In this penultimate chapter, Scot turns to the place of love at the heart of Jesus’ call to follow him.
He has a nice summary of the 4 imagined ‘Gods’ in Americans’ minds:
1. Authoritarian God (32%)
2. Critical God (16%)
3. Distant God (24%)
4. Benevolent God (23%)
[What happened to the other 5%?!]
Scot argues that if under ¼ of people think of God in loving / benevolent ways then we need to re-hear what the Bible says about God.
And it was for precisely these reasons (a mistaken views of God) that prompted Jesus to tell a famous parable about God’s identity – the parable of the Lost Son.
Scot does a nice job of retelling the story of the two brothers for American college life. One a selfish waster who has dishonoured and despised his father, the other responsibly obedient.
At every point in the story, Jesus sabotages expectations of how the Father (God) will act.
The Father doesn’t follow the rules of 1st C Jewish culture. He isn’t supposed to give the son his inheritance, he isn’t supposed to stand waiting for his son to return, he isn’t supposed to run to him and embrace him, he isn’t supposed to celebrate and he sure isn’t supposed to restore him to ‘son’ status.
Jesus tells the story to turn his opponents’ ideas of God upside down. And the sting in the tail is that they are the ‘older son’ who resists the picture of the Father that Jesus has drawn.
God’s love and grace are offensive.
And a lesson of the parable is that each one of us has to ‘come clean’ before the Father just as the younger son does – an attitude of deep repentance, humility and utter delight at being accepted by the Father.
The paradox is that the more we are honest with ourselves and with God, the deeper and more heartfelt our repentance will be – and the deeper our experience of God’s love and grace and forgiveness.
This is what confession is and this is what the love of God is – he accepts us back.
If I remember right, John Stott says this somewhere:
“the depth of our discipleship depends on the depth of our repentance.”
As usual, he’s right.
So to Scot’s closing words:
“The kingdom of God is designed for those who will tell the truth about themselves, turn from their sins and turn back to God, by banking on God’s gracious forgiveness in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s gracious welcome and the open seat waiting at the table in God’s family.”
I wonder if evangelical Christians are the ones most likely to be like the older brother?
That we can easily hold a pretty good opinion of ourselves? We serve others, we are committed to community, we study the Bible both personally and academically, we give money, we engage in mission, we go to prayer meetings, we read Christian books, we preach grace ….
But all too gradually the place of confession and repentance within personal and church life can get displaced. Not deliberately of course; more by omission than conscious rejection. But it can be marginalised nevertheless – in the hymns we sing, in the absence of corporate and personal confession, in our growth orientated ‘success culture’ .