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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

the 'necessary' Christ?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I love it when blog discussions bring new challenges and ways of thinking (even if they're not new to everyone!) So, I just wanted to direct readers back to Steve Lancaster's comments to my 'faithful betrayals' post of last week 'here'. Steve's someone I knew and worked alongside all those years back (!) when I was a student at York University, and was then (and still is by the looks of things!) an inspiring thinker. I'm still not sure yet what my overall response is to Steve's comments, but I'm glad he's written them and am mulling them over. One thing that has definitely got me thinking is this:

"perhaps we begin to get to the heart of the nature of God's Love, the depth of Jesus' sacrifice, if we at least explore the possibility that what He did/was/is has been unnecessary.

I won't marshall a long argument here, except to point out that it is surely the essence of a Gift to be unnecessary. That's why we feel uncomfortable handing out wedding lists! Or, to argue from the nature of Love - if all things are possible, and if Love is infinitely giving, then surely there was a way around our intransigency without recourse to the death of a Son. "

I can't help thinking in response to this, however, that if 'the death of a Son' wasn't necessary then it all seems a bit macabre and so challenges my belief in a God of infinite love. If there was another way to demonstrate grace and forgiveness and to establish the redeemed people of God, then why suffer the brutality of the cross? Can't a gift be a 'necessary' expression of love and commitment?

Steve, thanks for getting the grey matter going, and 'Amen' to your closing comment...

"Now, Emerging Church, really let your imagination run riot!"


posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 9:41 AM


Aw shucks. Did I ever actually say anything at uni? Too much in awe of too many sorted people!

The idea that Jesus might have been performing an unnecessary act as a gift to us popped into my head as I was commenting on your earlier post. As I tease at it, the more the idea opens out - usually a good sign! I wonder how much it reflects
Kester Brewin's work on the nature of Gifts?

You ask "If 'the death of a Son' wasn't necessary then it all seems a bit macabre and so challenges my belief in a God of infinite love."

I was at Greenbelt last year and at a talk about the future of Church heard a young man urge church leaders to speak up more about Death. "That's a little creepy!" I thought at the time, slightly uncomfortable about my own reaction. But I wonder if I was thinking along similar lines as you are in the above quote.

There is no doubt that Death is the 'big adventure'. No doubt too that the run up to Death takes us through realms of pain and emotional challenge. I was diagnosed with testicular cancer last Autumn (thankfully successfully treated), so please do not think I say this too lightly. But as followers after Christ, surely our lives are informed by belief in Someone who passed triumphantly through the whole experience. 'Death, where is thy sting?' - therefore, need we necessarily find it macabre any longer?

The point about questioning the necessity of what Christ did is to free His Church to explore new approaches to life in a culture where there are multiple metanarratives to choose from. In Jesus we're faced with the presence of Love rather than of a 'necessary course of action'. The former is a fact, or in Barth's words an event: the latter is a metanarrative, a context within which we can make sense of that fact. And another metanarrative is one where Jesus chooses to do what he does despite its being unnecessary. Both metanarratives inform each other, but it is probably true that the one that has made the running in evangelical thought is the one that requires Jesus, and by implication, us, to respond to key life questions in 'necessary' ways. Church language and culture drip with a sense of urgency which is not always balanced by a sense of the 'waiting in grace' which can allow new opportunities to open up to us, and the 'risking in grace' which allows us to take such opportunities when we sense them.

Necessity does exist alongside the 'unecessary narrative' in the following way. It was necessary that the Father allow Jesus freely to choose to perform an unnecessary action in order to demonstrate for us the lengths to which Love goes, not only that we might be saved, but that we might live life in all its fullness in the here and now. That fullness includes the freedom to live life to the extreme, as people participate in extreme sports, or rescue one another in adversity, or adventure beyond previously accepted limits, or take risks in their spiritual life, or reinvent churches utterly, or stick with modern churches beyond all hope of their continued existence in current forms, or practice miracle-making, or challenge unjust laws. Not because God is asking us to, but because we are free to choose to, and because it is exhilerating fun.

A case in point dear to my heart is the environment. We can legislate for changes in our life styles to tackle climate change. We can put ourselves through the psychological strain of living with less though we really want more. Or we can pause and consider that, just perhaps, we can learn to live frugally because it is fun, and we are free, to try to do so.

So the 'unnecessary' message in this case would be that trying to save the Earth is exhilerating, and churches can help lead the way. No pressure, guilt off, and Love freely expressed. Result!

commented by Blogger Steve Lancaster, 1:51 PM  


Malcolm, you've really set my imagination running.

But I don't want to hog your blog with my ramblings, therefore, for the start of a fuller exploration of this idea, please do have a look at this post and following!

It could snowball. What do you think?

commented by Blogger Steve Lancaster, 1:57 PM  

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