Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two Gospels in the Communion?

I think talk about 'two gospels' in the Communion is something which bears some careful scrutiny.

First, we need to take into account that 'the gospel' (as told and taught in the New Testament) is a gospel told in different versions (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul ... the writer to the Hebrews, James, John the seer as well?). These variations are not insignificant. It has been observed (though I cannot recall by whom) that the Roman Catholic understanding of the gospel rests more on Matthew than on Paul with much argument and conflict ensuing through the centuries. With respect to the Communion, a claim that there are 'two gospels' needs to check carefully that we are not talking about two versions of the one gospel rather than two gospels.

Secondly, we need to ask when differences in the understanding of the gospel affect fellowship and when they do not. Over the years I have had concerns about what fellow Christians believe to be the content of the gospel - sometimes in Anglican contexts, sometimes in ecumenical evangelical contexts (we use to have lots of vigorous discussion in the Christian Unions when I was a student at uni), sometimes in ministers' fellowships - but I haven't broken fellowship. In hindsight I think this was a very good thing not to do because with patience and listening I have come to new realisations about what the gospel is, including the realisation that my understanding can be improved and that others' understanding can be interpreted differently from my first reactive response. In other words, some differences which at first sight might look like "fellowship breakers" may at second sight not be so, so much care is needed.

Thirdly, we need to keep a sense of proportion. Over in England at the moment the Church of England via its flagship St Paul's Cathedral is taking a huge hit because the authorities in the cathedral (as best I can make out) lost a sense of proportion. In upholding the rules of health and safety they have allowed themselves to look to all the world like the moneychangers in the Temple rather than like Jesus. If our greatest concern about 'two gospels' is (i.e. boils down to) a concern about homosexuals, and if that concern is going to divide a church or the Communion, have we lost our sense of proportion? I think I share most concerns conservatives have about +Gene Robinson's consecration, the blessing of same sex partnerships, and the ordination of people in those relationships, but I (seem to) differ from some (many?) conservative Anglicans in my unwillingness to leave the Anglican church over these matters. For the life of me, I cannot see a good sense of proportion being worked out if I find myself in a new church which is largely defined in its distinctiveness because of what it does not approve about homosexuals.

Now I am pretty sure that some readers here will read all the above and say, Nevertheless, there are two gospels in the Communion today and unless something is done about this, the Communion will divide formally and (eventually) completely.

Yet there is still something to think about in respect of claims about two gospels ... to be continued.

36 comments:

carl jacobs said...

Peter Carrell

With respect to the Communion, a claim that there are 'two gospels' needs to check carefully that we are not talking about two versions of the one gospel rather than two gospels.

Your post is missing a description of the Gospel. It's impossible to discuss the question you listed above unless you first tell us what you consider the Gospel to be. What is an acceptable version of the Gospel? Should we consider the Gnostic gospel to be a different gospel? Why or why not? Should we consider the Mormon Gospel a different gospel? Why or why not? Is the liberal variation of the Gospel different in type from gospels considered to be Non-christian? How much variation in presentation is allowed? When does variation become alteration? These are all doctrinal questions. You can't preempt discussion about the necessary doctrinal boundaries by simply asserting that all liberal/conservative conflicts are adiaphora. That is the very question being argued.

What this means is that all roads in this discussion are eventually going to lead right to doctrinal assertions about the essential content of the Christian faith. That is where conservatives part company with liberals. They each have different and mutually exclusive understandings of the essential content of the Christian faith. Liberals reject content that conservatives deem essential. That's why there can't be unity. The man who rejects essential content has placed himself outside the church. He is not a Brother. He is a fit subject for evangelism.

Liberal Christianity is typically universalist. It rejects the exclusive truth of the Christian faith. It rejects the idea of knowable revelation. It asserts a 'grandfather' image of God's nature that is stripped of holiness and justice and wrath against sin. It rejects the reality of hell and eternal punishment. It rejects the sinful nature of man. It rejects the atonement of the Cross. It rejects the nature and work of Christ. It finds truth and salvation in other religions. In summary it rests upon a profound distortion of Theology Proper, Soteriology, Christology, and Anthropology. Fundamentally it is a works-based counterfeit of legitimate Christianity. That's why conservatives won't have anything to do with it.

