Catechesis by the letter # 3
Updated: Apr 8, 2021
Principles 1: Repentance
I used to write letters. Perhaps some of you did too. If you were going to go to the bother and spend the sum on postage, as well as stationary and ink, you might as well have something to say. My parents will probably testify to my epistolary failures as I recollect the expanse of the pre-paid blue airmail letter that folded itself into an envelope. Did my writing get bigger or did it just sit around until I could think of something to write? In any case, accustomed as we are to the briefest of text messages, social media posts, or cursory e-mails, it's nice to settle in with the Interpreter and read a 9 page letter.
Principle 1: Repentance
Q: What does it mean to repent?
A: It means I have renounced the powers that would control my life and am ready to start the Christian journey that begins when I stop doing things my way and am ready to follow the way of Jesus (Matt 3:2, 4:19; John 14:6)
The Interpreter writes to his catechumen that repentance is about changing your mind, not a caricature of emotionally fleeing punishment in terror. It is about transformation that see one's attention focused on God rather than self. But his decision to follow Jesus is not a simple matter - God must supply constancy if we are to stay the course.
I'm not sure about Freeman's recommendation of "Let go and let God"(15) as a model of repentance. He knows my qualms noting that the phrase 'seems oddly off' (15). Rightly wanting to lean into God's grace and empowerment of Christian transformation in the Spirit, I'm worried the phrase is too surrendering of agency and dissolving of the self, rather than pointing to the re-making of the self in obedience. There's enough in the chapter to calm my fears about those points, but I still don't like the phrase.
While recognizing that repentance is an inner struggle(15), as the Principle indicates Freeman is keen to show the young candidate for baptism that external powers, of Satan, the world, and evil are at work to undermine discipleship. As Christ has disarmed these powers, his followers are called, in continual repentance, to arm themselves with the armor of God (Eph 6.). There is less than some would expect about sin, even as there is plain recognition that we are sinners. In turning away from a Bunyanesque conversion event description of repentance - conviction of personal sin, tears of sorrow and fear of judgment (more on which in Principle 6), we see how far Freeman moves beyond his literary inspiration, even though his emphases do map on to the continual journey of Christian toward his destination (19). Perhaps this is in keeping with wanting to call repentance a life long disposition of turning to God rather than misdeed counting calculation of the anxious penitent.
Repentance is a 'lifelong practice' (18), mapped by our continual life of prayer, the 'beginning of a long obedience' (19). Amen.