A Purple Proposal

By on Jan 29, 2014

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Primary Colors

Life explodes with color—the blazing orange of sunrise, the dusty brown of a potato, the quiet black of midnight. You open your eyes, you get out of bed, and each day is a new show. Today you will see a color you didn’t know existed—perhaps it’s a new shade of yellow or some concoction of navy and pine-needle green. If you’re paying attention, life is a streaming revelation of color.

And with such variety at our fingertips, it would be a shame to only dabble and primary colors—and yet we do. There is blue and there is red. There is liberal and there is conservative. Deep down, we know better, but the allure of primary colors is irresistible. Paint the world in primary colors and it all gets simple and certain. Most of us will nail honesty to a cross for a little peace of mind. And ours is a time when a little peace of mind is a precious commodity. I suppose life has always been complex, but it feels peculiarly so right now. So assaulting the world with blue and red spray-paint feels sooo good.

It’s little wonder these primary colors have also tagged the walls of evangelical Christianity. Don’t hear that the wrong way—I don’t much care about doom and gloom pronouncements and I don’t know that now is any worse than then. But I know primary colors when I see them, and in my tribe they are everywhere. And I find that unacceptable because the church tells the truth. And the truth is that blue and red spray-paint will not do because we believe God is God and humans are humans. And when that belief becomes operative and active, everything gets purple.


Purple Theology

Purple happens when you mix blue and red. Purple theology happens when we try to tell the truth about God instead of trying to make ourselves feel safe and certain. It happens when we surrender to the comedy of theology: we are humans talking about God. If you don’t get the joke, try a little harder.

Purple theology handles life and faith with nuance instead of bludgeoning them until they bruise blue or bleed red. All that to say, purple theology believes that humility is more than good manners—it’s good theology. Its ultimate goal is not to get along but to do good, honest theology. And yet if we do good theology we will get along (or at least get along better!) because good theology will always carry the purple banner of humility—a banner that signals our surrender to the high and holy joke of theology.


A Purple Proposal

So here’s my purple proposal. The church is a community of little people bumping up against a big God—let’s act like it! Let’s splatter primary colors against the wall, make a mess, and see what happens when they mix. Let’s be bold in our beliefs and passionate in our discipleship but ruthlessly honest about our finitude and uncertainty.

We’ll still disagree on plenty of things—some of them important and, perhaps, worth fighting over. Our primary colors will differ. There will be lots of shades of purple—Calvinist, Arminian, Open Theist, New Pauline, Old Pauline, inerrant, infallible, inspired, inspiring, pre-mill, post-mill, who-gives-a-mill—and not all will be equal. But I can deal with that, because it tells the honest to God, purple truth of the matter.

I’m busy experimenting with my own shade of purple. Its primary colors are God’s searing generosity and our tragic/comic littleness. I’ve changed shades before and might change again, but this one feels good on me. Feel free to try it on.

  • Kyndall Rae Rothaus

    Love this. Reminds me of Richard Rohr, which I was just rereading this morning: “If we’re playing the domination game, we can be as trapped on the left as on the right. Our great disillusionment with so much of even contemporary progressive thinking is that it is still playing the power game. Even while being politically correct, we are still looking for control and righteousness. That demon has not yet been exorcised. Freshness and creativity will not come from there. Such ‘false enlightenment’ is either all in the head or is mere counterdependency on that which it opposes.”

    • Austin Fischer

      Me gusta! Which book of Rohr’s?

      • Kyndall Rae Rothaus

        Everything Belongs.

  • tsgIII

    Since Kyndall Rae Rothaus name drops Richard Rohr, I’ll do likewise with John Millbank. I’ll reference an interview in 1968. http://www.theotherjournal.com/2008/06/04/three-questions-on-modern-atheism-an-interview-with-John-Millbank. In that interview he clearly shows the problems with these dichotomous primary categories, and why “the point is to resist this. And that means, of course, to rethink Christendom. But now in more festive, pro-body, yet more interpersonal, less fearing terms, and ones celebrating much more excellence and virtue in every realm, including those of craft, farming, and trade. And having a greater will to the democratization of excellence”.

    • Austin Fischer

      I dig it! Especially the use of “festive.” That word packs a punch–generosity, playfulness, not taking yourself too seriously. Thanks for the thoughts and the link! I’m going to use that at some point.