To challenge these doctrinal assertions, you have to make doctrinal counter-assertions. You can't just say "Liberals have a different version of the same gospel." You have to explain why specific liberal doctrinal claims do not exceed the allowable limits of the Christian faith. Conservatives say liberal claims do exceed those limits, and that is why conservatives are separating from liberals in droves. They don't see that they have any choice in the matter if they are to remain faithful.

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl
You are raising good questions, and yes, I could have offered, inter alia, a definition of the gospel.

However, what I did do, is point to the gospel as told and taught in the New Testament. Some versions of liberal theology would teach a gospel consistent with Scripture in ways that your version of liberal theology does not.

My general point here is not what the gospel is, but the the notion of two gospels being present in any Christian group is one that raises a number of questions.

Howard Pilgrim said...

I agree with you Peter! The New Testament presents us with a range of understandings of the one gospel, and the groups promulgating those differing views were at times heated in the way they contended for what they considered to be essential to the faith, even to the point of suggesting that some of their rivals were beyond the bounds of fellowship. Nevertheless, they retained their links and eventually assembled a canon of scripture reflecting that diversity. Thanks be to St Jimmy Dunn for this vital insight!

What this means, Carl, is that I will own that my beliefs may be characterised as more liberal than yours, as we both understand the term. What I will not accept is that they are part of of some homogeneous doctrinal and spiritual entity you may accurately describe as "liberalism". Nor will I accept that you, or any other Christian, is entirely a product of some unified entity we might call "conservatism". Of course we are influenced by those who have formed us (a tautology) but every such camp contains a spectrum of views.

The unity of the Body of Christ lies in this, that we testify to the transforming impact of the proclamation of Christ crucified upon our lives, and recognise those impacts in one another. My question is this ... does that recognition arise intuitively, spirit-to-spirit, or does it involve a check-list of inviolable principles (of whatever doctrinal stamp)? This is where my own bias comes in: if you opt for the latter approach, I am going to doubt your grasp on the one true gospel, that is on its transformative process rather than its content. You in turn may be inclined to write this point off as all a part of the liberal package, rather than a recognition of how the one gospel has formed and transformed Christ's Body throughout the ages.

Either way, I think Peter is calling us to recognize that the God-given reality of the Church's existence, especially in its Anglican embodiment, is far greater, and more subtle, than all our doctrinal distinctions can capture. Or should that be the apostle Peter, the one who was forced by God to reconsider his sacred boundaries?

Rosemary said...

Carl said .. You can't just say "Liberals have a different version of the same gospel."

Peter said .. “Some versions of liberal theology would teach a gospel consistent with Scripture in ways that your version of liberal theology does not.”

I disagree Peter, I think you’ve just said what Carl points out you CANNOT say, but I can’t wait to hear what those ‘some’ versions are. Carl has been clear, could you now please be clear and not waffle, otherwise you and others like you are the cause of the proliferation of agony that continues. We're back to the Michael Poon article.

carl jacobs said...

Howard Pilgrim

The unity of the Body of Christ lies in this, that we testify to the transforming impact of the proclamation of Christ crucified upon our lives, and recognise those impacts in one another.

The Mormons would agree and demand unity. So also would the Gnostics whom Paul condemned. Not to mention Pelagius. And Marcion. And every other false techer who has walked the surface of the Earth. Yours is a prescription of unity through the obliteration of the concept of heresy.

Please answer me this. Do we have believe in the physical resurrection of Christ to proclaim this 'transforming impact' or may we consider it the stuff of myth and metaphor? Do we have to believe He is God come in the flesh, or may we consider Him to be a good teacher - a man like anyone else who is very much dead?

carl

Anonymous said...

Carl,

There is a series of posts earlier on this site where Peter asks, "What is the gospel?" I could not find Peter giving his answer. Maybe he has yet to conclude that series.

