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Dedicated to the spirit of the Bereans and their love of Scripture (Acts 17:11)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 THE CULTURE OF REEXAMINATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 The Bible . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Hell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 The Restoration Principle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Fellowship and Unity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 POSTMODERN ADVOCATES AND FRUSTRATED CAMPBELLITES . . . . . . 13 HISTORIOGRAPHY AND GEORGE ORWELL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 KING HEZEKIAH AND THE REMOVAL OF “RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY” . . . . 32 AND “SECTARIAN RIVALRY” FROM THE RESTORATION MOVEMENT QUEST FOR THE CORE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 God the Father . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 Ascension-Enthronement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 Eschatological Judgment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 AN ANCHOR THAT WON'T HOLD: ANOTHER LOOK AT 1 COR. 15:1-4 . . . 60 Humpty Dumpty Hermeneutics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69 AUTOBIOGRAPHY, WIKIALITY AND GOD'S CONGREGATION . . . . . . . . . 77 A LOOK AROUND THE CORNER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
INTRODUCTION The sole excuse for this essay is a desire to participate in the current reexamination and critique of traditional theology among Churches of Christ about Christian unity, and by extension about our self-identification. The focus will be on a collection of provocative sermons preached by Drs. Rubel Shelly and John York entitled The Jesus Proposal: A Theological Framework for Maintaining the Unity of the Body of Christ.1 That book provides a prominent and clear example of a growing trend in a cappella Churches of Christ. It portrays a vigorous reexamination of long cherished ideas in Churches of Christ regarding unity and offers a bold alternative. The authors of The Jesus Proposal are not lone voices crying in the wilderness in their forceful demand for change. It is quite appropriate that their detractors label them as "change agents."2 Churches of Christ today are experiencing a call for reexamination on several fronts, and this call encompasses a whole array of issues and doctrines. To be honest, the ideas and perspectives offered in The Jesus Proposal are cut from the many-colored fabric of contemporary ecclesiastical culture in Churches of Christ, particularly the culture evident in large and urbane congregations. Due to its significance and impact, The Jesus Proposal deservedly serves as a Leafwood Publishers, 2004; this present manuscript was completed some time ago, but for a variety of reasons was put aside until recently. William Woodson, Change Agents and Churches of Christ: A Study in Contemporary Problems with Change Agents among Churches of Christ (Athens, AL: School of Bible Emphasis, 1994), 59-67.
current template for discussion about unity and related practices and beliefs. Many forces, of course, are fueling this current ethos. Some of these forces pulsate with the heartbeat of God, while others, I suspect, rely upon energy that flows from other places. The theme of unity has been vigorously discussed from various perspectives since the earliest days of the Restoration Movement, understandably since the Restoration Movement began as a unity movement. In the spirit of Christian dialogue and discussion I wish to examine some of the presuppositions, methods and conclusions set forth in The Jesus Proposal.
Douglas A. 1996. Furthermore. there should be little doubt that a growing majority of the contemporary Churches of Christ are not a clone of the Churches of Christ of the preceding several generations.3 There is hardly an area of faith and practice that is not being examined by leaders and members of the Churches of Christ. From the issues of the pastorate to pacifism. Books about the Change Movement: Reviews and Recommendations. will grow and will take its shape in the context of its surrounding culture(s). and from the role of women to the role of works. will necessarily be impacted. including Presbyterian. Lutheran. both by the synergy and by the intrusion of culture(s). Southern Baptist. 2001. Hughes. Foster. the reasons for the various ways in which we differ from our religious forebears are not mysterious or inexplicable. pp.5 THE CULTURE OF REEXAMINATION To take a survey of the current rethinking about the identity of the Churches of Christ in America is not a task for the faint of heart. for good or ill. nothing seems to lie outside the arena of reexamination. or at least analogous. Jack R. The Crux of the Matter: Crisis. 307-351. Whether one applauds or anathematizes the history and issues of this generation. Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of the Churches of Christ in America. All organizations. . Jeff W. Roman Catholic and Episcopalian. The new perspectives offered in The Jesus Proposal can be more fairly evaluated when 3 Richard T. Tradition. Reese. Childers. 2004. from the place of the Holy Spirit to the place of homosexuals in the church. A negative assessment of the various changes and agents for change in Churches of Christ in the current generation are catalogued by John Waddey. and the Future of the Churches of Christ. Similar. There is nothing either unique or serendipitous about this particular facet of our current disposition. whether secular or sacred. The church of every generation and in every location will exist. challenges are also part of the history of several contemporary American denominations.
