We laid a foundation of a missional theology with the six axioms, which functions as the theological paradigm for finding our center. This is the way of seeing the world as Jesus seemed to see it: God present and at work in the world, calling all creation back into unity with himself.
With this paradigm in place, we move on to the next phase of finding our center: learning to dwell in the posture of Jesus.
If paradigm is the big picture, posture is how we embody this paradigm in our everyday lives. If paradigm is a way of “seeing” the world, posture is a way of “being” in the world. We are called to not only see things the way Jesus does but to be in our world the way Jesus is.
Centered in love
Recalling the very first article you read,
The center of our leadership is our life in God, and the center of God is love. So this first journey of finding our center is to discover that love is the center of our leadership, and learning to lead from a place of being at home in love. Confident and secure, not in our intelligence, competence, or likability, but simply in our “belovedness.”
In that article we mentioned that leading with love as our anchor is something qualitatively different than “being nice.” It is a complete reorientation of our motivations and desires at the deepest levels of our life. Finding our center is about learning to dwell in the love of God, letting love permeate and overflow through our lives toward everyone around us.
So that’s a nice theological idea, but how does it work out in real life? If this is going to be a posture we can inhabit, it has to be practical and tangible… and that’s where most of us get tripped up.
Is Love a Zero-Sum Game?
When we think about love, our imaginations tend to go toward situations where love seems easy. Times where we’ve been “in love,” when the kids are happily obeying, when our spouse is in a good mood, when our congregation is appreciative and encouraging.
But what happens when life gets a bit more difficult? How do we live in love when our spouse is upset? Or when they’ve truly hurt us? Or we’ve hurt them? When the kids are misbehaving? When you multiply angry emails in one day? When the board wants to fire you?
Typically in these kinds of situations, we tend to define love as either “being nice” or “getting tough,” or, more commonly, to try to find some kind of balance between the two.
We often feel like we’re walking a tightrope, trying to maintain a perfect midpoint between the two, like this poor guy:
Because we feel like we’re living on a spectrum, we have to sacrifice one to get the other… the nicer we get, the less tough we can be. Vice versa, the tougher we get, the less nice we become.
In the end, it feels like a zero-sum game where we are unable to really love in the way of Jesus. To lean into one is to lean away from the other. We end up aiming at “balance” but seldom hitting anything that remotely resembles the posture of Jesus toward others.
For example: Parents sometimes notice that one of them tends to be the “tough one” and the other is the “nice one.” One of us brings niceness (“good cop”), the other gets tough (“bad cop”).
Loving toddlers who won’t eat their dinner
This kind of dynamic is common in my (Matt’s) home. Stories like this one from a few years ago can (and do!) happen any night of the week:
One evening at dinner, our two-and-a-half year-old daughter Cece had finished off a spring mix salad with sweet red peppers, carrots, and broccoli and a pork chop with mushrooms. (Both of our kids are normally pretty good eaters.)
The only thing that stood in the way of her and dessert was four bites of a baked potato with cheese and butter on it. And even though she just wolfed down a bunch of other food that evening, she most definitely does NOT like “tatoes.”
My wife, Sharon, and I struggled with this. On one hand she’d eaten all the truly nutritious stuff. She ate a LOT of food for a two-and-a-half year-old. What’s four bites of potatoes in the larger scheme of things, really?
But on the other hand we established the Tebbe Family Dinner Rules that state: 1) You eat what’s for dinner, 2) Sometimes you get to love dinner, sometimes you just like it, and sometimes you don’t like it at all, but, (see #1), you eat what’s for dinner, and 3) Life is all about learning to do things that are good for you that you don’t necessarily want to or like. This includes tatoes.
So we decided she needed to eat her tatoes before she could have dessert. And… Cece just sat there, twenty minutes after we are all done eating, refusing to eat her tatoes.
Parents, you’ve been here, right? What does love look like in this situation? We’ve walked the tightrope of “being nice” and “getting tough” in a LOT of different ways:
- We’ve tried leaning toward “being nice,” acquiescing to her protest and just giving her something she wants to eat.
