radical middle | John 14.18-21
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” John 14:18-21 | ESV
Look, I’m not leaving you abandoned in the orphanage of life! I am coming for you! In a few fleeting moments I’ll be history as far as the world is concerned – but our history, yours and mine, will go on and on – oh yes, an ongoing, living history with me fully alive and so you fully alive too. And then you’ll be totally dialed into this wondrous, merged reality of me in my Abba, you in me, me in you. And the core dynamic of this ‘merged reality’ of Father/Son intimacies? Love. Love that’s not just talk about what I’ve been telling you to do; love that actually follows through with each command, each instruction (especially, once again, that whole love one another business). Love me like that, and you’re in line for some serious loving from my Abba – and he won’t just love on you, I will too – and you’ll see me like you’ve never seen me before. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
“Church movements are fluid, starting on the right side of the continuum as people crave experiential reality. Then they move toward the Word side as they seek to ground their experience in biblical objectivity. We call the Word stream in church history Evangelicalism and the Spirit stream Pentecostalism. However inadequate these labels, the point is clear, and the words represent points of emphasis…History shows that the Word without the Spirit quickly becomes dead orthodoxy, and the Spirit without the Word quickly becomes cultish…The challenge is, as it has always been, to affirm both Word and Spirit and aim for the radical middle.”
Bill Jackson, The Quest for the Radical Middle.
The “radical middle” may not be a term specifically mentioned in Holy Writ, but the tension it represents continues to be the challenge of every faith community. And it is woven all through this “Upper Room Discourse” in John as we see the threads of Spirit and command/obedience/word not separated but fully integrated and woven around the loom of love.
We tend to strongly contrast
law and love,
grace and truth,
Spirit and Word,
obedience and faith.
Jesus weaves them all together into one whole, healthy dynamic he ultimately calls the kingdom of God, or to use John’s frequent phrase “eternal life.” We tend to play teeter-totter with Spirit and Word as we go through one season emphasizing the Spirit and then veer back the other way towards Word to help us stay balanced. Or worse, we use one to eliminate the other, using Scripture to downplay or extinguish any “Spirit experience” or rejecting the written Word because of our most recent experiences.
Jesus shows how they flow together.
While it may be possible to “keep the commands” without love, love seeks out the practical application of experience like a heat-seeking missile.
As so often proves to be the case, what we naturally assume is an either-or proposition is in reality the radical middle challenge of both.
Where to you find yourself most at home: in the pages of the Bible or in fresh Holy Spirit experiences? Why? When have you most vividly experienced the “radical middle” of both powerfully intersecting in the same moment, the same event?
Lord, lead me into a healthy dance of Word and Spirit, Spirit and Word. Let me not fear or shun either, but learn to move in the two-step of both. Through Christ.