Dave

http://anglicandownunder.blogspot.com/2008/08/what-is-gospel.html
http://anglicandownunder.blogspot.com/2010/01/what-is-gospel.html

Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, Peter and Howard, for your eirenic statements about the Gospel being that which encourages all of us in the Anglican Communion to discern what is, and what is not, inimical to the 'Faith once delivered to the Saints'. In this All-Saints-tide, we need to remember that what the Saints and Martyrs strove for was not some moral perfection, but for belief in the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who has 'set us free' from the bondage of our sins.

This is the Good News (Gospel) for which they gave up their lives. All other matters have to be seen in their proper context. As Peter so appropriately reminds us; If we are determined to peel off from the Communion on the issue of, say, homosexuality, is this very different from the issue of the Old Testament purity laws of hand-washing, circumcision, isolation of women during menstruation, etc.?

Human beings are naturally sinful. God has provided a remedy, which does not depend on our holiness, but rather, on the holiness of God - as shown to us in the life of Jesus Christ. A good look at the 1662 Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion rite ought to dispel any idea of our incipient human purity.

For those wanting the 'Law' to put us right with God didn't work in Jesus' day. Neither will it in ours
What is needed is a little humility and a lot less hubris in our judge-ment of the morality of others - see the parable of the 'Publican and the Sinner'.

We are all in this together. The Church is not holier than the World - just in a better position (because of the power of the Gospel it has been commissioned to preach and live out in the world) to begin to understand what the Sacrifice of Christ actually means for the salvation of ALL the world, not only for those who count themselves to be 'The Righteous'.

Anonymous said...

"Nevertheless, they retained their links and eventually assembled a canon of scripture reflecting that diversity. Thanks be to St Jimmy Dunn for this vital insight!"

Many years on from his book (1977), I am increasingly convinced that Dunn exaggerated the degree of theological diversity in the NT. An aquaintance of mine who studied in Durham, England told me that Sheridan Gilley, a church historian there and colleague of Dunn's, put it to him that Dunn was really following 19th century liberal German Christology in his view of Jesus, and that is certainly how Dunn's book on Christology in the NT has seemed to me: a very contorted attempt to "prove" that incarnational theology isn't in the NT (except in John, which is "late", of course...). I never found Dunn's handling of Phil 2, Rom 10 and Hebrews 1 etc convincing. So too with his 'Parting of the Ways'. Did Dunn end up a unitarian?
Martin

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Dave,
In the first of those posts I give this answer,

"But what is the gospel? Intriguingly, Scripture itself offers a complex answer to the question. Reading Paul we can quickly conclude something like, ‘our sins separate us from God, but the death of Christ overcomes that separation for those who believe in Christ.’ Reading the Gospels we head in slightly different ways between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel. The Synoptics lean towards, ‘follow Jesus in order to be within the sphere of God’s rule, with promise of life to come beyond judgement’, while John emphasises ‘believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God in order to have eternal life.’ I suggest each version of the gospel is ultimately the same, and the variations enable us both to enter more deeply into the experience of being a gospel person, and to be flexible in how we present the gospel in different cultures and contexts."

And this,

"Another form, truer and closer to Scripture, is this: ‘God was complete in God’s own being yet out of love created human beings to enlarge the communion of God. Exercising the God-given gift of choice, human beings have distanced themselves from God and broken communion. The gospel message is that Christ dying on the cross and rising to new life enables communion to be restored: separation is overcome, barriers between God and humanity are broken down.’ On this view ‘sin’ is at the core of the definition– the separation factor- and the cross is essential to restoration of communion. Also, God is the beginning and the end of the gospel. Our response to the gospel is not about our fulfilment but about the life of God filling us: Christ in us and we in Christ. This understanding of the deep structure to the gospel is keyed to words such as ‘harmony’, ‘fellowship’, ‘union’, and ‘communion.’"

In what way have I failed to answer the question, What is the gospel?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Martin,
Jimmy Dunn worships and preaches as a trinitarian Christian.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Thank you for your clear statement of the gospel: that God saves us and not we ourselves.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
Anything I say may be 'waffle' if it is going to be treated as Carl treats what Howard says above. Howard offers a version of the gospel, within a liberal approach to theology, which I fail to see is objectionable. Namely, Howard understands the gospel to be about the transformative work of Christ in our lives. If others believe that too (Mormons etc) that does not of itself undermine what Howard claims. Howard's belief is only similar to (say) Mormons if we ask other questions of his theology (e.g. do you believe that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Three-in-One?).

