Going too far? #5

The elastic is stretching!

This post is a stretch for me; it is a follow on from yesterday. If we should not be obsessed with ‘who is in and who is out’, and that salvation is salvation to purpose, so for example ‘he will save his people from their sins’ is not a ‘he will save all who respond from eternal damnation’. It was first concerning ‘his people’ (Jews – the context for Jesus ministry and the early chapters of Acts so we cannot legitimately simply take texts from there and make them universally applicable beyond their context). Second it is a saving from their sins – the failure to live covenantly which meant living with responsibility for the world (and with benefits). Salvation was then to do with truly being part of a covenant people living in line with heaven – our citizenship is in heaven – for the sake of all others. Salvation to a purpose. If there is an ‘in’ and there is an ‘out’ that is a God-call not one for us to make. For the record, I think most evangelicals will be called ‘in’ as God is a God of great mercy… however, not my call.

Yesterday, why ekklesia – for the sake of one and all, taking responsibility for wherever it is located.

How effective will that responsibility be? How long is a piece of string, or to use the analogy from one of the early comments on this series – how far can this elastic stretch without breaking? Could it stretch as far as including those who are not (now what word would I use? saved?) as part of the new humanity? Or maybe as ‘not fully’ part of the new humanity? In other words what level of transformation might come?

I know a reply can be made with ‘all our righteousness is as filthy rags’ but that again is a Scripture to Jews who were ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’ in relationship with God. We can’t simply make it universally applicable to someone who is ‘doing good’ – after all that is what God was ‘doing’ in the beginning, so there has to be some element of that being reflective of God – image and likeness of God.

We should not write humanity off – God doesn’t, we shouldn’t, though the devil seeks to do so at every turn.

I have no clue as to how far the elastic stretches; I think though we can – and we who are ‘saved’ can – eat, rest and pray for one and all so that health, goodness and a little more of heaven is expressed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we discovered the elastic is more stretchy and also stronger than we ever thought. I think that might be a better approach than setting ourselves up as the judge of who is in and who is out. And I suspect the buzz from the bees might add their approval to the shift.

Going too far? #4

But why an ekklesia?

Paul seems intent on seeing an ekklesia in every significant city / area within the oikoumene (‘civilised’ land – most commonly used of the territory governed by an empire). In those cities there was already an ekklesia, maybe if we gave it a modern twist, a city government, a body of people who took on the responsibility for the shape, culture and values of the city; they were focused on enabling the city to a better future.

With Paul’s language it is not surprising that the initial understanding was not that he was calling people to raise their hand and pray the sinner’s prayer but that he was presenting a political vision for the oikoumene, indeed for the kosmos. And when he bodly called those who responded ‘the ekklesia of Jesus’ in that city that political understanding would have been re-enforced. Adding to this that the word ekklesia, in the Greek translation that was in common use, translated the Hebrew word qahal – used of the people when they were called to act in response to God. Seems to me that ekklesia has a lot to do with purpose and a purpose related to the wider community setting. If the Imperially endorsed ekklesia were to take responsibity for the city, to ensure that (e.g.) Corinth was a copy of Rome (headquarters), then the Jesus’ ekklesia had a responsibility to work toward (e.g.) Corinth being modelled on heaven (headquarters). This being the understanding behind Paul saying that ‘our citizenship (passport?) is in heaven’. It has nothing to do with going to heaven when we die, but a lot to do with here and now, not a much later idea to do with there and then.

So far no issue raised but as I am suggesting ‘going too far’ – although this time I do not think it is too far.

Paul was focused on getting something in place. He wrote to the Corinthians that if only their faith would increase he would no longer need to be working with them. His apostolic work would have been complete, that of laying a foundation so that they could get on with the work, the work of enabling heaven on earth, or within that part of the oikoumene that they carried responsibility for. What did Paul have in mind once that first task – an ekklesia in every city – had been accomplished?

We can have many debates on ‘church as shaped by the New Testament’, but I think we are probably missing the point. Why an ekklesia? Maybe Paul had something in mind once ‘their faith’ had increased, something beyond church as caring community? I think so, but then again he might only have had sight of the first level of strategy, in reality it does not matter too much what he saw or didn’t. What does matter is what do we see?

