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Monday, March 14, 2005

Third Way of the Gospel

I'm probably going to tick off some people on both sides of the isle with the comments that follow, but I think the point I want to make is important, so I'm going to go ahead and run the risk. So fasten your seatbelts and we'll give it a go...

I stumbled across two well written articles over the past several days, and after an initial "ooh I like that" reaction to both, I started reflect further on their content and tone. First, take a look at the 3 Minute Abortion Debate. Now, I will admit that as someone who is pro-life, I really like a lot of what this guy is saying. I think he makes some very good arguments. A lot of my conservative Xian friends will be pumping their fists and high fiving one another over this one.

Ok, now take a look at What Jesus Never Said. As someone who growing daily in my appreciation for the gospel, I really like a lot of what Mumcat is saying. I think she understands how the gospel skewers many of the socio-behavioral standards we erect to make ourselves feel better than others. A lot of my, non-conservative, non-Xian friends really like this Jesus; he is appealing, because he's actually willing to accept them.

And now, I'm going to take my shots at both (this is where I'll probably tick people off).

You see, while I agree with the content of the first article, I have this nagging suspicion that this type of approach will ultimately fail. Listen to what the author says in the final paragraph:
"I have given up all hope of ever getting the Insufferable Liberal to change his mind or admit he might be wrong, but if I can just rock him back on his heels once in a while, I consider it a win."
Maybe it's just me, but has this man just revealed what really matters most in his heart?

Listen, its not about us being right and them being wrong, about shutting down their argument and getting the win. You see, that's what concerns me about this approach - its so easy to go away feeling justified in the soundness of our argument, in the inescabality of our conclusions.

But that's precisely the problem. People do not change their stance on the basis of a logical argument. People are not computers, they are not hyper-rational. We are religious. We are sinful human beings who all pursue the desires of our hearts. And Jesus calls us to reach out and connect with the hearts of all those "Insufferable Liberals". Frankly, we do a pretty crappy job of that.

We can have all the truth in the world, and if we do not present it in a way that touches people's heart, we will never reach them. That's why God didn't just send us a message - he sent us his son. That's why Paul tells the Thessalonians that "we gave you not only the gospel, but also ourselves" (1 Thess 2:8 - and if that statement does not rock your Reformed world, you need to read it again).

The gospel is not just about truth, facts. Its about presenting that truth to people in a way that they can hear it.

Now let's look more closely at the second article. This author concludes by saying:
"Of course, he didn't say any of this. That, I believe, is why we have the gospels, the "good news" not "the good news -- and the bad news."
Maybe I'm misreading this (and if I am, I apologize profusely), but it sounds to me like this woman is saying that there is no bad news. And that's simply not true.

Good news is only good news when it is opposed and contrasted to something bad. Grace is getting something we don't deserve. But Scripture (and Jesus) is equally clear that we do deserve something, and it ain't a vacation on the beach in Jamaica.

Bavinck says that all of history tells us God has a quarrel with his creature - "there is no room for grace if the justice of God is not first established" (Our Reasonable Faith, 260). And this is the reason why all religions of the world are in some sense redemptive. Because they sense we really do need redemption. Jesus came "to seek and save, the lost...sinners."

Now Mumcat is correct in one sense: when Jesus speaks to the woman at the well in John 4, he DOESN'T say, "first you have to make a full confession of everything you've done and then we'll talk." But he doesn't say she is ok either (and her subsequent confession and repentance are implicit all through this passage).

Basically (and I'm compressing here), when Jesus says "go, get your husband and bring him here" (John 4:16), Jesus is looking at the sin behind the sin. He is saying this:

"Go get your husband and bring him back and compare him to me. Yes, I know you don't have a husband - you have had five husbands and the guy you are with now is not your husband. But that is not really your problem. Your real problem is that you are looking for fulfillment someplace other than man. You are crave something (or else you wouldn't keep going from one relationship to another) but you're not getting it. You thirst too, and I am here to quench your thirst."

