Transformative Love: Justice, Holiness and Grace

By Greg Forster: part eleven of a series.

It’s only a totally random coincidence that I wrote this, my final post in this series on the kingdom of God, on the doorstep of Easter. But I might as well have planned it, because I want to propose a reversal of our inadequate models of the kingdom that will bear some resemblance to death and resurrection.

To equip Christians for whole-life discipleship, fruitful work and wisdom about human flourishing, our churches need a fresh vision of the kingdom of God, transcending the three inadequate visions that now dominate in different churches. The original idea of this series was to give up trying to articulate a single, “right” vision of the kingdom and instead look at how churches in each of the three inadequate camps could grow by learning from the strengths of the others.

One thing I considered at the start was suggesting new, more constructive names for the three models. I think Greg Thompson did the church a great service by naming these three visions the domination, fortification and accommodation paradigms. (In spite of recent events, I will forego the obvious “re-accommodation” jokes.) He also made clear what they get wrong. It wasn’t immediately clear that new names would help.

Looking back on the series, I now see that the approach I’m taking does require new names. The aspirations to growth that we want to encourage in these churches require them to identify their models in ways that are positive, not negative – while maintaining the imperative to grow and not be complacent.

As I close this series I want to tentatively suggest that these models could be called transformative justice, transformative holiness and transformative grace, and that it is these three elements building upon their own strengths while striving toward one another’s strengths that represent the cosmic inbreaking of God’s transformative love.

Yes, the word “transformative” is overused and trite. I’m sorry, but there’s not much I can do about that. It needs to stay in order to ensure that the models are not complacent about their existing strengths but are encouraged to strive toward one another’s strengths as well.

Domination or culture-war churches, rightly enthusiastic for justice, could think of themselves as promoting transformative justice. Calling it “transformative” would force them to consider how real justice requires the local-church based growth in personal holiness and the symbolically savvy cultural contextualization that the other two models point toward. This would help them move past their “practical deism” and take steps toward a vision of justice that is pure and graceful.

Fortification or fundamentalist churches, rightly enthusiastic for holiness, could think of themselves as promoting transformative holiness. Calling it “transformative” would force them to consider how real holiness requires the sanctification and discipleship within rather than apart from the surrounding culture, and the constant emphasis on supernatural grace, that the other two models point toward. This would help them move past “cultural puritanism” and take steps toward a vision of holiness that is just and graceful.

Accommodation or seeker-sensitive churches, rightly enthusiasic for a cultural hermeneutic of grace, could think of themselves as promoting transformative grace. Calling it “transformative” would force them to consider how real grace – even at the level of a cultural hermeneutic for understanding grace – requires the sacrificial call to holiness and justice that the other two models point toward. This would help them move past “religious pseudo-pragmatism” and take steps toward a vision of grace that is pure and just.

And if churches based on transformative justice, transformative holiness and transformative grace were to learn to think and work together, seeking to learn from one another and self-sacrificially partner in enterprises that advance the kingdom of God, that would really demonstrate what the transformative love of God – the love of the Father, Son and Spirit for one another, extended to us in creation and redemption – would look like in our lives. If we took it seriously.

And that’s what I’ve got. Happy Easter. See you on the flip side with a new series.

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