Church as healing community, as all-embracing of those who are open to the embrace of the love of heaven, is a wonderful reality, and exchanging that for a purpose driven, law-demanding group of dysfunctional people on a mission would be a disaster. There must always be a place for those who have been broken by the oppression of ‘sin’. Gayle is convinced John the disciple of Jesus had special needs, and ‘The Chosen’ presents Matthew as somewhere on a spectrum that we consider is not ‘normal’! There is space for all of us who don’t fit. A place for everyone, and not a place provided we get all our issues sorted and then can become some sort of warrior. However… you knew there would be an ‘however’.

There has to be something in evidence among ‘us’ that we take responsibility for where we are located.

I consider that with respect to the Bible we have to be ‘post-Pauline’, we need to follow the trajectory that we can see in his writings.

To be ‘post-Pauline’ we will not be un-Pauline. But we will need to move beyond getting dogged down in ‘church’ debates; moving beyond drawing firmly in the dust a line of who is in and who is out. If we are willing to draw in the dust as Jesus did (with the woman caught in adultery) we will touch the dust of humanity and challenge all religious judgements while calling people to their true humanity.

Losing the small vision of getting more people on the inside of our box, but encouraging the small people so that their faith will grow. Those who are serving but have no understanding of demonic powers should not be dealing with demonic strongholds – surely that is an area of responsibility that is ours. Removing powers that have dominated and restricted forward momentum so that good people can serve – our task. Painting a vision for a future that is not based on past inadequate foundations. The sky (heaven?) is the limit.

Paul seemed to have a level of vision (and a vision for the whole of the oikoumene) that he presented daily in Ephesus that got the attention of those who held supremely endorsed Roman authority to ensure that Ephesus (and the wider Asia Minor) was mirrored on Rome.They had not submitted to the ‘Jesus as personal Saviour’ message but had been impacted by ‘Jesus as the Saviour of the world’ message. Maybe if we focus too much on the ‘Jesus as personal Saviour’ message we might find that people wander in darkness without a clue about what a new heaven and earth might look like; maybe if we focused on ‘Jesus as the Saviour of the world’ people might find their way to Jesus as personal Saviour. Maybe then (and I think is possible) that the bees might buzz with anticipation that they will survive.

Going too far? #3

A little breather

Thanks for all the comments thus far, and I loved the language that Rob used in his comments as to how far the elastic might stretch. I am pretty conservative in my beliefs, certainly at least on the central ‘fixed’ points, but am convinced that scripture pushes us to engage with some of the internal debate we read of within those pages and that ‘right doctrine’ is far more about right living in relationship to heaven and to earth than it has to do with my professed beliefs. I am glad that we do not have to work out too much more, and certainly that I have not been elected to join the final jury – way beyond all our pay grades, for sure!!

The return of Jesus is a fixed point – but what might that be? I will post on that soon, just aware that we can so easily fall into the trap of knowing what that will look like being absolutely sure we will not get our interpretation of scripture wrong unlike those who could not understand how a crucified messiah could possibly be the personal visitation of God! In all my conservativeness on (e.g.) the parousia I need to take note that there are likely to be some major surprises, and on my stretching of the elastic I need to make sure that it does not get disconnected from where it connected.

What I am convinced about was that Paul (one of my heroes… I see he perfected some of my weaknesses and his focused strengths leave me knowing I need to ‘beef up’ – all personal reflections that probably reveal too much of my misfitedness!!) believed the Gospel that brought Jesus to die in Jerusalem, as no prophet could die outside of the religious setting, was the key to unlocking all of creation. I have no idea if he had sight beyond AD70, but we certainly must. Maybe he thought it would all end with the Fall of Jerusalem, maybe he thought that would be the marker that Rome (and all the other Romes since then) would also fall, be re-shaped and be some kind of tentative image for the New Jerusalem vision. By that I do not mean anything close to the conversion of the emperor and the Imperial forces being the servant of christianising its subjects. If, as I suspect, that Paul did not see the ‘end’ as being the fall of Jerusalem, I think Paul had a long-term vision. No conversion of the emperor would satisfy, but the removal / transformation of structures that reward the opposition to the arc that I wrote about yesterday. The work of the powers (earthly and heavenly) is to dehumanise, and to reward all who dehumanise… Reduce humanity to a number and be rewarded – buy and sell.