"Matthew Twists the Scriptures. 5 4 . to “breathe into these slain. they threaten to topple and destroy “the pillar and foundation of the truth. to provide the reader of The Jesus Proposal with contemporary examples of this climate of critical inquiry. or the nature of fellowship and unity. 3:15). and. These examples serve as a weathervane to indicate how forcefully and from which direction these new winds are blowing. the validity of the Restoration Principle. They are noted. that they may live” (Ezek. Those few that were not convinced by the “orthodox” explanations usually left Churches of Christ5 or at least sought employment in universities and seminaries not controlled by Churches of Christ. McCasland. the nature of hell. In past generations scholars from Churches of Christ either accepted the traditional explanations for these problems or they held their own contrary judgment in abeyance. however.4 Students of the Bible and teachers of the church have known since the Patristic Period that there were “difficult texts” or “alleged contradictions” in the Bible. as in the days of Ezekiel. for others." Journal of Biblical Literature 80 (1961): 143-48. the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 37:9). It lies outside the scope of this essay to evaluate these specific challenges in the thinking of the Churches of Christ in regard to the Bible. The Bible The nature of the Bible. its origin and its character are currently under discussion in Churches of Christ.” Stone-Campbell Journal 9 (Fall 2006): 187-203. In the current generation one now encounters publications from universities associated with Churches of Christ Mark W. “Transition and Continuity: Biblical Scholarship in Today’s Church of Christ.6 seen in the setting of some of the other topics currently being reexamined. V. S. Hamilton. For some these winds have come to refresh the spiritual air we breathe.
Churches of Christ historically were committed to belief in and the preaching of the classic Christian doctrines of heaven and hell. 181.6 Other scholars. Likewise Joel S. “Inerrancy. God’s Holy Fire: The Nature and Function of Scripture. UK: The Paternoster Press. there is disregard for the traditional idea that a lost individual must personally suffer throughout eternity. Yeoman Press.9 Basically this doctrine of annihilationism states that the individual sent by God to Hell suffers rapid annihilation after being cast into Hell. continue to affirm the views held in prior generations7 and argue that “There is no biblical authority without inerrancy. At the present time the frequency and significance of sermons on hell have plummeted drastically in Churches of Christ. Thompson. vol. soul-winning preaching of Churches of Christ. Inspiration and Authority of the Scriptures. “Is the Bible Inerrant?” in Directions for the Road Ahead. Myers. The Fire that Consumes: Biblical Case for Conditional Immortality.7 that not only acknowledge the problem texts. Edward P. 2 (Abilene. some publications have now advocated the untraditional doctrine known as annihilationism. 1998. p. Kenneth L. Williams.”8 Confusion often arises at this point for "laypeople" since they had always thought that Christian universities affirmed the traditional concept of the inerrancy of the Bible. ed. Edward William Fudge. Williams. (Carlisle. Cukrowshki.” Restoration Quarterly 37 1995. Heart of the Restoration Series. 2002). rev. 158-77. but also believe that we should move beyond previous conservative answers. J. 7 8 6 Jividen. Inspiration. Sheerer and C. With the approach. James W. Stability in Change Among Churches of Christ. 2005. TX: ACU Press. 39. Hell As a conservative and evangelistic fellowship. 9 . Eds. however. Hamilton. These scholars argue that terminology like inerrancy is simply no longer helpful. Jimmy. Moreover. and Dictation. 1994). Mark W. The latter certainly played a role in the earlier evangelistic.
2004. “Restoration. 635-36.. the critics ask. Eds. Ward wrote an important article entitled “The Restoration 10 11 Jimmy Allen.p. Texas in 1964. He now indicates that his beliefs are no longer held with the same certainty on this point. Jimmy Allen became for decades a popular evangelist on the topic “What is Hell Like?” In later years he reexamined his own earlier presentation on the concept of the “endless punishment” typically associated with hell and now no longer regards his former arguments against annihilationism as cogent and as persuasive as he once did. “Sometimes. 13 Just what do we mean. by restoration? And. 220. Richard T.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. ed. Jimmy Allen. Foster et alii.”11 especially where restoration urges “a strict adherence to the pattern of church faith and practice set forth in the New Testament” and where there is a “hermeneutic that treated Scripture as a coherent body of facts and prescriptions.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. 639. evangelist and emeritus professor of Bible at Harding University. Meaning of Within the Movement. after all. he wishes that he “had never presented the sermon. A. Starting with a sermon preached during a two week Gospel Meeting held in Dallas.” Jimmy Allen now writes. Robert Meyer. 1966).”10 The Restoration Principle The Restoration Principle is one manifestation of faith and practice known as “Ecclesiastical Primitivism. what are we attempting to restore? Four decades ago Roy B. Fife. 13 12 .8 Reexamination of this doctrine is seen even in the published thoughts of the well-known preacher. Fire in My Bones (Jeremiah 20:9) (n. Robert O. Voices of Concern: Critical Studies in Church of Christism (Saint Louis: Mission Messenger. Hughes. D. 2004). Eerdmans. “Restoration. Historical Models of..”12 There have always been voices concerned with whether and how the “Restoration Principle” is valid.
