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!

 

 

 

 

Parenting Between Pillars

I thought I would share an e-mail I wrote to my daughter and her husband as they approach, in May, the birth of our Grandson!

Hi Kendra, Aaron,

 

As you approach a new season in life I felt the urge to share some deep thoughts with you.  The purpose of this e-mail is to describe what I would do differently if I was starting out as a new parent today.  In other words, if I could go back and re-start my parenting life with what I know today what would I do differently?  What have I learned along the way?

I was reading that a book that a friend/author wrote. He said he was talking to a songwriter and the topic they were discussing reminded him of a song titled “If the record does not have the grooves you can’t play the song”.  Your a little too young to remember vinyl records but the records had grooves on them and a needle would follow along on the grooves to play a song.  Anyhow, this is just a way of saying its difficult to parent any differently than your parents because you bring in your own pre-recorded grooves from your family of origin.  Mom brought in grooves from her family of origin and I brought in grooves from my family of origin.  The  purpose of this e-mail is to share with you the new grooves I had to learn along the way. To share with you the grooves I wish I had when I started out parenting.   Many of the grooves I had to learn the hard way. My hope is that you can start out your season of parenting with all  these grooves fully intact and you can start out parenting where I left off.

I also know that you already know much of what is below.  You are starting in a better spot than Sue and I did as parents.  However,  when the craziness of life takes over its important to remember the big picture. So give me a few paragraphs.
So for the purpose of making an important point I am calling this “Parenting between Pillars”.  The two pillars represent two ends between which we parent.


1. Parent between the Pillars of Truth and Grace

In Joshua Straub’s book Safe House he discusses a primarily Christian phenomenon that he calls the uneven house of truth.  On these pages he  says families heavy on truth and light on grace make it “emotionally unsafe” for Children to share deep thoughts and feelings. Grace gives richness and depth to Gods truth’s that truth alone can not give.

Summary Point:  Be good at truth but be great at grace.

2. Parent Between the Pillars of Time-outs and Time-Ins

As you start out parenting baby J will not have the capacity to control his own feelings, thoughts, and curiosities.  You will be responsible for him not touching the stove, not crossing  the street to pet the dog, etc.  There will be time when you may have to discipline and do time-outs. As baby J passes through the middle years, you will have to help him learn to take control and process his own thoughts and feelings.  This will be done by talking and processing thoughts and feelings together.  You may have to ask him, “I hear your feeling frustrated?  What is the thought behind that feeling?”  Thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to behaviors.  Be curious and ask ask more questions as he gets older … rather than just giving advice and relying on quick fixes!   As Baby J matures you will have to transition away from time outs to time-ins where you spend time processing the thoughts and feelings of Baby J. The time-ins are the times you take to talk and help Baby J learn to process thoughts,  feelings, and make sense and meaning of the world!  Help him/her write his own story of life rather than re-write one of your stories.

Summary Point: Be good at time outs (discipline) but be great at time ins.

3. Parent between the Pillars of Emotional Safety and Curiosity

Even when discipline is necessary it will be important for him to feel emotionally safe.  As a young child it will be necessary to discipline at times.  But even discipline, when done right, will allow for the child to feel that home is emotionally safe. This emotionally safe attachment to a parent  will allow your child to curiously explore the world and to grow into the child God intended him/her to be.

Summary Point: A child with a safe attachment to  parents and home  will result in a child that is emotionally safe and able to curiously explore the world without fear.

 

4. Parent between the Pillars of a Narrow Funnel and Wide Funnel

A narrow funnel represents being restrictive and a wide funnel represents giving freedom.  As a young child it will be important to not allow him/her access to a hot stove, sharp objects, etc. Your funnel must be narrow and restrictive to make sure the child is safe.  As a child matures its your responsibility to let them go and let them grow.  Some parents make the mistake of being too restrictive for too long.  Then when kids older they get rebellious.  Others make the mistake of allowing too much freedom too young. Then when they are out of control they have to reign them in and make the wide funnel narrow and more restrictive.  Making the funnel narrow  once it has been wide is hard process for a parent.   They have given too much freedom before the children had enough self control to handle those freedoms.