We take bread and wine proclaiming his death (why did he die?) until he comes. The past and the future together, giving us a trajectory for now. The trajectory has not changed (or maybe it has, but the trajectory that the cross sets has not changed). I am totally agnostic about what will be transformed prior to the parousia but I am totally convinced that our hope and vision can be set on that trajectory and not be deviated by ‘but what a mess this all is and it is getting worse’. It might be getting worse, but the Gospel says it can get a whole lot better!

I had a call yesterday where someone was saying that child trafficking is now one of the biggest ‘trades’ taking place. That is a sad sign of things getting worse than ever, and I am thankful for all who are involved in responding to this heinous sin. Without diminishing in any way the awefulness of this I write tentatively that it is a sign of the end of an age. As an age passes sins that were present in ‘acceptable’ seed form manifest in full sight. Money, fortune and prosperity make the world go round… and round… till it is unhitched from its axis. Child sacrifice has always been based on sacrificing the future for present prosperity. The gods (Moloch) will reward us today with bountiful crops as those that we should be working to give them a future are sacrificed. Our economic systems have worked toward this – reversing the order that there ‘will always be seedtime and harvest’. When one is sold the lie that one can have today what we have not sown for yesterday we are reversing how we are to work with creation… and it spins off.

Crisis… it is here, but the doorway that indicates transition has always been labelled ‘crisis’. I do believe we are headed toward the end of an era. Maybe that end will mark the end (certainly the fall of Jerusalem was ‘the end of the age’), maybe it will mark the end of an era, where Jerusalem is not our home nor our hope, but the world becomes our one and only place of habitation and we have a hope for the world; that we do not lift a glass to say ‘next year Jerusalem’ but raise a glass concerning the world that has been occupied by alien forces and we say ‘next year the kosmos, the world, the ktisis, the creation’).

Not to get distracted we can get on and pray for the restoration of the bee colonies (a Gospel prayer), for the smart scientists to come up not simply with vaccines and cures, but healing for the eco-system. Pipe-dreams? Could well be, but the elastic can stretch a long way, for the death of Jesus that we proclaim encompassed from the highest point to the lowest – all of creation, visible and invisible.

The elastic has a stretch and a non-breakability inbuilt as the embrace of God is eternal and universal.

Paul lived pre-AD70; I might be living pre-end-of-an-age. His vision went beyond AD70… what about ours? There will always be ‘seedtime’. And if there is ‘seedtime’ there will always be ‘harvest’.

Going too far? #2

'Theory' of Evolution

I have heard so many people say – OK evolution claims to be a theory… that is all it is, a theory. Correct, however the term ‘theory’ in the world of science is used slightly more firmly than we might think. Data considered and weighed is then used to put together a ‘theory’ – something that best fits the data. A bit like a court case where there is no film footage of what took place, interrogations are made and then the jury have to come to a conclusion – we might term their decision is based on a ‘theory’.

I am not a scientist, far from it, and there are those who are scientists who are certainly very unhappy with the ‘theory of evolution’; I have no basis to enter into the debate. Perhaps though with a little bit of understanding of ancient myth stories and genre I would certainly be very negative about trying to defend a young earth / 6 day creation in any literal sense. Hence I am not opposed to evolution – as indeed are many Christian scientists, take for example the book The Language of God by Francis Collins. He being one of the main team of scientists who pushed the understanding of the gene code and as a result embraced both an evolutionary understanding of ‘creation’ and a firm belief in God the Creator.

What is at stake is not the theory of evolution vs. a theory of creation (a theory based on a rather pre-determined approach to an ancient text) but a belief in the God that is revealed in Jesus or a denial of that God.

So here is a thought that might well be going too far!!!

If God is the author of life – does the life that is released inevitably move toward an expression of that life as ‘the image of God’?

The Civil Rights movement used to say:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Wow… that takes faith. A long arc, but bending always toward a future that is different to one around us, always bending toward justice. What if life (OK let me go too far, before I pull back) begins as a single cell, but there is evolution? Where will the ‘arc’ of life move to? Will it inevitably lead to ‘at last an expression of life (human) that we can say is ‘in our image, after our likeness”? I kinda like that. Death exists but life is stronger than death.