  • tsgIII
  • tsgIII

    I can’t post the link……after…..theotherjournal…./2008/06/04/three-questions-on-modern-atheism-an-interview-with-John-Millbank

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  • joe23521

    Ordered your book and it just arrived yesterday. It was highly recommended by Roger Olson, whose books and blog I greatly enjoy and admire. Look forward to reading this new blog as well as the new book!

    • Austin Fischer

      Very cool. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy the book. Feel free to give me some feedback!

  • Shannon Dillard

    Great book! Someone finally explaining God’s love and the “Hidden God” of Calvinism simply and understandably. I look forward to reading your blog!

    • Austin Fischer

      Thanks Shannon! Hope you enjoy!

  • Bev Mitchell


    Welcome to the blogging world. Roger Olson told us about your startup and I’m glad I took his advice to have a look. Well done!

    Here is a little something I wrote a while back and never published anywhere. Please accept it as an inaugural gift.


    Bev Mitchell

    The Holy Spirit makes saints not sausages

    Diversity is a major key and a major theme in the symphony of creation. Even God is a trinity of persons for goodness sake. J.B.S. Haldane is justly famous for his quote “If one could conclude as to the nature of the Creator from a study of creation, it would appear that God has an inordinate fondness for stars and beetles.” And it just gets better and better, if you are a fan of diversity. Not everyone is.

    Christians believe, or at least I think they should believe, that the Holy Spirit, who is the spirit of God and of Jesus Christ, brings Christ to dwell in the confessing Christian. But we often see two ways of interpreting matters from here on. Is making one like Christ a process of making uniformity or a process of unity? In the 17th chapter of St. John’s Gospel perhaps the most important prayer for the Church is recorded. It was prayed by Jesus, “that they may be one as we are one.” What does this mean? Does Jesus ask for unity or uniformity?

    When a Christian allows the Holy Spirit to go to work in the garden of his or her soul, what should the result look like? Is the goal to make that person like Christ? – of course. But is this at the expense of the person who, after all, is in the image of God? – of course not. The Holy Spirit, surely, wants to make us into the real us, the person we were meant to be, quite unique, distinct from anyone else. As we become more like the real person we are meant to be, our positive impact on the world where we live, our relationships, becomes much closer to what God wants and needs for helping to heal this broken world. He isn’t into making more Jesus’, he wants more Sally’s, Janes’s, Roberto’s, Oswaldo’s, Fridiswid’s, Chibuzo’s, Ayotunde’s, Fadia’s, Farida’s, Eri’s, Aponi’s, Omiotago’s, Meifeng’s, Ning’s,
    Addie’s, Zohar’s and all the rest being what they are meant to be in Christ through the power of his Spirit.

    But, another all too common way to imagine this work of the Spirit is to devalue diversity and think uniformity, mould, fixedness, certainty, answers no longer questioned. Diversity goes in one end and uniformity comes out the other – just like a sausage factory. That way it is much easier to recognize those who belong and avoid those who don’t belong. It simplifies things enormously. Who needs all those beetles anyway? Human systems, probably aided by other spirits, have tried this many times. When it catches on, it not only destroys diversity, it has a bad habit of destroying human beings. It even destroys architecture and other forms of art. It basically makes sausages.

    The beauty of diversity, no, the necessity of diversity is a message written in the stars, and in beetles. Humans ignore it at our peril. Christians ignore it at the Church’s peril.

    • Austin Fischer

      This is beautiful stuff, Bev. Thanks for “gifting” it here! Haldane’s line about stars and beetles is going to sit with me for a while. I look forward to more interactions.

  • R Coward

    A study that could add some warmth to the color palette would be a contemplation on “the humility of God”. Don’t you think?
    Not merely the second person of the trinity but all three, God is a humble God.
    When I first happened on the idea it kinda concerned me, isn’t that almost heretical? But through further examination the more convinced I am that God is a humble God. –As if He wasn’t already surprising enough–
    Give it some thought, give it some study, it’s sobering concept.
    The idea of God as a humble God, first came to me when trying to figure out what it was about God that Calvinism seemed to be missing then it hit me ….

    • R Coward

      Hey, I just listened to your message on prayer. Seems you’ve already considered the humility of our God. :) What a God!

      • Austin Fischer

        Haha. I agree–talking about the humility of God is one of those things that makes me uncomfortable enough that it probably has truth in it. I’m working it into the palette too!

