Wednesday, August 8, 2007

No Such Thing as Too God-Centered, Too Cross-Centered

My friend The Internet Monk asks if it's possible for us to be too God-centered.

My answer: Of course not.

I know what the iMonk is getting at, though, and my difference with him (I think) is largely semantic. I think what he's asking, really, is "Is it possible to be too theology-centered?"

And the answer to that is, of course it is. Anything can be an idol if it is a) the center of our lives, and b) not God. This includes knowledge of God, and I have plenty of experience with the idol of theology.

On a related note, in this post at Dan Edelen's Cerulean Sanctum, in which he contends we're not really sinners saved by grace but saints who sin (my take: six of one, half a dozen of the other, and I really wonder what bizarro church world Dan lives in where people are preoccupied with their sin while the rest of us exist in one where people don't even mention the word), commenter Travis Seitler writes:
This is the very thing that bugs me about “the cross-centered life”; it’s all too easy to focus on Jesus’ cross (and my sin that made it necessary) and de-emphasize Jesus’ resurrection (and our new identity in him as saints).

Is it possible to be too cross-centered? Nah.
The qualities Mr. Seitler, and Dan and some of the other commenters, are bemoaning -- people full of self-loathing, hindered by martyr complexes, living in despair, moping-pouting-whining, navel-gazing -- are not evidences of seeing sin and craving grace or being too cross-centered. They are evidences of the opposite, for these qualities are signs of self-centeredness, self-interest, self-involvement . . . self-idolatry. Someone who truly aspires to live a cross-centered life, dies to self, and part of that process includes nailing to the cross self-indulgent self-pity.

The real cross-centered life is one of joy.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -- Hebrews 12:2

5 comments:

jul said...

Agreed. But I came out of a church culture that teaches the Cross centered life is a life completely focused on sin. The Cross is viewed in the same light as an Old Covenant sacrifice--as a reminder of our sin (Hebrews 10). The Cross is meant to be remembered in a way that reminds us of the reality that all our sins have been taken away! The true Cross centered life definately one of joy, but many great Biblical terms and concepts have been hi-jacked by the enemy to mean something else. In this way, teaching that use the right words with the wrong meanings produce the bad fruit you mentioned: "self-centeredness, self-interest, self-involvement . . . self-idolatry"

Travis said...

Jared,

Hey man, I was digging through some older stuff, and something jumped out at me as I re-read this post.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -- Hebrews 12:2

Doesn't this verse actually say that Jesus was "joy-centered" or "throne-centered"? He wasn't focused (centered) on the cross; he was focused on the joy set before him and the cross (in that respect) was peripheral.

I would counter that the "self-loathing, despairing, navel-gazing" are the ones who actually understand what the words "the Cross" ought to mean. They can't really help it that others have redefined the phrase to (inappropriately) include "the joy set before him."

By way of illustration, consider a young boy who wants a bike and decides to rake leaves in the neighborhood to earn the money he needs. He'll endure the raking because of the bike he's anticipating. That's not being "raking centered" at all--it's being "bike centered."

"...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection...forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way..." Philippians 3:10-15 (selections)

So I would counter that Christian maturity is a matter of living the Glorification-Centered Life. :)

Jared said...

If you're talking about suffering, I'm tracking with you, although I do think that one way to rejoice in our sufferings is trusting that suffering makes us like Jesus. There is the whole matter of "consider it a joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that . . .", which is about suffering building character, not just about being temporary or whatever. But I get what you're saying.

In fact, last night I preached on how the resurrection gives hope to the suffering because of this "something to look forward to" aspect.

But I do think we ought to consider it a joy to be cross-centered in the sense of dying to ourself, crucifying our flesh. We should be cross-centered in that respect out of obedience and out of joy in the "fear and trembling"-ness of the sanctification process.

I do stand by the thing about nailing to the cross self-indulgent self-pity. I've been there, done that -- I will be there doing that again -- and I consider it self-idolatry.
Not to be confused with genuine grief, pain, doubt, or trouble.

Travis said...

Yeah, I'd say that "suffering making us like Jesus" is just another way of saying that the goal of our sanctification is our glorification. Even in the opening of James' epistle (which you quoted), he says in verse 4 that the ultimate goal of such trials is our perfection and completion. So essentially, James seems to be saying that we're to endure our "crosses" for the (eternal) joy set before us. :)

But I do think we ought to consider it a joy to be cross-centered in the sense of dying to ourself, crucifying our flesh.

True... but that's not cross-centeredness. do you know what I mean? What you described isn't crucifying the flesh as an end in itself, but crucifying the flesh as a means to the end which is our true center: Eternal Joy with Him. That would make what you describe "the eternity-centered life."

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes it plain that the resurrection is the only reason we have for denying the flesh, let along crucifying it. Without the resurrection, the cross was a stupid, sentimental exercise in futility. Its only worth is found when it--as well as everything else--is centering around the Father's ultimate goal.

That's the problem I have with the "cross-centered" life: based on how you describe it, the folks (such as yourself) who claim to pursue such a life really aren't pursuing a "cross-centered life" at all. All you're doing is confusing the rest of us. ;)

Jared said...

Potato, po-tah-to.

I appreciate your informing me of my mistake about myself, but you don't sound like you really think you're confused. You sound like you've got it figured out and want me to know.
Message received.