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Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit
     

Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit

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by Mark Galli
 

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It's no secret that we are addicted to control. We work to control our time, our TVs, our weight, and even our faith lives. We strive for efficiency and quantifiable results. But all that control, we soon find out, is exhausting. And it is contrary to God's plan for us. In Chaos and Grace, Mark Galli offers readers freedom from the need for control and order by

Overview

It's no secret that we are addicted to control. We work to control our time, our TVs, our weight, and even our faith lives. We strive for efficiency and quantifiable results. But all that control, we soon find out, is exhausting. And it is contrary to God's plan for us. In Chaos and Grace, Mark Galli offers readers freedom from the need for control and order by reintroducing them to the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit.

In this insightful book, Galli exposes our individual mistakes and the church's foibles and points the way to grace--which, as it happens, usually lies through chaos and crisis. Through Scripture he shows us that this problem is not unique to modern believers and helps us learn from the stories of God's people through the ages as they gave up and gave in to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lamenting the ways the contemporary church turns “the gospel of liberation into a religion of control,” Galli(Beyond Smells and Bells),senior managing editor of Christianity Today,explores the work of the Holy Spirit (whom he labels “the Mischief Maker”) in the biblical books ofGenesisandActs, and also in the church today. Contrasting God’s unruliness with humanity’s addiction to order, Galli offers intriguing, often humorous interpretations of stories involving Adam, Eve, Abraham, and Sarah, in which humans respond to God’s generous promises with distrust and a desire to take charge. The chapter“A Variety of Religious Oppression” examines the slippery path by which religious leaders become upholders of “order and peace” rather than missionaries of liberation. Skewering the “church growth movement” with its current emphasis on “marketing” rather than witnessing, Galli insists Christians are most faithful when allowing the Spirit to do transformative work, and unfaithful when structuring their lives to avoid intimacy with God. Thoughtful and provocative, this book offers cultural, psychological, and scriptural insights worth pondering for Christian leaders and laity. (Oct.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781441234308
Publisher:
Baker Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/01/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
192
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

CHAOS and Grace

DISCOVERING THE LIBERATING WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
By MARK GALLI

Baker Books

Copyright © 2011 Mark Galli
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8010-1350-8


Chapter One

THE RELIGIOUS CAPTIVITY OF THE CHURCH

I begin with the philosophy of pornographer Larry Flynt, founder of Hustler magazine. Mr. Flynt is not known for his brilliance or wisdom, but as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Regarding religion he said something prosaic but largely true: "Religion has caused more harm than any other idea since the beginning of time." Since religion traffics in the deepest mysteries of metaphysics and morals, and since it is taught, learned, and practiced by sinful human beings—well, we shouldn't be surprised that the combination can be lethal sometimes.

In this book, I hope to show how the Christian faith is fundamentally different than religion—religion understood as our attempt to order and control our lives before God. But this is no screed against religion as such, for there are dimensions of religion—its rituals, moral codes, community structure, and so forth—that we cannot live without.

This salutary function of religion has been noted recently by various and sundry scholars, like Bruce Sheiman. After a recent spate of atheist-authored books decrying religion, he wrote the contrarian An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off with Religion than Without It. He argued that religion helps people live happier and healthier lives by giving them meaning and purpose; it benefits society enormously by establishing food closets and hospitals and rescue missions. As the subtitle says, all told, humanity is better off because of religion.

The social value of religion was again noted at a 2009 conference of journalists organized by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. At that conference, Robert Putnam outlined the conclusions of a book he and coauthor David E. Campbell were working on called American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, is a leading academic expert on American religious and civic life. And "Campbell is his rising heir," according to Michael Gerson, who summarized this conference in his column in the Washington Post.

Contrary to assumptions of hard-core secularists, Putnam said that "Religious Americans are nicer, happier, and better citizens." They are more generous with their time and money, and they give not only to religious but also to secular causes. They tend to join more voluntary associations and attend more public meetings. All in all, religious Americans are three to four times more socially engaged than those who remain unaffiliated.

"Theology is not the predictor of civic behavior; being part of a community is," wrote Gerson as he summarized Putnam and Campbell's book. Christianity may not be the only socially useful religion, but it is clearly a very effective one, garnering adherents from 33 percent of the world. As a religion, Christianity is very much a human enterprise, and a successful one at that—even if the keys to its success can be understood in very human ways.

