2/15/2019: A Salvation Manifesto (In Progress): As It Concerns Anxiety, Legalism, and Perfectionism.

A conversation in response to 12/3/2016, 1/19/2017: On Perfectionism and Creativity

In early 2017, a friend had some questions about a post. My response ended up summarizing my whole soteriology at the time, which of course is built with the humble and talented bricks of so many profs, books, and pastors and mortared together with my own thought and experience. I’m putting it here for posterity and will probably comment on it later.

D:  I have been thinking about this a lot lately, specifically how fear relates to perfectionism. Maybe you can expound on that some…

Me: What have you been thinking?

D: Well recently I feel like perfectionism is somehow related to self- protection or fear. But I haven’t figured it all out yet. You said it’s fear of failure which makes sense. Trying to protect a false image I have of myself maybe? But what if the fear of failure is of moral failure or sinful failure? I guess that’s what you were saying, that even that can become an idol. I’ve not thought of that before. But yes, it steals creativity & risk taking, but since perfection is impossible it also steals joy & peace.

Me: Yeah, moralism—that Christ-agnostic standard that has ruled much of my life—is a huge offender. And a sneaky one, since it masquerades so well as being scriptural. Learning the difference between moralism and the Gospel, which is about Christ’s meeting all godly standards on our behalf, was a huge change for me. The Grace Awakening by Chuck Swindol was a big help for me in this, among other things.

A corresponding key nuance is that ALL salvation—even sanctification—is by grace through faith. The emphasis in my tradition was always on our responsibility and need to work in sanctification (which we should) rather than on our dependence upon God for good works, just as much as we depend for initial belief and for future, eternal deliverance. We are called to work, but the goodness that comes within our working, when it comes, is always, always, always by grace through faith and not because of the work, itself (Phil 2:12-13). That grace—that dependence upon God for sanctification-salvation—frees us from the idolatrous tyrant of moral success. And again, it’s only because Christ has already met the standard on our behalf.

The Gospel is always, and in everything that’s eternally good (things whose goodness transcend temporal benefits, I suppose), “Christ saves us.” So any fear regarding anything eternally good, given Christ’s power and love for us, must arise from some lack of faith in Christ//faith in something in place of Christ. It must come from some flaw in our beliefs and values rather than from some valid application of the Gospel.

D: I agree. My trouble is with figuring out in the moment where my motivation is coming from- empowering grace or moralism.

Me: Another helpful nuance for me (we seem to share the same vice, though I’m not surprised)—we are at all times both sinner and saint. Nothing we do is ever wholly one or the other. So waiting for “good motivation” isn’t really a thing. We’ll never have it even if we think we do.

God just wants us to work, and to the degree that we do good, it’s because of him. And to the degree that we don’t, it’s because of us. And when we fail, because Christ has already pardoned us, we learn, and we keep on working, correcting our methods and actions on the way. It’s painful to learn through failure, but I think that’s one part of suffering we’re promised in this life. Putting to death the deeds of the body is putting them to death. It’s not a day spa. That one’s a fairly recent nuance for me—within the past six months, probably. He just wants us to keep working as best we can in each moment, and worrying is not ever a good work.

Given that all good we can do is by grace through faith, worrying about whether or not we have a good motivation with the intention of withholding that action if we don’t is, in my estimation, symptomatic of a return to moralism. The worry—the fear of failure—signs that we have lost faith in the righteousness and grace of Christ, upon which we are dependent for both our pardoning and for the good motivation/works. If we trust in him for what, in short, could be called our sanctification (good works out of good character), we trust his provision AND his withholding. Whatever he chooses to do—and he does not promise all salvation to all men—he is God, on whom, alone, we are dependent. And here it gets hairsplitting—if we trust ONLY in the provision and NOT in the (apparent) withholding (and also on our ability to know what provision we need and when, how, etc. we get it), we trust in the provision. It has become an idol. If we trust in the PERSON(S) who provides (or not), we trust not only his provision but also in what way he provides or not. We trust him and all he does in all the ways he does them, even when we have no idea what he’s doing or if he will ever extend us what we desire or what we think he should. All that to say, a person who trusts God, including his provision of the grace required for either our pardoning or our good works (again, ALL aspects of salvation) trusts HIM, and fear signs a trust in something less than him—something untrustworthy, thus the fear.

