Friday, March 31, 2006

Gospel is not a demand.

Thanks to the willzhead blog for the pointer to "John Fischer: The Separation of Church and Hate", an essay recently posted at Breakpoint .

In the essay, John Fischer speaks of how the church's mingling with politics, namely a certain flavor of partisanship of the Religious Right, could make some folks rightly think that Christians have taken up hate. (Read the whole article yourself for a better articulation.) He says that casting one's lots with the Dems would have led to the same state of playing hatred-- it's not inherently a property of the Republicans.

First of all, I would say that the problem is not just casting with the GOP, per se, but as I see it casting lots with the Delay/ Robertson/ Stephens/ Likud wing of the GOP as opposed to folks like, well, John McCain.

Secondly, Fischer makes a wonderful point about misuse of the word Gospel.

4) We have opted for morality over the gospel.

Morality is cleaner and less threatening than the gospel. The gospel makes me admit my sin and welcome sinners. Morality lets me keep sin and sinners at bay.

Morality deals in black and white—right and wrong. But representing morality breeds entitlement, self-righteousness, and condemnation. No one is going to publicly champion morality without appearing morally patronizing of everyone else. This in turn fosters an attitude of contempt from others who feel judged and put-upon.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with morality—God knows we need it—it is simply not our primary message. We are not Moses to the world, coming down from our place with God on the mountain with His commandments in our hands. That’s been done; those commandments have already been given, and we all broke them. Our message is more like the blind man who was given sight, whose only message when put to it by the religious gatekeepers of heaven was, “All I know is: I was blind but now I can see.”

As representatives of the church of Jesus Christ, our primary message is the gospel that Christ died to save sinners, starting with us. In all things, the gospel must have preeminence. Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it and usher in the day of salvation.

Now here, I have a criticism for religous folks of the Left (are they really just McCain-Wing Republicans?) like Ronald Sider and Rick Warren, in their misuse of the word "Gospel". I've been reading Sider's Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience and I completely agree with his social analysis, his complaints-- his understanding of Law. Sider decries how things like divorce, racism, materialism, etc., are just as rampant in the evangelical church as they are in The World. The problem I got is that he uses the word "gospel" to refer to some of his ethical and moral statements-- it ain't Gospel, its' Law. Now we need Law, and Gospel doesn't mean as much without the Law to put it into context. The Lutheran understanding would have Law defined as "God's command of what is and/or what is not to be done" and Gospel as "the promise of the grace of God to forgive sins." See Melancthon here. If Lutherans have any contributions to Christian doctrine at all, the proper separation of law and gospel are right up there.

Rick Warren, too, has misused the term. In an interview entitled"Myths of the Modern Mega-Church", Warren says:

Anyway, the fundamentalist and evangelical movement said they were just going to care about personal salvation when they split from the mainline churches. What happened is the mainline churches cared about the social morality and the evangelicals cared about personal morality. That's what happened when they split. But they really are all part of the total gospel – social justice, personal morality and salvation. And today a lot more people, evangelicals, are caring about those issues.

Now I agree with Warren's historical analysis of the church. I agree with his ethical statements here, that social justice and personal morality are important, but they're not gospel, they are law.

Mixing the two terms has all kinds of problems associated with it. Just one is that folks might not think your theology is up to par-- they may discount your theological basis outright because of it. As for other problems of mixing law and gospel, folks may turn to Walther

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