For example, the principles that have helped American evangelicals become a successful social institution are no mystical secret, available only to the initiated. Church administrators look to business gurus to discover how to manage large organizations like megachurches. Small group leaders ponder social psychology to discover principles that will help groups become more intimate. Christian educators utilize the latest pedagogies to inform their teaching. Worship leaders employ large group dynamics to determine how to use music and prayer to move people into a worshipful mood and send them forth uplifted. Pastors study rhetoric to make their sermons pop. Look at any successful, growing church, and you'll find it uses principles common to any well-managed group or organization.

Such wisdom is the product of God's common grace and is available to McDonald's, the YMCA, the homeless shelter, and the political action committee. Such techniques help people feel they've found a place to belong, supply them with a sense of meaning and purpose, help them develop and grow as individuals, and enable them to serve the larger community. What's not to like?

Some critics of "organized religion" decry this reality, as if real people—who they prefer to call "spiritual"—can live as if they never touch the ground, can survive and thrive without employing this collective social wisdom. But if you're going to form and manage a group for any reason or cause, you have to use such techniques.

Furthermore, the New Testament encourages religious behavior here and there. It prohibits sexual license and other forms of immorality. It extols patience, kindness, and other virtues. It tells believers how to worship aright. It instructs churches to care for one another in their common life. In this respect, the New Testament is realistic. It doesn't pretend that the common rules of morality and social concern don't apply to the church. It understands that groups of people, even if you call them churches, have to behave themselves if they're going to get anything done.

So Christianity, like all religions, is a good thing. Unfortunately for the fans of religion, the Holy Spirit is not as interested in religion as we are and, whenever there is an opportunity, has a way of subverting it.

* * *

After the church exploded on the scene, it had to attend to all sorts of religious matters: When and where to meet for prayer? Who was going to buy or bake bread for meetings? Who was going to manage money given to the church? Another problem was how to take care of those who had become dependent on the church's generosity, especially widows.

As in any church, especially a rapidly growing church like the one in Jerusalem, there were missteps. "A complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution" (Acts 6:1). Thus early in the church's life we see something that has plagued churches ever since: factions—in this case, Hellenists (i.e., Jews immersed in Greco-Roman culture) and Hebrews (i.e., Jews living in Jewish culture). The minority Hellenists were being neglected, as minorities generally are. But give credit to the apostles, who acknowledged the problem, and another problem as well: they couldn't both preach the gospel and "serve tables," as they put it. Not exactly an example of servant leadership, but at least they came up with a solution: appoint a church committee, give the members titles (deacons), and have them attend to the needs of the widows.

This is the sort of thing that religion has always been good at, and this religious solution apparently solved the dispute. It brought peace and order to the church, filled the cupboards of the widows, and contributed to the social well-being of church and society. We don't hear a complaint from the Hellenist widows again.

The one mistake was that the apostles laid hands on these deacons, which was a sacramental way of signaling that these men were now anointed by the Holy Spirit, given spiritual power and authority in a special way. That's just the thing to upset religion. And it didn't take long for one of the deacons, Stephen, to figure that out.

Early on in his diaconate, Stephen got the idea that he shouldn't spend all his time merely performing his assigned religious duty. He recognized that somehow a grace and power was now with him, and instead of merely being religious, he allowed that grace and power to work through him. He started performing "great wonders and signs among the people" (Acts 6:8).

It was his preaching, though, that got Stephen into trouble. Apparently he not only modeled a religion-transcending life but told people not to be satisfied with mere religion. He was accused of speaking blasphemy against Moses (the great lawgiver) and God: "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law," the authorities exclaimed, and they noted that Jesus would "change the customs Moses delivered to us" (Acts 6:13–14).

Challenging religion will, more times than not, get you into trouble. And this is what happened to Stephen. He was dragged before an impromptu court, and before you know it, he'd been killed by the mob. When the Holy Spirit gets a hold of people, religion usually has to take a backseat, and religion doesn't like the backseat.

* * *

Religious people get nervous if you start suggesting that religion isn't all it's cracked up to be, that there is something more important than religion. Religion, when it becomes the focus, is about bringing order and control. It's about making people nicer, happier, and better citizens. It's the middle ground between unbelief and zeal, a safe place to have God and morality without the holy chaos of the Spirit.

Back in the early sixties, a book was published with the title The Suburban Captivity of the Churches. The title is still an apt description of an American Christianity that has often traded faith for religion, the life of the Spirit for a life of safety.