Dave Miller. “Who’s in the Fellowship?” in Directions for the Road Ahead. numerous scholars in scores of essays have addressed the issue of the Restoration Principle. there are still advocates for the traditional hermeneutic that dominated the Churches of Christ throughout former decades. Kenneson. Jolivet.1 2005. Star Bible Publications. “ ‘The Restoration Principle’: A Critical Analysis.” Leaven 13. 27-44 and Philip D. Carl Mitchell.18 Roy E. Surviving the Storms of Change. A Guidebook for Assessing Change in Churches of Christ. complaints and suggestions. interpreted their authoritative scriptures. “because it is the exact opposite of the way the New Testament figures and writers. Castelein. Goebel Music Publications.9 Principle: A Critical Analysis. “Can the Christian Faith Survive If Belief in Objective Truth is Abandoned? A Reply to John Castelein.” Restoration Quarterly 8 (1965): 197-210. 43-56. including the apostle Paul and Jesus himself. Jolivet complains. 231 views restoration as a never ending attempt and process “to return to God’s perfect way. Others question the validity of these foundations in light of current philosophical issues. who argued that the entire Restoration Plea and hermeneutic as formulated by Alexander Campbell is a theological failure. Ira J. Behold the Pattern. John Waddey. “The ‘Women’s Issue’ and the Letter and Spirit of the Law. at the very core of its hermeneutical DNA. “Restorationist Hermeneutics among the Churches of Christ: Why Are We at an Impasse?” Restoration Quarterly 30 (1988):17-42. 1991. The Churches of Christ are flawed in their approach to Scripture.”16 This particular criticism represents but one facet of the multifaceted reexamination and rejection of the hermeneutical foundations of the Restoration Movement. unsupportable. Dr. Ira J. p. 1996. Goebel Music.” Stone-Campbell Journal 2 1999. with a variety of questions. Sain Publications. so to speak.”14 In the decades since then. 47.” 18 17 16 15 14 . Russ Dudrey. 2004. p. Ward. Piloting the Strait. Jolivet.17 As one might expect. or Restoration Plea.15 One of the most iconoclastic perspectives was offered quite recently by Prof. “Can the Restoration Movement Plea Survive if Belief in Objective Truth is Abandoned?” Stone-Campbell Journal 1 1998. For discussion of the validity of the Restoration Plea in light of philosophical questions regarding objective truth see John D.
Catholic. 1962). though our exegetical understanding is shared by a large number of scholars beyond our own ecclesiastical borders. 1954). These are the teaching that the initial experience of God's gracious salvation includes baptism for the remission of sins based upon personal faith and. G. Robert H. sectarianism has become untenable. “Baptism and Becoming a Christian in the New Testament. is the teaching that in corporate worship singing should be congregational and a cappella.10 Fellowship and Unity The twin issues of unity and fellowship have understandably been in the spotlight in this current generation. two issues in particular have created the greatest obstacles to active fellowship and unity with other believers.20 There have been increasing efforts to recognize the validity of the conversion of adult believers immersed outside Churches of Christ21 as well as pedo-baptist believers in Protestant. The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism. 19 20 F. Beasley-Murray. trans. 152ff. Karl. Stein. Jimmy Allen. LA: Howard Publishing Company.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 2 (Spring 1998): 6-17. The requirement of adult baptism has long been a wall of separation between Churches of Christ and other churches. Re-Baptism: What One Must Know to be Born Again (West Monroe. Payne (London: SCM Press. Baptism in the New Testament (New York: St. 1991). the issue itself is too insignificant to divide modern believers from one another. Some suggest that while the practice of infant baptism may indeed be contrary to the teaching of the New Testament.19 the former because it is one of the foundational themes of the Restoration Movement and the latter because in the judgment of many. Barth. Ernest A. 21 . 2003. and Orthodox churches. Martin’s Press. Who is my Brother? 21st Century Christian. R. While there are several points at which the doctrines and practices of Restoration churches are distinct from many other churches. second. LaGard Smith.
