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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
Summary Point: Be good at time outs (discipline) but be great at time ins.
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
Summary Point: Screen time in today’s world can not be avoided, but we must have real relationship to flourish!
I Love You,
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.”
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.
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.