So. That’s the theory side. In sum, if you’re going to take the Bible seriously, your drama should be different. You should tell the story of Grace. Your rhetoric must be a comedy.
I got my box of a dozen free copies today. You never know . . . . you might get one as a Christmas present from me this year. 😉 But it’s weird to see so much of yourself shrink-wrapped and stacked on the counter.
Sometime I might explain in the style of Nothstine, Blair, and Copeland all the behind-the-scenes steps that brought me to that last, now-expunged chapter. Currently the book is nearly unchanged from its original 2001 form. It both describes and prescribes to religious sectarians. I argue that separatists are crafting a new drama in the public sphere. Instead of killing off their Other (which doesn’t jibe with the Great Commission) and instead of critiquing (which implies an equality that’s a little too vulnerable), religious sectarians are trying to woo the secular Other to Christ. They separate from those outside the faith in order to win them over. My BJU texts are the campus museums, the art gallery, the extension ministries, and Campaign 2000. My critical voice is very feminine. Very Esther-like. Very Christine de Pisan. I’m whispering in the King’s ear with that book — “stay beautiful, dear King” — while asking the secular scholar, “What happens if we add to the Burke canon?”
But living in ongoing romance is tough. We might say with an empathetic giggle, “Dating’s hard!” It’s difficult to be beautiful all the time. And since my 2001 defense, I heard a different story that wasn’t as romantic as the histories or as comedic as the Museum and Gallery. This was tragedy plain and simple.
The drama of sanctification is a key story in the Christian life. After justification and before glorification, what’s up with the still-sinning, but no-longer-condemned believer? Pick up any respected Protestant theologian or read any New Testament Text, and the drama is the same. The catalyst for my closer-look at this drama was my former grad student, Christie Moye, and her rhetorical critique of Jonathan Edwards’ “Resolutions.” A pentadic analysis would look like this:
- (Co-)Agents: God and the believer
- Act: Minister (a big word!)
- Agency: with Grace
- Scene: This earthly life
- Purpose: God’s glory
I heard a friend express that drama as “God’s going to do His ongoing work with or without me. But He invites me to join him.” John Murray puts it as “because God works we work.”
The drama I was hearing, however, rearranged and narrowed those dramatistic elements. In the past, I’ve labeled it Keswick theology. But after more study, I’ve found that there’s really no difference between Keswick’s drama and the so-called dispensationalist and the Pentecostal view of sanctification. All three are fairly close in age (mid- to late-Nineteenth century). All three are direct products of Anglo/American revivalism (but indirect products of a much older Pelagius). All three sell very well in our consumer economy. All three differ from the older Reformed and Wesleyan narratives of sanctification. Their stories are the same:
- Agent: God or the believer (it subjectively vacillates)
- Act: Kill the self
- Agency: Through separated living
- Scene: The believer
- Purpose: To get Grace/God
Kenneth Burke would talk about the idea of action versus motion. It’s the difference between sentience and habit. Only human beings can act; animals can only move. When you act, you are deliberate, aware, moral, and communicative. When you move, you are passive. Breathing is motion, but sighing is action. Burke urged human beings to act since passive habits almost always get us into trouble.
Back to the pentads above. Living in this “Kesidispiecostal” drama, you never quite know if the believer is acting or moving, the agent or the scene. If you’re having any trouble, the automatic advice is the opposite of whatever you appear to be doing. If there’s any criticism against you, it’s because you’re too passive. Or maybe you’re too involved and, thus, too selfish. If you’re sinning, it’s probably because you’re not trying hard enough. Or maybe you’re trying too hard and you need to “let go and let God.” If you’re an anorexic (the ultimate example of denying the self), you’re actually just selfish. All sin is reduced to selfishness (the bigger, biblical definition of “missing the mark” is forgotten). All Scripture is re-read and misread as a battle between the (redeemed or otherwise) self and God.
Ironically, Marilyn Manson sums it up perfectly:
So initially I was drawn into the darker side of life. But it’s really just human nature. I started to learn that everything that’s considered a sin is what makes you a human being. All the seven deadly sins are man’s true nature. To be greedy. To be hateful. To have lust. Of course, you have to control them, but if you’re made to feel guilty for being human, then you’re going to be trapped in a never-ending sin-and-repent cycle that you can’t escape from and you’re going to be miserable. Ultimately, you’re going to be living in your Hell, so there’s no need to worry about going to Hell because Hell is going to be on Earth.
The bottom line.
It’s just a bad drama. It’s tragic. God or the believer (you’re never sure which) must kill the self through separated living in order to get grace. Grace becomes a badge to be worn — something to “get” because you’re humble enough. No wonder grace becomes so difficult to demonstrate to others when it’s treated as a commodity to hoard and display. The believer fetishizes his own good works. It’s a hybrid push-pull of overt unselfish selfishness — a story with built-in criticism ready to blame the believer for doing the opposite of what he should.