There will be liberals who preach the gospel and liberals who do not (the latter, likely in my view, to subtract something from the gospel). But I have come across conservatives who preach the gospel and conservatives who do not preach the gospel (likely, in my experience, because they add something to the gospel).

I am afraid, to not be at all waffly, that I do not take it for granted that if Carl says something cannot be so then it cannot be so. That would seem to ascribe an infallible status to the pronouncements of Carl which is at variance with my reformed and protestant convictions that no human is infallible!

Anonymous said...

"Jimmy Dunn worships and preaches as a trinitarian Christian."

Well, I hope so, whatever he makes of Chalcedon. Dunn's 'Christology in the Making' seemed to dismiss the pre-existence of Christ. I found Gordon Fee's book on Pauline Christology much more satisfying.
Martin

Howard Pilgrim said...

Carl, you seem determined to shove me into some pre-determined cubbyholes. Nevertheless, some responses ...

1. "Yours is a prescription of unity through the obliteration of the concept of heresy." Rather, a recognition that those who are overconfident in their own ability and duty to identify heresy in others are sect-builders rather than Church-builders.

2. "Do we have to believe in the physical resurrection of Christ to proclaim this 'transforming impact' or may we consider it the stuff of myth and metaphor?" Both-and rather than Either-or. That is, belief in Christ's resurrection, no make that experience of Christ's risen presence in the midst of his Church, is the very heart of the gospel proclamation that forms and transforms that Body, but whether his resurrected body, the first-born of what Paul describes as "the spiritual body", can properly be termed "physical" is not at all clear, and surely not a test of orthodoxy.
As for myth and metaphor, surely you must recognise that all theology has metaphorical and mythic dimensions, including that found in holy scripture. How can finite humans speak of God in any other way, or receive any other revelation of God's being? "Mythical and Metaphoric" does not have to mean man-made.

3. "Do we have to believe He is God come in the flesh, or may we consider Him to be a good teacher - a man like anyone else who is very much dead?" What a conjunction of possibilities! Why should these three separate propositions be considered a simple disjunction - both these two or else that one ...?

Must rush!

Father Ron Smith said...

What an exciting debate on what is, and is not, essential to faith in the Jesus Christ of the Gospel! I must offer my congratulations, Peter, on your managing this thread so well.

Joshua Bovis said...

Peter,

You wrote:
"With respect to the Communion, a claim that there are 'two gospels' needs to check carefully that we are not talking about two versions of the one gospel rather than two gospels".

I believe that the way we "check carefully" is by holding up our gospel with the Apostlic Gospel, that is the gospel that was believed and taught by the Apostles.

This is not hard to do, for example our Apostle Paul when writing to the Galatian Christians says that there is only one Gospel (Galatians 1:6-9) and in his letter to the Christians at Rome, he says that the Gospel is in fact God's Gospel and he also states that the Gospel centers on Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1-5). There are also a plethora of passages that define the Gospel so that we can have no doubts as to what the Gospel is.

What I am getting at, (though probably rather poorly perhaps) is that the Gospel is theologically defined and that Scripture I think is consistently clear that there is only one Gospel. The appeal to unbelievers may be different, but the essence of the gospel

In another comment you wrote:
"But what is the gospel? Intriguingly, Scripture itself offers a complex answer to the question".

Respectfully brother, I must disagree. The Bible calls people to come to Christ using different motivations:
i. fear of death; fear of judgement;

ii. relieve the burden of your guilt and shame;

iii. appeal to the beauty of the truth in itself;

iv. satisfaction of unfulfilled longings (woman at the well);

v. desire for freedom (a sense that one is a slave, driven, under something one cannot get out, but God can free you from this!);
vi.attractiveness to the grace and love of Jesus

So I would say that the complexity is in the motivations or appeals to believe the gospel, not in the essence or substance of the gospel.

in Christ
Joshua

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua,
If the gospel is so clearly defined in Scripture how come we have so many debates over what the gospel is (for/against Tom Wright; Roman v Reformed; Eastern v Western Christianity)?

