Steve Brown November 15th, 2010
As I mentioned before, I'm working on the Three Free Sins book. And as you can imagine, the themes of that book are often on my mind. The thrust of the book is that we not only have three free sins, but unlimited sins. That's the Gospel for the Christian. Because we do have a "free pass" on sins, we get better, we learn to love, and we become authentic and real to the world.
Our problem is that we're working to accomplish something that has already been accomplished. Our obsession is killing us.
You already knew that. Now you don't have to buy the book when it's published.
As I've worked on the book, I've felt increasingly uneasy. Let me tell you why.
I just finished reading Eric Metaxas' wonderful biography of Bonhoeffer (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy). Frankly, I've been overwhelmed by the story of Bonhoeffer's courage. I didn't know where Bonhoeffer got it. In fact, there is no explanation for him. Bonhoeffer should have been simply a gentleman, enjoying his wealth, his piano and his books. He was bright, of course, and had an incredible heritage, but he didn't have dirt under his fingernails. One expects courageous warriors to come from the ranks of the "common man," not from the privileged classes.
When I was a student at Boston University School of Theology, Bonhoeffer was (wrongly) identified as one of the fathers of the "God is Dead" movement. He was seen as another example of a man whose liberal theology informed his concern for justice. Out of that concern, he became a martyr for the cause of the oppressed. After reading this biography, I found out that that is drivel.
While I respect my colleagues and friends who hold that spurious theological position, I could never see how a position that was more humanistic than theological could inspire anybody to do anything, much less give his or her life for any cause.
But as I read Metaxas' book I saw, for the first time, Bonhoeffer's profound relationship with Christ and understood that he was a major danger to the Third Reich and a "troubling thorn" in the liberal theological ranks of the German church not despite his faith, but because of it. Bonhoeffer was dangerous because he was free, and he was free because he was forgiven.
Boldness is a very hard trait for Christians to acquire. In fact, in some circles, boldness is considered a sin or, at best, in bad taste. If you must say what you think (and that should be rare), at least be nice about it and don't offend anyone.
Because of the "default" Christian position of niceness, one has to be careful to define words like forgiveness, love and compassion very carefully lest it become just another way to be nice. Forgiveness always costs, love is sometimes as hard as nails, and compassion can degenerate into another form of do-goodism if one isn't careful.
In Acts 4, the disciples were arrested. Luke said, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus" (v.13). Then later on in that chapter when the religious leaders told the disciples to back off, they replied, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (vv. 19-20).
Now that's boldness. Where did it come from? It came from the fact that they had "been with Jesus." He loved them, forgave them and accepted them just the way they were and out of that freedom, those disciples became dangerous. They didn't have anything to protect and they didn't have anyone they wanted to please except Jesus…and he was already pleased.
A number of years ago on my television show, I interviewed Jim Bakker about his book, I Was Wrong: The Untold Story of the Shocking Journey from PTL Power to Prison and Beyond.
I told Jim Bakker about an experience I had speaking for a convention of religious broadcasters during the time of his arrest. Every one of those broadcasters (myself included) suffered significant financial loss because of Bakker's actions. Not only that, he created a public relations disaster for all of us. We had every reason to be angry.
Just before I got up to speak, the organization's president stopped me and said, "Steve, I was just watching television and I saw them taking Jim Bakker off to prison. He was weeping. We need to pray for him."
I agreed and figured I would call on someone to pray for Bakker. I thought that I could find at least one "nice" Christian in the bunch who wouldn't pray that he got the hives. "Bill told me that he had just seen the police take Jim Bakker off to jail," I said. "He was crying and we probably need to pray for him."
Just when I got ready to ask someone to pray, to my astonishment, the entire group of people at the convention got up and quietly knelt down by their chairs and started praying for Bakker-for God to uphold him, to bless him, to forgive him and to enable him to get through the pain, doubt and confusion that he was, at that moment, experiencing.
After I told Jim Bakker that story, he seemed emotionally moved. I asked how he felt and he said, "I feel loved, forgiven and free."
Jim Bakker went on to describe the difference between having a successful national television ministry with millions of followers and going to prison, finally getting out and having nothing. I don't remember everything Bakker said in that interview. I do remember his humility and the quiet way he described his pain and his surprise at being released from prison early. I remember his description of the time Billy Graham visited him in prison and loved him, and about Jerry Falwell's visit too and how hard it was to forgive Falwell for what Bakker perceived as Falwell's betrayal.
I don't remember the details, but I'll never forget what Jim Bakker said about being loved and being free. He had done some really bad things and yet he felt loved. Everybody knew he had done some really bad things and was capable of doing more, and yet he was free. He said, "I can go wherever I want-to a bar, a church or a Wicca gathering-talk to anybody about anything and nobody is shocked or surprised. I'm free for the first time in my life."
Jesus said, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32).
I feel better now about the danger of niceness that could be implied in the concept of "three free sins." In fact, if I can say it in a way that people understand it, the people who read the book will be boldly dangerous.
Do you remember the story about the little boy who killed his grandmother's pet duck? He accidentally hit the duck with a rock from his slingshot. The boy didn't think anybody saw the foul deed, so he buried the duck in the backyard and didn't tell a soul.
Later, the boy found out that his sister had seen it all. Not only that, she now had the leverage of his secret and used it. Whenever it was the sister's turn to wash the dishes, take out the garbage or wash the car, she would whisper in his ear, "Remember the duck." And then the little boy would do what his sister should have done.
There is always a limit to that sort of thing. Finally he had had it. The boy went to his grandmother and, with great fear, confessed what he had done. To his surprise, she hugged him and thanked him. She said, "I was standing at the kitchen sink and saw the whole thing. I forgave you then. I was just wondering when you were going to get tired of your sister's blackmail and come to me."
If he already saw and forgave you, don't let anybody say to you, "Remember the duck."
That makes you dangerous. So go out and offend somebody!
Speak your truth to power and do it with love.
And don't you shilly-shally.
This entry was posted on Monday, November 15th, 2010 at 11:41 am and is filed under Boldness, Christianity, Church, Culture, Gospel, Grace, Jesus, Jim Bakker, Niceness, Steve Brown, Three Free Sins. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.