Friday, November 02, 2007

the agenda of surprise...

Recently I came to a surprising conclusion.

While 'Evangelical' is a loaded word with uncomfortable connections with narrow fundamentalism, there is a central construct of evangelicalism that is essential for me. That is the importance and centrality of the 'inspired word of God' as a guide for faith and Christian living.

I could be open to major misunders-tanding here -neither wanting to appear critical, judgemental or an evangelical of the nutter variety - but I think the problem I have is that 'We're not evangelical enough!!

I am increasingly conscious of how disposable and 'off pat' phrases like salvation, heaven, gospel, righteousness, holiness, kingdom, evangelism and of course mission have become. Used like glaced cherries on iced cakes, because what is an iced cake without a glaced cherry! The trouble is I've never liked glaced cherries, I generally spit them out, now I don't even consider them!

I wonder if we have become lazy with our exegesis *, our understanding of scripture; in it's place a diluted form of understanding shaped not by scripture but a 'pass the parcel' form of theology akin to Chinese whispers that results not in deep nuggets of truth but glaced cherries waiting to be spat politely out!

I could be open to major misunderstanding here -neither wanting to appear critical, judgemental or an evangelical of the nutter variety - but I think the problem I have is that 'We're not evangelical enough!!' Let's do the exegesis properly and cut out the 'Chinese whispers' and re-discover the task of the church in God's creation.


* extensive and critical interpretation of an authoritative text


Anonymous said...

Just trying to get a handle on where you are coming from here! By 'not evangelical enough' and 'Chinese whispers' am I right in thinking that you feel the Church has been guilty of reducing the gospel to a few simple generalisations rather than the depth that it truly contains?

If so then I'd agree! However, how do we break free of the cycle of poor exegesis when seminaries like WBC continue to teach its students to perpetuate the 'Chinese whispers'?

Stephen said...

I am not sure it's about poor exegesis so much as it is about uncomfortable exegesis. It's not very scientific but, for example, I would guess that most people would quote Matthew's version of the beatitides (chapter 5) before they would Luke's (chapter 6). We are comfortable with the idea of spiritual poverty and God's concern for all of us who are spiritually poor, but take Luke 6 on its own (which in any case would be poor exegesis) and there is no choice but to accept God's bias for the physically poor. Given that hardly anyone in our congregations is actually poor by world standards that makes that difficult to preach without spreading guilt around.

The arguments get a bit circular here because we come back to mission being about Kingdom now as well as Kingdom not yet. Guttierez comments, not surprisingly, that "God's preferential love for the poor... is because they are living in an inhuman situation that is contrary to God's will." But if you're not one of those then what is Jesus saying to you?

It is uncomfortable because it means we need to embrace the reality that the gospel is subversive in every kingdom that is not The Kingdom. It is easier to talk about heaven than it is about transforming lives now and communities now - but the answer is, of course, all of the above.

I have argued elsewhere that we need to reclaim the labels. It's not that we're not evangelical enough so much as we've allowed the term to become tarnished and now we're afraid of it.

I can't comment on other "seminaries" but I would challenge the assertion that WBC alumni have been taught "to perpetuate the Chinese whispers" - I for one, but I think others would agree, am just trying to get to grips with what living a Jesus lifestyle really means, and how to communicate that both on and off the platform...

...And I'm preaching from Luke 6 tomorrow so hopefully the reality will match the rhetoric! Thanks, as ever, for being a catalyst for my own thinking - which, I think, is all I ever really wanted from a WBC tutor!


Anonymous said...

You made me think there Stephen. Maybe I am being harsh on the WBC and others, but my basis for that is that I see few Army officers, or indeed many others, teaching the radical, uncomfortable message that we see Jesus living.

Whilst I haven't been through college yet, I know that this is something that I struggle with myself as I lead as an Envoy!

Gordon said...

Thanks Graeme..

Just back from the congress! - having spent probably a 1000 miles on a round road trip with one of the NT tutors; and having daily conversations with the OT module leader - I'd say I think you were right when you suggested taht you were a little harsh on WBC!!

My point is that poor exegesis is an exegesis that is assumed without context - that happens even with those whose agenda is that of the 'radical, uncomfortable message' of Jesus living.

I think you identify teh issue - but the fault for a lack of discipline in ongoing learning can't be laid at WBC's feet.It'll be interesting to see what people who read teh Rubicon when it gets posted there in a week or two.

Thanks also STephen as ever - I miss our discussions. Graeme I'll look forward to you arriving and having teh discussions with you!!

Anonymous said...

Sounds great, and I know that there are some good tutors at the college.

I do think though that for all the forward thinkers that we have in the Army today, the ones searching for what it really means to be God's people for this age, we have many others who have little or no interest in anything that would challenge their comfortable faith. I've seen this in the past and present, where good faithful Salvationists seem to be satisfied with simply living out their lives without rocking the boat!

Looking forward to the conversations as well Gordon!

Gordon said...

Thanks G

Look out for a One Day Conference in January called 'Incarnate' the details will be sent out pretty soon - I think you'll find that WBC is doing more than you have percieved in terms of what you say!

Anonymous said...

Sounds interesting Gordon! Think I'll try to get up there for that one.