“An alert community will always subject its metaphors, especially its favorite metaphors, to critical analysis.” -–Charles Scriven1
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” -–1 John 4:18
Social dynamics experts identify the ability to use a catchy metaphor as a key component of charismatic leadership. In the faith community, everyone has heard of the slippery slope metaphor that often is employed as a final argument to stop further thinking. Fear of falling, inadvertently, out of God’s favor or His truth gives the metaphor an aura of supremacy. But let us consider a familiar Biblical phrase that seems to undercut that assumption.
Can a believer fear not and still give space to the slippery slope metaphor? Have slippery slope avoidance strategies crept into preeminence so as to suppress the wisdom that would come from a fearless exploration of choices? Has the slippery slope metaphor become a sort of handy blunt tool when a precise surgical examination would be the better approach? Can deference to a slippery slope metanarrative undermine the power of the gospel?
In support of a slippery slope visual, one has to acknowledge the power of habit -– both good and bad. An undisciplined person can slide into a bog of addictive behaviors that can be difficult to beat. Also, actions do yield natural consequences, and many of these cannot be undone. However, a committed Jesus follower can journey with a mindful consideration, avoiding the harmful and seeking counsel from trusted sources. Surely a believer who loves God with all her mind can develop wisdom that will surpass a fear-based slope avoidance mentality. Paul’s words might imply that while a fear of falling down a slope might have a place, wouldn’t it be better to put away childish things and move on to maturity with love as the ultimate guidepost? (1 Corinthians 13)
Was David afraid of sliding to perdition when he ate the temple showbread?
Did fear of skidding off a path cause Esther to avoid taking part in the king’s beauty pageant?
Did anxiety about worldly contamination cause Joseph to avoid being a part of a ruling government in Egypt?
Did trepidation about sliding down a slope of gentile-induced hedonism cause the apostles to demand circumcision from all new believers?
Does a fear of slipping into legalism cause many people never to consider joining the Seventh-day Adventist church?
Does slippery slope phobia serve to keep a lot of Seventh-day Adventists from learning anything new?
When Jesus bids one to take up a cross and follow Him, it will not be a fearful journey. Indeed, He offers to share the heavy yoke. Both metaphors are instructive but in tension: carrying a cross and wearing a yoke. The slippery slope is also a metaphor. It has some value but cannot be the ruling metaphor.
Jesus, with a clear view of mission and His Father’s character, pushed the borders of Sabbath keeping and social inclusion. His actions demonstrated no fear of an irreversible fall down a slippery slope. In fact, Jesus specifically taught that disciples should not be guided by fear in the story of the three servants who were given varied quantities of talents. Two servants did not fear the master and yielded a good return. But fearfully, the third servant chose a safe option (far from a slippery slope), and he buried his talent. Jesus gave strong condemnation for the third servant’s actions.
What is the task to which we are called?
“The goal is to lose ourselves so thoroughly in the freely given love of an extravagantly generous God that we become vessels by which this love can be shared with others. The glory of God’s holy, infinite truth is like light we cannot seize in our hands and wind we cannot put into a box. We must be emptied of our demonic need to conquer, control, and colonize, if we want to delight in this light and wind. We cannot get God’s song right if we’re trying to be right; it can only happen if we’re surrendered enough that the song starts playing us. That is the freedom that being justified by God’s grace is supposed to open up for us. Likewise, we cannot hear the voice of our Shepherd if we’re completely preoccupied with our own platform building. To hear Jesus speak, we must sit at the feet of the youngest and most marginalized voices in our community.”2
Choices do have consequences. Habits are self-perpetuating. But, one cannot let fear of a misstep turn discipleship into an abysmal neurotic routine. Let us choose not to be ruled by fear of a metaphorical slippery slope.
“Christianity has always been about getting saved. But today what we need saving from most is the toxic understanding of salvation we've received through bad theology…. God is not a cold-hearted banker who cares only about getting paid back. He’s not a ruthless, stereotypical gym coach. He’s not an ultra fastidious American Idol judge…He’s not an inflexible bureaucrat, whose hands are tied by the demands of our logic.”3
God’s biddings are enablings; we can participate joyfully without fear, live confidently. Our God is faithful and omni-competent. He promises to be with us always even to the end of the age.
1. Spectrum Magazine, vol. 44 issue 3, p. 36, 2016.
2. Guyton, Morton. “How Jesus Saves the World From Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity," Westminster Press, Louisville, p. 159
3. Guyton, Morton. “How Jesus Saves the World From Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity," Westminster Press, Louisville, p. 158
Carmen Lau is a board member of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum. She lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama.
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