I’ve been pondering Christopher’s last post for a couple of days now. In it, he draws our attention to the nuance necessary around themes of baptism, discipleship and sanctification.
I’m of two minds on the topic at the moment.
On one hand, I appreciate the image of relaxing into the person of Christ. That connects with me on all sorts of levels. As one of my chief physical disciplines is tai chi, I resonate with the idea that relaxation is one of the ways that we return to a more natural state —as opposed to the tension which we manufacture as a defense mechanism against the world and which thereby distorts us muscularly from our proper shape and function. The idea of relaxing into the person of Christ as a way of understanding discipleship, as a form of the imitation of Christ, and as a way of reconnecting with the image of God woven into us at our beginnings makes a lot of sense.
On the other hand, Christopher writes with reference to the situation of the “terrified conscience” (as Luther termed it). There are now and always will be these consciences in our churches and our theology—particularly our ascetical theology—does need to recognize it. But (and you knew there’d be a “but”…) I can’t help but think that the dominant character of our time is not the “terrified conscience” but the “complacent conscience.” The complacent conscience doesn’t need to be told not to stress out about their salvation status—they’re not doing that anyway. The complacent conscience doesn’t need to be told that God’s grace is sufficient, they already assume it, and in doing so may even presume upon it. I suspect that what this conscience needs is to be reminded that a yet more excellent way awaits them—but that it will require effort and action on their part.
Does this mean we need to advocate for a return to works-righteousness? Of course not. And yet, as beautiful as I find the image of relaxing into the person of Christ and as much as it makes sense to me, I wonder if this image of (apparent) inaction speaks the needed word of the Gospel to those who need not fewer reasons but more to engage and to be transformed.
I’m still pondering…