And another nuance—I use “lack of faith” more broadly than just in regard to belief. I think we are dependent not just for the belief but also for everything required for the belief, including the correct knowledge.

One mistake I fall into is making the removal of perfectionistic fear an idol. Given that God is both infinitely loving and powerful, fear is symptomatic of a lack of faith and thus sinful. If God is such, what have we to fear that’s actually worth fearing? Is he not capable to know good and evil, and in loving us and doing as he pleases, does he not give good perfectly? So the lack of faith requires grace (through faith), like all sin. So applying the above, God is good (i.e., loving and good) whether or not he gives me the grace to believe and so be free from fear (salvation from that sinfulness by grace through faith [faith is by grace as well]). And to follow that, in wanting to do the work that he commands me to do, I do my best to deny fear-led thinking and instead focus on good things and actions. Sometimes it’s a TEDIOUS moment-by-moment battle and far beyond me to be able to detect and redirect my thought life, especially when it’s led by something as strong and as confounding as fear. But I feel like that falls into the “work as best you can in all moments” and all the corresponding things I mentioned above. And I, in and of myself, am not capable of winning it because whether or not I believe it, I am wholly dependent upon God for salvation from any and all evil, whether by way of pardon or by way of outright deliverance, with the removal of temptation, whether I recognize it as such or not. And he loves us and is more powerful than we can comprehend. But I work, and if I will be delivered within that work, it will be God, by grace, through my faith— which is just another product of grace—and not by the work, itself.

All good things come from God. We are wholly dependent upon him for everything worth having. And that’s just the Gospel, which we learn on and on and on and on and on.

Do you mind if I put all this on my blog sometime? I’m not sure I’ve written all this down in one place before.

12/10/2016: Free To Act (cf. Phil. 2:12-13)

You are free to act.

God doesn’t tell us to wait on him to give us pure motivations or authentic motivations (pure motivations would be authentic…), he just tells us to do because it’s him in us working to will and to work his will. And he corrects us when we do wrong. And that’s it.

Something tells me he doesn’t want me to not do just because I might do wrong. Something tells me he will take care of me when I do wrong. That I have the freedom to act, knowing that I’m safe, that he loves me, that he works on me when I do wrong. And though those things may hurt, it’s good. So there’s a safety net, of sorts, in doing wrong. I am free to act because I could do right and because doing wrong is not the end.

To be continued.

(8/14/2017: I have since written a more nuanced explanation of what I’m talking about here, to be published later on. This is much too short to be of use to anyone. But this LBK was the first big movement on this topic that I had had in years.)

12/3/2016, 1/19/2017: On Perfectionism and Creativity

Perfectionism kills creativity. It drives the brain to the left side of the road in hopes of removing all imperfections—an editing process. Without feeling the freedom to make mistakes, a person cannot create. But the idea doesn’t stop there, else all perfectionists would be doomed from ever creating (and from the liberation of learning to do so).

Perfectionism, if it’s anything like what I consider my own perfectionism, is a flight from or fight against fear. In this case, it battles the fear of failing to meet some standard.

Call it what you will, but I call this legalism. It’s either the case of valuing the wrong standard or the case of failing to recognize Christ as the one who has met the right standard on our behalf. I say this because the only standard really worth meeting, the only standard that should cause us fear for not meeting it, is that which restores a right relationship between God and man. There are other desirable standards, to be sure, but they fall short of this one, and all become idols (1/19/2017: indeed, even this standard can be an idol if elevated above God, himself) as soon as they become our driving force, as soon as Christ’s imputed righteousness, our redeemed relationship with God and man, the hope to which we look forward, is not enough. We can handle falling short of those standards with poise and contentment because they do not come before that which secures us. (I need to develop these ideas more).