As your child grows it will be important to give age appropriate freedoms.  You can give them those freedoms when they have the self control to handle those freedoms. The funnel moves from narrow to wide, age appropriately.

Summary Point: Be good at narrow funnel but be wise at wide funnel


5. Parent between the Pillars of Old School and New School
Today’s world has brought in a lot of new complexity.  We had great parenting traditions in the past…. but there are things going on today that are completely different than what Mom and I had deal with in parenting you.  For example, you are a part of the first generation that has been online and plugged in wherever they go.  Cyber threats to children are real today.  In the next few years you will be hearing more about things like facebook addictions, gaming addictions, online gambling addictions,  porn addictions, and a gamut of new things that have not been named yet.  I am going to encourage you to be on the front end of this and learn as much about it as you can before Baby J is born.  It will be important for you to find strategic times to put the screens down for intentional and real relationship building. Josh Straub in his book recommends parents of the 21st century have  an e-nuptual going into parenting,   In other words agree on how you, as a family, handle screen time.  Be intentional about moments to put the screens down and do uninterrupted relationship.  Be realistic.
I actually have purchased you an e-Christmas present that you can view online. Here is a link to several short videos (5-10 min each) from Josh Straub on creating a screen balanced family.  ( http://www.joshuastraub.com/the-screen-balanced-family-videos : Access Code XXXXXXX ).  Also his workbook can be downloaded here:   No LINK.   Josh is passionate about helping new parents parent in the 21st century.
Whatever e-nuptual you and Aaron agree on Mom and I plan on following suit at our home as well.  So in in a way your e-nuptual will also be starting a new method of parenting for all the subsequent Spadino/Johnson kids, grand kids,  and great grand kids to follow.

Summary Point:  Screen time in today’s world can not be avoided, but we must have real relationship to flourish!

6. Parent with a divine and healthy priority system
This one might be the most important and difficult one to do!
Even though I believe in the goal of having a child that is safely attached to parents and emotionally safe…. that idea alone can lead to child centered parenting.  As Baby J matures it will be easy for you to make Baby J the center of life and decision making.  As time goes on it will be easy to lose sight of important aspects of your faith, marriage, .and no longer have time for spiritual and emotional self care. The speed of life takes over!  It will be important at times to refocus and recenter your thinking around Christ and re-establish a divine and healthy priority system.
Christ is first, marriage, children third.  I am going to encourage you to put children third on the list.  In today’s world you need to beware of child-centered parenting where we place children at the center of the household.  Children need to feel  safe and like they are an important aspect of a family… not be the center of it.
Scripture also gives two greatest commandments: (1) Love God, and (2) Love others as you love yourself. Notice the word yourself.  You are included toward the top of the list of people to love. So take time for self care and take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Find moments to make yourself a priority.  Take time for emotional self-care.  As you inevitably and at times let go of this priority system take some time and re-sync your marriage and re-establish spiritual and emotional priorities to stay healthy.  Your children  will thank you for it!
 
Summary Point: Beware of child centered parenting and making your children and marriage an idol!   Establish and continuously re-establish the divine and healthy priority system of scripture in marriage and parenting. Christ, marriage (self included),  children.
I love you guys, I know you both will make great parents!

I Love You,

Dad

The Uneven House of Truth

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is…
(Truth) We are more sinful and weak than we ever cared to admit AND…
(Grace) We are more loved and accepted than we ever dared to hope.

Truth and Grace

I was reading a portion of Joshua Straub’s new book “Safe House” the other day.   He is a Christian author that has a heart toward mentoring parents in the 21st century. Parening in the 21st century  has some very unique challenges.  Challenges with busyness, technology, online social networking, etc. His book is about raising children who live, love and lead well in the 21st century.

