A Generous Orthodoxy

My friend, Jake Decker, recommended the exceptional Revisionist History podcast to me a while back. I listened to a couple of episodes and then lost track (I still struggle with the whole podcast thing). But I recently picked the show back up and listened to the entirety of the first season in a matter of a couple of evenings.

First off, let me just say, Malcolm Gladwell is fantastic. I’ve read Outliers, Blink, The Tipping Point, and David and Goliath, and I find him to be an incredible thinker and storyteller. He brings his curiosity and openness to the podcast, and as a bonus he has a voice perfect for the stories he’s telling. I found myself wishing there were a dozen more episodes in Season One.

Second, and more importantly, the stories Gladwell is telling are worth your time. The idea behind Revisionist History is to go back and look at stories that either weren’t examined very closely, or were simply overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Everything from Elvis Costello to Wilt Chamberlin to the broken university system is covered.

And then there’s Chester Wenger.

Chester is the focus of episode nine of Revisionist History. Chester is a Mennonite pastor, 98 years old. Well – he was a pastor. The local conference overseeing Chester stripped him of his credentials after he went against their bylaws and performed the wedding ceremony of his son.

You can probably guess why.

Chester’s son is gay.

You can read the remarkable letter that Chester wrote to his beloved church. In it, he makes a cogent, reasoned and eloquent defense of his journey as both a father and a pastor. He comes to some conclusions about the church’s need to reexamine it’s interpretations of Scripture and argues for them with the gentle force of a man much at peace with himself and his convictions.

It is a breathtaking letter to read. Not because it will persuade any one, but because the letter is written with such grace.

Gladwell uses the story of Chester to examine the idea of generous orthodoxy – that somewhere between grace and law lies the heart of what faith ought to be. I am rolling Gladwell’s assertion around in my mind because the tension I most feel as a Christian is exactly what he points out – the wrestling between what I’ve been taught was right and what I am coming to understand on my own.

I feel like the modern American church needs a more generous orthodoxy. Or more specifically, it needs to rediscover true grace.

It would be easy to point to the election as the culprit for this blog, but for me, the truth goes back much farther than that. It goes back over a dozen years. It goes back to when the first cracks in my religious perceptions began to form. It goes back to when the god I thought I worshiped fell away, like so much confetti, and the true God emerged to challenge my faith.

It remains challenged. But that’s not the point. The point is that the orthodoxy under which I served became insufficient for the world in which I lived. Easy answers and limited world views do not advance the Gospel of Christ into the heart of darkness. Once I understood that not only could I not escape the darkness, but was compelled by God to enter into it, the rigid rules I’d followed slowly peeled away.

And grace began to emerge.

I still struggle with grace. I still want to come back to the orthodoxy I knew from time to time, as if you can take a tree that’s been chopped down and reattach it to the stump without consequence. But that orthodoxy doesn’t fit. Instead, there is this thing I feel God is doing, this grafting of my soul into something different, something deeper, something more wild than I ever knew. To go there, to be grafted fully in, I have to let go of the old orthodoxy and take hold of grace.

For myself. For my family. For my community.

Sometimes that means taking a stand opposite people I love and respect. Sometimes that means doing things my family and friends think unpopular.

Sometimes it means feeling like I am going insane.

But within all of that is a freedom in my soul. There is a deeper desire to pray. There is a deeper love for the Scriptures. I see people differently. I feel things differently. It’s as if someone ripped out my old heart and installed a new one.

You know, like Jesus said he would for those who follow him.

There’s no point to this blog beyond my confession that I long for a more generous orthodoxy. I know God has firm boundaries, high standards, a holiness that scares me. But I also know he has called me to love people I once thought unloveable. He is asking me to know him in ways I didn’t think possible. And he is bringing me alongside people who are on the same journey, even as previous travel companions fall away.

I want to find the balance between grace and law. I want the generous orthodoxy that allows me to love even as principle calls me to stand firm.

I believe it is within my reach. By God’s grace. By God’s strength.

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