- We’ve tried leaning toward “getting tough,” using threats and punishments to force her to eat the tatoes.
- We’ve tried a weird mashup of both, manipulating her by putting food on her fork for her, telling her it wasn’t so bad, arguing with her about how delicious tatoes really are, etc.
- We’ve wrapped “getting tough” in a lot of “being nice” padding, bribing her with things she wants: “If you eat your potatoes you get 17 desserts!”
- And then when we get tired of all of that (and it’s exhausting!), there comes a point where we just give up, take out our phone and start looking at what’s happening on Twitter/Etsy/Instagram, etc.
We went through all of those scenarios that evening with Cece, and nothing helped her embrace our family’s culture by eating her tatoes.
Jesus doesn’t balance nice and tough
More on how that story ended up later, but now we just want to note the contrast between the common ways we try to love those around us, and the way Jesus did.
The love Jesus embodies doesn’t seem like a tightrope he balances on. We want to suggest that the love that permeates Jesus’ character can be encapsulated in the phrase “full of grace and truth.”
The prologue of the Gospel of John paints a paradigmatic picture of Jesus for us, culminating with these two packed-with-punch sentences:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
As if to drive home the point, just a few verses later John proclaims, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
Jesus doesn’t “balance” grace and truth. He isn’t walking the tightrope. He doesn’t become less truthful in order to express grace, or less gracious when telling the truth.
Jesus is “full” of grace and truth. Grace and truth aren’t techniques he employs, grace and truth are the posture he inhabits, and it allows him to freely and creatively engage with others in love. In other words, love isn’t a tightrope; it’s a wide open field full of grace and truth we get to live in!
He is graciously truthful and truthfully gracious. His grace is full of truth and his truth is full of grace.
Furthermore, in Jesus Christ, truth without grace isn’t really truth (it’s more like “getting tough”), and grace without truth isn’t really grace (it’s more like “being nice”). When we try to get one without the other, we end up with neither. Instead we create shadows, or parodies, of grace and truth.
For the sake of length we can’t get into the many examples of this dynamic that we see in the life of Jesus (although if we ever write a book on this we will, and it would be a fruitful exercise to peruse the Gospels with this lens in mind).
The Grace and Truth Matrix
To illustrate the “both-ness” of being full of grace and truth, this article will introduce a 2×2 matrix that helps us get a vision for what it looks like to follow Jesus in his posture of love toward others.
This tool is a diagnostic that will help us see when we’re missing the mark, and also a training tool that helps us find our center and live in the posture of love in our homes, neighborhoods, churches, and businesses.
As you may have guessed, the tool is called the Grace and Truth Matrix. We put “Grace” on the vertical axis and “Truth” on the horizontal. The collision of the various ways to combine grace and truth create quadrants that represent different kinds of cultures/postures we can live in.
The shadow cultures
To be full of both grace and truth is to create a culture that looks like Jesus, which we’ll come back to at the end. First let’s examine the other quadrants, which represent the shadow/parody cultures.
Truth without grace: Call Out
When we are committed to “truth,” but there is little grace, it creates a Call Out culture.
A Call Out Culture is concerned mainly that things are done “correctly” and every flaw and inconsistency is pointed out and dealt with. The assumption here is that life is about doing the right things in the right way, and the best thing you can do for people who get it wrong is to point it out.
Usually Call Out cultures are pursuing some kind of external goal, and leveraging power to bring others “into line” so they are contributing toward the goal. Achieving the goal is the main thing, so relational carnage is seen as unfortunately unavoidable collateral damage.
So we call ourselves out. We call each other out. We get obsessed with noticing sin and error, thinking that by our vigilance we will eventually be able to root it out of ourselves and our community, and that this will bring us life.
This is the culture many “serious Christians” are attracted to, because we think that getting tough on sin for ourselves and others is how people become holy. The logic of Call Out is: The worse we feel, the better we will grow spiritually!
