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The Moral Vision of the New Testament

Its been  a while since I posted last.  However, there have been many deep thoughts I have had during the last election — and probably for many years before that.  As I pondered the Facebook and Twitter sphere and the attitudes that each side has toward each other, I believe that the moral vision of the new testament has been lost in today’s religious and evangelical world.   I consider myself an evangelical, but it seems to me the position and posture of Jesus has been lost today.

A few words I have seen used a lot in many evangelical Facebook  and twitter posts are the words integrity, morality, and truth.  However, as you read the posts you will notice that the words are used always used in a comparative (and often condemnational) stance.  They are comparing themselves to a group they consider not moral, not having integrity, and not being in the truth.  As you continue to read down the posts and the comments the language degrades further into more comparatives and more condemnation toward the other group.  I have seen many times references to the idea of “winning with truth”.

I need to say that I do hope we are moral, people of integrity, and that God’s truth comes out and prevails.  However, in terms of truth…  Jesus said “He” is the truth.  I have never seen Jesus use the idea of “winning with truth” in scripture.  Jesus always had compassion toward others sinners and other groups and loved them.

Today we often use the words truth, integrity, and morality as a language that makes us feel powerful over others.  We feel a sense of power over other people and other groups when we use this language.  We feel like we are “winning” when we use this language and hang out with others that reinforce this language along side us.  Our idea of truth can be a very powerful and abusive weapon toward other people and groups we may not agree with. IF we are not aware of our own sinful tendencies truth can be very powerful and abusive.

The moral vision of the New Testament is completely lost when our language of truth does not have a grace and mercy narrative toward others.   Speaking the truth in love is such and easy phrase to say but yet difficult to do unless we can clearly see the moral vision of the New Testament and actually start behaving like a gospel-centric community should behave.

I read recently read a re-tweet about how we must stand up for truth and not be politically correct.  The comments that followed almost made me sick as they degraded into condemnation and criticism.  As I read scripture, especially Paul, I see a lot rhetorical sophistication and political correctness when discussing many hot topics of the first century church.  For example the book of Philemon, shows Paul navigating the difficult topic of slavery in the first century church.  Paul knew exactly how to exhort and challenge Philemon to “do the right thing”.  Paul’s rhetorical sophistication navigated the culturally hot topic of slavery in just the right way.  Grace, mercy, and truth.

Today’s evangelical world, especially when it comes to politics, has lost the moral vision of the New Testament and the vision Paul showed in Philemon in my opinion.  We often do not show both the position and posture of Jesus in politics!!!

I encourage you to consider that much of the the nuance and balance that is in scripture has been lost today.  We lose the real vision of Jesus as we interpret scripture with brood strokes and over simplify God’s truth.  We have lost the moral vision of the new testament as we attempt to “win” our arguments.  Often, scripture does have rhetorical sophistication and often there is political correctness that strives to show mercy, grace, and truth.  As we strive to have both the position and posture of Jesus a new dynamic of truth will become evident.  A dynamic that does not just attempt to “win”, but rather a dynamic the restores all people and all creation back to God’s original design in the garden.

— post not complete, to be continued and adjusted later on

Without the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ …

Without the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ God’s law becomes unproductive!

Without the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ God’s law becomes behavior modification!

 

Emotionally Healthy Faith

I often feel a sense of frustration in today’s political culture where everyone is always trying to “win” with truth!  I have for some time known that black and white thinking thinking is a sign of spiritual and emotional immaturity and it seems like many candidates running for office have figured out that condemnation draws a crowd of supporters(John 8:1-11).  It seems to me that often missing in many candidates, and many relationships in general, is an inability to process uncomfortable thoughts that allow enough grace, mercy, and safety for all sides to express themselves.  A character trait often missing for many running for office.

As Sue and I lead Marriage Re-builders, a ministry for marriages in crisis,  at our church we have a saying:

Safety + Being Heard and Understood = Basic Building Blocks of Rebuilding Intimacy

Years ago Sue and I learned a dance called east coast swing.  Many years later we learned a new dance called west coast swing.  What we found out while learning the new dance was that in the middle of west coast “swinging” we would all of a sudden start to east coast swing.  The reason for this was because we had established a muscle memory in ourselves that knew only how to east coast swing.   It took us quite some time to unlearn the old muscle memory of east coast swing and to learn the new muscle memory of how to west coast swing.  I believe, today, we could probably do both without having any issues.