That being the case, perfectionism is sinful, or it is symptomatic of sinfulness. It is a lack of godly character. It is an issue in need of grace—whether common grace (as is the case for so many ungodly artists) or special grace for sanctification. That is to say, the recognition of the premier value of the standard that Christ met, of the Gospel, and faith in Christ as the attainer of the standard (and all that such entails) frees a person from the other standards that enslave him (in fear). And in freeing him from fear, he feels free to make mistakes and thus becomes more able to create. Moving from perfectionism to creativity is a liberation. And it is a product of the grace of God.

This is what I felt when I started writing.

1/19/2017: Another way of arriving at this:

As God is love, I think that God is Creativity (and I think A.W. Tozer would agree).

God, in his self-existence, is the standard and source of all the things that he is (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.). He doesn’t receive his characteristics from some higher provider, and he does not match up to some higher standard of goodness, of love, of whatever. He is the standard. These things belong to him as intrinsic to his nature (and to none other apart from his making it so, though sans infinitum, as far as I can figure). These are aspects of his character, descriptions of who he is. And the existence of these things in the creation is a product of God having created it and making it in accordance with who he is (Good is like God, Evil is unlike God, and God does no evil). Aberrations of these things came as a result of sin. So, God alone existing in and of himself, and him being the Creator, who creates from nothing, is creative and thus the standard of Creativity.

For mankind to be like God in his creativity is to be a subcreator (Tolkien). And because sin has made us unlike God, and since to be made like God is a product of grace, becoming creative is a grace.

11/25/2016: On Authenticity

You are choosing based on what you interpret that you want. Therefore the thing you want to do the most is to do what you want to do the most. And I imagine that’s because you want to do what’s “right” or “perfect” the most, and you’re leaning toward the idea that what you want—what’s “authentic” for you—is the best. Interesting.

I guess the issue is beliefs and values. What drives me? To be perfect. By what means? By being authentic. What should drive me?

I wonder what’s behind my wanting to be perfect. Is it a lack of faith in the imputed righteousness of Christ? Is it pride according to Satanic philosophy? The attitude of the Babel Tower builders? Both? Perhaps a lack of faith and a lack of valuing of the imputed righteousness of Christ?

A person of right character wants to do what’s good and does what’s good. They do so because they believe what’s good and value what’s good. I have a fallen character with the imputed, good character of Christ. At least with the righteousness of Christ. Thus I will not want what’s good—at least not purely. Not until glorification.

But I think this idea led to me valuing what I want as the best criteria for action. I elevated this form of “authenticity” because only an authentic person can exhibit good actions with good motives. But something tells me that a person with right character is authentic as a result. That is to say, if I put on authenticity, I am doing so out of a wrong character. If it’s by grace through faith that I am authentic, it’s good.

Ha ha. Now that I know I have this issue, what I want to do the most is change what I want to do the most.

More to come.

11/14/2017: On Good Art

Some of my impetus for how I’ve been developing my world depends upon my inability to create without placing the gospel in whatever world I create. I feel like this is a shortcoming in me. I love a lot of worlds that don’t seem to incorporate the Gospel, like Harry Potter and Star Wars. They typically still have good versus evil, but there doesn’t seem to be any presence of God in them (and so no grounding for their good and evil—making them some kind of floating, rootless things, or making them dependent upon the audience’s assumptions about good and evil).

In the real world, good does not exist apart from God. If I am to write about good and evil, how can I not at least underpin it with God, if my world will be a secondary world? I’d have to be contextualizing my stories differently with the assumption that they aren’t like our world—at least not in all ways but only those ways that deal with whatever I would be trying to say. I don’t know if I am a free enough artist to work like that. I don’t know.