So pulling back into real life, and away from pretending to be some psuedo-scientist. I think I am on to something. Submit to the process, go with the life of God and there is an arc, even if it is a long one, of pulling humanity toward being the image of God. True at a personal level, could it be true at a universal level?

Going too far? #1

Beyond the Bible?

I am going to make a few posts that might provoke a ‘this is too far’ kind of response. No worries… fixed points help us travel further than we might otherwise. I walked up a mountain in Italy – higher that Ben Nevis (Scotland) with our dog. It had some paths, but not very clear, and I certainly got myself somewhat lost… however there was a farm house that I had noted on the way up that acted as my guide, and showed me I was now the wrong side of a valley going back down the side of the adjacent mountain. OK – get the point? We can wander and get lost, but if we keep some fixed points we will be able to make a few adjustments in our wanderings.

This first post is one where I think I am no where near in danger of wandering off on another mountain and finding that I have no way of knowing how to get home! I will put it boldly first and then invite you to wander a bit with me:

We have to go beyond the Bible, or
the Bible is not the final word.

Put boldly like that it is amazing what reactions can come, and then I think – and those who object? Why then be happy with ‘pulpits’, ‘ordination’, ‘bishops’, ‘seminaries’ etc. Somewhat beyond the Bible methinks. So we really should not object. Most of what is acceptable that is beyond the Bible comes through tradition, ‘church’ tradition. I want to push in a different direction, and I want to do so as I see developing revelation and understanding within Scripture itself. Very evident with Jesus – you have heard it said, but I say to you… And the change with Jesus is beyond profound. He was either deceived at an incredible level (the Scriptures pointing to him!) or he has to be placed central, with Scripture moving out of the category of timeless truths disembodied from history / culture, to a record of an unfolding story of a people of faith on a journey recording that journey with at times a stronger and at other times a fainter line pointing to the revelation of God in Jesus, and therefore necessarily pointing away from itself. A sign is not the arrival point and at times signs can be confusing (just ask us we tried to follow google maps these past weeks at some crazy junctions!). We can find ourselves with a ‘phew we are still on the right path and direction’ to other times ‘well that was a bit of a dirt path, but here we are back on track’. That is the richness of Scripture – the internal disagreements are so enlightening as they tend to be the ones that expose our personal internal disagreements. (Could this be why the entrance to the kingdom that we favour is ‘you must be born again’ over ‘go sell all you have’? Both statements spoken to an individual – one religious and one rich.)

Surface, and at times deeper than at surface level, disagreements within the pages should alert us to look deeper than wave a few favourite verses around. The God who gave instructions about the death penalty certainly did not abide by those instructions in the Cain / Abel story (nor in the ‘repeat’ in the Jesus / Barabbas story). And as mentioned above – the Jesus approach that overturned / went beyond Scripture with his ‘but I say to you’.

The Gentile mission (Paul) went beyond what they understood. They went beyond Scripture. Of course that can be justified with ‘the Scriptures are apostolic’. I remember well the various lectures on the New Testament where the big issue was of seeking to root the books in either ‘written by an apostle’ or ‘someone so connected to the apostles that they are writing with apostolic authority’. Why? Seems that was a belief imposed on Scripture not coming from Scripture. And this has come through in certain charismatic views of prophecy where (I paraphrase) the apostles of the NT write without error and are the partner to the prophets of the Old Testament – thus prophecy of the NT is not at the same level as prophecy of the Old… (Not substantiated by the testimony of Scripture, so friends of the ‘Gospel Coalition’ this one does not get my vote and I suspect it is supported by (yet again) an imposition on Scripture.) Oh how I love to pontificate!

Moving forward quickly… to be biblical we need to be immersed in, but not drowned by, the text(s) and allow the forward flow to carry us to and through uncomfortable territory. We can be carried beyond Scripture, but it has to be on the same trajectory; we might repeat parts of the story, but a continual repetition might simply lock us in a ‘chapter’ that has already been written. If I am unable to recall earlier ‘chapters’ I will lose the plot, the story. I need the fixed points, the characters, the drama, the flow. But then?

The tension is that the biblical ‘story’ (story-line) holds the answers as they point to Jesus, but if we use the story (the text(s)) to be the end in themselves we will use yesterdays answers and seek to apply them to today’s issues. And on the latter issue highly dangerous when we try and explain biblical discussion and uproot the discussion from the story – such as with the cross of Jesus and the ‘wrath’ of God.

