are you a grace person or a truth person?

I don’t know if you’ve ever been asked this question. I’m not sure I’ve ever had it posed so bluntly — although I have been asked a closely allied question: Are you more a ‘priest’ or a ‘prophet’?

I’m convinced that it’s a profoundly unhelpful either-or.

Now, I’m aware that people have different personalities and different strengths.

Some people are drawn towards the … ahem, unvarnished approach of the Old Testament prophet Amos (who’d barely put down his copy of How To Win Friends And Influence People before he started berating his hearers, addressing them as ‘cows of Bashan’).

Others doubt the pastoral wisdom of such an approach.

Of course, Amos wasn’t the only Old Testament prophet. And, presumably, his approach isn’t the only valid approach to truth-speaking (to say nothing of the fact that we are given barely any insight into his personal psychology — certainly nothing like we get with, say, Jeremiah; how did Amos feel about his mission to deliver such an uncompromising message?)

But, more significantly, Jesus has revolutionised prophecy. This side of the Messiah’s cross and resurrection, we can’t understand what it is to be a truth-speaker apart from his cross and resurrection.

Now the Messiah’s community as a whole is prophetic — its very existence as well as its patterns of living and relating (which are shaped by the cross and resurrection story) speak the truth about the manifold wisdom and grace of our Creator and Redeemer.

And that truth is spoken in practice, in particular, by our (pastoral) care for one another — our relationships saturated in grace, kindness, forgiveness and welcome.

In his beautiful essay ‘The Pastor as Prophet: Ethical Reflections on an Improbable Mission’ in Christian Existence Today (1988), Stanley Hauerwas paints this picture:

Visiting the sick may appear to be mundane, but it is no less a prophetic task than protesting against the idolatry of the nation-state. Indeed, it is, in a sense, part of the protest against such idolatry, as it is one of the ways the church makes clear its refusal to let the state or wider society determine whom it will and will not serve … The only question about whether such work can be prophetic is when such activities no longer draw on the story and habits that form the church, but instead underwrite our cultural assumptions about … the care of the sick.

The truth we speak of is the truth of grace.

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3 comments

  1. Thanks Chris,
    This resonates with me in a few ways at the moment: first, I’m noticing again how easy it is for Uni students to be fired up by ideas, to speak stridently and strongly about Jesus, but to forget that a prophet is always a speech-actor: doing things with words, and saying things with actions, and always doing/saying at the same time.
    Secondly, I’m reminded how significant for my own conversion, was the care that Christian young people demonstrated toward each other as an demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
    Thirdly, here at Cumbo I’m in the middle of a campus full of people who have a different story to tell about why we exercise care toward the sick and vulnerable. We can’t simply exercise generous, caring relations and expect that it will be seen as a testimony to the Kingdom. The story-telling about Jesus and his resurrection needs to be very carefully intertwined with everything we do.

    1. Hey Dan. Sounds like La Trobe and Cumbo are in pretty similar situations — not surprising given the prominence of Health Sciences on both campuses.

      I’m totally with you on how important it is to ensure that ‘story-telling about Jesus and his resurrection needs to be very carefully intertwined with everything we do’.

      Any observations or experiences you can share about ways you guys have tried to do it?

  2. I think its too early for me to say yet. I’m still watching what the people here do and trying to make sense of why they do what they do. I’ll let you know.
    d

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