Tupperware, pt 2

I’m a little bit disappointed that more people didn’t weigh in on my last post. Guess I’m not inflammatory enough… =)

(it’s not too late, btw … even if you disagree vehemently with me, say something!)

I’ve been processing a few things in my mind lately regarding this idea of evangelism, specifically the concept of salvation. On much of this, I have to credit Dr. Mark Love at ACU and his “Narrative Evangelism” material for kick-starting my thinking in this direction. Dr. Love (great name, eh? Dr. Love blogs over here) From his most recent blog post:

But, let’s let that alone, at least for now, and begin to explore what alternatives might look like. I’ve been exploring for a long time different ways to say this. Here’s one way. Salvation is less a transaction, and more participation in an event. It is less a set of ideas to be believed and more a story in which to participate. It is more than just a change of status, but the offer of participation in a God-empowered way of life.

I’d go even further … salvation has also been mischaracterized as a first and foremost the act of believing in several particular propositions. The virgin birth, the resurrection, the sinless life of Jesus, Jonah being eaten by a whale, for example.

But if salvation is first and foremost participatory — and I’ll proceed under the assumption that it is, though I am open to other interpretations and defenses thereof — then how much does one need to know to be considered “in”?  Traditionally, Christians have required that people believe in certain propositions before they are considered to be “in” or “on the journey” or “Christians” or whatever … but is it too much to expect that the 21st century mind (especially the postmodern one) will automatically ascribe to these propositions? 

I’d argue that a gospel that is primarily embodied, or participated in, requires only that people believe that the Way of God through Jesus is the very best, most loving, most just way to live — and begin living that way.  As people see that the lived-out gospel is true, and as they find a place in God’s great mission to heal a broken world, they begin to also recognize the truth behind the central propositions of the faith as well.  But instead of this intellectual ascension being the first hurdle to clear, it becomes a gradual last hurdle.

These are thoughts in process … what do you think?

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10 responses to this post.

  1. I think I like that. I think it squares well with the experience of personal growth. As people we are continually changing and growing, so it is hard to ask a new Christian to believe in something they haven’t yet experienced. Since we can only know God intimately through lived-experience, it is silly to ask people to affirm things at the beginning that they can’t possibly know yet. This way of thinking about the gospel allows people some breathing room—it gives people a chance to know God first….

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  2. Posted by thepriesthood on October 17, 2008 at 12:43 am

    I love the thoughts here. And I love Love’s blog. Good stuff all the way around.

    Affirming the notion of participation, here’s a quote from a Franciscan father Richard Rorh:

    “Christian leaders assumed that people did not think their way into a new life; they lived their way into a new kind of thinking.”

    It’s not so much that we believe, and therefore we act. Ever wondered why there’s so much belief but so little action in Evangelicalism? But it’s more that our beliefs follow our actions.

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  3. Posted by Kevin Williams on October 17, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    The earth church was heavily concerned with belonging. Acts talks about having everything in common. They lived and work beside each other and presented to the world a new way to be human. Today our commonalities are intellectual, so transactions becomes our salvation. Our culture is hungry for a new message and the New Testament is full of the message of praticipation.

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  4. But this is all so counterintuitive to the way we’ve been taught in most of our churches, isn’t it?

    We’ve been taught that the gospel is primarily a transaction — both of Jesus’ life for ours, and our trading one set of beliefs for another — rather than participation in a new way of being. Now, I want to say right here that there are certainly elements of transaction that take place within the Christian life, and certainly within the life of Jesus. But the extent of our “being saved” CANNOT be simplified to merely “accepting” a list of propositions about Jesus.

    We must learn to live differently, in the way God created us to live.

    That said, I suppose some would have to accept, to some extent, a proposition or two before taking a chance on beginning to live like Jesus.

    1) that Jesus’ life was something to be imitated
    2) that God is still up to something in the world, and that his way of living is better than our way of living.

    Agree? Disagree?

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  5. I agree with much of what you write here. But, at the risk of sounding like an evangelical (which I am, so it’s appropriate), I wonder what your view makes of the importance of the death & resurrection of Jesus for those who follow Jesus.

    Here’s the thing: the gospels, and the stories of Jesus’ ministry, are truly focused on that last week of Jesus’ life. Consider how much of each gospel is spent on that week. Even Jesus’ own words (“the Son of Man gives up His life as a ransom for many”) lead us to believe that he knew he was heading to the cross and that would be the ultimate act of his ministry.

    I realize you can’t hit all these things in a blog post, and as I said, I agree with what you’re saying, I’m just wondering if it takes into account all the evidence.

    Thanks, Steve, I look forward to your thoughts.

    Oh, and I really do appreciate the emphasis on participation. It has been unfortunately neglected for far too long.