So if the central message of Harry Potter is that love wins and ambition loses and yet it doesn’t underpin love as proceeding from God, is it wrong? It’s true that love wins. But is it true “enough?” Is it not just another moral story, feeding moralism, unless a person has all the necessary underpinnings already? But that’s like saying any work of art has to require all prolegomena for their messages. A painting of two lovers on a picnic would have to somehow show their love starting with God to be “true enough.” Or paintings like “Icebergs” would have to show him as the creator to be “true enough.” That’s just silliness.

I wonder if this is some vestige of my legalism, attaching itself to my limited understanding of art. Can we not appreciate the beauty of aspects of life without incorporating all the elements that make those aspects inherently “Christian?” Is love not beautiful even if it’s not visibly connected with God at all times? Is it not beautiful even to unbelievers, and does it not draw unbelievers to God  because it’s first beautiful without reference to God?

That’s an interesting idea. It’s beautiful without reference to God.

The reason it’s beautiful is because God is beautiful and because it is like God, so (5/30/2017 given the absence of sin and its perversive effects) the further into the search for beauty a person goes, the closer he comes to God. It’s the foothills, the distant view through a fog, of God’s character when it’s not visibly connected with him, and it becomes more beautiful as a person comes to see the two in conjunction with each other.

And I think I nailed my problem. I feel the need to make these things “Christian.” Whatever that means. I lack the freedom to appreciate them in and of themselves. Perhaps.

I have found my ability to appreciate art that does not speak of God more and more as I have grown in my belief of Christ and of grace and of the freedom we have from being sinless, from acting sinless, from making ourselves sinless. I have also learned more about what art is—what artists try to do with their art—which is not always representation of the way the world is—at least not in its entirety.

Art that is good, beautiful, and true doesn’t require those things that make it “Christian.” And if it is good, beautiful, and true, if it is subcreation, the creation of cosmos from chaos, it accords with the character of God, even if it doesn’t contain Christianity (or the Gospel, or the Scriptures, or history/future according to the Scriptures) or if it has things that, in and of themselves, do not exhibit Christianity or Christ.

What does “Christian art” even mean? L’Engle says there’s no such thing. There’s just good art. There’s cosmos out of chaos. And if it’s cosmos out of chaos, if it’s true and good and beautiful, it’s closer to God than art that’s “Christian” but that’s not true (or good or beautiful).

So what makes “Christian” art “Christian” to those who feel the need to make it, like I have tended to be? I used to not want to sing non-worship music. I also have not wanted to create worlds that ignore Christ or Christianity without reason that makes sense within our own world. I have not wanted to write about “good” characters who weren’t believers—characters who exist at the same time as us or after us. I think the feelings there had to do with not believing a person could be good without being a Christian and so feeling dishonest in making a story about them. It’s like writing a story about a dog that purs (when the whole world thinks it’s normal for dogs to pur) without explaining why he purs and that dogs should really bark. I haven’t wanted to write stories that ignore Scriptural prophecy about the future or history about the past, creating stories that contradict what really happened.

Perhaps it’s a fear connected with our (mainstream American Christianity’s) defensiveness against those who purport that we are wrong. Any breath that what we believe is wrong, and we become militant—even if people aren’t necessarily attacking us. Even if it doesn’t matter whether they attack or not.

Here’s a thought—people readily acknowledge that sci-fi, that fantasy, that even simple drama is fiction. They don’t take it as real—as depicting real life, reality, what’s real. Why can’t we write fiction that doesn’t include Christianity and be okay with it?

Can a sunset be beautiful even if it’s not overtly connected to the Creator? Can a dollar given to the poor be kind even if the Gospel isn’t spoken? Can an orphan whose parents were killed by AIDs be tragic even if sin’s precedence is never mentioned? Can a story depict good actions without mentioning Christ-like character and those actions still be good? Can a story praise love without naming the one from whom love comes and still be right to do so? Is love not praiseworthy in and of itself, even if it’s God who sits on the throne of praiseworthiness? Who sits on the throne of beauty? Who sits on the throne of goodness? And from whom all these things flow and on whom all of them depend?

