The false gospel we don’t talk about

When we think of false gospels, a couple of common ones that raise to the top are the false gospel of works based acceptance and the prosperity gospel. In both cases, the gospel is false because our hope and trust is anchored in something other than the completed work of Christ. And let’s be clear, this doesn’t mean that perpetrators of false gospels don’t acknowledge Jesus and his sacrificial work on our behalf. In fact, you’ll find they most likely do. For the most part, they will acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God who came in the flesh and atoned for our sins without which there is no reconciliation to the Father. They will even talk about grace and forgiveness.

However, what makes the gospel false is when acceptance and approval by God is placed in something other than Christ. This is crucial because Christianity is Christianity because of what God has done through his Son, because of God’s singular plan for redemption based on his promises and work. That God made all creation good but it plunged headlong into sin due to the first man and woman’s disobedience, he began a work starting with Genesis 3:15 to rescue lost humanity from its disconnected and downcast position. When Jesus, quoting the prophet Isaiah, said, “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind”  he means HE is the only one through whom lost humanity can have redemption. The whole Old Testament pointed to his ultimate victory over sin and death, requiring that belief rest in him as the fulfiller of all promises (2 Cor. 1:20).

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Heb. 9:6)

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. (Heb. 9:23-24)

Continue reading

Advertisements

There is only one Jesus

In these times of racial tension and political polarization that has engulfed the mood of the church, I increasingly noticed references to Jesus as belonging to a particular affiliation: white Jesus, black Jesus or American Jesus. Typically, it’s to repudiate a cultural appropriation of Jesus that aligns him with particular causes whether it be racial or political and to embrace a Jesus that can speak to our ethnic identity.

Now, I get that cultural captivity is deserving of critique. I understand that when people use these terms it’s more of an indictment of cultural and political impositions on the work and person of Christ that has reduced him to a god of ideological fulfillment.  I do think that legitimate frustration is warranted when Jesus is made into the likeness of particular interests.

However, the problem with repudiating these myopic tendencies with an adjectival Jesus does nothing to really mitigate the problem of a marginalized Jesus. In fact, I think it reduces him further and makes him too small.

There is only one Jesus

There is only one Jesus in whom and through whom creation was made and to whom it all points. He was with God and is God (John 1:1-4; Col 1:15-18)

There is only one Jesus who responded to the Father’s will to call creatures to himself so that God will be their God and they will be his people. (Ex. 7:6; John 10:14-16)

There is only one Jesus who voluntarily left his heavenly abode, became fully human like us to become the obedient sacrifice for us so that all who trust in him would live. This one Jesus removed the most powerful stain of sin on humanity by bearing it on a cross and gives life through his resurrection. (Phil 2:6-8; Col 2:13-15)

There is only one Jesus who said, “Come unto to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” And this rest served as the backbone of survival for too many years, through too many tears of injustice and marginalization. This one Jesus offers hope to the hopeless through trials and pains of this life (Matt. 11:28; Heb. 10:32-35)

There is only one Jesus who is building his church according to the will of the Father that comprises every tongue, tribe and nation, has progressed under his sovereign rule and will continue to forge ahead across the globe. This one Jesus unites his people through his reconciling work by breaking down the walls of division that ethnic hostilities have erected (Eph. 2:13-16; Rev 7:9)

There is only one Jesus who can transform cold and prejudicial hearts and transplant the desire to love even our enemies if we are truly united to him. (John 13:24-35; Phil. 2:13)

There is only one Jesus who not only made the world but overcomes it and promises to one day come and make it right again. He is the anchor in which any reconciliation can be found. (John 16:33)

This one Jesus is bigger than our ethnic alignments and political affiliations. He is bigger than our racial infractions and divides. His work is grander than any scheme concocted to subjugate, malign, segregate despite man’s pitiful efforts to shrink him down to size of our myopic visions.

So instead of pointing to a white Jesus or black Jesus or American Jesus or any other special interest Jesus, let’s point to the one Jesus who has the power and authority to help us out of our tribal mess.

 

Another question: on being woke and Christian

I’ve been pecking away little by little on a follow up to my last post, Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to My White Evangelical Church. It occurred to me that there are some more questions I’ve been chewing on but didn’t get out in that post. But I also wanted to parse out the concerns I raise from real interest and needs with respect to Christian engagement with issues of social justice, for what it’s worth. My goal with all these questions is not to criticize for the sake of criticism and it’s certainly not to dismiss legitimate concerns. I wish to honestly evaluate if how we are going about the task of racial reconciliation is counterproductive to the cause of Christ’s kingdom.