Where could this take us… maybe quite a bit of wandering, but come on there are mountains to be climbed and sight to be gained of a landscape that we have not seen clearly into.

I am provoked by Paul – apostolic writings if ever there were any! He saw ekklesia. Did he see what might lie beyond his passion to get an ekklesia in every place where there was already an ekklesia. What should follow after (I assume there was an ‘after’) there was a community who understood they were (with all their faults – that is grace!) the chosen ones to take on board the future shape, culture and health of what was within their territory? Did he have sight on that? But probably more importantly do we? And then we could explore what territory might mean today – simply geographical? Boundaries and times are in the biblical story – now where might we wander if we keep our eyes on the fixed points?

Consider the lobster

No this is not a new past-time I have developed! But it is something that Jordan Peterson uses to suggest that hierarchies are inherent. Apparently we share with lobsters a similar nervous system, and that lobsters organise themselves hierarchically with those who produce more serotonin climbing the ladder. Of course, animals of all sorts organise themselves hierarchically… and I don’t think Mr. P. would appeal to the world of the honey bee to suggest a pattern that could help us with the Queen bee laying all the eggs in the colony after being fertilised by several males; and after the breeding season, the males are driven out of the colony and die!

Hierarchies exist. And there is a strong appeal to ‘Judeo-Christian’ values to (for example) push for the strong male and all that goes along with that. As I wrote yesterday we can certainly appeal to a ‘Judeo’ value, but a ‘Christian’ adjective added? Can we appeal for hierarchy from a ‘Jesus value’.

But he said to them, “The kings of the gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather, the greatest among you must become like the youngest and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves (Lk. 22:25-27).

Hierarchy exists within the animal world; it exists among the gentiles… but… ‘not so with you’.

A Jesus-value. Masculinity needs to be restored; I am sure many of us (males) need healing in that area… but many also need to discover that a hierarchical masculinity is ‘not to be so with you’. The restoration of femininity is high on the agenda, not replacing masculinity with femininity, but in true femininity and masculinity being manifested within society, and within (both) males and females.

Mr. P. and many others are way smarter than me, but I do see a worrying trend taking place. It should not be of great surprise as at times of transition two elements come together. The first is that of ‘crisis’ (crisis of masculinity is perceived, but that is not the true crisis) and a re-establishment of former certainties… and if we can couch them in ‘Judeo-Christian’ language we will gain considerable traction.

Let’s see if we can discover some Jesus-values. The lobster and the bee are not really a good place to find a way forward. With the coming of Jesus, even ‘Judeo values’ belong to this age that is passing. The Jesus-values come from the age he inaugurated that is pulling all things in that direction.

… and women

There are often a few words that appear in a text that makes one wonder. This morning I thought about Paul (Saul) and his persecution of believers in Jerusalem (Acts 8) immediately following the death of Stephen. The motivation was that fellow-Jews who had joined the ‘blasphemous’ sect that later became known as ‘Christian’ were endangering the nation as a whole. Israel was already under the judgement of God, evidenced by the control of the land being in the hands of the Romans and their puppet leaders. This was being compounded by Jews who claimed that a crucified person was none other than the promised Messiah. If this movement was not stopped in its tracks the punishment from heaven would be even greater. Hence he understood that to be zealous for God would mean he would need to stop the movement at all costs. If he did so then he would be assured that he was righteous. He was eradicating evil from among his people, and there was a strong model for this in the golden calf incident (Exod. 32) with the sons of Levi demonstrating their ‘zeal’ in slaughtering 3000 of their fellow-citizens of Israel. As a result the Levites become the priestly tribe. (Wow… there are just a few challenges in reading the OT are there not? And thankfully Pentecost changes the optic some with 3000 coming to life…)

Saul demonstrates his zeal and ‘righteousness’,

as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless (Phil. 3:6).

As zealous as the Levites who were ‘rewarded’ by God!

He does not worry about Gentiles who could claim whatever they wished about Jesus. They were condemned already – his concern was to cleanse Israel. So to do so he ‘entered house after house’. Allegiance to Christ was on a household basis, hence enter a house, and if they were following Jesus he would seek to eradicate that house.

That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison (Acts 8:1-3).

