Truth in a Broken World, Part Two: Back to the Potter’s Wheel

Nov 27, 2003 |Jessica Inman

A little clarification on “Human Clay”: Jessica’s response to Holly Dawn.

PART 1: Truth in a Broken World »

I've gotten a lot of feedback about "Human Clay," mostly from family and friends. My boss gave me a high-five, which was validating — he hasn't done that since a Code Red emergency required my speedy fingers for a PowerPoint presentation.

But not all feedback has been positive; the piece appears to have a few people bristled at the seeming insinuation that Brennan Manning, et al, go too far in accepting human frailty. And some of these people have been hurt — Manning's words have been to them a source of healing and an outlet to divine acceptance.

One such reader is Holly Dawn Hunter. Her piece, "Truth in a Broken World, Part One" caused me to look at "Human Clay" again with a slightly more critical eye. I was just trying to stay okay, stay orthodox — I wasn't really thinking about the effects the piece might have. The thought of causing extra distress for a broken reed really bothers me. It's pretty high up on my list of Things I Would Never, Ever Want to Do.

I asked for Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel for Christmas last year. I was finishing a terrible semester and a friend — someone I greatly respect for his commitment to orthodoxy — had recommended the book to me. I thought it sounded like something worth reading during a difficult time.

I read the first chapter and liked it. I also picked up Abba's Child for the second time and browsed through it as well. At the time, I found myself surrounded by ideas similar to those found in these two books. My favorite singer/songwriters Justin McRoberts (whom I cited in "Human Clay") and Jennifer Knapp both rely heavily on themes of redemption and brokenness, and my therapist's curriculum expounds God's delight in "the struggling, striving, growing Christian." I was tired of failing and tired of never experiencing rest, and hearing God's acceptance couched in these bold terms brought relief to my tiredness — which made me a little nervous.

By nature cautious to a fault, I often have a hard time relaxing around a teaching I like too well. I'm always afraid of believing something just because I want to believe it — the time is coming when men, having itching ears ...

Because Manning's ideas would have such an impact on my self-perception and faith relationship, I decided they were worth careful analysis. Does an emphasis on poverty bring with it any major threat to orthodoxy (or orthopraxy)? Might I overstep scriptural bounds by going along with such ideas? Thus "Human Clay" was born, an account of the process of analyzing this type of thought.

Paragraphs five through seven of "Human Clay" represent my wrestling with questions about the dynamic of sin and grace. (What they do not represent is my assessment of Brennan Manning.) When I question whether we accidentally imply that sin is okay, I am questioning a hypothetical, not an observed, phenomenon; I'm trying to determine what exactly is the "too far" point. When I discuss the biblical injunction to avoid sin, I am not expressing that I "feel that leaders like, Brennan Manning, with their emphasis on human frailty and weakness, implicitly condone sin."

I intended in those paragraphs to lay down the biblical stance toward sin. I believe that this stance does not include much in the way of passive tolerance, though neither does it include much in the way of lists of rules.

The sin/grace dynamic has been a sticky one for me to sort out. I know that works of law — works of flesh — cannot save me or keep me saved. I know that grace is, by definition, freely given, and I know that it signifies God's acceptance of me, both in a forensic sense and in the sense of relationship. I also know that the exertion I put forth in my walk of faith is one of loving obedience, not one of fear. But I also know that God takes sin pretty seriously. (If not, then Paul was way out of line.)

If we should ever get to the point of undermining the gravity of sin, I think we will have reached the "too far" point. That's really all I was trying to say.

I was pretty careful not to associate Manning directly with an unbiblical position. I did this for two reasons: (1) because I did not consider it my duty to call him out for a licentious teaching and (2) because I don't think it would have been a fair assessment of his work.

For the most part, I like Manning's work a lot, actually. I like the way he puts at the forefront of our minds the simple concept of God's acceptance; I like the way he creates such a palpable sense of the redemption found in the Gospels. I love stories like "The Woman at the Well" and "The Pharisee and the Tax Collector" — I could stay in those pages, breathing in grace, for hours.

The truth is, grace is an incredibly weird concept to me. We talk about grace so often in terms of conversion, once-and-for-all; it's a weird thing to live in this converted, owing state. I don't owe people things very easily — I accept favors seldom and pay them back a little extra. I expect few people to know about my situations and problems and trust almost no one to care. Maybe that's why it's such a big deal, why it makes me so nervous not to make any effort at all to discern the "too far" point when it comes to living within grace.

At times like these, all I know to do is remember — remember when I first understood who Jesus was and what he did, when I first allowed my life and will to be swallowed into his beautiful agenda. If I can stay in touch with that, maybe I can unclench my fingers and allow orthodoxy and holiness and being kosher to fall within the framework of the cross.

So, thanks, Holly Dawn, for your story and for your thoughts. Thank you for contributing to the way God reminds us of his power and love and our brokenness and need.

PART 3: Three Responses to Jessica Inman »

Copyright 2003 Jessica Inman. All rights reserved.

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