Call Out culture reveals itself in our parenting when we expect instant obedience, issuing threats and punishments when our kids don’t comply. “You’re getting it wrong and here’s how. Now pull it together and get it right this time.”
In the end, Call Out culture overpowers others and disconnects us from one another in relationship. The “truth” it expresses isn’t really Jesus-truth (which sets us free and sees more than (or through) what’s wrong). Instead it’s a shadow-truth that binds us up and crushes us and others under its weight.
Needless to say, Call Out culture doesn’t result in the righteousness it hopes for, and doesn’t ultimately lead us to a place of dwelling in the love of Jesus. Instead it separates us from one another and creates a culture of hiding and performance driven by fear, guilt, and shame.
STOP AND REFLECT: Where have you experienced Call-Out Culture? How do you know? Describe the contours of the culture through specific interactions you remember.
Grace without truth: Hang Out
When we are committed to “grace” but hesitate to speak the truth to one another, we create a Hang Out culture.
The highest concern in a Hang Out Culture is that everyone is getting along, there is no conflict, and nobody feels uncomfortable. Any issue or conversation that could bring discomfort or awkwardness is managed away or avoided.
Call Out culture separates us from one another in the interest of “calling it like it is,” and Hang Out culture is kind of the opposite: we are so concerned with staying together and everyone being “okay” that we shrink back from difficult conversations.
Preserving the peace is of the utmost importance, and because of this, confrontation and truth-telling (and truth-listening) are hardly (if ever) done. Triangulation and passive aggressive behavior thrive in a Hang Out culture, because the main thing is keeping everything copacetic.
Many of us grew up in family systems like this. If the Call Out culture demands compliance from children, the Hang Out culture just wants the kids to be happy. Helicopter parenting is a manifestation of a Hang Out culture.
In the end, Hang Out culture disempowers others by denying their agency, taking on others’ responsibilities as our own. The “grace” it seems to express isn’t really Jesus-grace, because his grace empowered others, but Hang Out culture keeps others dependent on us. The result is over-connection in relationships. Common words in our culture for these unhealthy, toxic relationships are co-dependency and enmeshment.
If a Call Out posture creates a culture of performance and hiding, Hang Out culture creates a culture of pleasing and pretending. Everyone is working overtime to make each other happy and pretending that they are fine.
Hang Out culture never achieves the peace it hopes for, and doesn’t ultimately lead us to a place of dwelling in the love of Jesus. Instead it simply keeps us in proximity to each other, but separated on a soul level.
(Notice, too, that the nice/tough tightrope actually runs between Hang Out and Call Out.)
STOP AND REFLECT: Where have you experienced Hang Out culture? How do you know? Describe the contours of the culture through specific interactions you remember.
No grace no truth: Check-Out
The thing about Call Out culture and Hang Out culture is that they require tremendous amounts of energy to maintain, so we quickly become exhausted in these cultures. All the energy we put into calling others out or managing relationships is tiring!
So we often resign to Check Out culture. We retreat away from relationships and goals and simply seek survival.
Check Out culture is all about self-preservation. Instead of overpowering others or disempowering them, we simply try to preserve power for ourselves, to make sure we’re okay. This is where we hide, medicate, numb our pain, disconnect, give up.
Many leaders, exhausted after a long week of maintaining their Call Out culture or Hang Out culture, retreat to Check Out culture on their day off. It looks like “rest” but it’s not Jesus-rest, which is rest that reconnects us to those we love, and refreshes and replenishes us spiritually.
More seriously, sometimes we visit Check Out culture for longer stretches of time, and it is where people can give up on life and leadership altogether. They don’t calibrate truth or grace because they just don’t care anymore. Many of our addictions are the result of habitually checking out. We train our bodies to require checking out just to feel OK.
STOP AND REFLECT: Where have you experienced Check-Out Culture? How do you know? Describe the contours of the culture through specific interactions you remember.