You see, what I appreciate about this post is that it recognizes Jesus' compassion for the "untouchables," for the people religious types tend to reject. What concerns me is that people who like to say "God is love" and "Jesus was a great man/teacher/prophet" often don't bother reading any further - they often seem to lack an understanding of exactly what Jesus was about. The conveniently forget that Jesus' basic message was "repent and believe." (Mk 1:15)

Listen - at the end of the day, there are only two options: the Jesus of Scripture, or the Jesus of my imagination. And I don't trust my imagination (and neither should you; nor yours either - because I've never met a thief who wasn't biased in his own favor, and if Scripture is right both of us fall into that category).

So what am I calling for? I think we need the content of the first approach. But we also need the compassion of second approach. And unfortunately, I haven't found enough of either in the typical camps.

I don't want conservative religion. And I don't want liberal irreligion. I want a third way, the way of the gospel, because I think that's what Jesus came preaching...


At 9:07 AM, March 14, 2005, Blogger CM said...

To quote form The "Third way""Unless you point to the 'good news' of grace the people won't even be able to bear the 'bad news' of God's judgment."I guess that everything we say needs to be a balance of God's condemnation of sin, and the promise of grace. I think it's one of the things that makes the Gospel so distinctive is the apparent paradox, and yet it is also one of the primary ways I fail when I act in my own strength.
Thanks for the post, it’s nice to see some fairly balanced opinions on the Internet – I used to despair that the only people concerned enough to write were the extremists and that makes everything much too polarised for sensible discussions…

At 5:06 AM, March 15, 2005, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

Another great post, Christian. I too have felt more and more dissatisfied with being pulled into either extreme camp, conservative or liberal.

On the one hand, I have some conservative friends who have started a Reformed Philosophical Society and contend that Christianity can be reduced to a belief in a certain set of propositions. I declined their offer of membership. On the other hand, I have friends who say that Christianity is just "knowing Jesus" but refuse to get into any issues of specifying exactly who that Jesus is. That would be like me saying I know Christian, and then when somebody asks, "Who is he" I point at random people in the Van Til hallway during a class break

At 6:44 PM, March 16, 2005, Blogger Mumcat said...

As the writer of the second article which you quoted, I think I need to clarify something.

Jesus did indeed have bad news -- for the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes who were so bound up in the law that they neglected the very thing that was a focus of not just Jesus' message but also that of the Hebrew Scriptures --- "Love God, love your neighbor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, care for the sick, the widows and the orphans." I hear a lot of people stressing the "message" as being one of repentance but I see it as a call to care for God's children, including the ones the Pharisees and Sadducees would ignore because they weren't pure enough. The good news is that Jesus died for all the sins of the world, not just the Jewish sins or the repented sins.

Oh, and I am a liberal who believes in the Bible, not "irreligion" as you call it. I wish conservatives understood that liberals can love and revere the scriptures as much as conservatives but still read it somewhat differently. Perhaps then we could stop trying to point fingers at each other with "You're wrong!" "No, you're wrong!" and get about doing what Jesus told us to do -- Love God, love our neighbor, and take care of all the children of the world who need our care and attention.

At 1:26 PM, March 17, 2005, Blogger Molly said...

In response to Mumcat, I first want to second your wish that conservatives would have more respect for liberals. I am a self-confessed Pharisee in that I struggle with looking down on thosewho read Scripture differently than I do. And what I mean by that is that I sincerely lack humility and love for people with whom I disagree, even if I still believe that you are misreading God's Word. I'm so thankful that God has begun to convict me of this and that He grants me his grace of forgiveness and change. Honestly, we all have a lot of room to grow in this area!

And, actually, as I write these words, I feel like I'm sort of tweaking Mumcat's definition of those whom Jesus came to save. In fact, he did condemn Pharisees and Sadducees because they did not obey the weightier matters of the law. But the problem, which I think Tim
Keller brought out a little bit, is that we are ALL Pharisees and Sadducees. We all have our sets of rules, and after we have constructed the rules that we think should govern the world, we proceed to impose those rules on other people - thus turning us into legalists, regardless of our starting point.

