Not a law to observe but a grace to receive
Words from the Hill: An Invitation to the Unexpected
Author: Stu Garrard
Publisher: NavPress (www.NavPress.com)
Has the gospel become too Pauline? Those who think so see the Christian life being shaped to its detriment more by the teachings of Paul than those of Jesus. Others see it as essential revelation: “You can judge any man’s preaching or teaching by this rule―Is he Pauline? Does his doctrine start and finish according to those statements of Christian doctrine uttered by the Apostle Paul? No matter how wonderful a man may seem in his gifts and apparent consecration―if his gospel is not Pauline, it is not the Gospel and we might as well get our minds settled at once as to that.”
Michael Card, perhaps best known as a recording artist, but also an author who has extensively studied the life and teachings of Christ, might take issue with the preceding statement. A gospel that is strictly Pauline, might be deficient in both content and application in relation to Christ. “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” How can the message be complete if in form and outworking it does not make visible that Word of the Father?
I’ve read enough to think that a Paul versus Jesus dichotomy is false. Despite apparent contradictions there is harmony. We need not put the teachings of one against the other, just like some do when they pit Paul and James against each other in relation to saving faith.
What something meant to the original hearers may differ in how it applies today, which brings me to the Sermon on the Mount. Some today teach that only Paul’s teachings are formative for Christians. They say the Sermon on the Mount is part of the gospel of the kingdom, a message to the Jews, not to those who have been justified by faith in the gospel that Paul preached. How then are Christians to apply the Sermon on the Mount?
This was my impetus for turning to Words from the Hill by Stu Garrard, best known as the guitarist for the British band Delirious? A number of music artists have shared their stories in recent years, and I have enjoyed some of them, but I can’t help thinking that few of the many available can rival this in importance. It’s due in large part to the subject matter―the teachings of Jesus―but also because Stu G, as he is known, approaches the text with an honesty and humility that is vital to rightly discerning and applying the truth. I’m not saying that it makes him right about everything; just that his approach as a learner is not only necessary but refreshing. All of this makes this book one of the best by a rock star. I call him that lightheartedly because I’m sure that he sees himself more as a follower of Jesus. His gospel is assuredly not too Pauline.
What he shows through his own life, and the lives of the many friends that we meet through him, is what the outworking of the Beatitudes might look like today. His theme is a noble one: Jesus “tells us, when we find ourselves at the end of our rope, at rock bottom, God is there, God is on our side” (xiii). You could say that this is a refrain that he sings over and over again.
Those who look to Paul are sensitive to the division between law and grace. I think one of the unique aspects of this book is Garrard’s seeing the sermon on the mount on the grace side of the ledger: “When I look at the story of Jesus and the message of the Beatitudes, I’m struck by how confronting it is to my comfort level. I really have to fight the feelings of trying to attain something or of not ‘doing’ enough. The temptation to keep measuring myself against others who ‘do’ awesome things is always with me, but it’s such a distraction. It’s so easy to fall into ways of attaining, which completely misses the point. This is about who we are and not what we do; it’s about being and not doing” (43-44). This emphasis alone makes the book worth reading.
Garrard makes the Beatitudes not a law to observe but a grace to receive. It’s more or a description of who we are than something that we should strive to attain. Even so, there is a balance between comfort and challenge. It’s from that place of rest from our strife that God can use us to multiply his family.
Has the gospel become too Pauline? The problem may be in creating division where it doesn’t belong. These words from the hill are incorporated into Paul’s words. There may be a progression of revelation but there is no reason why they need to be at odds with each other. Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV). The line that begins in the Old Testament, which culminates in Christ, runs through Paul to us today.