Grace and Truth Together: Call In
The three cultures we’ve looked at so far are cultures that we create in our own strength. They are cultures of flesh (flesh is a biblical term that simply refers to what we can accomplish through human effort alone). They are cultures of self, cultures where we use others, cultures devoid of love (as Jesus defines it).
What we see in Jesus’ life, however, is a very different posture toward others. It’s full of grace and truth. Out of a deep motivation of selfless love, he is committed to radical grace AND truth-telling, truth-listening, and truth-living. We call it a Call In culture.
What grace is
Grace is not just pardon for the poor sinner but “participation in the divine nature.” Grace is God himself, the communication in which he gives himself to man as the divinizing favour which he is himself. Here God’s work is really himself, since it is he who is imparted. ~ Karl Rahner
Instead of the shadow-grace of Hang Out culture (nervously managing relationships), we express Jesus-grace, which is all about reaching out toward others to connect with them and be with them.
Grace wasn’t invented to deal with sin, although we often talk about it in our churches this way. Grace existed within the Trinity before the world was created because grace is God’s giving of himself in relationship. Grace is God’s empowering presence that reaches out to connect. Grace is God’s desire to be with us. It is the gift of relationship.
Grace has to do with presence. It seeks to connect and be with others in deep, meaningful, covenantal relationships. Grace says “I see you, I hear you, I am with you, I am glad to be here, you matter.” A Call In culture is marked by increasing connection, joy, and freedom in relationships.
What truth is
Likewise, instead of the shadow-truth of Call Out culture (pointing out what’s wrong), we express Jesus-truth, which sees more than what’s wrong and sets people free.
Shadow truth (Call Out) uses “truth” as a weapon; its goal is to win, prove oneself right, divide and conquer. Shadow-truth is experienced as a heavy burden, an “ought” or a “should” that overpowers and controls behavior or compels external conformity in the name of “righteousness.”
Jesus-truth is all about seeing people as God sees them (not just what’s wrong with them), and calling them in love to live out their true identity in Christ. Jesus truth is vision, empowerment, enlivening hope that calls people into God’s kingdom.
Truth is about naming and living in reality as God sees it.
In a Call In culture, truth is employed as an instrument of salvation, setting others free from the bondage of performance. Jesus-truth calls people into embracing God’s vision for their life, proclaiming what life under the reign of Jesus lives like.
We connect with others and call them into the divine union that we ourselves are learning to be centered in, calling them to embrace their agency in the kingdom. Call In culture empowers others to embrace their God-given identity and join him in his work.
Just as grace is the relational aspect of God’s character, truth is the structural aspect of his character. – Henry Cloud
Love is to be with someone and for someone unto something greater. – Scot McKnight
A new kind of culture
Call In is something altogether different from both Call Out and Hang Out. You can’t simply “add some truth” to Hang Out and get Call In, because the “grace” of a Hang-Out Culture isn’t Jesus-grace. Likewise you can’t “add some grace” to Call-Out and get Call In, because the “truth” of Call Out isn’t Jesus-truth.
Instead, it’s like learning a completely new language. A conversion is needed. We need to rethink everything we thought we knew about grace and truth and sit at the feet of Jesus and watch him work. We take his yoke and learn from him how to walk in this new way of life and leadership, the way of love.
Look for joy
This article only scratches the surface of this tool, and much more will get fleshed out in the context of our cohort, but let’s end with an observation about joy.
The Apostle Paul said that kingdom of God is a matter of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). This is a good description of Call In, where we experience righteousness and peace together, and because it’s empowered by the Holy Spirit and not our flesh, we experience joy in the midst of it.
The counterfeit cultures, on the other hand, are “flesh” cultures, which means we are attempting to bring about something good in our own strength.
It seems that Call Out seeks righteousness in its own strength, destroying peace in the process, and because it can never really achieve righteousness in its own strength, ends in joyless striving.
Likewise, Hang Out seeks peace in its own strength, destroying righteousness in the process, and because it can never really achieve peace in its own strength, ends in joyless managing.