Rightly you accept that there is complexity about movitvations re the gospel. But does that not mean that the content of the gospel is complex as it speaks to different points of need in humanity?

Anonymous said...

"...whether his resurrected body, the first-born of what Paul describes as "the spiritual body", can properly be termed "physical" is not at all clear, and surely not a test of orthodoxy."

I don't think so. The soma pneumatikon of the Risen Lord doesn't have the limitations of our bodies, but it is material, not immaterial (otherwise it is menaingless and we are essentially back in the Greek world of shades in Hades). 1 Cor 15 is pretty clear on this: 'If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain.' Gary Habermas is very good on this.
The Resurrection is first of all something thst happened to the crucifed flesh of Jesus, not the subjective faith of his disciples (Bultmann's elementary error, repeated by many since).

Martin

Joshua Bovis said...

I left out a word. Sorry about that!

What I am getting at, (though probably rather poorly perhaps) is that the Gospel is theologically defined and that Scripture I think is consistently clear that there is only one Gospel. The appeal to unbelievers may be different, but not the essence of the gospel. different.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua,
I agree that there is only one gospel (so, Paul in Galatians).

It would be interesting to tease out further what 'theologically defined' means. Is 'theologically' here something which permits debate and discussion (as we have engaged over the centuries in doing re the meaning of the Epistle to the Romans)?

The 'essence of the gospel' is also important to talk about. Could we all agree on the essence, say, that the gospel is about the transformation Jesus brings to our lives through his death and resurrection? (Something like that, I suggest, helps capture the essence of the gospel both as expressed in the four gospels themselves and in the gospel as taught by Paul).

Bryden Black said...

1. I don’t know if bloggers are acquainted with what I sense is one Stephen Sykes’ more significant books, The Identity of Christianity: Theologians and the Essence of Christianity from Schleiermacher to Barth (SPCK, 1984). I refer to him because he makes a good case for the inevitably contested nature of Christianity’s identity. There are multiple reasons for this, as well as false conclusions - and correct ones! - to be drawn. Partly there are always questions of history to be grappled with: the sheer flow of space-time and human cultures within history mean things shift, and as they shift so interactions and therefore debates are set up.

Another angle would highlight “the unity and diversity in the New Testament” (JDG Dunn) canon itself, as already mentioned. Though I too sense Jimmy Dunn overplays the “diversity hand” somewhat. All the same, to lay people I do say myself, “the NT has Four Gospels within it, not only one - even if it does not have 24” [yes, yes; I know well that Paul has his developing sense of ‘Gospel’, as does Hebrews, as does the Apocalypse ...], which tries to suggest a similar thing, even as it clearly implies there are limits. For even if the very nature of the Christian Faith necessitates debate surrounding its “essence” (so-called by 19th C folk), there will also be boundaries and/or parameters to that very debate - although what they are and where they lie will also be something of a feature of the debate itself. As Sykes says, both methodological questions and matters of substance go hand in hand.

The description of 19th C theologians’ search for “the essence” of Christianity itself skews the debate in a very particular way, and in ways that are frankly unhelpful - once we see what Sykes is also up to in this book. One of his key points surrounds the question of continuity. For talk of an “essence” always tends to abstract from both the history of the Christian faith and the sheer textual nature of how the Faith is conveyed in the first place. Rather, continuity makes us face the textual and historical aspects of the Faith directly. In which case, we find ourselves saying things like: “As a piece of trinitarian language, hypostasis is merely an item of linguistic debris knocked from Hellenistic philosophy by collision with Yahweh”, the God and Father of Jesus Christ. For the distinction made between hypostasis and ousia gives us “a creative disruption of Hellenic interpretation of reality, which [enables] the triune God’s peculiar reality to become speakable” (quoting Robert Jenson both times).

Andrew Reid said...

Hi there,

The following article on the occasion of Reformation Day might clarify some definitions around the Gospel and what is at stake if there are two Gospels.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/10/28/abandon-the-reformation-abandon-the-gospel/

Bryden Black said...

