One of the most powerful scenes in the movie Luther is a dialogue between Martin Luther and his superior. Luther is shown awake late at night, talking to himself and arguing with the Devil. Luther tells Father von Staupitz that he is too full of sin to be a priest and that he fears damnation. Staupitz consoles Luther, telling him to put his faith in Christ, not in his works, saying, "Look to the Cross. Say to God, 'I am Yours. Save me.'"
The modern (or postmodern) Church does a good job of encouraging its followers to do good works. Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution is almost entirely about working for social justice. This movement has been needed for a long time. Christianity has become to focused on approaching God in a bubble, stressing personal relationships and personal salvation. The communal aspect has been lost and the Emergent movement has done a great job of restoring it.
But sometimes I think that we've gone too far to the communal side. We stress doing good works. Great. Faith without deeds is dead. But maybe we emphasize works too much (I've got to hand it to Don Miller - he does the best job of expressing this). Why am I saying this? Well, another great part of the Emergent movement is the honesty that it has brought. Over the past few weeks and months, I've started to fall into the same place Luther found himself. Too full of sin to be loved by God. Too selfish to embrace Love. It's an incredibly frightening place in which to find one's self. Fear of damnation brings about fear of Death, the very Death which we proclaim Christ to have defeated. So in questioning my salvation, I, by default, question the power of God himself.
So where's the balance? If we emphasize works too much, we fall back into the spiritual trap that was the Middle Ages and start teaching that salvation is to be earned and bought. But if we don't emphasize works, we end up where we were in the the modernist period - Christianity becomes a political tool and Christians don't live their faith.
As I read the works of Thomas Merton (I'm working on New Seeds of Contemplation) I'm starting to see the proper balance. Merton was a monk, but lived in a hermitage. He lived in solitude, but in community. He saw himself living in solitude, but connected to other people living in solitude. Always alone. Always with others. I've been trying to figure out where the balance is, and I think Thomas Merton had it right. A personal relationship with God, trusting in the salvation of Christ, but pushing towards community. Relationships not because we fear damnation, but because we Love. Doing good not because we must earn our salvation, but because we Love.