The lack of joy is a defining characteristic of non-love cultures.
However, when we give ourselves over to the love of God in Christ, full of grace and truth, we find we begin to build a kingdom culture of righteousness and peace together, which results in joy in the Holy Spirit, because it’s empowered by the Spirit.
So one of the ways to tell if you’re living in a culture that’s not full of grace and truth is a lack of joy. A Call In culture will produce an abundance of joy.
Calling a toddler into the kingdom
So here’s how the story of Cece and the tatoes turned out:
That evening, after a half-hour of desperately trying Hang Out, Call Out, and Check Out to Just. Get. Her. To. Just. Eat. The. Tatoes. So. We. Can. Have. Dessert… something came over me: I decided I would try and believe in her more than she did.
I sat right next to her and looked her in the eyes and said, “Cece I know you don’t like tatoes. I completely understand. And that’s okay, you don’t HAVE to like them. Can I tell you a secrete (and I got really close to her ear so only she could hear): Mommy cooks a lot of food that Daddy doesn’t like, too.”
I told her all the foods that Mommy cooks that I didn’t like. I got the side-eye from Mommy ’cause I think she knew what was up, but I pressed on…
(Notice the connecting and empathizing… that’s grace.)
I continued, “But tatoes are what’s for dinner. And we eat what’s for dinner. Now, I want to eat dessert with you tonight. I don’t want you to miss out on the delicious chocolate cake that you’re excited about. I want you to have good things. And even though you don’t like tatoes, they are good for you.
(Notice the maintaining of boundaries… that’s truth.)
“Cece – look at me – I BELIEVE in you. You are a strong, courageous little girl and you can do this! I know you can! (I named several hard things Cece had done in the last few days where she proved to everyone how strong and courageous she is) You can eat these 4 bites of tatoes and then enjoy your dessert. You don’t think you can BUT YOU CAN! You have all the power and choice here. You need to believe in yourself as much as I believe in you and you can do it.”
(Grace and truth together… calling her into relationship AND responsibility…)
It took another 20 minutes, but Cece finished those 4 bites. After each bite we celebrated (our 8 year old got into the act as well, partially because he knew he wasn’t getting dessert until she finished her dinner).
STOP AND REFLECT: What parts of this story do you identify as Jesus-grace? How about Jesus-truth? Anything that you see is both? How are these postures different than shadow-grace and shadow-truth?
Growing in grace and truth
This tool gives us a diagnostic that can alert us to when we are living in one of the “flesh” quadrants, which can be extremely helpful, because a large part of the process of spiritual formation is simply “catching yourself in the act,” i.e. noticing when you slip out of the awareness of God’s presence.
The only way any of us can begin to walk in grace and truth is to be filled with the love of God in Christ. Jesus makes it clear to his disciples and to us that we cannot “drum up” this kind of life by trying harder or exerting more willpower or learning a new technique. It only comes as we “abide” in him, like a branch abides in a vine.
As we learn to live in his love, our defenses come down and we become open to receiving grace. As we do so, grace begins to flow into and through our lives to those around us. From this place of grace, we begin to tell the truth about ourselves. We stop hiding, we come out into the open and start walking in the light, and there we find the truth, rather than binding and enslaving us, actually sets us free.
Questions for reflection:
- Where do you see these cultures in your life? My home, marriage, workplace, small group, church setting: are we living in a Hang Out, Check Out, Call Out, or Call In culture?
- What would you say was the dominant culture in the family you grew up in? How do you know? In what specific ways has that impacted the culture you create now?
- Have you experienced a healthy Call In culture in the past? What was it like? What are some of the artifacts (elements) of this culture you can identify? Who was responsible for creating an environment of grace and truth? What can you learn from her/him?
Resources for further learning
- A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, by Scot McKnight, especially Part 1 (Grace) and Part 2 (Love)
- Nonviolent Communication: Life Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships, by Marshall B. Rosenberg