While in seminary in England, I took a class on leadership with a professor named Simon Walker. I only signed up because it was expensive and my seminary would pay for it, and, I thought it would help with inter-seminary relations. Even so, me being me, I skipped the first class to go to Stonehenge. My absence was duly noted and prompted Simon Walker to exclaim to those present, “In the many years I have been teaching this class, this is the first time anyone has ever missed the first meeting.” In the end, however, it proved to be the most important and transformative class I would take in seminary. It is, as far as I know, the only leadership class influenced by the Law/Gospel paradigm.
Walker relays a powerful story in the foreword of his book, Subversive Leadership
, which illustrates, I believe, what many in the Church have made life out to be.
“About an hour’s drive from Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, is the old Spanish port of Ocho Rios. Ocho Riso gained its name from the mistaken belief that eight rivers flowed in the Caribbean here. The area exhibits one of Jamaica’s most stunning natural features; the six hundred feet high water Dunn’s Fall, cascading down terraces of smooth rock and plunging directly onto the white sands below. If you visit the Falls, you will be invited to join one of the tourist groups to be guided up the falls by an official guide. You will join a group of twenty or so Americans to begin your ascent, back up the falls from the place where the crystal clear river water joins the Caribbean, at the beach.
As you toil slowly up the falls holding hands in a human chain, you will be invited to pause briefly at set times, for photo opportunities as official photographers pop up and video you. You will be told to sit for a few moments in a pool, to be snapped, ‘beaming’, before being moved on for the other nineteen members of your party to be taken through the same routine. You will pass by glorious cascades, tipping off the rocks, glistening plunge pools inviting you to dive in, or shower under; yet you will leave them unexplored. You will be within an arm’s reach of jets of water that would massage your shoulders and neck; yet you will stay stolidly in your line, hands locked, and miss your chance. You will glimpse magnificent view of the peaceful sea through palm fronds, but instead pay attention to the grinning faces and squawking voices of your official cheerleaders, urging you to whoop and holler at your ‘great time’.
And yet, no one will be doing anything different—not a single person will be out of line, enjoying the waterfall in any other way than this. Like obedient children, you will all, literally, tow the line. You will pass by all of these things, still linked, hand in hand, resenting every missed opportunity, every enforced tourist pose, every limitation and restriction enforced on you, as you trudge wearily up the prescribed route until you are led, some on hour later, out of the top of the Falls. You will exit feeling as if, somehow, what should have been the most exhilarating and liberating experience, was an experience of being led where you didn’t want to go, against your will.
And you will probably reflect that it is a tragedy that the Jamaican authorities have imposed these rules that prevent people being free and just enjoying the Falls for themselves. Abut at that point you will discover something quite unexpected; that there are no rules at the Falls….In fact there are no restraints at all to how you may enjoy the experience” (pp 7-8).
My experience in ministry has been just this: the Law is a ‘fun sponge’. It enters the room and sucks all of the fun out of it. People will call you antinomian, but these fellow believers do not know the power of Jesus’ words when he said that he came to ‘give life and life to the fullest’. Their diminished and oppressed lives will stand in stark contrast to the life that has been set free by the message of the Gospel.
“There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (Romans 8:1-3a).