Archive for November 17th, 2009

It was discovered recently that a publisher (whose name I won’t dignify by citing) is releasing a book critical of Sarah Palin with a cover that is very similar to that of her forth-coming autobiography. Here are the covers of her book and the critical book, side-by-side.

Sarah Palin - book covers

This is some pretty amazing bait-and-switch, and should offend anyone of any intelligence, regardless of their thoughts on Palin or their political affiliation. The cover (of the critical book) says “My message is so lame and weak that it can’t stand on its own.”

OK, good and riled? Or at least annoyed?

Now tell me, how this is any different.

Other than, ya know, the implication that God’s message it too lame and weak to stand on its own.

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ZIBBCOTSo I’m reading Superfreakonomics these days (one of the books I’m evaluating for a workplace “book club”).  I found a couple of quotes thatstruck me as relevant to some of the conversations we have here, from time-to-time.

This quote brought to mind some of the Christian distinctives and the beauty of the One true God, as noted by Rob Bell in The gods Aren’t Angry:

“Like all the best religions, fear of climate change satisfies our need for guilt, and self-disgust, and that eternal human sense that technological progress must be punished by the gods.  And the fear of climate change is like a religion in this vital sense, that it is veiled in mystery, and you can never tell whether your acts of propitiation or atonement have been in any way successful.” – Boris Johnson

The second quote reminded me of the Ingrid Schlueter’s of this world for whom 1963 seems to be a watershed year (with thanks to Brendt for the link to this awesome blog):

It is a fact of life that people love to complain, particularly about how terrible the modern world is compared with the past.

They are nearly always wrong.  On just about any dimension you can think of – warfare, crime, income, education, transportation, worker safety, health – the twenty-first century is far more hospitable to the average human than any earlier time.

I realize that a premillenial dispensationalist view requires that one believe everything is (literally) going to hell in a handbasket (as a prerequisite to parousia), but Christians engaging in woe-is-me, the-devil-is-hiding-behind-everyone-who-doesn’t-believe-100%-like-me-ism are just pathetic.  And, in the face of all evidence to the contrary (cherry-picking outlying outrages as “proof”), they make a fool of themselves – and the One they claim to serve – in the process.

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I’d like to do just that, which I assure you is no small task. I continue to find myself torn between the absolute necessity to write research papers and finish projects for my graduate work on the one hand and my passion and love for debating theological issues on the other. Right now, to be sure, I should be stretching sentences across my laptop that have something to do with ‘vocabulary acquisition,’ but that paper only has to be five pages, APA format (which means double-spaced!), and only a couple of references (and I have already completed my reference page which contains at least 8 different books, journal articles, and web pages).

Clearly, then, the importance of theological conversation is outweighing the need to stay in control of a 4.0 in graduate school. But I digress.

It is true that we have been through this over and over and over again concerning justification, but it is equally true that we always end up back in a similar position: stalemate. That is wholly unsatisfying. As was recently pointed out in another thread, sometimes these conversations become mere places for a  ‘monthly colonic,’ which, however disturbing that may be, assures us that some people are merely full of it when it comes to these conversations. I find these conversations satisfying and stimulating.

I am also happy we can provide a sufficient cleansing ground for the angst of others.

So here’s another avenue in the discussion of justification. NT Wright, anathema to the cultured despisers among us, begins chapter four of his book Justification by pointing to the work of Alistair McGrath. I have not read McGrath’s work at any level so I am quoting here only as far as Wright does, but the quote is so potent, so theologically powerful, that it is worth even a secondhand quote. Thus,

The concept of justification and the doctrine of justification must be carefully distinguished. The concept of justification is one of many employed with the Old and New Testaments, particularly the Pauline corpus, to describe God’s saving action toward his people. It cannot lay claim to exhaust, nor adequately characterise in itself, the richness of the biblical understanding of salvation in Christ. (McGrath, as quoted by Wright, page 80, his emphasis.)

Now Wright interprets this for us in the very next paragraph:

This is highly significant. McGrath is creating hermeneutical space in which one might say: there are many equally biblical ways of talking about how God saves people through Jesus Christ, and justification is but one of them. This (for instance) enables us at once to not that the four Gospels, where the term ‘justification’ is scarce, are not for that reason to be treated as merely ancillary to, or perhaps preparatory for, the message of Paul–as has sometimes happened, at least de facto, in the Western church. (Wright, 80)

Then the coup de grace comes where Wright finishes McGrath’s quote and knocks the ball out of the park:

The doctrine of justification has come to develop a meaning quite independent of its biblical origins, and concerns the means by which man’s relationship to God is established. The church has chosen to subsume its discussion of the reconciliation of man to God under the aegis of justification, thereby giving the concept an emphasis quite absent from the New Testament. The ‘doctrine of justification’ has come to bear a meaning with dogmatic theology which is quite independent of its Pauline origins. (McGrath, as quoted by Wright, page 80, his emphasis)

Wright goes on to point out that it is this statement, and statements like it, that set the ‘guardians of truth’ back on their heels. And I agree.

Someone asked me the other day what I meant when I wrote something to the effect that ‘we don’t know much about the Gospel.’ Well, these quotes move in the direction of what I was getting at. Of course Wright also notes that he is putting for a hypothesis based upon the available evidence, but from where I sit it is a mighty powerful hypothesis. What if what we have been taught, what we have believed, what we have taught is not entirely, wholly, all that needs to be said? What if we in the Western church place far, way too much emphasis on the ‘I take Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior’ bit?

What is there is more?

Shouldn’t there be more?

What is wrong if there is more? And if there is, is it not incumbent upon all preachers and teachers and disciples of Jesus Christ to preach the entire Gospel? What if American individualism has so influenced the Gospel that it has corrupted the clear biblical message that God means to fix the world through the Sons and daughters of Abraham? What if God means to do more for the world than merely save those who are able to repent, confess, believe, and be baptized?

I read this by Wright, I see the carefully reasoned exegesis, and I apply what I have already preached about and believed and I see that this makes far more biblical sense than mere hypothesis would suggest. What if there is ‘grace enough for us and the whole human race’ and God means to bring that grace to the world through the sons and daughters of Abraham?

I’m thinking through this with you, so I’m not making any definitive suggestions one way or the other. I’m just inviting you to think through the possibility that there is more to the Gospel than, “Thank God, I am saved!”

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