Facebook isn’t the most helpful of tools for practicing one’s discipleship. But from time to time it does allow me to participate in, or sometimes just eavesdrop on, very thought-provoking conversations. The latter occurred just the other day as one friend and esteemed Baptist theologian wrote a post suggesting how Christians might make the most of Lent in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. His proposal was that we give up our habit of “individualizing evil” (that is, focusing on personal failings) and take up the cause of confronting structural, systemic evils such as America’s current gun culture and policies. Right on!
…But then another esteemed Baptist theologian responded with a caveat: there is no separating the personal and the collective, and to change one is to change the other. He quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Individual personal spirit lives solely by virtue of sociality, and ‘social spirit’ becomes real only in individual formation.” Spoken more plainly, no person is self-made, and no community is made apart from persons who choose their values and actions.
The first esteemed Baptist theologian ultimately agreed with the second. The call to repentance that is highlighted during Lent is a both/and. Some are eager to take up the protest signs and march against the injustices of the world while ignoring the depths of their own complicity in cycles of alienation and hatred. Others are quite capable of lamenting their sins amidst tears of anguish but fail to remember that the Bible concludes with a vision not of individual souls in heavenly mansions, but a new city where all nations dwell together in peace.
May our repentance lead us away from distorted half-gospels and toward the whole truth concerning the Kingdom of God.
— Chris Schelin