Tuesday, February 04, 2020

The Gospel of Nice

Update:  Typo fixed.

I have a friend from beer night, who I have long attended church with, who is pursuing a Master's in Spiritual Formation now that he is retired.  He made a comment that put me in mind of many things I have read over the years. He may work on refining the concept and phrasing now that he knows I'm going to write it, but I'm sure the sense of it will come through.
If you don't have a spiritual life and foundation, you can end up being a nice person for a long time without having a transformed life.
I consider the Gospel of Nice to be the main threat to the church of our time. It is related to CS Lewis's First and Second Things. Ultimately, it comes from the mouth of Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." If we seek righteousness we will find ourselves becoming nicer people, even when we have stern things to say.  If we seek mere niceness - the whole array of identity politics, the soft-pedaling of hard truths - then we will get neither.  The Gospel of Nice is more of a false God for liberals - all those nice Scandinavians and Brits whose Lutheran and Anglican churches have become progressive meeting halls, with liturgy - but traditionalists have false gods of their own. Traditionalists put fighting the culture war first, liberals put social justice first.  It is not that either stops worshiping or addressing God, but that each increasingly believes this is what God wants us to focus on, and gradually, imperceptibly, it becomes their definition of God. They believe they have held the faith because they still worship, not noticing that the object of their worship has shifted.

All of us protest that this is not so, because we can still find times in our lives that are focused on God the Everlasting with no reference to political or cultural considerations.  Our Sunday mornings mention no politics and little culture directly, but the denominational publications, the conferences, and most especially the denominational colleges are awash with it. We merely mean that a person can still cry out from the belly of the whale.

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