“Just as I am” but not for long!

Like John Wesley, Tom Wright has never had an unpublished thought.
According to my blog’s search engine, it’s been over a month since I’ve mentioned anything by or about N.T. Wright! (Is that possibly true?) Let me remedy that situation. While I was preparing for this week’s sermon, I made use of N.T. Wright’s For Everyone commentary on the very difficult Parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22:1-14.

Wright points out the obvious truth that this parable bothers us because it doesn’t say what we want it to say.

We want to hear a nice story about God throwing the party open to everyone. We want (as people now fashionably say) to be ‘inclusive’, to let everyone in. We don’t want to know about judgment on the wicked, or about demanding standards of holiness, or about weeping and gnashing of teeth…

God wants us to be grown up, not babies, and part of being grown up is that we learn that actions have consequences, that moral choices matter, and that real human life isn’t like a game of chess where even if we do badly the pieces get put back in the box at the end of the day and we can start again tomorrow. The great, deep mystery of God’s forgiveness isn’t the same as saying that whatever we do isn’t really important because it’ll all work out somehow.1

In the Baptist church I grew up in, we sang the old hymn “Just as I Am” at least once a month as a response to the sermon: “Just as I am without one plea/ But that thy blood was shed for me.” The idea is that we can come to Jesus “just as we are,” and, no matter how great a sinner we are, we can find forgiveness.

And I couldn’t agree more. Our sin, no matter how severe, cannot stand in the way of God’s forgiveness. What God accomplished through the cross of Christ was just that powerful and effective.

What raises my blood pressure, however, is the heretical idea that somehow we’re allowed to stay that way—that the cross of Christ really means that sin is no big deal after all. Wright also discusses this problem:

We want to hear that everyone is all right exactly as they are; that God loves us as we are and doesn’t want us to change. People often say this when they want to justify particular types of behavior, but the argument doesn’t work. When the blind and lame came to Jesus, he didn’t say, ‘You’re all right as you are’. He healed them. They wouldn’t have been satisfied with anything less. When the prostitutes and extortioners came to Jesus (or, for that matter, to John the Baptist), he didn’t say, ‘You’re all right as you are’. His love reached them where they were, but his love refused to let them stay as they were. Love wants the best for the beloved. Their lives were transformed, healed, changed.2

In other Wright-related news… If you want to get a sense of where the church has gotten off track in this era of late-modernity in which we live, read this recent speech that Wright gave at a C.S. Lewis symposium in Ireland. In the speech, he speaks in practical ways of how we, the Body of Christ, can do the work of God’s kingdom in the here and now.

In doing so, we must resist the modernist impulse to privatize faith—keeping the Church safely on the margins of society. According to modernism, he says,

God and Caesar belong in entirely separate compartments… The excuse for reducing Christian content is always that religious minorities might be offended. But that’s not the real reason… ‘Tolerance’, that much-vaunted but actually very hollow Enlightenment ideal, has nothing to do with it. The real reason is the modernist ideology according to which religion is something for consenting adults in private, because God and the world simply don’t mix. And that, to repeat, is not the result of modern physical or political science. It is the presupposition.

1. N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone Part Two (Louisville: WJK, 2004), 82.

2.Ibid., 84.

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