Why do I sometimes, or in some of these things, feel the need to qualify them all with “only because of God!” without being able to appreciate them as they are? It’s not like me saying that makes me appreciate God more or appreciate those things more. At least I don’t think it does. It’s like a Christianity censor or something. If it doesn’t explicate Christianity (in all of its parts?), it’s wrong, or bad, or something.

Sidebar: If I’m wrong, and if I’ll change, it’ll be by grace through faith. Just saying.

You can write a story that includes God and Christianity and still be wholly untrue. You can write a story that doesn’t and is wholly true.

Fiction uses untruths to tell the truth. It could be fake people, fake conversations, fake fights, fake worlds, fake races, fake laws of nature, fake histories, fake futures, fake WHATEVERS. It’s fiction. It’s just that whatever you are saying should be true, if it’s to be good art. Cosmos from chaos.

This isn’t to say that you can’t have these “Christian” things. But why the compulsion to have them? Is it just a poor understanding of art? It’s not like I want to say things that have as their meaning (never finished this thought, apparently) …

Esther says nothing really about God or the covenant or anything really. It talks about the Jews, about circumstance (providence—Mordecai’s “for such a time as this” explanation), about the good choice of a woman and how she saved her people by her courage. It doesn’t really talk about her godly character, her faith. AND IT’S IN THE BIBLE. Why was it included? Because its message is true. Because it praises Esther’s courage. Because it’s part of Israel’s history (though not all of their history is included!). Because it hints at God’s sovereignty and his salvation of his people.

(1/19/2017—I marked out the above because the message of Esther is still overtly Jewish—it concerns God’s sovereignty and Esther’s character; I had that feeling as I wrote the paragraph, but I never fleshed it out; instead, I added the following paragraph.)

Perhaps a better example is a story like Samson’s. The contents include a godless man’s success over the Philistines. 5/30/2017 The message concerns God’s goodness to his people even in spite of their wickedness and his sovereignty even over wicked men. If translated into today’s context, it’d be like a story about Mel Gibson winning lost souls through The Passion of The Christ (hey, there you go).  The contents are not Christian. The message is. The message just requires understanding what the author is trying to say, which includes understanding context where necessary.

So I don’t have to write stories that complement historical and organizational Christianity, they don’t have to complement the Scriptures (to the extent that they are orthodox). They aren’t (or don’t have to be) the Gospel, just like not every conversation has to be the Gospel, not every anything has to be the Gospel. In fact, making everything the Gospel strikes me as symptomatic of legalism.

I could write a story that depicts that Christ never existed or was a sham that would still be a true and beautiful and good piece of art. It’s all about what it would be saying by depicting him that way. For instance, “The world would be like this if Christ wasn’t true.” Or whatever.

The issue is, then, what is your message? Is it true? Is it good? Is it beautiful?

I think, ultimately, this is an issue of not understanding art and perhaps defensiveness/sensitivity about my belief system.

Contents and message are different.

With all that said, I am creating a world. I am within my bounds, within the bounds of good art, to create a world that complements the world I live in and has as its underpinnings content that is entirely Christian. It doesn’t necessarily make it bad art.

The question to ask, though, is does the Christian content help it become better or worse art? Does it enhance my message or detract from it? Does it improve the world or not? What’s the message of the world and of creating it as it is (see the document “Thoughts on the Message of My World”)?

1/19/2017 Furthermore, the true message doesn’t have to include all truth to remain true. If art is conversation, and I believe it is, the question should probably just be “What truth do you care to say?”