For us to grow relation-ally we often need to “practice”  and exercise new emotional muscles.  Often the muscle memory of our old emotional muscles will take over.   Like dancing, to learn to exercise new emotional muscles we will need to practice using them. It will require  grace, mercy, and often putting down our desire to “win” to explore the thoughts and feelings that we may have never exercised before.  We may need to find safe people and community where we can “practice” this.  We may need to find mentors that allow us to express those thoughts and feelings and rather than fix us they allow a process to take place that requires just the rights amounts of grace, mercy,  faith, and time.

So, Safety + Being Heard and Understood is really the foundation for us to express more intimate and difficult thoughts and feelings.

Below is BLOG topic I wrote several years ago about dancing called the “Cosmic Dance of Life”.. also about learning this relational dance.

https://centralityofthegospel.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/the-cosmic-dance-of-life/

 

 

 

Practicing the Presence: 6/9/2016

After practicing the presence of God last night my mind reflected on some things that Kyle Fever said in my Synoptics class video. We often read the book of Matthew like some of the things are not possible. In other words we read it as something just to point us to Christ and our need for Him. However that is not the message… at least the way Matthew is telling the story.  Many of those things in Matthew, in community, are totally possible.

I thought how much better could practicing the presence of God be when I think they are possible. How much more delight in my conversation with God will there be?  I often think to myself “It (or I) have always been this way. It will never change”. To not live in either fear or selfish entitlement of my own thoughts and feelings…. but to reflect on Gods presence and through him all things are possible.

Just my .02c worth on practicing the presence reflections last night.

– Jon

When Forgiveness is Incomplete

I was reading Matthew as  part of a Synoptics Gospel class I am taking.  One of the things my instructor said was we often we read scripture through an individual lens.   However, Matthew is meant to be read with a community lens.  In other words when Jesus is saying you to the disciples he really means Ya’ all.  In other words the community of disciples.

If you look at the bigger structure of Matthew the sermon on the mount is not commands to the disciples but they are rather an example of what Gods community should look like. Matthew went to  to clarify and fulfill Jesus purpose and mission of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.  A continual contrast of the the earthly kingdoms vs the disciples heaven on Earth continues to be contrasted in Matthew.  Then later on Matthew discusses forgiveness.

 

21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone[a] who sins against me? Seven times?”

22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven![b]

The above reference was during Jesus’ discourse to his disciples about forgiving others that are a part of our Christian community.  I can’t help but think the words of “I forgive” and going through just a “process of forgiveness” falls far short of living in an intimate community of discipleship with other Christians and far short of what I am reading in the book of Matthew.  We often neglect the nuances and balance that the Synoptic Gospels offer us, neglecting the weightier matters of scripture for a more simplistic understanding and reading of the Gospels.

For me forgiveness is finally complete when I am back in intimate relationship in the community of believers and the ones I have wronged.  Anything less is not what I read as Jesus’ message in Matthew.

 

Gospel Reductionism

The Gospel is the commonly defined as the “good news” of Jesus Christ and His message of hope and grace for man.  Pennington in his book, Reading the Gospels Wisely, expands on why our interpretation of the Gospels is of utmost and paramount importance.  The question I would like to address at the end of this report is:  If we deviate too far from this question of why the Gospels are important, do we leave the good news of Jesus Christ and the message of His Kingdom completely behind?   First, Pennington highlights “the why” as he discusses how Paul directly and bluntly challenges Peter and the Galatians (pg. 5) for not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel (Gal 2:14).  Paul saw Peter as attempting to add Torah obedience to Jesus’ Gospel message, thereby turning away from the message of hope and grace — which was really no good news at all.  Pennington describes Paul’s
continuous and persistent emphasis on the Gospel message in other letters he writes as well (pg. 5).  Second, Pennington highlights the weight and frequency of how the word Gospel is used in the Synoptic Gospels.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the word “Gospel” was used five, seven and ten times, respectively.  More importantly, Pennington says, is how and the word Gospel was used.  Pennington describes the phrase “the Gospel of the Kingdom” as Matthew’s desire to communicate the weight, significance, and centrality of the Jesus’ message of hope and grace for mankind (pg. 12).

