Tuesday, October 13, 2015

"Through us and in spite of us"

...[T]he line separating good and evil passes not through states,
nor between classes, nor between political parties either,
but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.
This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years.
Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil,
one small bridgehead of good is retained;
and even in the best of all hearts,
there remains a small corner of evil. ....
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Tish Harrison Warren, in Christianity Today, on "Our Beautiful, Broken Christian Ancestors":
...[W]e all inherit cultural and familial legacies marred by sin. But if the false gospel of some is ancestor worship, the false gospel of others is “progress.” We mobile urbanites can deride our heritage altogether. Confident in our own broad-minded superiority, we adopt a historical determinism that smugly labels everyone on the “right” or “wrong” side of history. ....

...[W]e are tempted to airbrush saints of old, glorify church tradition, and pine for a mythic, unadulterated past. .... We belittle the gospel when we paper over wickedness or weakness in our heroes and traditions. ....

On the other hand, we are tempted to write off church tradition entirely, engaging in what C. S. Lewis famously described as “chronological snobbery.” When my husband was getting his PhD, he taught a course in church history to divinity students. One day after class, he mentioned that the students seemed disengaged. “Why?” I asked. In short, it was because they deemed John Calvin a homophobe, Augustine of Hippo a sexist, and Arius a marginalized voice. The students had taken their particular contemporary concerns—about inclusion and equality—and imposed them on all who had come before them. They could easily deconstruct, and dismiss, nearly every leader in church history. ....

Standing in the muddy stream of church history, we recall that we, too, are blind to the evil within us and around us. In Augustine’s day, misogyny was the water he swam in, everywhere and invisible. Lewis wrote that the antidote to chronological snobbery is to realize that our current moment has its own myopia and illusions. These “are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.” ....

Martin Luther—whose legacy is clearly checkered—declared that each of us, in Christ, is rightly called both saint and sinner. ....

This view of humanity, rooted in the gospel, is what allows us to look squarely at and actively repent of evil in our church, and national, heritage. And yet it also lets us recognize that we have no choice but to learn from past voices that are simultaneously sinful and holy. The gospel allows us to honestly confront evil in church history, and to embody the good news that God uses even sinners—despicable and broken, confused and conflicted, good bad/bad good guys—to glorify himself. ....

...[F]ollowing Jesus allows us to be grateful for both our familial and church ancestors. In their mixed legacies, we not only glimpse our own brokenness, we also glimpse that for which Christ died and which he will redeem. ....

Our shared hope—the hope of those past, present, and future—is that the Lord, the only true “good guy” and the Redeemer of history, will preserve his church, through us and in spite of us. [more]