Archive for August 27th, 2008

The Library at EphesusIn my last article on Hebraic context of Scripture, I delved a bit into the concept of the opposite of God being chaos – a lack of order. Building a bit on that, today I would like to touch on the subject of tikkun olam and the Kingdom of God.

The Repair of the World

In the beginning, when God created the world out of the chaos, tohu u’vohu, God’s creation existed in a state of peace, shalom, with its Creator. However, because man chose to sin – to choose chaos over creation – this state of peace was broken, and creation was no longer in a state of shalom with God. Thus, chaos and not creation reigned in the lives of men on earth.

This set the stage for the remainder of the story from Genesis 3 through Revelation – the story we find ourselves living in today.

In the Hebrew mind, the remainder of this story is one in which God seeks tikkun olam, which roughly translates “the repair of the world”. While this concept of tikkun olam has taken on additional meaning in the past 2000 years, I would like to examine it as it was viewed during Jesus’ day. In particular, it was an overriding theme within the teaching of the Rabbi Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher (Acts 22:3).

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I read a brief post at Slice this morning and it actually got me to thinking about the Gospel, the nature of the Gospel, the people the Gospel produces, and the sort of work that the Gospel inspires us to do. I was actually thinking about it as I read Gary Haugen’s new book Just Courage. He asks a very though provoking question: “For what purpose have we been rescued and redeemed?” (28) Some of our friends might say something like, “We are saved for the glory of God.” Well, no one doubts that. But why? Haugen’s answer is that if our redemption and transfer into God’s Kingdom is simply a matter of ‘receiving the salvation of the life hereafter’ (11) then we are merely living a ‘Groundhog Day’ sort of life. (29)

Haugen believes (and I concur) that Jesus has called us to more. ‘God calls us to make the transition from being those who have been rescued from the world, to those through whom God is literally rescuing the world’ (31). I find it terribly difficult, bordering on impossible, to argue with such thinking.

So, the author of Slice writes, after quoting a short bit from Al Mohler:

Now we see the emerging church embracing the same social gospel that killed the protestant churches. What a lot of young people see as whole new ideas and concepts are really just the same old lies repackaged for a new generation. Only the biblical Gospel will ever have any impact on the world around us.

But the problem here is that I don’t see the ‘emerging church’ embracing the same social gospel at all. I could be wrong, and to be sure, I think there is a lot wrong with the ‘emerging church,’ (and I’m not about to start worshiping in a coffee shop or a brewery) but the way I have seen it is this: the emerging church is actually, well, rebelling against the mainline denominations who have abandoned Jesus’ radical call to discipleship. Have I read them wrongly? I see a call backwards to the Christianity that Ellul says ‘can neither win millions of Christians nor bring revenues and earthly profits’ (Subversion, 154); the Christianity that the mainline denominations have, actually, rejected. There is a radical nature to Biblical Christian faith, Haugen agrees too, that mainlines have rejected.

I think the author of Slice has misread Dr Mohler’s point: the mainline denominations failed not because they ‘embraced a social gospel,’ but for other reasons. Dr Mohler wrote in the bit quoted: “These denominations once fueled the great missionary movement that carried the Gospel to the ends of the earth.” Well, let me ask: What could be more of a social gospel than going into a culture and preaching the gospel that doesn’t just ‘impact’ a society, but, in fact, totally subverts it and turns it upside down? No. I would say that mainline denominations failed because they embraced a theologically inept position whereby and wherein they rejected the Scripture’s authority among other things. (He also wrote: “The primary injury caused by mainline Protestant decline is not social but spiritual.”)

Well, I’m not terribly interested in dissecting Dr Mohler’s essay or the bit that the author of Slice quoted and applied. I’m interested in the application of Dr Mohler’s quote by the author of Slice: It is just dead wrong. What killed ‘protestantism’ was not an embracing of a ’social gospel’ but a rejection of the authority of Scripture (among other liberal tendencies). This is exactly what Mohler wrote: “Committed to a radical doctrinal relativism, these denominations have served as poster children for virtually every theological fad and liberal proposal imaginable.” In the bit quoted, I don’t see anything about a ’social gospel’ but I see a lot about biblical relativism. He’s talking about doctrine, not practice. It was their doctrine that corrupted their practice not the other way around.

I do agree with the last statement by the author of Slice: “Only the biblical Gospel will ever have any impact on the world around us.” But here’s the thing: It’s not about ‘having an impact.’ I don’t disagree that only the ‘biblical Gospel’ will do something, but I do disagree that it will merely ‘have an impact,’ that is, I disagree with what that gospel will do. The Gospel is not about ‘impact.’ We’re not talking about mere impact; we’re talking about a world ‘blown up.’ The Biblical Gospel preached and lived will turn worlds upside down–not merely have an impact. I can’t imagine a more socially subversive thing. Wouldn’t social aspects of our nation change, necessarily, as this Biblical Gospel is preached and lived?

I think the disagreement here is, when it gets down to brass tacks, with methods. But doesn’t every single person called to preach have to be faithful to the methods God called them to? So Isaiah is different from Jeremiah. Ezekiel is different from Daniel. Paul is different from Peter. John is different from Peter. I am miles apart from, say, Rob Bell, but closer to Bell than, say, Mark Driscoll. But that’s OK; we don’t have to be the same. Some are called to the mega-church most are not. Some are called to coffee shops most are not. Some are Notre Dame fans and those with sense are not. But that’s OK. It is OK to be different and have different methods. What matters, Paul said, is that Jesus is preached: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this, I rejoice.” Shouldn’t we be rejoicing that God has called some to preach the Gospel in ways, and to a people, that others of us are not particularly called to?

But isn’t this the point? I’m not disagreeing to disagree. What I am saying is that if the Biblical Gospel is merely about mental assent and happily ever after in heaven, then of what good is it? Isn’t God most glorified when we are most satisfied in him? (Piper) And if that is true, then wouldn’t he be more glorified if more people were more satisfied in him? And should there be any limits to the methods we use to help people be satisfied in God? Isn’t the whole of the disagreement here about the methods used by different people and not necessarily with the content of their preaching?

Please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe many people said similar things about Martin Luther too.

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…if they will say the same thing about McCain’s speech in September?

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