In the book he described something called the “Uneven House of Truth”.  What he said was that two truths exist in scripture…. one is TRUTH and the other is GRACE  What he said was that Christian houses that are heavy on truth and short on grace are environments that create religious “striving” and ultimately become either overtly or covertly emotionally unsafe for children.  These unsafe children then either become pleasers or rebellious.  This emotionally unsafe environment does not allow children to explore the world in ways a normal. healthier child would.  The end results is it creates a covert or overt  environment of fear!  He went on to say that good parenting is less about your position and more about your posture… and research proves this over and over again.

You see this all the time in the blogosphere,,, people always trying to WIN an argument using TRUTH!  It could be Christian truth, it could be conservative truth, it could be liberal truth.  It does not really matter.  In the end they are striving to win. In their minds, I am sure, they believe  they are trying to impact the world.   From my perspective, this attempt to win without mercy, love, grace, and understanding never leads to change, growth, or relationship.  Ultimately, an uneven house of truth  leads to people more deeply entrenching their positions and feeling unsafe to trust the other side.  It ultimately leads to broken or trust less relationships.

Jesus always made it safe for sinners struggling with deep issues. People trying to win with truth do not.

Many years ago, my wife and I went to a Church known for “higher truth”.  I really wanted to join this church.  We even saw John Piper on Sabbattical attending this Church,,, and I remember poking my wife in the side and telling “Hey, there is John Piper!” BTW this is not a Church that John Piper is associated with… he was just attending it during his sabbatical.

I really wanted to join this church and I really liked the preaching,,, my wife clearly did not like this church… we had an argument about it.  Her reasons for not liking this church did resonate with me though.  The church had an open microphone after the sermon…. and someone would go to the mic to speak.  The idea was for people to discuss how God was working in their lives.  What happened during the open microphone was hardly ever a real story about how God was working in their lives.  What people really did with the open mic was  restate and remind people of the central doctrines (truths) of their church.  To my wife, and I finally agreed with her, it was not a person being very real and genuine.  It really turned her off.  To this day, I am so glad I listened to the my wife on this matter.

What my wife sensed I believe, is that this Church had an uneven house of truth DNA … and that thread was running through how the people were speaking during the open microphone.

I like how Tim Keller puts it:

Without the power of grace, truth and love cant be combined.

— Tim Keller, The meaning of Marriage

Instead of leaving with a final thought of mine I am going to leave you with one of my favorite verses in scripture.  I want you to focus on the words Jesus says “go and learn what this means”.   What I believe Jesus is saying here is that this is not an easy truth to “do” or to understand.  Rather, he wants us to mull it over and practice it…. even when it seems hard for us to practice it.  I believe if we actually practice mercy,  we just might be using some spiritual “muscles” that may not be used very often…. muscles  that need to made stronger.

Jesus wants us to to understand the truth of the scripture below… especially when our desire is really to WIN!

Matthew 9:13 But go and learn what this means, I desire mercy not sacrifice.

Truth and Grace

Close-fisted vs Open-handed Christianity

Today my pastor used the analogy of close-fisted vs open-handed in a sermon to challenge what type of Christian we are.  He used the analogy to not  challenge the position or specific beliefs we have  …. but more to challenge the posture we have in how generously we behave toward our resources and others.

So as you think about  idea of close-fisted you think about someone ready to fight, close-minded, closed off, and trying to win.  When you consider the idea of open-handed you see a person willing to serve,  generous in his/her resources, open, and  worshiping.

I don’t normally blog about theological topics. Rather, I try to blog about things pertinent to me and others in the here and now.  I have intentionally taken a delayed approach on discussing Kim Davis, the government clerk that refused to sign marriage licenses because of her beliefs.

First, I want to say I respect Ms Davis for following her conscience according to her understanding of scripture.  However, and there many sincere people who will disagree with me on this, I believe the response by Ms Davis, (and especially those who use her position for political gain), falls far short of a faith used in wisdom, living in understanding of outsiders, and representing the grace, mercy, and love Jesus shows sinners and outsiders.   In many ways the Ms Davis situation reinforces a caricaturization of Christians that is far more focused on what they are against rather than what they are for.  It reinforces the stereotype of a Christian that is close-fisted in his/her approach rather than open-handed and willing to serve, listen,  understand, and love other sinners.  The Kim Davis situation (most specifically the in-your-face pep rally used for political gain) falls far short of embodying Jesus’ ethics and does not represent the Jesus I see in scripture.

