a tenacious conformity to traditions and practices focused on scripture?
“Godliness means responding to God’s revelation in trust and obedience, faith and worship, prayer and praise, submission and service. Life must be seen and lived in the light of God’s Word. This, and nothing else, is true religion.” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God)
Is a relationship with the Triune God through Jesus Christ about growing in holiness through diligent self-discipline?
“It is our duty to be ‘perfecting holiness in the fear of God, 2 Cor. vii. 1; to be ‘growing in grace’ every day, 1 Pet. ii. 2, 2 Pet. iii. 18; to be ‘renewing our inward man day by day,’ 2 Cor. iv. 16. Now, this cannot be done without the daily mortifying of sin. Sin sets its strength against every act of holiness, and against every degree we grow to. Let not that man think he makes any progress in holiness who walks not over the bellies of his lusts. He who doth not kill sin in this way takes no steps towards his journey’s end. He who finds not opposition from it, and who sets not himself in every particular to its mortification, is at peace with it, not dying to it.” (John Owen, On the Mortification of Sin in Believers)
And of course, I haven’t even begun to stretch the meaning of diversity. What about a 20th-century Chinese voice, like Watchman Nee? Or a 17th-century French Catholic mystic, like Jeanne Guyon? Or a 19th-century former slave and renowned preacher, like John Jasper? Or a Peruvian liberation theologian, like Gustavo Gutierrez? What would a 3rd-century Egyptian Christian theologian like Origen think of them?
Would the real Christian please stand up? I would like to see one.
Shall I live to make everyone feel loved or should I focus on teaching truth? Should I deprive myself of sleep, attend more church, pray for the higher life, focus on amending the life I have so that I’m less of a sinner? Shall I march for justice? Reject the constraints of holiness that make people feel like schmucks? Increase the constraints of holiness because God is holy? What exactly would Jesus do, really?
Please don’t tell me he wouldn’t care, that they’re all perfectly right in their own way, that “whatever floats your boat” works. I never read about Jesus saying anything like, “You Pharisees go ahead and perfect your lives in the Law. That’s your way, and it works for you; just don’t push it on anyone else. And oh, you adulterous woman, don’t let anyone tell you that you need to change. You’re beautiful just the way you are. And you, Peter and John, just find your own path to transformation and be true to it.”
Would the real Christian please stand up? I would like to be one.