[and] may be complementary. “Infant Baptism and the Boundaries of Christian Fellowship. The Other Side of the Keyboard. p. especially among large urban congregations of Churches of Christ. “Restoration Forums. Orthodox and Protestant theologians. convictions about congregational a cappella worship are declining. each of which needs the other to achieve theological completeness. Chris DeWelt. . its importance for discussions of unity. 49-68. in terms of their purpose .: Leafwood Publishers. 642.”22 Even though the doctrinal understanding among Churches of Christ regarding the importance of congregational a cappella worship has numerous antecedents in the theological writings of Catholic. They view it rather as an issue of church tradition or personal conscience.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. but not eliminating. this brief survey was intended only to better appreciate the larger context of the reexamination presented in The Jesus Proposal. Reese. . 123ff.p. the two views [believer’s baptism and infant baptism] share many commonalities. A growing number of religious leaders and theological educators belonging to a cappella congregations have left the convictions of their forbearers that this liturgical issue is a matter of biblical perspective.11 Others brush aside suggestions that adult baptism is more biblical than infant baptism and argue that “Indeed. 2005. College Press. They are part of a growing and Ralph K. Jack R. thereby reuniting separated siblings. even a limb about to break. thereby reducing. Hawkins.” Stone-Campbell Journal 5 2002.23 Unity meetings are being directed by prominent preachers who want to lead in reconnecting the a cappella churches with the Independent Christian Churches.24 As noted earlier. the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Even if one thinks the authors Shelly and York are out on a limb. The Body Broken: Embracing the Peace of Christ in a Fragmented Church (n. it should be said that they are not out there alone. 24 23 22 . 2005). Milton Jones.
to slowly emulate the journey the Disciples of Christ started approximately one hundred years ago.” Midstream-An Ecumenical Journal 28. it is difficult to imagine that those who step out onto the path taken by the Disciples of Christ will not discover that their heirs will end up at the same destination as the modern Disciples of Christ. His thoughtful essay.12 influential number of leaders in Churches of Christ whose efforts will probably guide sectors of Churches of Christ. This strong desire for recognition and acceptability “prompted us to downplay distinctive emphases in our tradition. Since all paths have a destination and lead somewhere. Prof. Osborn. a longtime theologian and historian for the Disciples of Christ. 25 .3 1989.”25 Ronald E. “The Irony of the Twentieth-Century Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): Making it to the Mainline Just at the Time of its Disestablishment. along with the sense of uniqueness which had been a key element of our identity. offered some realistic and poignant observations about the wrong paths taken by the Disciples of Christ for much of the 20th century. p. “The Irony of the Twentieth-Century Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): Making it to the Mainline Just at the Time of its Disestablishment. Ronald E.” highlights the Disciples of Christ’s 20th century quest to be regarded as a ‘mainline’ church. Osborn. perhaps unintentionally. 293.
. . p. Michael Root. 149. Ford.” in The Modern Theologians. F.”26 In the book itself. Foster. .13 POSTMODERN ADVOCATES AND FRUSTRATED CAMBPELLITES “The ‘proposal’ of the The Jesus Proposal. p.” as stated by the authors. pp. to the arguments they make and to the subsequent conclusions they draw. 1997. at the grassroots level. their attempt to cogently present a “theological framework for maintaining the unity of the body of Christ” calls for more examination in regard to the evidence they gather. The Jesus Proposal.28 Nevertheless. pp. probably because both the concept and implementation of unity have been elusive and widely debated in both the Restoration Movement29 and in the ecumenical movement at large.” meaning specifically that “we can experience relational unity in Christ — unity greater and more important than theological agreement .”27 The book contains numerous references to Scripture and the authors’ desire to present their ideas “Strictly from a biblical perspective” is a goal that must be applauded. Douglas A. “is that Christians from all denominations can benefit from . An Introduction to Christian Theology in the Twentieth Century. the Postmodern atmosphere of the twenty-first century. Christian. experience. D. “Unity. There is no precise definition of the term “unity” in The Jesus Proposal. the issue of unity had often been associated with 26 27 28 29 The Jesus Proposal. and offer a proposal for Christian unity that is so thoroughly Jesus-centered that it will commend itself to thoughtful believers from many quarters. pp. 21.30 In the history of the Churches of Christ. 2nd ed. 30 . “Ecumenical Theology. The Jesus Proposal. Ed. 754-58. 538-54. . 9-10.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. the authors strive “to explore. .
