Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Over my trip to DC I began reading Frank Schaeffer's Crazy For God. I can see why many evangelicals are angry at Schaeffer, not only for turning away from (and in some cases against) the religious right, but for his unflinching portrayal of his parents, warts and all.

While Schaeffer spends as much time dwelling on the good aspects of his childhood as he does on the bad, he does not sugarcoat anything. A reader can come away from the book still respecting the Schaeffer family and the work that they did, but one will never again place any of them (including Frank) on a pedestal. Given that the Bible itself sets the precedent for highlighting the flaws of even its greatest heroes, that seems to me to be a good thing.

One point that stands out in the book is how the individuals who had the greatest positive impact in Schaeffer's life were the ones who were the least legalistic. In my own experience and observation I can confirm that those who demonstrate respect and unconditional acceptance for everyone they encounter are the ones who nurture the faiths of others around them, while those who are the most fixated on rules and outward behavior and rights and wrongs are almost inevitably the greatest destroyers (and, in many cases, the greatest hypocrites).

That observation raises a question in my mind - one which I hesitate to raise since it's so easily misunderstood as an endorsement of licentiousness, but one which I cannot leave unasked: at what point does a dedication to sin avoidance become a lifestyle of life avoidance? Can such a self-centered focus lead to any other result?

Do we, in our demand for absolute certainty and our desire for the security of a blanket list of dos and don'ts, become slaves to the very sin we claim to be liberating ourselves from? Do we clip our own wings for fear of the dangers in the sky, only to forget that we were created to fly?

Many Christians who don't believe themselves to be legalistic nonetheless try to reduce holiness to a set of rules. Sin is indeed a serious subject, but by placing our focus on it we increase its power. "Fear not" is one of the most common commands in the New Testament, yet fear of sin and damnation characterizes the Christian life for far too many.

If perfect love does indeed cast out fear, how can legalism under any guise represent true Christianity?


Peterson Toscano said...

Wow Eugene you raise some amazing and difficult queries. So many of us desire a list of do's and don't's, but is it really that simple? Some folks say "Yes!" and wonder why the question even comes up.

But walking by the Spirit, not by the law, specifically laws made by men based on tradition, bias and fear, requires a careful searching, listening, sensitivity and faith that we will find our way without the pre-established concrete rules that some of us crave.

Mark said...

"Do we clip our own wings for fear of the dangers in the sky, only to forget that we were created to fly?"

That's my new sig if that's alright. Great thoughts, Eugene. Thanks, as always, for sharing them.

Communion of Glitches said...

I always have found it sad when people get too legalistic about religion. Yes, there are things God does and does not want us to do. But I believe religious practice should bring more joy and wonder into our lives, not more fear and pickiness. It seems a lot of people get so into the rules that they lose the joy.

Eric said...

There's definitely lots to chew on here. Great questions, thoughts!

I'd say it's also true for me that those who have impacted my life the most were less legalistic. I was drawn to Christ all the more while owning my own faith.

It's a journey for me to find that balance of obeying the Lord's commands firmly and discovering His will through my own discernment and/or mistakes. I definitely don't advocate for abusing grace but rather walking in it.

I've been criticized for having an outside-the-box approach to living out a lifestyle of faith. And while I don't clip my own wings because I enjoy soaring (with the Lord), i'm sometimes tethered by the dangers on the ground - those who would resent my flight.

Anonymous said...


What is it about you that you can pierce to the heart of a matter seemingly effortlessly? Incredible!

I am in such a deluded fantasy world with my so called "struggle with homosexuality" that I'm not sure I know in which direction the sky exists!

You are right: the journey *does* take you places you never knew existed!