I’ve got a series of posts starting at Jesus Creed on how we build our theology, using Wesley’s quadrilateral as an outline (Scripture, Tradition, Reason & Experience). Today’s post is the first of what should be a really interesting series. Come by and contribute!
“If anyone [gay] wants to come with me, let him deny himself [the rest of you are already good to go].”
Dave Fitch is hosting a difficult and important conversation at his blog, and with much grace all around. The following is my latest comment, which I probably should have posted separately here in the first place. Sorry Dave! Looking forward to future posts in the series!
One of the things I’m getting (and liking) in this conversation is a small taste of what I hope David means by “welcoming and mutually transforming.”
By David’s and Isaac’s conversation, I’m already seeing how I have taken so many of my own practices and desires and even parts of what I consider my own identity as givens, or rather how I’ve attached to them a sense of entitlement that is beyond questioning, even by Christ’s purposes.
I find the last comment by Isaac particularly interesting (Isaac, I don’t want you to feel like you have to address it if you’re growing tired of the conversation; you’ve already given a great deal.), especially as it ends with the idea that sexual orientation seems to be much larger than sexual desire.
As you guys mentioned, there are several ways in which this is true. There are almost always communal bonds at stake, not just with one’s partner but also one’s “people”, one’s community and friends. People frame their identities not merely as persons having this or that sexual “desire” but also as people who are faithful to their particular communities. I wonder which pulls us and shapes our sense of identity more, especially on this issue, our desires or our ties to our communities?
As I think about all these things, I’m reminded of Jesus’ call to priortize him and following him even over our communal ties to parents or children or spouse. Not a favorite passage of mine. We often think of or present Christianity as saying “you have to give up or resist this or that desire to be loyal to Jesus.” But it’s really more radical, more exacting, than that. It’s much larger than our desires. Jesus’ call to follow him is clearly a call to subrogate our desires and our identities and the communal bonds that form and maintain them to Jesus. Everything that would come under the broad definition of “our life” (everything we would lose by death) is what is up for transformation and redirection by Christ.
But I don’t think this is what the LGBTQ sees the largely hetero Church doing or even saying Jesus is actually about in America. We have implicitly said that Jesus doesn’t have any serious correction to give to the typical American way of life, other than to add tithing and church attendance. It’s a club with a cross on the building, claiming to be formed and frequented by God himself, and it discriminates on the basis of sex and sexual orientation for who can join.
Maybe part of these discussions in real life has to be particular and personal confessions by hetero Christians of how they’ve flatly ignored Jesus’ Lordship because it has threatened this or that community bond or standing, or some other part of what we want “our” life to be like. Isaac and the LGBTQ community are right in that there is a double standard for what is required at the door of the Church, what’s required to “be Jesus’ disciple” as we’ve implicitly redefined it around us. That has to change, and it has to start with those already in the building, those claiming to be God’s friends. We’ve got to have a few more serious stories of our own about what we have given up to have the pearl. We have to reframe our own discipleship.
The following quote is from Scot McKnight, from the opening post discussing Greg Boyd’s new book: The Myth of a Christian Religion: Losing Your Religion for the Beauty of a Revolution. Hear, O evangelical church:
The reason there are Greg Boyds in this world is because American evangelicalism has been a thin remix of Romans, a religion shaped too much by a simplistic gospel and too rarely shaped by the robust kingdom vision of Jesus that itself gave rise to a much more robust gospel in Paul. (Emphasis added)
Scot goes on to ask some great questions. Feel free to join the conversation.
At the recommendation of a Lutheran brother and for my own edification, I am reading through the Lutheran Confessions (not necessarily in order). [Brief disclaimer: While I’m not a fan of several distinctives of reformed or Lutheran theology which will be clear here, I am, more importantly, a fan of folks in those camps. I’ve been raised in the camps spawned by the reformation and still enjoy their company. This is not a venue to bash such folks; it is a venue to discuss ideas that shape our thinking and practice.]
