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The Wesleys and the Gospel of Zoysiagrass

December 14, 2009

On his Twitter feed, United Methodist pastor Mike Slaughter wrote that the gospel of sin management has turned us into Christian vampires who are interested in Jesus only for his blood. (paraphrased).  To my mind, there’s a lot of truth in that statement.  Modern evangelical Christianity does place an awful lot of emphasis on Jesus’ death.  My father-in-law, who grew up Baptist, refers to the Baptist hymnal as “the bloody hymnal” because of all the blood hymns.

There is a fountain filled with blood

Now the point of this post is not to dispute the doctrine of blood atonement – it is one of many keystone doctrines of our understanding of atonement.  Rather, I simply want to ponder a Wesleyan approach to the Christian life in a way that fleshes out my agreement with Slaughter’s statement.  There is, to put it bluntly, far more to the Christian life than avoiding or stopping sin.  (“Are we able to stop sinning on our own” is an interesting Systematic Theology question for another day!)

The finest, lushest, softest grass in the world is zoysiagrass.  If you’ve ever been to a really nice golf course you’ve walked on it.  The tee areas and fairways are almost always made of zoysiagrass.  It’s like a natural carpet.  And I think there’s an awful lot of Wesleyan wisdom and indeed Gospel reflected in zoysiagrass.

  • Zoysiagrass requires maintenance.  If your lawn is zoysiagrass, you probably need to be prepared to aerate the soil by walking around in spiked shoes or using a lawn tractor attachment.  And it grows so thick that it can be difficult to mow if you let it go too long.  It’s also important to keep it properly thatched and watered if you want it to be at its greenest and loveliest.  Likewise, the Christian life requires regular maintenance.  Holy tempers, Holy habits are vital to living a truly Christian life.  Prayer, scripture study, worship, sacrament, Christian action (e.g. visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked, Matthew 25 stuff), fellowship – these are all essential stuff for maintaining a truly robust and healthy Christian life.  Never forget that the Wesleys were ridiculed by their classmates for their devotion and rigor and were derided as “methodists.”
  • Zoysiagrass is the first to turn brown in fall, and the last to turn green in the spring.  This makes me think of the old story of two monks who argued over whose Master was greater.  The first monk said his master was greater because he spent hours upon hours in prayer and could recite the scriptures from memory.  The second said his was even greater than that because he “eats when he is hungry, drinks when he is thirsty and sleeps when he is tired.”  It’s almost as if zoysiagrass has an intuitive sense of kairos:  it knows when it is time to green up, time to lie back, time to grow, and time to sleep.  John Wesley’s Exacter diary showed that he was concerned (if not downright obsessive-compulsive) about how time is spent and achieving proper balance between private and communal acts of worship and mission.
  • Zoysiagrass is drought resistant. While it needs water to be at its greenest, zoysia will go into a dormant state during periods of drought.  Hard times may put it through a Dark Night of the Soul, but will not kill it.  I don’t need to expand that metaphor, do I?
  • Zoysiagrass chokes out weeds. You will not need to poison your lawn to kill dandelions, clover, crabgrass or buckhorn if you have zoysiagrass.  When properly healthy, zoysiagrass chokes out weeds on its own.  When properly maintained, the Christian life is so full and so robust that many of our sins become incompatible with our lifestyle.  I’m not saying that being a healthy Christian chokes out all sin, but it certainly does choke out many sinful habits – and this understanding is essential to a true Wesleyan understanding of Entire Sanctification.  Consider Slaughter’s term “the gospel of sin management,” which implies a lifestyle of weeding and pruning.  While weeding and pruning are important, so are fertilizing, aerating, watering, thatching.  Holy habits encourage naturally choking out some sin rather than wasting time trying to chase them all down and pull them out.
  • Zoysiagrass spreads. Those who can afford it will have rolls of sod spread over their lawns, planting the zoysia all at once.  Others will buy it in plugs.  When those plugs of sod are planted in your lawn, the zoysia will choke out your other grass around it and eventually those patches will grow together.  Eventually it can take over your neighbor’s lawn!  And a Christianity that is robust and healthy like zoysiagrass will be evangelical more by nature than by intention.

So I encouraged my congregation yesterday to give themselves a Christmas gift by planting a little Wesleyan Christian zoysiagrass in their lives: to engage in holy habits that will choke out sin, make us resistant to droughts, encourage healthy balance, and will grow and spread.  A Zoysiagrass Christianity will be tough as nails at the roots but gentle on your feet and beautiful to the eye.  Good news!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. John Meunier permalink
    December 14, 2009 10:55 am

    Nice metaphor. I love a good metaphor.

    I think the “blood” people would point out that most of your princples are about sanctification rather than justification – to use the big, ugly words.

    That said, I’m not sure how important blood atonement was for Wesley. Justification by faith was huge for him, and he probably ascribed to substitutiary atonement, but he certainly did not believe in instant and full sanctification at the moment of justification. To the extent that blood theology treats justification like full and instant speedy-santification, I bet Wesley would object strongly.

    Someone recently called me a Wesley cultist, though, so worrying about what he thought might be off the point entirely.

    • December 14, 2009 11:44 am

      I like your analysis, John and I think you’re correct. I am indeed approaching a line between Justification and Sanctification, which Wesley and Arminius tackle differently from others.

      To my mind, far too much of Christian culture spends an excess of energy trying to distinguish between “saved” and “not saved.” The idea of salvation as a process or a way rather than a singular event is decidedly Arminian/Wesleyan and an idea that has been unfortunately de-emphasized in United Methodist congregations. I don’t think that’s been an intentional move, but unintentionally overlooked.

      I’m not overly concerned with disputing or defending blood theology, but with putting more emphasis on a Christian health and wellness approach to sanctification over and above the sin-management approach.

  2. randrew permalink
    December 14, 2009 2:09 pm

    Love the metaphor – I live in a region where the emphasis is on one-and-done salvation. I am finding that people are really hungry to hear a more Wesleyan, process sort of definition. I’ll probably “borrow” your metaphor at some point! Thanks.

  3. Mark Angleton permalink
    December 14, 2009 3:45 pm

    This is a beautiful metaphor and one that would help many people to understand how Christianity is more about this life than it is about heaven or hell or whatever. Being a Christian is more than saying a prayer once and living however you want, but instead it is about becoming Christlike. By the way, if you look into the Eastern Church it seems that they use the very same view of Christianity only they use cool words like deification which we don’t understand. Nice post my friend!

  4. December 15, 2009 9:50 pm

    a great way of highlighting the means as so many focus only on the end. something Wesley clearly saw as being important.

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