And in this Kesidispiecostal drama, separation doesn’t woo anyone. Instead the believer separates in order to insulate against an infectious world. Like a surgeon and his gloves, the believer dons his own insulating gear to protect his spiritual health. Because the dispensationalist view of salvation and the end times insists that the world is getting worse, the need for ever-increasing insulation grows. And if you have trouble, you’re simply not separated enough. For the fundamentalist, it’s that popular novel you read that is causing you harm or that believing friend who’s a bad influence. For the Pentecostal, it’s that your skirts are too short and enticing or maybe they are too long and worldly.
All in all, it’s really no different than karma.
Salt and Light.
Please understand — you’ll never find the separation as insulation drama in Scripture. Christ proved that His holiness was contagious as He dined with prostitutes and tax collectors and smelly fishermen. We are secure in Christ, and the lost and dying world needs the salt of the Christian to preserve it. Salt doesn’t get ruined when it’s in the meat; that’s what salt is for! It’s useless if it stays in the salt shaker. And light can’t help anyone — including yourself — if you hoard it under a basket.
The end product of the Kesidispiecostal drama is a kind of solipsism. You’re always looking inward to the self to see if you’re unselfish, always (secretly) keeping score of your good deeds. It’s a trap that only pinches harder when you try to break free. Manson said it as well as anyone. The drama is hopelessly tragic.
When Kenneth Burke in his Rhetoric of Religion (mis)reads Augustine, he comes to the same conclusion as the Kesidispiecostal. I put it this way in the expunged chapter:
Thus, in this text the romantic sectarian is far from beautiful. Too encased in hazmat gear to even be seen, the sectarian kills the self as a scapegoat. Even the romantic’s position before God is insecure since the divine is both elevated and reduced to a goal. God’s grace must be earned by regularly removing dangerously growing fleshliness. The insider without proper protection might even be the worst secular outsider: the reprobate. . . .
In sum, both [Kenneth Burke’s Augustine and the religious sectarian] purge. Both confuse the action versus motion dichotomy. Both make the believer the actor and the scene. Both make the divine a goal never quite reached. And in doing so, in making God an irretrievable carrot-on-a-stick, both are recalcitrantly tragic. Neither seeks resolution but persists in the cycle of tragedy like a hamster stuck in its wheel.
And let’s be honest, who would want to be a Christian if that’s all that Christ has to offer? How depressing and futile! As I joked in an earlier post, Christ would be no different than Jenny Craig – teasing us with the unrequited hopes of being spiritually svelte.
I remember hearing this Kesidispiecostal drama after our daughter died, and I just would blink in astonishment. Someone said, “You’re obviously doing something right because so many people can see God giving you His grace.” Huh? No . . . I was feeble and weak. I cried often. I felt sad and wept loudly and publicly. It didn’t seem like I was doing anything — right or wrong.
I remember hearing this drama after some friends, who had just weathered a big storm, were blessed with a long-awaited but still unexpected answer to prayer. Someone outside of their struggle said, “I don’t understand why God is blessing them after they obviously did the wrong thing.”
No. No, that’s not it. I’m secure in Christ. God blesses whom He blesses. When He sees me, He sees His perfect Son. My righteousnesses are not the point. I don’t earn God’s grace by being more unselfish or by straining at humility (an oxymoron). I already have it and I need to give it away. Nothing’s in peril. I’m safe.
When I rock my sons to sleep, I sing them a little song that helps me remember all this. The poetry isn’t great, so I’ll just summarize the last line: “you are good just like you should be because Jesus makes you so.” Every time I sing it, the prodigal’s brother haunts me. You remember him — that good son who works so hard. Yes, he would scold me: “No, he’s not good at all. He’s totally rotten. He needs to do good.” But that’s not it. The thing that saves my sons is the same thing that saves me — God’s love through Christ. All of us are totally incapable (not totally rotten) to do good outside of God’s love.
You see, sanctification is something God starts and accomplishes and something we join. God sets us apart (a.k.a. “sanctifies” or “separates” us), so any external separation is at best a distraction and at worst a hedge. How will others know that we are Christ’s disciples? Not because we look peculiar or rich or professional or neat! But because we love one another. You just can’t love anyone in tragedy because you’re too worried about your own safety.
When you realize you’re safe in God’s love because of Christ, everything changes. You don’t stay stuck in Romans 7, but you can go on to relish the rest of the book. It’s easy to do the right thing. It’s easy to eat that beautifully catered meal in your Father’s house and invite others in to share your Father’s generousity.
It’s all a divine comedy. It’s a gift. Totally unearned.
And that is contagious.
[tags]Kenneth Burke, Rhetorical Criticism, Productive criticism, Burkean comedy, comic correction, tragedy, Grace, pentad, dramatistic criticism, Keswick, dispensationalism, pentecostal[/tags]