2. So; when confronted by, say, today’s debates that seem to be dominating the AC, our questions may take these kinds of form: when we stretch the word “marriage” to cover now same-sex couples, are we stretching this specific form of human relationship too far? For the word “stretch” has a ring of continuity/discontinuity about it. The debate then becomes a matter of what sorts of stretch count and what sorts go too far: both methodology and substance go together. Clearly, if it’s a question of such indices as ‘affection’, ‘loyalty’, ‘fidelity’, ‘companionship’, then “marriage” appears to many Christians, as it does to many others in western society, to be indeed stretchable, legitimately. But what of the “end” of marriage that is procreation, the reproduction of the human species via what many societies have hitherto seen as the core human family unit (and by that I do not mean “Happy Days” 1950's sit com!!)? Clearly two people of the same gender are literally sterile. Enter however a third party ...?? Yet if that’s the case, then what of those criteria listed a moment ago? Are they stretched too far? Yet again, what of the prevailing western and increasingly global sense that we humans may readily separate sexual union from reproduction thanks to contraceptive technology - and this in heterosexual relationships, let alone same gender ones? Does not this sense also pave the way for granting more continuity between what we’d hitherto seen as heterosexual versus homosexual relationships? What might we make in the final analysis of the once logical triangular package of marriage, sex and children, when each side of that triangle in our contemporary world has been severed in contemporary thinking and activity? Sex without children and vice versa, sex without marriage - and vice versa! And certainly children without marriage and vice versa.

However, there is yet another element to be entered into the specifically Christian theology of marriage: its sacramental nature as signifying not only that union between Christ and his Church but also as reflecting the very Imago Dei as per Gen 1:26-28. Here I have to confess the stretch goes too far and breaks IMHO. True; so long as we keep any transcendental reference out of the coupling of any two humans together, there seems to be no reason why they may not reflect such traits in their relationship as those already given earlier. Enter however any anthropology that is NOT purely this-worldly, one where creation itself is ever and always on fire with God’s Glory (√† la Gerard Manley Hopkins say), then ONLY a differentiated union of human genders may authentically, in their mutual and complementary interrelationship, adequately reflect the triune God of the Christian Faith. Gay ‘marriage’ tragically and ironically falls short, in almost the same way as a functional modalism falls short of true Trinitarianism. Which “falling short” is just another way of saying “stretches too far - and snaps, losing continuity”: the God and Father of Jesus, Israel’s Yahweh, once again collides with a contemporary culture, to make necessary distinctions; “spouse” is not a synonym of “partner”, not within Christian discourse anyway.

Perhaps after all there IS something essential at stake in our current AC debates ... But that presupposes fully orbed Trinitarian matters are not merely arcane, but remain the grammatical key to Christian Faith in its entirety, even in the 21st C.

Joshua Bovis said...

Hi Peter,
Rightly you accept that there is complexity about movitvations re the gospel. But does that not mean that the content of the gospel is complex as it speaks to different points of need in humanity?

I would say no. I don't think the gospel is complex, rather it is profoundly simple and simply profound. What comes to mind is 1 Timothy 1:15
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Chirst Jesus came into the world to save sinners,.

I am encouraged Peter that you also agree that there is only one gospel. And the great thing about this gospel is that:
1. It is God's gospel
2. God has revealed the gospel to us
3. Because of the above we don't have to use guess work or speculation to work out what the gospel is.

Theologically defined means that the gospel is defined by the one whose gospel it is - God's. It is defined by the one who is the substance of the Gospel- Christ. And is defined by the one whom uses the Scriptures to reveal it to us - the Holy Spirit.

Could we all agree on the essence, say, that the gospel is about the transformation Jesus brings to our lives through his death and resurrection? (Something like that, I suggest, helps capture the essence of the gospel both as expressed in the four gospels themselves and in the gospel as taught by Paul).

Peter, while I certainly agree that the gospel transforms us through his death and resurrection; sinners are transformed into saints; enemies are reconciled to God and become adopted. Hellbound rebels become Heaven bound heirs. Is this not the fruit of the gospel rather than it's essence?

in Christ
Joshua

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua,
Can we divide the 'fruit' of the gospel from its 'essence'?

