Too often the Christian message is presented along the lines that if we believe and/or do the right things now, everything will turn out all right for us after we die, but that we should not expect anything to happen to us before that. We should of course attempt to stop sinning and do good Christian things like going to church. But the only changes in our lives will be what we bring about ourselves; God does nothing for us, at least nothing which we can perceive, until the day of our death.
Dongell argues for a very different version of the Christian gospel, in which believers can expect God to act in their lives to make a real change in them. Dongell is approaching this from the Methodist Holiness tradition. The charismatic movement offers a slightly different take on this, in which it is the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit which transform the life of the believer, but essentially they are saying the same thing – although Dongell is right to warn against the unbalanced charismatic extreme that “demonstrations of power and miracles constitute the highest form of spirituality”. From a rather different and more theological direction, the New Perspective on Paul makes a similar point in arguing that for the apostle “justification” meant not just legal acquittal but also a change in behaviour.
Sadly there is also a strong and resurgent “Reformed” party among evangelicals which seems to delight in rejecting all of these ideas, focusing instead on the Christian duty of sanctification by works, that is by studying the literary works of great Christian scholars of past centuries. For many in this party (although probably not for Reformed charismatics like Adrian Warnock) it seems that God cannot be expected to do anything visible for believers before their dying days.
Contrast that with the biblical picture of how a believer can be transformed given in Dongell’s second lecture:
a real breakthrough at the core of our being: a reversal of polarities such that the inward-pointing vectors are, by God’s transforming work, turned outward so that we can in fact give ourselves freely in loving others, and loving God with our whole hearts.
Surely the people who don’t expect God to transform their lives now are missing out on a huge part of biblical Christianity.
Dongell ends with three suggestions of how this transformation can take place:
Wait expectantly within the Means of Grace
Embrace Suffering and Service
Ask the Father for a Full Assurance of His Love for you
While the first two are certainly important, I suspect that for many people the third is the key. These people have never realised deep down that God truly loves them. They might believe that God has grudgingly agreed to let them into heaven if they suffer enough now in this life. But they don’t believe that God wants the best for them now. As Dongell puts it (his emphasis):
Here’s the issue in a nutshell: we cannot release ourselves from the heavy responsibility of self-defense until we catch a full vision of the God who actually loves us all the way, and who is for us all the way. And who is good, all the way to the bottom. We can “surrender” all we want, but I suspect that it is psychologically and spiritually impossible to surrender fully to someone we are afraid of.