Jesus came to heal brokenness - we see this in the opening of his ministry in Luke 4:18-9. When we see Jesus healing people and calling
his people to take care of the oppressed in society, that is because
this is something deeply etched in the character of God himself. So
we strive to reflect God's heart when we serve other people.

The problem is that God tells us that our hearts are incapable of reflecting his own. One of my life verses is Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?" And Jesus affirms throughout the New Testament that we ARE desperately wicked. Some people are blessed to recognize this without much prodding, because of their life circumstances. Others (like the Pharisees) need harsher words to jar us into seeing the blackness of our hearts. If we really let the Gospel speak to us,
though, it's going to jar all of us; we can't escape God's indictment of our hearts, but the good news is that his grace is bigger than our biggest sins, no matter what they are.

Once again, I second Christian's call for a "third way," where people will feel compelled to respond to a Gospel that embraces them where they are and at the same time proclaims a love for them that is great enough to conform them into the image of Christ himself.

At 4:51 PM, March 17, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Hi Mumcat, I just wanted to say a couple of things in response to your comments.

First, thank you for taking the time to actually read what I wrote and respond to it. I appreciate that you did that (even if you didn't fully agree with what I said).

Second, I want you to know that its very important to me not to misrepresent others beliefs (just like I'm sure you'd be careful to represent mine accurately as well). I tried to make it clear in my remarks that I might be misreading you (after all, I don't know anything about you really - I just stumbled across your article and thought, 'wow, this is interesting'). SO...if I have misrepresented you, please let me know so that I can correct that publically.

In writing this post, I wasn't really trying to make any particular statement about you - I wasn't trying to paint you into a corner or accuse you of anything. I WAS trying to point out, however, what it sounded like you were saying, and note that there are people out there who would agree with your statements and aptly fit into that category of "liberal irreligionists".

Now, I don't know whether or not we have the same definition of "liberal", or whether my understanding really fits you. Even if it does that doesn't mean I would like you any less (although I might still disagree with you). At the same time, I'm not entirely comfortable having you lump me into the "conservative" category either - I know some conservatives would think me quite "liberal".

All that to say, I'd encourage you to stick around a bit and get to know us before making up your mind. And I'd like to invite you to tell us more about yourself, about your beliefs, etc.

How do you see the world? From your perspective, what constitutes "salvation"? "sin"? If Jesus died "for all the sins of the world, not just the Jewish sins or the repented sins", when would anyone need to repent?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these things - not to try and prove you wrong or change your mind, but to better understand where you are coming from.

Hope that clarifies some, and hope we hear more from you in the future...

At 3:19 PM, March 18, 2005, Blogger Mumcat said...

I appreciate what random mind says -- especially the part about a "Gospel that embraces them where they are." That's my dream of how we would all see the Gospel.

Christian, about your statement "...If Jesus died 'for all the sins of the world, not just the Jewish sins or the repented sins', when would anyone need to repent?" I would say it depends on your idea of "repent". In my lexicon, it is a natural turning to God and responding to love by choosing to do things differently. Jesus is here for all people, not simply those who recite a few words and think that's that. It's about choosing to live a life where Jesus' teachings are paramount. His stress was on healing and caring for others, particularly others that were shut out because they were judged unworthy. that's where I stand on that.

I've found that those who tend to focus on God's judgement usually focus on the need of repentance in others. Those who focus on God's love focus on sharing that love. Both are doing what they believe God wants, and I bleieve they are. But if you look at the repentance in the Hebrew scriptures, it's the repentance of mistreating others that gets the most condemnation -- the lack of hospitality, the ignoring the widows and orphans. That is what Jesus said too. He talked about that a lot. That's why I think it's important and why I say Jesus came for all the sins of the world, yours, mine, and everybody else's.


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