The gospel is not an abstract truth (cf. Bryden Black's comment above) but a life-changing truth. If we never saw lives changed by the gospel would we have reason to think the gospel message was true?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden
I appreciate your Trinitarian perspective being brought to bear here, especially the way in which it warns against dividing some issues off from other issues as thought the 'robe' has seams which can be unpicked!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew,
I think we can appreciate the vitality and cruciality of the Reformation, without undermining noises such as certain recent theologians have been making (noted in the article you link to) while having a new appreciation of the elements in Roman Catholic theology which bear faithful and fruitful witness to the gospel, concomitantly reminding all of the (legitimate, Scriptural based) diversity of the one gospel.

I am not as sanguine as the author is that nothing has changed in Roman theology since the Reformation. That kind of thinking scarcely does justice to the waxing and waning influence of Augustine, Aquinas among the ancients, and to the in and out of favour of more recent theologians such as Du Lubac and Rahner. it possibly does not do much justice to the influence of Augustine on Luther!

Rosemary said...

There is a lot of ‘chat’ here about the ‘transforming’ power of the Gospel, and that without that visibly ‘transforming’ power, no one would believe said Gospel has any lasting power. I hope I’ve summed that up correctly.

But what is that transformation? We can’t be talking about people becoming ‘good’ .. after all we believe there is no one good, no not one, so what is that transformation. May I suggest that the old fashioned idea of ‘turning’ 180 degrees and following Jesus is that transformation.

I think the discussion so far gives the impression that said ‘transformation’ is of bad people’s lives turning into good and productive lives, whereas the reality is that good and productive lives have been transformed by JESUS. That in acknowledging that He gave His life for them, forgives them for the fact that they’ve lived all these years without Him [sin] .. and now turning and following Him. They do nothing without checking in with the ‘Boss’ .. He is Lord of their lives. That is the transformation, they live their lives IN and through Him. Most of them don’t even discuss doctrine or theology!!! So what is the Gospel that has transformed those lives, which transformed my own. I think it’s the ‘truth’ which gives me hope.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Joshua wrote, "I am encouraged Peter that you also agree that there is only one gospel. And the great thing about this gospel is that:
1. It is God's gospel
2. God has revealed the gospel to us
3. Because of the above we don't have to use guess work or speculation to work out what the gospel is."

To all of which I give a hearty AMEN! However, it seems that this that this thread has been all about whether Christian candour must lead us to add one further point ...

4. While finding it easy to be clear about the gospel in its impact on their own lives and immediate circles of fellowship, Christians have always found it difficult to agree with one another, across the whole range of the Church, about their understanding of that simplicity, and this difficulty goes right back into the New Testament period and its scriptures.

Or putting that more simply, to line up next to your first three points,

4. Diversity of understanding seems to be God-given and not necessarily a bad thing!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
Yes with a small but important reservation to all you say.

The reservation is this: whatever the diverse contents of the gospel, Jesus is centre, front and back of it: the gospel is exclusively about Jesus as transformer, the way, the truth and the life. In some parts of the global church, sometimes more noticeably in the global Anglican Communion, one such as myself could be excused for thinking that commitment to Jesus in that way re the gospel is negotiable.

Thus my reservation re diversity is that there are limits to that diversity.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rosemary,
That transformation is definitely from not being 'in Christ' to being 'in Christ.' I would go further and say it is about 'bad' people being transformed into 'good' people since I think it would not be faithful witness to Scripture to deny (e.g.) Paul's teaching re maturity of Christians, Christ at work within us (but it would also be unfaithful to teach perfection can be achieved this side of glory).

The more I read the gospels, the more I appreciate that Jesus' transformative power is about making us whole people, in Paul's language, 'new creations'. While each of us needs to be put right with God through Christ as a first step in healing (for we have all gone astray), yet each of us needs to be made whole in different ways because we each bear different wounds: the paralytic is released from paralysis, the blind receive sight, the lepers are not only healed but brought in from the margins to the centre of society and so forth.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Bryden, I find most of what you have written in these two comments very much to the point. make that two points, given that your second post takes us back to the doctrine of marriage. On that topic, I find one dimension lacking. It seems to me that the Judeo-Christian ideals of marriage have at all times been developed in a creative tension with changing human experience and the realities of family life in diverse social structures.