5/30/2017 Also see “Where the Song is Singing Me” and the rest of the videos on https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/bono-and-david-taylor-beyond-the-psalms/

Always a Child

I am a late bloomer, but not in terms of physical growth. I have stayed around the same size since twelve.

I am talking about character growth—maturity. From the precarious perspective of self-judgment, it appears that I have finally begun maturing.

What Was
I remained an anxious, lazy, socially awkward teen late into my twenties. The curious combination of 1) my confidence of being right and 2) my terror of being wrong characterized me, including my inability to share and receive ideas, to make new relationships and to restore broken ones, and to explore new things. I was reduced to condemning and to avoiding condemnation, the latter taking up most of my time and causing a great deal of anxiety.

The warden most responsible for this was my southern-conservative, moralistic legalism. I felt constrained to meet the highest possible standard of maturity, and failure to meet this standard held some amorphous doom. This compulsion imprisoned me, driving me to manufacture character growth.

Child (Type 1) to Child (Type 2)
The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know. The harder we pursue the boundary of possible knowledge, the farther away it appears, and simultaneously we are made aware of gaps in what we think we know. Thus, true masters in their fields are often the first to admit ignorance. This idea has been attributed to persons like Socrates, Plato, and Einstein, and I have found it to be true as I have studied at DTS. Five years ago, prior to the heaps of work my seminary studies have required, I felt much more confident in my mastery of theology and my ability to exegete. The opposite must be true as well—the less we learn, the more we feel like we know.

Building upon this, a correlation with maturity seems appropriate. An immature person thinks he is mature, whereas a more mature person realizes his immaturity and how unreachable perfect maturity is.

So we remain children either way. Either we fail to grow, ignorantly parading our immaturity as if it were maturity, or we grow, continually recognizing what appears to be an increasing gap, or disparity, between our maturity and perfect maturity.

The person who feels mature is a child, and the person who matures feels like a child.

The Recognition of Inadequacy and Acceptance
Through my late twenties, the standard I sought to achieve was perfect maturity, and inadequacy terrified me. This fear was further stimulated as I studied the Christian Bible within my moralistic, legalistic worldview. I saw the standard of perfect maturity rise higher and higher, increasing the disparity between it and my so-called maturity, no matter how hard I tried to manufacture my own growth. So in one sense, I was moving toward child (type 2); I saw the disparity. But because I rejected the notion that this disparity should continue to exist, my recognition was lifeless.

If maturity is characterized by a “continual recognition of what appears to be an increasing disparity between one’s own maturity and perfect maturity,” a person who rejects his perpetual immaturity (in relation to perfect maturity, thus rejecting the disparity) cannot grow. He will go insane trying to become perfectly mature (trying to remove the disparity), he will give up altogether, or he will lower the standard to something manageable (and less than perfect). I was on the insane route.

Thus, it seems likely that a person moving from child (type 1) to child (type 2) accepts her immaturity in relation to perfection, continually recognizing what appears to be an increasing disparity between her own maturity and perfect maturity.

During my first year in seminary, The Grace Awakening by Chuck Swindoll, among other things, served as a catalyst. Through no manufacturing of my own, I was made aware of my legalism—this worldview that led to my compulsion for perfect maturity, and I was convinced of its fallaciousness. My affirmation of the Christian evangelical doctrine salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone expanded from the abstract, legal sense I had previously accepted to the freedom I have in the present:

I am not constrained to grow in order to be free; I am free to grow, constrained only by the benevolent, divine grace by which I do so.

As a result of this paradigm shift, my response to inadequacy began changing. Perceiving inadequacy is becoming an impetus for remembering my freedom, and while maturity is good, such is not necessary or guaranteed (in this life). Rather than merely recognizing the gap between myself and the perfection, I have begun embracing it. I believe this reflects a move toward child (type 2).

I hope that the birth of my acceptance of perpetual inadequacy indicates that I have begun moving from child to child. If anything, I feel liberated. But even if this is not the case, I’m more okay with such now than I would have been five years ago.