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!
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!
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.
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.
As my wife and I lead Marriage Re-builders and as I lead some men’s ministries, I am always interested in the “lens” in which people view God, other people, and themselves. For example, do you ever see a God that will smile? Do you trust that sinful people can ever love you the way you want? Do you see yourself as “fearfully and wonderfully made” or “less than” or “worthless”? Another way of saying this is how fatalistically do you view God, yourself and others. Do you see just a judgmental God ready to strike lightning when you mess up? Do you distrust others and can never take any risks emotionally? Do you see yourself as “less than” or “worthless”?
Many people have a fatalistic view of others and themselves. This is often called an insecure attachment style. Psychologists believe this secure or insecure attachment often comes from the early stages of our families of origin. This attachment style can range from a full blown insecurity or maybe it is just a partial insecurity for specific areas of your life. It taints how people view themselves and others and it taints how people see the world. This often causes people to live their Christian lives like an Anxious Amy or a Fearful Freddy. Christians living like this have a presentation of truth and life that is less motivated by loving others and more motivated with the reduction of their own anxiety and fear! This insecurity often causes a striving to be “perfect” in some areas of life for the affection of others as a way of reducing this fear and insecurity?
If we struggle with an incorrect lens of how we view ourself and others, no matter how much truth is poured into us we may never understand that truth because it is passing through the filter of our experiences and past. No matter how much we see a loving God that came to sinners we still see a God that says “yeah, but .. don’t forget that other thing you did”. You will always see strings attached to this loving God. We might understand Gods truth intellectually but our filters and lenses cause us to miss the mark as it penetrates our heart!
There is also a religious dimension to the lenses of life that I have noticed over the years. Many years ago I had a Pastor that did a study on denominational differences. He compared the various denominations and placed them on a “calvinistic grid” where he showed where they fell on the Calvinistic/Arminian spectrum. Then side by side he showed where our Lutheran congregation fell. I found this very interesting. The Lutherans tend to angle more toward Calvinism but they also have some Arminian points and believe Gods graces is universal. I remember my Pastor saying that both the calvinist and the arminian use “human reason” to interpret truth in different ways. The Lutheran tradition believes some truths are paradoxical and just allow scripture to stand on their own. Well out of this Sunday bible study I made a decision. Since my Lutheran viewpoint tended toward Calvinism I decided to read the Arminian viewpoint as if was true and real (although I disagreed with it) before I made my final decision as to what was truth or not. This led me to read many books and most specifically it led me to read Greg Boyd. I found him insightful and caring and even presenting the Gospel very well.
As I read Greg Boyds books and listened to his sermons I came to understand the primary “lens” in which Greg viewed the world and scripture. Greg’s number one lens in which he viewed the world was a lens that God was a loving God and this was the main reason he held to an Arminian view point. Also Greg was always theologically siding against and debating calvinists because he believed they painted a picture of an unloving God that wanted to strike down sinners and predestine some to Hell. One of Greg’s books is even titled “Repenting of Religion.” He wrote this book because Greg believes a lot a damage done in how people view God has been done by Christians that want to discuss sin in unloving ways. One of Greg’s friends, Rob Bell, that has preached at Greg’s Church wrote a book called “Love wins” and Greg wholeheartedly supports that book
I agree with Rob and Greg that Christians with unloving hearts are very damaging to the Christian faith. I also agree that God is a God of love. (John 3). I have also been to many unsavory Calvinistic churches that want to speak of sin and seldom mention Gods love. Many churches have grown often because condemnation draws a crowd and they misuse “truth” in ways Jesus Christ never would have.
How we use or abuse “truth” from our specific lens is very important. Do we use truth in ways Jesus Christ never would have? Do we view the world in black and white/all or nothing ways with our specific brand of truth (liberal or conservative). Do we not see our own sin as we view truth?… or do we just see the sin of others?
I adhere to a lens in how I view God and scripture that is different from both Greg Boyd and Rob Bell. I see a Gospel that tells me:
We are more sinful and weak than we ever dared to admit and (why Jesus had to die for me) (Part 1)…
We are more loved and accepted than we ever dared to hope (why Jesus was glad to die for me) (Part 2).
Truth can not be abused since I have more in common with other sinners than I have differences.
If the Gospel is applied correctly then truth points MORE at me and LESS at others!
Often the lens in which we view God either angles more toward part 1 or more toward part 2. If we adhere exclusively to part 2 we might be good at reassuring each other of Gods love and how God will work things out. However, this does not give the dynamics required for spiritual or emotional growth. Love is unattached to truth! If we adhere exclusively to part 1, then we discuss sin but we are not drawn to a loving God that came to us while we are still sinners. Truth is stoically detached from love! Both of these angles by themselves leave us stuck and unchanged.
Only with a FULL presentation of the Gospel are the dynamics in place for a change in the motivation and the desire to be a new creation in Jesus Christ. A full presentation of the Gospel makes Jesus “electric” and changes the desires and motivations of the heart from the inside-out.
So as I leave this BLOG topic partially incomplete I leave you with more questions than answers. What is the lens in which you view yourself and others? Do you feel security in your relationships and yourself even though we can all sin and mess up? Are you striving to be something so perfect for the affection of others because of this fear and insecurity? Or do you see yourself as fearfully and wonderfully made? Do you have a lens that only sees a loving God or do you only see a God that exposes our sin? The lens in which you view yourself, others, and God makes a huge difference as we embrace Romans 12:1-2 as an act of worship and try to make our bodies living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God.