Pennington goes on to discuss four areas that stood out to me that I want to highlight in the rest of this paper. These four areas are (1) Gospel reductionism, (2) the richness of having four Gospels, (3) understanding the larger framework of the Gospels, and (4) posture in reading the Gospels.

First, I believe, Pennington has found a deep need to communicate his message in the book because of recent trends in churches today.  He describes nine reasons why the Gospels are important.  Most pronounced to me was when he describes a form of Gospel reductionism (pg. 39). He specifically highlights Lutheran reductionism but I agree with Kyle Fever (Synoptic 1 Video) when he said during the lectures that other church denominations can engage in Gospel reductionism as well.    Pennington goes on to profoundly say “but movements over time always get dehydrated and reduced down to a bouillon-cube state so that they can easily be transferred and promulgated” (pg. 39).  For this reason, Pennington says, we need to study the Gospels wisely because they have been the central message of the Church throughout history (pg. 38).  In a related thought to  Gospel reductionism he describes how encountering Jesus’ true story and intent in the Gospels can help us grow instead of reducing scripture into “neat little boxes of truth” (pg. 48).

Second, Pennington describes a richness of having four Gospel books in the bible that one Gospel could not provide (pg. 70).  Each Gospel book has differences in wording and in the order of some of the parables and events of Jesus life. . He describes this as different “lines of sight” obtained from different perspectives (pg. 61).  By reading the Gospels horizontally (comparing the various wording of each Gospel parable in the various synoptic Gospels) we can gain a deeper meaning of scripture as we reflect on why each writer chose different words to describe similar events in the life of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, differences in order of parables tells us that the Gospel message cannot be interpreted exclusively through historical means, but we also need to interpret the Gospels theologically with an understanding that the intent of the Gospel writers was to highlight Jesus and His Kingdom and purpose (Kyle Fever: Synoptic 1 Video).  Pennington goes on to say that the gospel writers’ interpretations may not be to represent the “exact words” of Jesus Christ but they do represent Jesus’ “own voice” and intent.

Third, Pennington highlights the various approaches one can take to read the Gospels and discusses the “what strikes me” approach (WSM) vs narrative analysis of the stories.  He describes the WSM approach as “nugget hunting” for truth and says it can lead to missing the nuances and essence of the story itself (pg. 180). In contrast narrative analysis attempts to move beyond individual stories and bring into light the larger constructs of the story itself.   Narrative analysis would take into account things like identifying the rising intent and action of the story, the climax of the story, and finally the falling action of the story (pg. 173). Furthermore, we can observe broader items in the Gospels that he calls acts, cycles, and literary structures.  He describes this process as “panning out” to understand the bigger picture that the Gospel writer is trying to tell (pg. 187) so we can dig out the deeper nuances of the Gospel message.  Pennington concludes that we must not forget that the Gospel message and the parables are telling a bigger story that spans the entirety of the Gospel messages (pg. 189). Beyond that even the Gospels stretch across the entire canon of scripture (pg. 198).

Fourth, Pennington discusses the importance of the posture and lens of how we interpret scripture. Even though there is no one right way to interpret scripture he goes on to profoundly say that “the most important part of reading Holy scripture well is not our method or theory but our posture and goal” (pg. 137). By having the right posture and goal we will have a more productive reading and interpretation of the Gospel messages where we see nuance and the intended meanings and goals of the Gospel writer.

During the Synoptic Gospels pt.1 videos we had opportunity to apply some of Pennington’s thoughts to the book of Matthew.  I was struck that even in the geneology of Matthew there seemed to be purpose and intent that flowed into the message Matthew was trying to tell later in his Gospel.  Matthew chooses different people to include in the geneology (plus several women) than the other Gospel writers as well as different starting and stopping points of the geneology.  Kyle Fever highlighted some thoughts as to why and it was interesting that even in the geneology Matthew had significant meaning and purpose.

Kyle discussed how Matthew spanned across the canon in multiple prophecy fulfillments on the Old Testament (OT). Even in the geneology, again, there is much parallelism to the OT exodus story.

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Gospel Reductionism

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!