The spread of Jesus-aligned houses is remarkable, and the spread of the gospel likewise is remarkable, hence his request to go to Damascus to the Jewish community there to eradicate this blasphemous heresy.

And one very startling element in that final verse. He dragged off ‘men’ – that would have been enough in that culture. They were the ‘head’ of the household. Remove the head and problem dealt with. But this ‘heresy’ was different! Dragging of the supposed head would not be enough. The gospel liberated women, not simply through personal salvation, but liberated them culturally and socially. Paul had no option if this heresy was to be cleansed from Israel – the women had to be removed also.

‘Salvation’ was a total turn around socially as well as ‘spiritually’.

We are seeing this rise again in this era. Hence the digging in of some ‘Christian’ quarters to re-establish the hierarchy of so-called ‘Judeo-Christian’ values. Maybe we could use the term ‘Judeo’ values but I think the earliest evidence within the ‘Christian’ expression means we cannot really add the second adjective to the values.

Supporting Christian values so that there might be an establishment of them – now that is a challenge!

[Oh yes Paul writes about ‘head’ and all that within the so-called ‘household codes’… beyond this post, but against the background of the Graeco-Roman world he uses the common formula of his day that was used by philosophical and religious groups to show they were not overtly seeking to overthrow Rome. Not overtly, but subversively, Paul used the formula apologetically, but in them he sows something beyond hierarchy… Christian values.]

Acts 15… good decision?

Think we have got issues? Given that the fundamental nature of the Gospel is inclusion not exclusion we got a decent starting point to consider issues, but the early church had a big one. Not simply the inclusion of the Gentiles – that hope was always there – but on what basis. [An aside for the curious or more accurately an aside encouraging all readers to purchase ‘The LifeLine’ where I begin looking at the conflict between Peter and Paul, and take it further noting that Peter (!) came close to proclaiming another Gospel, and that Paul declared that pre-Damascus as a ‘blameless Jew as far as the law was concerned’ was actually a blasphemer!! Strong stuff, makes us all look a little sad when we get caught up in petty disagreements.]

I don’t think the solution in Acts 15 was to everyone’s satisfaction. I hear the grumbling that continued in the visit of Paul to Jerusalem when James asked him to get himself to the Temple with his mates and take some clear vows. Headquarters were certainly nervous when Paul was in town!

The good part of the solution is that Paul and Barnabas (later Silas) could continue with their apostolic work to the Gentiles. That aspect seems brilliant. Others (notably Peter) worked among the Jews. A clear division of work – maybe a compromise, but I think God loves to compromise, and when we do, when it is set in a redemptive / eschatological framework. The division was not absolute with some overlap in the middle; the relationships probably remained somewhat strained but they seemed to hold together, or at least make room for some interaction down the line. So good that what is recorded is not perfect… redemption is a bridge to what is here with an eye on what is eschatological – what is not yet here.

There have been those who argue that the Jerusalem Council cut the ties to the root of the plant, opening a separation between Jew and Gentile, and that the Council should in some way be reversed. Maybe though it did not go far enough? That is always the problem with compromises when they are understood as the conclusion rather than a step along the way.

The real separation (my little thought) is not at the Jerusalem Council, for I actually think it did not go far enough, but in the post-New Testament work among the Gentiles, with the adaptation of the earthy Jewish Gospel for an other-worldly Platonic gospel.

For me Acts 15 was a healthy compromise, not the finished product; post-New Testament then accelerated the divide. For those reasons I think the current perspective of Jesus as the Jewish prophet, the true Israel gives us real hope. It de-hellenises the Gospel so it is no longer about ‘going to heaven’ but about transformation of here (hence the need for a belief in the resurrection), and it pulls us back from a Zionism that looks for some restoration of the land (promised land? but Abraham was not promised the land according to Paul…) Maybe the gap can be closed, but until there will be compromises.

Peter and Paul

Here is a short video on the clash in Galatians 2 between Paul and Peter. The video is intended to go with the Preface to the fourth book on theological explorations: LifeLine. (Available at:


The provocative nature of the conflict is that they both have a strong missiological undergirding to their behaviour. And Paul calls Peter’s behaviour ‘hypocritical’…!!! Intensely challenging and provocative into our culture, where the Jew / Gentile; male / female issues are substantially behind us, but many other issues are pressing in on us.

So how now do I share the Gospel?

