In Jonathon Penningtons book, Reading the Gospels wisely, he discusses a loss of emphasis on the Gospel. He says:
In many ways the loss of emphasis on the Gospels is a function of reductionism of the protestant reformation, especially in some Lutheran versions that run all scriptures through a hyper sensitive law versus gospel grid.
So for the purpose of this BLOG I am calling this loss of the Gospel Gospel reductionism.
I agree with Pennington that Gospel reductionism is a real issue today. My BLOG is titled partially because I have personally seen how this has played out in relationships as well as in churches that seem to make other things central to their agendas. Many years ago I had a Pastor the did a study on denominational differences. I still remember something he said that sticks to me today (paraphrased from memory):
Both the calvinist and the arminian use human reason to interpret scripture in different ways. The Lutheran can allow seemingly paradoxical truths stand on its own as it tries to interpret scripture through the Gospels.
Of course the battle cry from Luther was sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, Sola Cristus… scripture lone, faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone.
I agree with Pennington on Gospel reductionism for the ELCA Lutheran church… especially in light of the ELCA decisions and trends over the last 15-20 years as it deflates the truth of the Gospels and conflates grace. The ELCA church has made it self an easy target for the label “Gospel reductionism”. I would also take slight issue with Pennington in highlighting specifically the Lutheran church since the Lutheran Church was founded on the idea of giving high regard to the Gospels and the LCMS today still interprets scripture through a gospel-centric hermeneutic. Gospel reductionism also exists in other church systems — although it comes out in completely different ways than the ELCA’s method of gospel reductionism.
Pennington goes on to say:
But movements overtime always get dehydrated and reduced down to a boullion-cube state that can easily be transferred and promulgated. The first thing to go is always nuance and balance.
The Gospels are very challenging and to simplify into a “boullion-cubes state” often loses the intent of Jesus Kingdom and purpose in the Gospels.
In recent months I went to some biblical counseling training. This training had a strong calvinistic influence. I also saw Gospel reductionism when the conference speakers took one piece of scripture, added human reason, and then conflated it into some bite sized simplistic phrases to make their point. I have to admit I have a new pet peave after attending this conference of when “truth” gets overly simplified. The gospel is meant to transform hearts from the inside out. Anything less than that is is religious behavior modification. I felt like the biblical counseling conference, a the end of the day, was religious behavior modification. I also believe an over-simplification of truth when you are doing counseling can be a bad combination.
I spent 3 weekends in this training and I could write much more but my intent is to say that Gospel reductionism is everywhere… not just the ELCA Lutheran Church. The Gospel itself is counter-intuitive and complex and it should draw us into the complexity of human nature!
This Gospel reductionism often comes out in the posture we have toward groups of people that are different from us. I mean, its easy to have a good posture with people that are just like us! Do we believe we are part of the “system of truth” and others are not? How do we present ourselves to people we consider outsiders? Matthew 9:13 discusses the attitude of the pharisees toward Jesus, his disciples, and sinners of the worst kind when Jesus says “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy not sacrifice.” A statement directly and compassionately directed at the pharisees “we are the religious establishment and you are not” mentality.
Do we show mercy to people that you don’t consider to be a part of your system? Probably something we all have to work on!
All for Jesus!