Archive for Relationships

The Church Needs to Get Scandalised!

Posted in Church, Reconciliation with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by stephengardner

One thing that will sell a newspaper is a scandal. One thing that will sell a newspaper and incite mobs of angry people is a scandal within the church. However, Miroslav Volf, in his book, Exclusion and Embrace,  argues that the Christian community needs to a scandalous one. A community that is willing to get scandalised because that is exactly what God has experienced in event of the gospel:

At its core, however, the scandal of the cross in a world of violence is not the danger associated with self-donation. Jesus’ greatest agony was not that he suffered. Suffering can be endured, even embraced, if it brings desired fruit, as the experience of giving birth illustrates. What turned the pain of suffering into agony was the abandonment; Jesus was abandoned by the people who trusted in him and by the God in whom he trusted. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15.34). My God, my God, why did my radical obedience to your way lead to the pain and disgrace of the cross? The ultimate scandal of the cross is the all too frequent failure of self-donation to bear positive fruit: you give yourself for the other – and violence does not stop but destroys you; you sacrifice your life – and stabilize the power of the perpetrator. Though self-donation often issues in the joy of reciprocity, it must reckon with the pain of failure and violence. When violence strikes, the very act of self-donation becomes a cry before the dark face of God. This dark face confronting the act of self-donation is a scandal. (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 26)

Volf goes on to say that ‘there is no genuinely Christian way around the scandal’ (26). Volf explores such practices of self-donation in the political sphere but his challenge, I think, is just as valid for the way our church communities relate to one another.  Getting scandalised, in this sense, is a non-negoitable for our churches. He goes on to write:

the only available options are either to reject the cross and with it the core of the Christian faith or to take one’s cross, follow the Crucified – and be scandalized ever anew by the challenge. (26)

I love it when different thoughts from different books collide. I find Volf’s challenge resonates deeply with much of the work of the brilliant Christian psychologist Larry Crabb. When it comes to thinking through how the Christian life should be expressed in relationship with others, there is no one sharper than Crabb. In his book Encouragement, he argues that too often we are motivated by fear to serve others, or that we hold back from serving because we are self-protective and anxious that we must first have our need for encouragement met by others before we can give of ourselves, or ‘self-donate’ as Volf would say.

What radical a call the cross makes on our communities, and yet isn’t it odd how few of our churches come close to resembling  such radicalness. Imagine the difference it would make if we actually believed that our security and significance was found in Jesus Christ alone.


Friendships must be messy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 4, 2009 by stephengardner

What makes Christian friendships particularly Christian? Is it their ‘other -person centred-ness’? Their focus on love? Or, is it actually their messiness that  makes them distinctly Christian? Recently I attended a  lecture on Paul’s friendship language, by Prof. Laurence Welborn of Fordham University, New York.


Prof. Welborn used 2 Corinthians to show that Paul’s ‘letter of reconciliation’ was ‘an audacious attempt to subvert the Roman paradigm of friendship.’ This is because Roman ideas of friendship were deeply influenced by Greek philosophical thought, with a particular value on firmness and permanence in relationships. Paul’s writings show a vulnerability and openness to messiness that offered a new paradigm in his cultural context. He often uses words like pain, sorrow and grief which reveal much of what he valued in his friendships (see 2 Corinthians 2.1-3, 2.7, Romans 9.2, Philippians 2.27).

The desire to have clean, tidy, neatly defined friendships directly clashes with the language Paul uses to speak about his relationships. Sure, loyalty and faithfulness are key in friendships, buts its when loyalty happens in the midst of pain, sorrow or even awkwardness that makes it distinctly Christian.

Recently, I spoke with a woman who has found herself increasingly isolated from Christian communities. Her friends have all but deserted her, unable to stick with her through various painful situations, perhaps finding her issues too much to bare themselves, too awkward or even too time consuming.

What stops us from opening ourselves up to sharing messiness with friends? Tell me what you think. Because its a total shame when we fail at this point,  its a missed opportunity to show to the world a distinctly Christian belief – that God dives into these moments, getting his own hands messy in our pain and sorrow. Paul might have been offering a subversive paradigm of friendship, but this is precisely because he had experienced the subversive message of a crucified God.

Tell me, what do you think makes Christian friendships distinctly Christian?