A Living Sacrifice
12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
I really work hard to try to articulate and discuss difficult thoughts and topic in just the right way. In the past, I have presented topics on the ampersand of the gospel.. or the ampersand of our faith.
When Martin Luther was starting the reformation and what eventually became the foundation for every protestant denomination today he had a saying “simul justus et peccator” which means I am simultaneously sinful and lost AND I am also just and righteous because of what Christ did for me. He was basically saying the same thing as me when I discuss the ampersand and this is the founding thought I want to talk about again.
The reason I am bringing this up is this what I believe the most basic ingredient for creating an environment for change and growth is to understand the ampersand of the gospel. Understanding the ampersand gives us elasticity in how we can discuss painful thoughts and feelings about ourselves. We don’t have to run from the painful thought and feelings and get into patters where we minimize, deny, and blame others for our junk and sin. We don’t have to hang our heads in shame nor do we lift our heads to boast and continue to sin. We can have deep discussion about our sin without hiding. We are not giving repentance lip service and skirting past the emotional discomfort quickly and easily to get past it. We understand we are children of God that can sometimes do terrible things.
Part of the origin of how elastically we can discuss difficult thoughts and feelings often comes from patterns we have inherited from our families of origin. I am hoping I can pass on to my now adult children and grandchildren this elasticity and understanding of the gospel that took me so long to understand in my own adult life. I hope to have more conversations without getting into black and white/all or nothing thinking but doing this while maintaining the truth of scripture.
Below is something I use as my wife and I do Marriage Rebuilders for couples that are struggling. This is commonly known as the iceberg model and was developed by one of the best Marriage and Family counselors — Virginia Satir. Honestly, I believe this is a model that people people need to consider if they desire to add depth to any relationship.
The iceberg is really an object where only 10% of an iceberg is what you can see. The part of a relationship that you can see is what we call behaviors. However, beneath behaviors are feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and desires. Often we are so stuck trying to “fix” behaviors that we never seek to understand what is beneath the waterline. We never really try to validate thoughts and feelings or understand perceptions, desires, and or core beliefs (false or accurate) that a person might have.
The-Iceberg-Model <— Click Here to See Iceberg Model
So ….I was reading an article about how Christians that label themselves as fundamentalist are 91% more likely to do porn. The article comes from a very credible Christian source and if you ask me I will share the source. I want people to think about what this means. As you consider what the word fundamentalist might mean you would say that they are black and white in their faith. Forbidden fruit is often alluring and powerful thing. What this statistic means is the group most likely to not allow the kids to watch TV, have computer access, do home schooling, etc is also the group most likely to do porn. A group that is highly desirous of having their kids NOT engage in porn is actually one of the most likely to have their kids engage in porn!!!
But the black and white thinking is not exclusively a fundamentalist thing. You may find higher concentrations of black and white thinking in fundamentalist churches… but in the Christian Church this seems to be more common than we think. Well, I consider myself an evangelical Christian and after many years I think I know how this works even in non fundamatalist christian churches. Let me attempt to explain myself.
As a Christians we believe in Truth! And often this truth is focused more on OTHERS behaviors than OUR own heart. If we are black and white in our faith then we are probably most concerned about behaviors and another persons moral performance. In our discussions we never empathize with other peoples thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Listening is not our strong suit and if we do listen we listen with a subtle, overt condemnation regarding someone elses behaviors. We can not process other peoples feelings, thoughts, perceptions, desires without a subtle critical spirit. In the model below can not really process much below the behavioral waterline. Said in a different way, we spend a lot of time fixing another persons behaviors but very little time listening and validating thoughts and feelings beneath the behavioral waterline. We can not come along side others and process anything gray in our black and white world… at least not in an emotionally good way. I believe its possible that many Christians belong to a family system only focused on behaviors and when we do this our emotional and spiritual growth is hindered.
So what I am saying as an evangelical Christian that strives for honesty… is that I know we (Christians) are a part of the problem ,,, but I also believe that a true representation of the Gospel and having a gospel centric Grace narrative is the solution. Feel free to agree or disagree!
The-Iceberg-Model <— Click Here to See Iceberg Model
Think about how you cope with difficult feelings, thoughts, and emotions. People have a strong range of methods we use. TV, eating, sex, drugs. On the more socially acceptable level we might get black and white and self righteous and rather than loving others we get consumed by what is right and wrong. Self righteousness is a very powerful way to cope and operates much like sex and drugs. Or maybe we just get busy around the house rather than have an important discussion. Escapism is less an activity and more of an art form for some of us!
I was in my men’s group one of the wise men in the group stated that at a larger level his sin and problems were more a way to escape from difficult thoughts and feelings more than anything else! In a way, I believe, we have all developed a person inside us that knows how to escape and hide! I call this my survivor man! Survivor man exists to protect the part of me that feels hurt and wounded. He won’t confront anything directly since his whole purpose is to protect you from the pain and difficult thoughts you developed in the past.
I know some people that run and hide from difficult thoughts, emotions, and relationships. Some of them have completely dysfunctional relationships because of this. Some of my friends have multiple broken relationships because of this. These people are running from broken relationships and difficult thoughts and feelings. Escapism techniques are an art form for some of them!
The people that I have as mentors (and friends) in my life are people that are at least aware of this problem… and they are doing their best to not RUN from difficult, thoughts, feelings, and difficult relationships. They are handling them by being emotionally honest about them… and they are allowing emotional honesty in return from others!
Rather than RUNNING from difficult thoughts, feelings, and difficult relationships …. they are RESTORING them!