Scott Sauls says in his blog on the topic:  http://scottsauls.com/2015/09/23/on-refugees-kim-davis-and-the-best-and-worst-ways-to-take-a-moral-stand/

Jesus never scolded or took a public moral stand against their ideas or practices. Instead, he won each person over with a love more compelling than the empty love that they had been chasing prior to encountering him.

So its important as we grow in our faith, to grow not only  in our understanding and position, but also the posture we have toward outsiders and people we disagree with.   To be an open-handed Christian and not a close-fisted Christian.  To be like Jesus when it seems hard to do!

Both our position AND our posture matter!

SCOTUS Decision: Right or Wrong

So in the aftermath of the landmark SCOTUS decision I find myself in a very lonely spot. First, I want to say I recognize that the LGBT community has been marginalized and often completely rejected.  This absolute rejection should never be trivialized…. it is real and I have seen it firsthand.  The Christian world has made a spectacle of homosexuals for many years.  As a Christian I apologize for that … and I fear that many people look at Christians and say “if that’s what being a Christian is, I don’t want anything to do with that”.

On the other hand I believe that both the biblical and biological definition of marriage and family will always be one man and one woman.  A legal redefinition will never change that.

So I often find myself — not being able to take the side of my Christian family — and I can not take the side of the LGBT community.  A very lonely spot indeed.

I also believe this is a time where the GOSPEL message of Christ will shine more than ever.  Rather than put my own words on my unique stance I will defer to people smarter and wiser than me:

Even though SCOTUS has legally redefined Marriage… God’s definition of Marriage will remain the same. The biblical and the biological story both confirm one man and one woman as the design for Marriage and Family. As Pastor Bill Bohline said today ….”Christianity should always be counter-cultural.”  I believe the Gospel will shine more brightly in light of the SCOTUS decision made on Friday.

I think Tim Keller says it best.

“All problems, personal or social come from a failure to use the gospel (“The Good News”)  in a radical way, to get “in line with the truth of  the gospel” (Gal.2:14). All pathologies in the church and all its ineffectiveness comes from a failure to use the gospel in  a radical way. We believe that if the gospel is expounded and applied in its fullness in any church, that church will look very unique. People will find both moral conviction yet compassion and flexibility.

For example, gays are used to being  “bashed” and hated or completely accepted. They never see anything else. The cultural elites of either liberal or  conservative sides are alike in their unwillingness to befriend or live with or respect or worship with the poor. They are  alike in separating themselves increasingly from the rest of society.”

A crisis of faith and belief

Today I am feeling thankful.  I have come to realize that God has created a crisis of belief and faith in me over the last 15 years.   Years ago. I was rejected by some close Christian Friends. My friends wife basically told me I could not have lunch with her husband. Some of this had to do with my issues and sin…. but this couple had a history of broken relationships that continued both before and after this incident with me.  The purpose of us doing lunch was to process our sin and to become better people and Christians,  However, this couple saw the world through black and white, all or nothing, legalistic lense.  Even thought they had a tone of moralism and ethics …. their black and white thinking did not “act in line” with the truth of the Gospel.  They had, in my opinion, a very high spiritual IQ but a very low emotional IQ.  Their black and white, all or nothing tone was the reason for broken relationships and the reason for a poor marriage. Their religious legalism reflected their heart just as much as their (or my) worldly sins reflected ours.

This crisis of faith caused me to see God in new ways.  I knew that whatever my faith would look like I did not want it look like theirs.  Today, I am thankful for this crisis of faith. It created a new me that sees Grace and Mercy in deeper ways.

I talked to my wife recently about letting go of the idea of ever reconciling with this couple again.  Even thought this  reconciliation process would create much growth, I have made a decision to let go. I know that no matter what I do God will keep working for the good of those who love him.  For me, my wife, and this other couple.