In the meantime, Darrell Harrison over at Just Me Thinking wrote this fairly piercing piece, How Woke Theology is Hurting the Black Church. The heart of his concern is that present day social justice movement efforts are subordinating, if not undermining, the root of a Christian response to the ills of this world–that is, the need for redemption and forgiveness of sins through Christ. Highlighting the work and influence of James Cone, a noted Liberation theologian who Harrison believes is captivating the mood of the current discourse, Harrison writes;

The problem with “woke theology” is it emphasizes a teleology of Christianity that is one-dimensional. It does this by reducing Christianity to what Cone described as “worldly theology”. In other words, a theology whose primary raison d’etre has less to do with the spiritual redemption of a sinful people, that is, the world entire, and more with the corporeal redemption of a particular ethnic people, to whom salvation is viewed in terms of, as Cone stated, “the affirmation of black community that emancipates black people from white racism.”

A recurring thought in the black theology of James Cone is Jesus as the divine “liberator” of black people from the scourge of white oppression. It is a view which, in my mind, begs the question: why does Cone see the God of Christianity – Jesus Christ – as this great liberator and not Allah? Or the Hindu triumvirate of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva? Or the Buddha? Or any other religious deity? The answer is simple, really. It is because only the gospel of Christ deals with that which gives rise to oppression to begin with – our sin.

I’ve observed that a common retort to present day social justice efforts is describing it’s adherents as embracing a social gospel and liberation theology, not holding to biblical theology or maybe not even real Christians. In other words, it’s easy to reject efforts as simply being a social gospel. To some extent, this can be true. But this low hanging fruit can become a much too easy way of dismissing sincere Christians who are looking to live out the gospel in their lives. Here is where I would caution haste assessments of what’s actually going on with the present day movement and those who espouse it, less we unjustly accuse brothers and sisters of Christ of being heretics. Continue reading

The things hoped for: on faith and the resurrection

As we Christians celebrate the bodily resurrection of our Lord, we loudly proclaim that he is risen. Now through much of my Christian life, I tended to translate that into merely a spiritual enterprise. Meaning, the resurrection signifies the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to the Father, baptism into the kingdom of God and union with Christ. It is that transaction that raises us to new life in Christ (see Romans 6:5-11).

Over time, I’ve come to recognize how this frame of thinking circumvents the significance of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. For his resurrection not only points back to God’s intention in creation but also brings the future of that intention into the present. In other words, it’s not enough for us to reduce the resurrection to merely a spiritual enterprise, that we are now part of God’s adopted family but there is a broader framework in which this reconciliation happens related to God’s restoration of what he intended. It’s why Paul emphasizes our bodily resurrection in 1 Cor 15, to which Christ’s resurrection is a first fruit. Death is an enemy because it is antithetical to creation. The entrance of sin and death unleashed such cosmic wreckage that the whole of the Bible’s story explains God’s plan and action to redeem his creation from that cursed grip.

In that regard, here’s a connection to the resurrection and faith I found quite interesting and insightful. I’ve been reading through this incredible book by Michael D. Williams, professor at Covenant Seminary. Far as the Curse is Found: the Covenant Story of Redemption  is essentially a biblical theology of God’s historical-redemptive narrative from Genesis to Revelation, or in other words, “the biblical story of God’s unfolding covenant relationship with his people.” I absolutely love that he starts the book off with The Resurrection: the Single Best Page of the Story to show that the whole story of redemption is anchored in and centered on the work and person of Christ according to what God intended from the beginning.

The writer of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1). How does this relate to the resurrection? Continue reading

About that time Peter demanded his religious freedom

jesus-and-disciplesIn what has been one of the most bizarre, sleaziest election season, it goes without saying that the choice for Bible adhering, gospel-centered Christians has been quite challenging. Typically motivated by issues of life and religious freedom, it makes perfect sense to me that there is a natural compatibility of Christians towards conservatism and are either fully entrenched in the GOP or as independents, like myself, lean right and want to uphold these values. We who naturally gravitate towards the GOP naturally want to ensure that one who supports our values will occupy the highest seat of the nation. Not that the executive branch acts alone (why we have a checks and balance system), but there is a certain orientation towards issues that we typically expect.

These concerns are quite legitimate. We care about the rights of the unborn. And we care about the liberties granted us under the founding principles of this nation, that are to ensure freedom of worship. And so the typical response at elections is who will align with these values.

But there’s just one problem. The candidate of choice in 2016 has created an ethical dilemma.

Nonetheless, someone has to occupy the Oval Office. And so many evangelicals have convinced themselves that the issues of religious freedom, right to life and same-sex marriage are far too important to concede to the likes of Hillary Clinton. After all, she would only continue the legacy of Obama with it’s same-sex agenda, government coercion whose ideology goes directly against the grain of the principles upon which America was founded.

And so as conservative evangelicals clamor to justify a vote for Trump, despite the fact that his character maligns every ounce of morality that Christianity represents, the argument goes – but our religious freedom, the Supreme Court, traditional values. We need to live as Christians, after all. And living as Christians in this great nation means we should not have to bow to the heathen regime of Alinky-esque rulers who strive to squash our position.

It’s like this is the most important thing. Continue reading