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  6. I think it all begins with God and what he wants with/for Me (and You and all Others). The bible is record of how much God esteems his creation and wants a relationship with the humans he created. It’s a record of God creating, sustaining, nurturing, protecting, loving, arranging, giving, guiding, even changing his mind when necessary and ultimately dying (as Danny pointed out) to allow me into his life. We as people have no way to fully grasp the depth of God’s love for us. His word proves over and again that he will do absolutely anything to have us with him (call it salvation or restoration or whatever). Therefore, he is against anything that stands between me and a relationship with him. Culture, language, intellect, sin, physical and mental handicaps, religion, ability or lack to grasp, understand, realize, etc (all of the things that “shut the door to the Kingdom in people’s faces”) all are irrelevant to God allowing participation in his life and kingdom. I really dislike the term “transaction” as if I have anything to offer God in exhange for his mercy. Thanks.

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  7. Danny –
    Great questions. And don’t apologize for being Evangelical … under the strictest definition, I’m probably one too. (I’ll save a thorough treatment of my problems with the E word for another post)

    Put simply, the death and resurrection of Jesus were absolutely central to all he was and is about in this world. They sealed his victory and dominion over both death and Empire (Christus Victor) … set forth an example for the kinds of lives we ought to live (seeking the lowest place, and thus being glorified) … were the conclusive acts in God’s restorative mission in the world … and pave a way for imperfect humans to both commune with God and join in his mission. Those are just a few of the many metaphors for the Cross and Tomb that are meaningful to followers of Jesus … to reduce those events to one metaphor (since Luther, the dominate metaphor has been the legal metaphor, or penal substitionary atonement). But that, too, is another blog post.

    Humans have the opportunity to participate in the life of Christ and mission of God in this world because of the death and resurrection of Christ. But as you know, the story’s much bigger than that, and our re-telling of it to those who have not heard it often doesn’t take into account its vastness.

    Many times, though, redemptive action precedes the description thereof, namely the telling of the gospel. This redemptive action, I’d argue, is participation in the rhythms and mission of God. In a sense, like Christ, our action and participation “puts flesh” on the mission of God in a way words simply can’t.

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  8. Posted by Mitch on October 21, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    “I’d argue that a gospel that is primarily embodied, or participated in, requires only that people believe that the Way of God through Jesus is the very best, most loving, most just way to live — and begin living that way.”

    I really like this post a lot because I’ve been wondering how to tie evangelism into my seemingly scatterbrained idea of Christianity.

    I wonder if someone can be a Christian but not be fully convinced or comfortable preaching an absolute gospel. What I mean is, is someone a Christian who morally tries to follow the example of Jesus and prays to God in the name of Jesus but doesn’t ever come to a firm conclusion to share regarding if Jesus is the one “Way to God”?

    Will I be pushed aside in the end of my life if my evangelism is based around a God-fearing human Jesus (who is probably the savior, but definitely more so an example to live by) than a supernatural Jesus?

    What kind of Jesus must one “share” for evangelism to be “righteous”?

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  9. I agree that if we put too high a premium on getting as many people as possible to agree on certain propositions we risk A. setting up unrealistic expectations and B. missing the point of community.

    As I understand it, the story of Jesus’ mission in Mark is backwards compared to the evangelistic efforts of many churches. He did things in this curious order:

    1. First, he called people to join him in community, and it looks like he did so randomly and unconditionally.

    2. Then he called them to a specific way of living in the world, i.e. the Sermon on the Mount.

    3. Finally, he called them to confess him as ‘Lord’ at one of his last meetings with them.

    It seems the method I grew up with was the opposite of this: First getting people to agree with you about who Jesus is, then calling them to repent, and finally accepting them as members of the community. If the way Mark tells the story is the way we should do it, shouldn’t we hold confessing certain beliefs to be an afterthought to the more important business of community and selfless living? Isn’t it more important that we’re on the same page about how we treat strangers than about the historicity of Jonah? I’m not saying that core beliefs are unimportant–they are. But it seems like we should patiently let people arrive at those conclusions in their own time and on their own terms, the way Jesus did, and be more concerned with how we’re living together as community.

    I enjoyed reading this post, Steve, and thanks for letting me comment. I’m sure I’ll be back in the future.

    And Mitch, I’d still call you a Christian.

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  10. Mitch – Do you think every one of Jesus’ disciples knew who he was when they were with him on Earth? What about their doctrine of the Trinity? No, they were pretty much clueless about these things. Which leads me to believe it’s more about following than knowing. Sure, we honor God with our minds (as well as our hearts and souls and, I’d argue, hands), but the vital part, as I see it in Scripture, is following.

    Speaking of Jesus, you should read a post Tyler wrote this week about how abstract we’ve made him. He says much of this much better than I could.

    Nick – Thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate your writing at Corpus Permixtum as well. Tell your dad hi from me if you see him.

    Reply

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