Marriage exists in some form in every society, and those forms vary across different cultures and times. The ideal models drawn from the creation stories and from the relation between Christ and the Church both critique and are adapted to those social givens. This would lead me to question the assumption that there is something called Christian Marriage as opposed to a Christian obligation to live out a Christian ideal of marriage. This works itself out in various ways within scripture, including its seeming toleration of polygamy.

One further point for discussion. When I read Paul's discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians, it seems to me that he is giving instruction on how his audience should conduct themselves in relation to the social reality of marriage within their own social context. In a different social context, presenting different realities of family life, his application of deep biblical principles might well be different. Ours certainly must be, to the extent that our experience of marriage is changed from that of ancient Greco-Roman society. I am talking about social differences here, not whether one society is more degenerate than another. What do you think?

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Howard for the response(s). As to what I might think ...

I did not attempt in what was already a long blog comment (2 comments!) anything like a comprehensive theology of Christian marriage.

True; social conditions have and do and will change - which is why Sykes uses the criterion of “continuity” when seeking to establish “identity”. Here I also find Jesus helpful, when in Mk 10 & Matt 19 he goes back to Genesis when his opponents engage him in debate. For him, what should be the index of continuity across time/societies is not just the “ideal” but rather the reality of the Image of God; at least, that is one key aspect of the debate, as I read it.

You mention 1 Cor - a good test case overall re much on this thread. For again and again there is the question of “bodies” to the fore. Indeed, I suspect that one key difficulty Paul faced in Corinth was a myriad of conflicting views precisely over this basic dimension of human being; and his Letter is having to establish his counter proposal over against these many different social views and practices, all of which deal with the “body” differently. Indeed, there is considerable “social context” here! For what the Gospel “transforms” is precisely our understanding and therefore our activity through the bodily, both individually, relationally and collectively. All of which is predicated upon Jesus’ crucified body and its subsequent transformation by resurrection in the Spirit, which impacts personal and corporate (pun intended) ethics.

Lastly, briefly, you mention polygamy. My own experience in Africa naturally brings this topic up too. Properly this is a multidimensional discussion, to do with power, welfare, economics, as well as such immediate things as sex and children and ‘family’! What intrigues me though is how western societies are today increasingly following down the same path - with sequential polygamy/polyandry ... with impoverishment often too (divorce proves costly on all fronts). Yet, while God is surely patient and compassionate in his time, Jesus would I suspect refer both African Christians and their cultures, and late western ones, to precisely Mk 10 & Matt 19. For much in Roman culture, African cultures, and contemporary western ones mars/defaces the Image in which we men and women are created.

Joshua Bovis said...

Hi Peter,

Can we divide the 'fruit' of the gospel from its 'essence'?

If the essence of the Gospel is about as you put it:

"about the transformation Jesus brings to our lives through his death and resurrection"

then I think we would need to do:
1. Upack what transformation is
2. If we are to transform, we would need to answer the questions;
a. What do we need to be transformed from?
b. What do we need to be transformed into?
c. What does Jesus death achieve?
d. How does Jesus death achieve what it achieves?

The concern I have about the definition that you have given; (not that I am saying that there is no transformation, which I hope I made clear a few posts back) is it seems to downplay sin,our inability to stand before a righteous and holy God, repentance, the atonement.And it raises more questions due to the generality of your definition.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Joshua
The key question is whether we are talking about 'my definition' or 'Scripture's definition'. Taking the whole range of Jesus' action in changing people's lives through the New Testament, 'transformation' seems a fair term. It is also one which includes acknowledgement of sin, repentance, change of direction, following Jesus rather than self, other gods, etc, being accounted holy by God (and accepted by Jesus when meeting and eating with him in person), all predicated on the decisive event of the cross and resurrection. I think I have consistently attempted to talk about 'transformation' as a word to sum up what is in Scripture re the gospel, not to generally describe the gospel apart from Scripture.

The great challenge for theologians is to bear witness to the whole counsel of God in Scripture.

Father Ron Smith said...

"The great challenge for theologians is to bear witness to the whole counsel of God in Scripture".

- Peter Carrell -

And I would add:

"and also to the counsel of God as experienced in the Listening Church, today".