        • R Coward

          I just finished your book. Thank you, what a gift to the body of Christ. It’s like I was given my God back. I’ve spent considerable time these last few years surrounded by Calvinists (by choice). I’ve learned SO much from them, it has been a huge learning curve for me, I will always be thankful to that part of the body of Christ for that, but I never could warm up to TULIP or to the exhaustive determinism. I would take the meat and spit out those bones, and there was enough REALLY nutritious meat to make it worth the effort. I would do it again.
          But lately I began to realize that I was missing the humble God that I knew, (or, I came to realize that, that is what I missed about Him), that part of my faith or understanding wasn’t being nurtured, nor was I liking the critical attitude that I was developing toward all “less informed” brethren. (shame on me).
          After John MacArthur’s very divisive conference on continuationists, I found myself wanting to go back to warmer circles, I’m not sure how much had to do with the conference (I was very dissapointed in J.Mac.) or if my exodus was coming anyway. I currently find myself sitting under the preaching of a warm, loving, and humble pastor in an Evangelical Free Church. Wow, do I have a lot to learn about love, and humility.
          Thanks again for your book. You’re a gifted writer, I wish you could be tempted to take the subject of “the humility of God”, and put it into writing. I don’t know that anyone has dedicated a book to that character quality of God.

  • nowis1234

    Nothing like ambiguity to excuse us from drilling down to the truth. I can appreciate understanding our differences, reaching across divides to encourage peace … but the tendency among so many younger evangelicals to desperately seek the approval of those who detest the values which stand in the way of their agenda … is destructive to the liberty with truth alone can make our own.

    Purple, in this context, is a white flag … a willingness to surrender to a persistent need to be liked by those who are now steering our culture over a cliff. What myopia. What madness.

    • Austin Fischer

      There’s some red spray paint flying here!

      Don’t know where you’re reading in “a desperate desire for approval”…maybe that’s your baggage and that’s fine. I’m saying that when we “drill down to the truth”, we realize we’re humans. And if we don’t act like it, we haven’t really “drilled down to the truth.” If you have a problem waving the white flag of humanity, you have a big problem.

      • nowis1234

        How does our humanity diminish the value of or our need for unmitigated truth? It seems to me that our humanity would place a greater demand upon our need for truth. Humility should find us broad minded, yet doggedly testing ideas … carefully indexing them against an immutable index, namely truth. The human condition is, after all, a condition … not an excuse. A staging ground for redemption, atestamony to God’s unmatched grace … not a testimony to defeat.

        • Austin Fischer

          I’m not talking about how much we need truth or don’t need truth…of course we need truth! Of course we doggedly test ideas against an immutable index. The point is, you’ll only know that “immutable index” mutably.

          Good thoughts though!

          • nowis1234

            Well, I appreciate the irreplaceable value of humility … its unique capacity to transform weakness into an opportunity for graceful redemption … and to encourage and nurture – well, make possible real intimacy in our relationships. But I’ve grown weary of a fairly sloppy approach to the power of ideas … the notion that “purple” is ok because it allows (allegedly) for a meeting of the minds. It seems to me that truth often becomes a first casualty there because dialogue consistently trends in the direction of the lowest possible denominator.

            Worse, it can carry us away from promised freedom. The absence of conviction is sometimes applauded as an absence of pride or malice … I fear, though, that this trend has merely made a generation susceptible to every wind of doctrine and unwillingly to take a stand which might meet with accusations of provincialism or boobery. BTW … I am not a Calvinist … I’m acquainted with the often reflexively dogmatic push-back you can encounter in engaging them.

          • Dean

            Well here’s the thing, I’m pretty sure I’m right and everyone else who disagrees with me is wrong. Now what?!?

          • nowis1234

            Gee whiz … nothing like a non sequitur to move dialogue along, eh?

          • Dean

            “Purple, in this context, is a white flag … a willingness to surrender
            to a persistent need to be liked by those who are now steering our
            culture over a cliff. What myopia. What madness.”

            I was just making a rhetorical point. Something tells me from your initial post that you’re not really interested in an epistemological dialogue. I wonder what could have led me to think that.

          • nowis1234

            Convenience perhaps?

  • nowis1234


  • John

    Hey Austin,

    Just found your site and downloaded the book. I’m looking forward to digging into it soon! I appreciate this post and resonate with the fact that we are little people (children) bumping up against a Big God. Keep pressing into that! Further, I am part of an organization called GenerousChurch and would love to hear you elaborate on “God’s searing generosity.”

    I like your shade of purple. We need to connect.