Eugene Peterson, Heresy of Universalism, Jesus as the subject and object of faith, Love, No virtue is a virtue unless permeated with Christ, Richard Rohr, Self-referenced and self-bound in our inherent limitations, The Jesus Way, The soul of Christian existence, The Way of Jesus, The way of love
Jesus claims to be “the way” – not just to show the way. Jesus reveals the way is found in Him – not merely in His example or teaching.
Early Christians were identified as followers of “The Way” – not as a pattern of life – but as the person of Jesus. In Acts 9:2 when Saul (who would become the Apostle Paul) was “still breathing murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” it says:
He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
Belonging to the Way meant belonging to Jesus, and to those who also belong to Jesus.
The Way not to be Reduced to A Way
I suppose it is all too easy to reduce a relationship with Jesus as “the Way” to being “a way” to follow as a rule of life. Eugene Peterson speaks to this in his book, “The Jesus Way“:
To follow Jesus implies that we enter into a way of life that is given character and shape and direction by the one who calls us.
To follow Jesus means picking up rhythms and ways of doing things that are often unsaid but always derivative from Jesus, formed by the influence of Jesus.
To follow Jesus means that we can’t separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing and the way that he is doing it.
The Temptation to Separate “The Way” from the person of Jesus
Recently I came upon a quote (below) by the eminently quotable Richard Rohr. At first glance he seems to understand the way of love. Who can argue with this? In one way, he is right; in another way… he misses the point.
The more I contemplated his quote, the more I realized there was something seriously absent from his understanding of love: love begins and ends with the author of Love; love makes no sense without Christ birthing it, demonstrating it and being it; love itself is no virtue unless it is permeated with Christ.
Off by only One Degree
Rohr may be off by only one degree… but he is still off. Below is what he said, and beside it, what I humbly offer as a corrective (for who am I anyways?):
“If Christ is the soul of Christian existence, He must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example justice without Christ is legalism; faith without Christ is ideology; hope without Christ is self-centredness; forgiveness without Christ is self-abasement; fortitude without Christ is recklessness; generosity without Christ is extravagance; care without Christ is mere duty; fidelity without Christ is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of Christ. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated or informed by Christ.”
Rohr often has insights to share, but as a Universalists he suggests that we are capable of a Christ-like love without being empowered by Christ himself. He wants all the benefits of Christ’s Kingdom of love without wanting Christ as King of this Kingdom.
This is at the heart of the problem with the modern day heresy of Universalism: it misses the subject and object of the spiritual life: the person of Jesus. On the surface, it appears so attractive until you realize Universalism has more to do with what the self can [must?] do, than it has to do with God. Even Rohr’s wonderful aphorism above is to be read as if we are capable of such an incapable love.
Yes, in one sense every virtue is really an expression of love, but more profoundly, love first finds its antecedent source in the Triune God who has been in loving and expressive communion from eternity to eternity. Without Christ, your love, my love, all our feeble attempts at love are self-referenced and self-bound in our inherent limitations.
The soul of Christian existence is not “love” as Rohr puts it – it is Christ, and without Him, without His Spiritual power and saving grace, the ability to love will always be subexpressions of it, for we are not capable of such love without His inspiration – His Spiritual power to love.
I Corinthians 13 though the lens of Christ
The well known “Love Chapter” of I Corinthians 13 is often read at weddings, since it is a poetic and beautiful declaration of love. Let us read this through the lens of Jesus since love actually finds its source and expression in Christ:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have Christ, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have Christ, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have Christ, I gain nothing.
4 Christ is patient, Christ is kind. Christ does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. 5 Christ does not dishonour others, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Christ does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 Christ always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Christ never fails... 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see Christ face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.