I am just finishing up zooms with the first three books and last night we threw around a question that hangs around. Let me try and present the scenario first. The books present a shift in emphasis that might be summarised along these lines:

  • We move from everything being personalised, personal salvation to a bigger concept of salvation of a people. (Oh and why do we pick out the required path to one person ‘you must be born again’ over and above the required path to another person ‘go and sell all you have’?)
  • We shift from a salvation ‘from‘ to a salvation ‘for‘. (And, if like me, on reading the Scriptures there is a conviction that eternal punishing is not taught, that can be seen as one more element to slow down the urgency in our proclamation.)
  • The cross is not an event in history that deals with God’s ‘wrath’; the cross being essential for us, but perhaps not essential for God (in the sense of forgiveness), though given the kenotic Being that God is, the necessity in God is due to that kenoticism, not issues centred around ‘righteousness’.
  • An older and established paradigm is ‘all guilty, under judgement / wrath… only one path of escape… hence personal forgiveness and salvation.’ If that shifts with the nature of the Gospel being a universal proclamation regarding the birth of new creation, what does this mean at a personal level… ‘and how do we present the Gospel?’

This is certainly a journey I am on, and have been on for a while, so here are my very few pointers.

There is a core that has not changed. To bring someone to faith is not something we can do. That is done by the Holy Spirit. So shouting louder ‘you are a guilty sinner’ does not do that work! However, a lack of integrity in our lives might well make the probability of a person we know coming to faith less likely.

Guilt is not the only door that people come through (more on forgiveness below). The eastern world view would emphasise shame much more than guilt, and I guess the Orthodox world would highlight inner sickness that needs healing. In adding these elements to the scene does not change the core issue: there still is the need for connection, in the sense of the person has to connect with whatever ‘door’ as a very real need that cannot be self-solved, and for that the conviction of the Spirit is still necessary.

Jesus’ teaching, and the outworking in the Pauline Gospel, remain ‘politically’ world transforming. We cannot and should not short-change people on being exposed to that content, although I for one cannot claim to have a handle on the fullness of that! The content can be received at that level (as per the Asiarchs in Acts 19?), but there is a dimension that goes beyond the teaching, that takes us beyond the most remarkable earthly wisdom and world-view to experience the transcendent heavenly aspect in the context of relationship. That is where our personal testimony kicks in.

Yes people can follow the teachings of Jesus, but on ‘offer’ is the promise of the Spirit, to empower, transform and open up the heavens to us.

Now to forgiveness. I am considering that in the same way as we wrongly interpret wrath through a projection of human anger on to God, maybe we do the same with forgiveness. (On wrath: human anger is never described as righteous, even the term ‘righteous indignation’ does not occur in Scripture. We have an anger issue we have to learn to deal with; God’s anger is not personal, hence we make a mistake when we extrapolate from the human side to the divine and then suggest that Jesus’ bore the wrath of God for us…) With forgiveness we have all experienced it from both sides. I have done wrong to someone; I go apologise and they then have a choice to release me or not. The term ‘release’ being the underlying significance of the ‘forgiveness’ words. Those words certainly can carry that legal sense of being released from an obligation, but it can also be used of (e.g.) releasing a ship to its journey, and Josephus even uses it of (the release of) death. The root is ‘release’, but the point I am considering is not simply to do with the root meaning, but concerning the danger of simply projecting on to God our human experience. Until I am forgiven I am ‘held’ by the person I have wronged. Perhaps forgiveness should carry a broader range of meanings and that God’s forgiveness might primarily be a release from whatever could be holding us. That could be ‘guilt’, past / family bondages, mind-sets, and that overarching power known as ‘sin’ (in the singular, not being a collection of all my ‘sins, but a corporate, cosmic power). Certainly ‘forgiveness of sins’ for the Jews of the NT era was a promise of release from their captivity, and as they experienced that they would experience God’s favour.

So putting all this together, I suggest that our presentation is bigger but continues to be personal. And what an invitation, to be saved for a purpose, a purpose that connects us to our true core being, causes us to interact with heaven, and become in greater measure agents for transformation. I do not think we have ‘lost’ the Gospel but are on a process to discovering what it might be. Deeply relevant to the former worlds of Jew and Gentile, and the only lasting hope for the world(s) that exist(s) today.