Part V of the Large Catechism of the Lutheran Confessions is titled “Of the Law and the Gospel.” It only consists of 11 paragraphs (for which I am very grateful), the first of which lays out the issue of:
Whether the preaching of the Holy Gospel is properly not only a preaching of grace, which announces the forgiveness of sins, but also a preaching of repentance and reproof, rebuking unbelief, which, they say, is rebuked not in the Law, but alone through the Gospel. (Emphasis added.)
Right off the bat, we can see a difficulty that never really leaves reformed theology, namely, where does the announcement that the government of God has come near (which dominates the gospels and continues in Acts as “good news”) fit in response to that question? Unfortunately, it doesn’t really fit. The gospel issue as framed by Luther only concerns itself with sinning. Specifically, according to Luther, the issue is whether forgiveness of sin alone is “gospel” or whether the oft accompanying reproof of and call to repentance from sin is also “gospel.” That’s it; it’s “A” or “B”. This “gospel” question is already too narrow to include the much fuller and richer “gospel” usage of the NT that includes God’s revelation of Jesus’ lordship and his government’s agenda for re-creating the earth and the people and activities within it according to God’s desire to redeem and his sense of justice and love. From Luther’s question, one can genuinely wonder whether the larger revelation and movement of God’s reign (which Jesus and the apostles clearly called “good news”) is “properly” called “Gospel” in the Lutheran view.
In the following couple of paragraphs, after naming the issue as Luther sees it, he briefly describes the now famous reformed distinction between “Law” and “Gospel.” Next, in what is perhaps the strangest paragraph of this section, Luther admits that the term “Gospel” is used differently and more broadly in the New Testament (by comparison to his Law-Gospel usage) and is recommended as such by Jesus himself and the apostles:
But since the term “Gospel” is not used in one and the same sense in the Holy Scriptures, on account of which this dissension originally arose, we believe, teach, and confess that if by the term “Gospel” is understood the entire doctrine of Christ which He proposed in His ministry, as also did His apostles (in which sense it is employed, Mark 1, 15; Acts 20, 21), it is correctly said and written that the Gospel is a preaching of repentance and of the forgiveness of sins. (Emphasis added.)
I am in complete agreement with that. In fact, Let me add that “if” we use the term “Gospel” in the broader, more common way that “[Jesus] proposed in his ministry as also did his apostles”, we will “correctly” say not only that the “Gospel” is an announcement of repentance and forgiveness as Luther suggests, but also an announcement of everything that God has done and has purposed to do through his Servant, the now revealed Lord of heaven and earth, Jesus. In other words, to proclaim “the Gospel” according to the New Testament is to announce the identity, purpose, actions, and agenda of God’s chosen Lord of heaven and earth, namely Jesus. And preachers, or announcers of this Jesus and the good news of what God is doing through him will call everyone, in light of this full, and amazing plan in Christ (which includes but goes well beyond forgiveness), to repent and trust this good news, this King.
But that’s not the way Luther continues, which is odd for a guy that is big on “sola scriptura.” Rather, he says, despite the larger usage of “gospel” in the scriptures by Jesus and the apostles, we get a different, preferable, view of “gospel” if we compare Luther’s own smaller concept of “Gospel” to his (arguably larger) concept of “Law” (for reasons he doesn’t really state in this section anyway):
But if the Law and the Gospel, likewise also Moses himself [as] a teacher of the Law and Christ as a preacher of the Gospel are contrasted with one another, we believe, teach, and confess that the Gospel is not a preaching of repentance or reproof, but properly nothing else than a preaching of consolation, and a joyful message which does not reprove or terrify, but comforts consciences against the terrors of the Law, points alone to the merit of Christ, and raises them up again by the lovely preaching of the grace and favor of God, obtained through Christ’s merit. (Emphasis added.)
