Following Jesus means learning to say both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’

yes noOver the years, I’ve learnt to be grateful – really grateful – for anyone who helps me to take more seriously what it means to follow Jesus. And part of what I’ve learnt – and need to keep learning – is that to follow Jesus means not only learning to say ‘Yes’ but also learning to say ‘No’; not only learning to say ‘I love’ but also learning to say, with equal discipline, ‘I hate’. Yes, I agree, ‘hate’ is a word that ought be used sparingly. And yes, I believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. was right to insist that only love can drive out hate, and that Frederick Buechner is spot on to observe that pure ‘haters simply lose themselves’. But ‘hate’ is not, for these reasons, a word that ought to be completely outlawed or which is out of place in faithful and loving speech. In fact, sometimes it’s quite the opposite. So, for example, it’s because I love my partner that I hate all that threatens to diminish our relationship. It’s because God loves marriage that God hates divorce (Mal 2.16; and, yes, I know that there are alternative renderings of this verse).

But back to ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. The Barmen Confession, more explicitly than perhaps any other Reformed confession, reminds us that genuine confession of faith is always both an affirmation of truth and a denial of untruth. Elsewhere, Barmen’s chief author put it thus: ‘If the Yes does not in some way contain the No, it will not be the Yes of a confession … If we have not the confidence to say damnamus [what we refuse], then we might as well omit the credimus [what we believe]’ (CD I/2, 631, 630). Of course, that there is a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’ to be said (and acted upon) doesn’t rusticate the ‘Maybes’. But that there are not only Maybes means that to be a response-able human being is to live other than on a fence. Luther’s famous ‘Here I stand’ speech comes to mind here, as does Kierkegaard’s Abraham. And so, for example, it’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to the Father whose face is made available to me in Jesus Christ that I must say ‘No’ to those church liturgies which replace/mimic the triune name with a set of functions. (Isn’t it a no brainer? God has a name. God went to a lot of trouble to tell us that name. So use it!) It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to Christ that I must say ‘No’ to Caesar. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to the ploughshare that I must say ‘No’ to the sword. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to life that I must say ‘No’ to life’s enemies. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to personhood that I must say ‘No’ to individualism. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to prayer that I must say ‘No’ to distraction. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to faithful tellings of the gospel that I must say ‘No’ to the way that the likes of John Piper and Mark Driscoll sometimes spout theological bullshit in the name of Christian truth (and ‘No’ to the way that so-called Christian publishers profit from their verbiage).

So back to ‘Hate’. While those who live in – and so are formed by – Facebookland are dis-encouraged to feel so strongly about anything that they should ‘hate’ it, or even ‘dislike’ it, human beings are not called to live lives constituted by Mark Zuckerberg but by the event of God’s decision to be human among us, an event that calls everything into question. Some of those questions will be met by a ‘Yes’ and others by a ‘No’, some by a ‘Love’ and others by a ‘Hate’. And I was reminded of this recently when watching this wee clip of Uncle Stanley (who is one of those who has helped me to take more seriously what it means to follow Jesus) talking about the things that he hates.

3 thoughts on “Following Jesus means learning to say both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’

  1. Hello Jason
    It’s not a “no-brainer” to me that the triune name can only ever be expressed with the words “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”, on the basis that it is the proper name God gave us. Is not “Father” a function, anyway? In my Anglican tradition we don’t substitute any other form of triune description in a liturgy of baptism, but you’ll be aware that we often do elsewhere, not least because if other Biblical names for God are not used (including in ways we express the mystery of the Trinity), congregations (not unreasonably) develop the conviction that God is male. Perhaps in another post you might expand your thinking about this? I’d be most interested.
    Warmly,
    Ellen

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  2. Dear Ellen,

    Thank you for your comment. I am well aware, as are you, that this is a very vexed matter, and one which we are not going to resolve here in blogdom. But by way of clarification, I am not, of course, suggesting that the church ought not employ other ‘names’ and metaphors to address or speak of God – indeed, the Bible and the tradition is replete with precisely such speech, and rightly so. In fact, and here I think I am with you, I wish that we used more of these. (By the way, are you familiar with Brian Wren’s hymn, ‘Bring Many Names’?) What I am suggesting is that the trend in some circles to abandon the Triune name or to replace it with functions or with ‘more acceptable’ or more ‘pastorally responsible’ alternatives is a disastrous move. It’s disastrous not only because, as Colin Gunton reminded us, such a move has ‘a far more dehumanising affect than even the perils of sexism it is meant to avoid’, but also because the Triune nature and name of God is irreducibly bound up with the substance of the gospel that the church exists to bear witness to. So Adolf Schlatter: ‘The Trinitarian name of God is the Christian Gospel’ in nuce.

    By the way, if you are interested, my workplace has produced a study document on this matter. It can be accessed here. Beyond that, much of what I want to say has been said by many others, including by my friend Rick Floyd in his paper, ‘The Gloria Patri and Inclusive Language’.

    Happy to keep chatting offline if you’d prefer.

    Every blessing,

    Jason

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  3. Hi Jason, thanks for the post and clip.

    I’m wondering whether Augustine’s evil-as-negation can help us here. If evil is not in any real sense a thing, is it better to simply speak the truth, and to hell with all the no-things?

    I get that speaking truth will sometimes mean that we must say ‘no’. But I wonder whether a critical or skeptical stance is the baseline attitude of our times, where the autonomous self is the measure of all things, and whether the attitude of the Christian person should generally be an open ‘yes’ to the world.

    Would be interested in your thoughts.

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