I like to envision my life in Christ as a house. For the first 25 years of my life that house was designed, built, and furnished almost exclusively by a very specific brand of evangelical Christianity. I attended a Christian college with a slightly broader brand, and some redecorating started early in my twenties, but for the most part, that house remained pretty much the same.
I struggled with deep introspection and constant condemnation in my performance-oriented walk with Christ. But I never considered whether something was missing in the house of my theology. Up to that point my spiritual community held to our theology and way of life in very arrogant ways. We believed we were the cream of the crop. We lived thinking we had the most coherent belief system with very little to no contradiction in our understanding of God, salvation, and church government and practice.
Then in my mid-twenties the Lord used a different flavor of evangelicalism to open my eyes to a fundamental truth about the gospel that I hadn’t tasted up to that point. I started to savor the life-giving reality that the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ was for me too as a Christian, not just unbelievers. This realization rocked my world. The constant introspection and condemnation I had lived with started to ease up as I learned to take hold of the gospel as the only reality that defined my life.
This began a remodeling project in the house of my spiritual formation and practice. A few walls were knocked down, and the living room became larger. More people could come and sit. I realized I had much to learn from groups that were outside of what I had previously considered acceptable. The more I honed in on the importance of a gospel culture in the church (not just an evangelistic culture but one actually gospel-shaped and motivated by grace), I realized how the culture of my church (and denomination) had been sorely lacking.
Over the course of the next 10 years (with two huge cross-cultural moves in the mix), God kept slowly remodeling my house but all still within a specific theological framework. He redecorated – adding rugs here and there, switching out paintings and wall art or completely replacing them – but most of my influences were still within a strong word-centered tradition.
When we arrived at the country where we live now (yes, a third cross-cultural move), the remodeling project became significantly more intense. I went from thinking my house was pretty complete and without much need of significant change, to realizing I needed major overhaul. Through deep suffering the Lord started to expose how the actual foundation of my home needed to be completely replaced. He started to show how my Christian walk was not only shaped by the theological system I had lived in all my life, but also by trauma and dysfunction.
I needed significant healing and rescue, and my Father was eager to gently, tenderly deliver me. He used the strength of other spiritual communities to help me taste a bit more the fullness of who He is and the riches of his presence. In the contemplative traditions I’ve delighted in being with God, in slowing down and focusing on his actual presence with me. Through my charismatic friends, he has fixed my gaze on the Spirit and on his ministry that pours the love of the Father.
He is growing my dependence on the Spirit’s ability to lead me and guide me in righteousness, not because a spiritual community or leaders tell me how to live but because He himself is able and willing to do it and because he has given me Christ’s ability to discern it. Community matters deeply, and leaders can be a gift, but I am discovering what great confidence there is in listening to the Spirit.
Over time I have found myself jealous for more of the triune God, and that desire is the main filter through which I evaluate different traditions and systems. While I still strongly care about theology and the surety of the word, I want the house of my walk with Christ to have a strong awareness of the nourishing presence of the actual person of God – not just truth about him.
As I consider this major remodeling that God has done in my life, I have been struck by two things that matter immensely in our Christian formation and practice. Doctrine matters, theology matters, but what matters more than a specific set of beliefs is that we know how much the Father loves us in Christ and that, trusting in that love, we live by the Spirit and not in the flesh.
Interacting with people from many traditions and backgrounds, I have been struck by how we are all tempted in similar ways to doubt the love of the Triune God and to live with confidence in the flesh. It shouldn’t surprise me since that has been the attack of the devil as early as Genesis 3, when there were no denominations or traditions – only humans.
The brokenness of the world, of relationships, of our own hearts gets in the way of us knowing deep in our souls the delight of the Father to us through Christ. We forget (or don’t know or don’t grasp) how our in-Christness defines every aspect of our reality. We focus so much on what we do or don’t do, that we think that the love of God depends on that.
And this leads us to find our security, significance, and confidence in many good things that are not Christ. We boast in our accurate understanding of the word, in our precise theology, in our visions and experiences in the Spirit, in the power and effectiveness of our prayers, in our liturgies and rhythms of fasting and silence and solitude.
But when our confidence is on anything outside of the finished work of Christ and of his life, death, and resurrection (and their power in us), we end up reeking of pride and can become oppressive in our interactions with our brothers and sisters. The flesh is the enemy, not those outside of our circles.
While I have struggled to know where I fully belong in the context of so much theological and practical diversity, I have also come to be supremely grateful for an outsider perspective. I have been learning from many but not fully belonging anywhere.
Yet I am supremely grateful for what God has given me through such distinct theological backgrounds and cultures because in all of it, he is giving me more of himself in ways that offset the profound loneliness of this long season of painful but needed transformation. I have been grasping and savoring the surety of his presence with me because of what he has revealed about himself in the beautiful prism of his diverse body.
I am thankful for the things I get to keep of the tradition and theological system that first shaped me. And I am also grateful for the freedom to identify which things I don’t want to keep from them – which allows me to recognize the needed gifts and beauty in other traditions.
We all need our houses to be remodeled eclectically. No single theological system or set of doctrines or practices holds the vastness and mystery of God. When Christ alone is the sure foundation, our homes are strong enough to withstand expansive remodeling so that the beauty, glory, and paradox of the triune God is what defines and establishes every aspect of our life in Christ.
Because at the end of the day traditions and systems and doctrines are just that: traditions, systems, and doctrines. None of them can save. None of them is a sufficient source of confidence. Only God himself is worthy of all our trust, rest, and joy.