The suburbs are not the problem; this form of social life is not the incarnation of evil, as some critics would have us believe. But the suburbs do tend to shape us (as do the city and rural life). And given that the vast majority of churches in America are located in the suburbs, one can see one unhappy consequence of that shaping.

Take one well-known quality of suburban life: safety. I live in a suburb in the Midwest where the biggest news items in the police blotter in our local paper usually have to do with shoplifting or DUIs or the occasional bicycle theft. Murders, rapes, armed robberies, and the like are few and very far between. Those are the types of things that happen in Chicago, not Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Families escape from the insecurity of city life and move to the suburbs because they are, among other things, a safe place to live. Safe is good.

Safety, though, is not a particularly high value in the Christian lifestyle hierarchy. You won't find it in the list of Christian virtues (as in "keep yourself and your family safe"). But that hasn't stopped it from becoming a characteristic of contemporary Christianity.

The yearning for safety begins when we get tired of dealing with the world on the world's terms. At one conference, I had a chance to hear a number of Christian novelists explain why they began writing Christian romances. A typical story went like this: they wanted to share a reading experience with their daughters, so they picked up a few romance novels from Barnes & Noble to read together. But the sub-Christian morality in novel after novel appalled them. Was it not possible to have a romantic story without illicit sex and steamy prose and questionable choices by characters? So they decided to write a Christian romance novel that protected their daughters from such themes.

Or take those who weary of the tired themes of pop music—from silly to raunchy, but seemingly always about romantic love or sex—and so move the radio dial to safe Christian radio. Or those beaten down with the moral pressures they face at work or the untold misery of family dysfunction, who just want Sunday worship to be a sanctuary for one hour per week!

Any Christian who does not get bone tired of dealing with the world on the world's terms has probably lost some basic human sensibility. So there's no denying that we need sanctuaries, safe places to which to retreat—as long as those sanctuaries are also places where we prepare to face danger.

What happens instead is that we begin to conceive of worship, and the entire Christian life, as a sanctuary from the world. We start to limit ourselves to Christian books and Christian music and Christian schools and Christian colleges and Christian movies, so much so that we actually become afraid of the world.

A friend once marveled to me that I let my children attend secular liberal arts colleges; he said he was looking for a Christian college where his daughter could be educated in a safe intellectual environment. My children have regularly run into graduates of Christian schools and colleges who find spending time with non-Christians threatening. While Christian media and education have their place, something has gone seriously wrong with Christians when the world they are called to love and serve, the world for whom Christ died, becomes a place from which they try to protect themselves.

* * *

Deacon Stephen wanted nothing of this sort of religion. In his one recorded speech, he criticized the Jews not just for faithlessness toward God but also for their infatuation with religion (in this case religious buildings). In his conclusion, he proclaimed, "The Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?' " (Acts 7:48–50).

This was not a religious sermon. It did not attempt to make people nice or to bring peace and order to troubled souls. It did not suggest ways for people to become socially useful to the Roman Empire. It did not contain five ways to improve marriages or raise kids. It did not try to help people get control of their moral or spiritual lives. It simply announced the dynamic work of God in history, described how people time and time again resisted that work, and, worst of all, proclaimed that the troublemaker Jesus, who was crucified for crimes against the state and religion, is actually "the Righteous One" (Acts 7:52).

In all this, Stephen stood in a long tradition of prophets, like Isaiah, who denounced mere religion. As we read the New Testament, we are reminded time and again that the gospel isn't about making life safe and orderly, but entails the risk of following Jesus. It's not about improving people, but about killing them and then creating them anew. It's not about helping people make space for spirituality in their busy lives, but about a God who would obliterate our private space and fill it with himself. The gospel is not about getting people to cooperate with God in making the world a better place—to give it a fresh coat of paint, to remodel it. Instead it announces God's plan to raze the present world order and build something new.

When it came to religion, the apostle Paul had no patience. To the church at Colossae, which had a special hankering to be religious rather than Christian, he wrote:

Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind....

(Continues...)



Excerpted from CHAOS and Grace by MARK GALLI Copyright © 2011 by Mark Galli. Excerpted by permission of Baker Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today. A former Presbyterian minister, he is the author, coauthor, or editor of several books, including Jesus Mean and Wild, A Great and Terrible Love, Beyond Smells and Bells, and Francis of Assisi and His World. Galli lives in Illinois.
Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today. A former Presbyterian minister, he is the author, coauthor, or editor of several books, including Jesus Mean and Wild, A Great and Terrible Love, Beyond Smells and Bells, and Francis of Assisi and His World. Galli lives in Illinois.

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