I hope it is by now obvious where a significant problem may lie, aside from any circular reasoning Luther used: The Holy Scriptures (including Jesus and the apostles) talk about “Gospel” in a large, full way, Luther says, which led to “dissension” (as well as the birth of the Church, to be fair). But if we take one particular component of that larger scriptural concept of good news, namely, the forgiveness of sins, and compare it alone with Luther’s very broad definition of “Law” (which would include not only the Mosaic law, but Jesus’ own teachings and example), then “the Gospel is properly nothing else than a preaching of consolation,” by which he means forgiveness, or justification, or not being condemned for one’s sins.
Think about what just happened there. Luther states that only a part of the usage by Jesus and the apostles of the term “Gospel” is “properly” called Gospel based on Lutheran systematics, namely the Law/Gospel comparitive approach.
This creates the following situation, then: Certainly what Lutherans declare as gospel is gospel (since it is a subset of what the New Testatment calls “gospel”). But, unfortunately, much of what the NT would also unequivocally call “gospel,” Lutherans and many reformed would hesitate upon or even dispute, saying such announcements of God’s will and plan for earth should be called “Law.” This results in a downgrading of everything in God’s plan, God’s dream for the world, that goes beyond forgiveness and justification from “Gospel” to “Law.” I can’t help but see the logical connection between that theology and the silliness of “weak on sanctification” t-shirts, the idea that we are disciples of the gospel (of justification) as opposed to disciples of Jesus, and the large scale phenonmenon of what Dallas Willard has called “bar-code faith.”
Rather than trying to live from a concept of “gospel” that is smaller than that which Christ and his apostles announced, let’s look at the all that God has done and wants to do through Christ and start soaking in it. Let’s take it all in as good news. We might find that God’s love and his “gospel” go way, way beyond just forgiving us, which is really good news.
In the spirit of my now ended vacation, I’m going to post by linking to someone else’s fine post. 🙂 I plan on reading the book that Scot recommends, and I recommend that anyone involved in church leadership read the post, the comments, and the book, and think and pray about them all.
For now having only read the preface, all I will say about the author’s recommendations is that they could very accurately be described as teachers becoming more like servants to those they teach. I leave that with you.
Here’s the second of two suggestions Dave Fitch makes regarding how evangelicals need to shift their gospel thinking, for themselves first and then also those they evangelize. The post then gives several concrete ways of doing what he suggests. It’s an excellent post by a guy much more astute than myself, and Dave gives better words to the concerns I mentioned in my last post. Here’s a snippet (but read the whole thing):
“Preamble Two: In our thinking, let’s move from justification before God ‘by Christ’ to living life ‘in Christ.’ A second conclusion for me in all of this is that we must understand that the fundamental issue in salvation is not our forensic guilt before God based in an oversimplified post-Reformational forensic substitutionary atonement. Instead, let’s move towards the salvation that God is doing in the world to ‘set the world right’ (as J D Dunn and N T Wright say it). OF COURSE PART OF THIS IS (an inseparable part of all this!!) the justification, yes the forensic pardon we receive in Christ via His sacrificial death on the cross as a fulfillment of the covenantal promises given by God to His chosen people Israel (of which we have become part). We need to make this shift however from seeing justification as the primary issue in salvation, to seeing it as part of God’s overall covenantal plan with a people to make the world right.
This move gives us the necessary perspective to proclaim the fullness of the gospel for the world without diminishing the grace, forgiveness and new life we as individuals have in Christ through participating in the entire salvation God is doing in the world. It changes salvation from ‘you receive this and this’ by faith in Christ alone – to ‘put your entire life under Christ’ and live under His Lordship over the world. IN THIS WAY, no new Christian can miss that ‘in Christ’ we are going from living for your -self, out of your self, in your self – and all the things that you have become entangled in the process – to living ‘in Christ’ – where every thing, every area of our lives is surrendered to be lived out of one’s relationship ‘in Christ’.”
We’ve got to start thinking of Christianity more as a new Way to live now, in union and daily cooperation with Christ and his active government (a way of life that never ends), rather than a ticket to the afterlife which may or may not necessarily (re)shape one’s life here and now. Jesus not only makes the new life possible, but he reveals its character, its rhythms, its relations and its destiny, and asks us give up our old lives for his new life.
“Anyone who believes in me will do what I’ve been doing.”
“Every student who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”
“You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing.”
I want to offer the observation (which I’ve made from time to time before), before giving some tidbits from another very interesting post from i-Monk, that much of what i-Monk observes is due to the fact that evangelicalism as a movement is still recovering from a narrow view of the good news (despite the content of the actual “gospel” accounts) which has shaped everything they do. In a nutshell, the evangelical gospel and its perception of what God is doing focuses too much on escaping the judgment of God through giving assent to historical truths (namely Jesus’ death and resurrection), and not enough on the rest of the good news of “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Everything God has done and is doing through Christ is good news, hence his appearing, his life, his teaching, his deeds, his death and resurrection all being part of “the gospel” according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Many wise folks have observed that people are often shaped as much or more by the questions they ask and keep on asking than by the answers they obtain and build upon. I think prayers would qualify as this kind of formative question (which is why it’s a good idea to not just pray regularly for what you want, but also what Jesus tells us to pray for). Unfortunately, though, the question that has shaped evangelicals more than any other, for a couple of generations at least, is “If you died tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” And the chief prayer of evangelicalism has been the one asking God for forgiveness prompted by that question about the after-life. Therefore, the evangelical gospel–the answer to the above question–has not really been about God changing life on earth as much as God changing our after-life. I have said it before and I say again, announcing forgiveness alone as “gospel” or even “God’s salvation” would come off as a bit odd, incomplete, to Jesus, to the apostles and their first followers because their gospel (and their central prayer) was about the healing leadership, character and power of heaven coming to earth, through the costly redemption and transformation of earth and its rebels by it’s rightful leader, Jesus.
But, as a commenter said here not to long ago, “we [reformed evangelicals] are disciples of the gospel”–meaning the evangelical/Lutheran/reformed gospel of God’s forgiveness, and not disciples of Jesus–of all he did and taught. And we are fully trained in the way of our scaled down master. We accept God’s forgivness–and keep accepting it, and keep accepting it and keep accepting it amidst a life that remains shaped by us and for us, because the availability and intention of God’s grace and power to re-shape and re-direct our lives isn’t part of our gospel. It’s something else for us, something less important. And often we are glad the good news of God’s reign coming to earth stops with forgiveness and avoided judgment. The sinner’s prayer we know and we repeat–it comforts us as we continue to live our lives for our desires. The Lord’s prayer, meanwhile, always seems a little askew within our thoughts, within our gospel, within our lives (maybe it needs reforming).
We are called out of darkness not just to avoid the coming wrath on those who do dark deeds, but to become people who live in the light as part of light, learning to “do good and heal” as he did and as he is still doing through his Spirit and his Body, in the world he loves. Until we evangelicals see and embrace this larger vocation, this larger invitation as gospel–the gospel that God’s government has come to reclaim and reshape and renew life on earth in the character and the power of Christ, we will remain too theoretical, too heavenly minded to be earthly good (yet simultaneously too in need of conversion to Christ), and increasingly dismissed, and rightfully so. That change has begun, but it is slow, dangerous and will take a lot of dismantling then rebuilding, just like any change to a building’s foundation.
And now, i-Monk:
“But I don’t believe the new atheists are making converts because they have a better argument. I think they are making converts because the fruit is ripe to fall from the tree, and we have little or no idea it’s happening. We’re setting up for the great ideological debate and the kids have found that it’s just more fun to have a drink with the non-religious crew.
Keller is still great. C.S.Lewis is still helpful. Craig is still impressive. But I’m not sure their arguments are on the right channel. Vast numbers of people aren’t asking for philosophy. They are asking what will let them live a life uncomplicated by lies, manipulation (etc.) . . .
What we’ve said and written is fine. What we’ve lived in our homes, private lives, churches, workplaces and friendships has spoken louder.
We are the ones who appear to not believe in the God we say is real. We are the ones who seem to be forcing ourselves to believe with bigger shows, bigger celebrities and bigger methods of manipulation.”