but none of them completely encapsulates it." this new Jesus "asks clarifying questions. The Jesus Proposal. 9-10. it seems hardly probable that Jesus was repeatedly tortured and brutally killed primarily because he clarified questions and reframed circumstances. pp. p. and not as their teachers of the Law" (Matt. And he stays as I work through them in my own muddleheaded way. Accordingly. their lack of emphasis upon the significance of doctrine for Christian unity comes as no surprise. Their suggestion that the emphasis upon doctrine or doctrinal uniformity in the pursuit of unity is some recent 31 32 The Jesus Proposal. 7:29). "rather than offering answers. 118. and flexibility. This new “I don’t offer answers” Messiah hardly explains the presence of the controversy stories in the Gospels or why Matthew says of Jesus that he “taught as one who had authority. He rarely responded with answers. he loved reframing the circumstances with questions. In light of the authors’ acknowledged attraction to postmodernism.14 questions such as “Whom do we need to evangelize?” “Whom do we call sister and brother?” “With whom do we jointly participate in Christian ministry and worship?” “Whom do we believe is going to heaven?” “With whom can we establish Christian union?” Each of these questions obviously intersects the issue of unity."32 This postmodern adaptation of Jesus creates significant difficulties for a historian of Second Temple Judaism or the early Roman Empire. The reader learns early on of the authors’ enthusiasm for the contribution that “the postmodern atmosphere of the twenty-first century” can make to Christian unity by its affirmation of “inclusion. That's what Jesus did.”31 Since the authors are attracted to postmodernity. association. Furthermore. . it is understandable that the Jesus whom they present must be reconfigured to be a postmodern himself.
117-18. Paul’s statement that the saints in Rome must “watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. reflects the ethos of postmodernity more than it reflects an informed grasp of biblical theology or biblical missiology. pp.15 phenomenon in Christianity belies much of the history of the Christian faith. but it will be welcoming a Trojan Horse into the camp if it gives too much credence to a paradigm that neglects the significance of teaching and doctrine. "he constantly defended purity of doctrine. cf. One is reminded of Philip Melanchthon's funeral oration at the death of Martin Luther. 92.34 Such postures that marginalize the significance of doctrine are alien to the faith and practice of the early church. Amidst several references to Luther's many virtues and accomplishments by the power of God. Bible Wars and sectarian habits of the past. particularly as they are portrayed in Acts in the summary of the earliest followers of Jesus who were “devoted to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). . 33 34 Philip Melachthon. Keep away from them” (Rom. both of the Patristic as well as of the Reformation period. 16:17) harmonizes more with the emphasis of Acts than the emphasis of The Jesus Proposal. On the Death of Luther. then all the pagans in the world could be converted without the church having to use doctrine in any serious way. p."33 The authors’ support of statements to the effect that if Christians would only live authentic Christian lives. The contemporary church must move beyond its previous doctrinaire orientation. The abundant evidence and clarion voice of church history. Melachthon remarks concerning Martin Luther that. The Jesus Proposal. clearly reveal that doctrine and doctrinal uniformity were long ago placed on high pedestals by the church.
“There’s Such a Thing as Biblical Truth. It is not the mere question of amiability.” often “represented the British Churches of Christ at the World Council of Churches. p. 654. The Jesus Proposal. however.35 When a new paradigm ends up with a Bible without any objective truth that is universally true for all men. and acting as if we really were one. And from my perspective. being decent to each other. The Biblical Doctrine of the Church. regardless of their community. Those in the a cappella congregations may not know of William Robinson. William Robinson.” Paul M. 215-16. not if there is to be anything to unite worth uniting. “Robinson. St. He was a “theologian and ecumenical activist of the British Churches of Christ in the mid-twentieth century.16 Ronnie van der Poll has made a helpful observation in this regard. pp. are germane to this point:36 But church union cannot be merely a matter of forgetting our differences. it clearly surrenders too much that is important in the process. Blowers. Too. I am certainly in support of anyone who wishes to responsibly use Scripture to beat back obvious remnants of mean-spiritedness.” StoneCampbell Journal 6 2003. attempts to accomplish far more than that. 218-19. 1955. William (1888-1963)” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. William Robinson. 36 35 . The change from sheer intolerance to this kind of tolerance is illustrated by the following piece of doggerel: Time was when sects would rail and fight To show that only they possessed the light: But now they’re eager to display The virtues of a milder way. we have to wonder if such a paradigm is still a Christian one.” He became the “recognized spokesman for British ‘free churches’ in general in the emerging ecumenical movement.” and certainly “was convinced that the Stone-Campbell heritage had much to offer the modern ecumenical movement. The words of the important ecumenist from the Stone-Campbell Movement. and It’s a Good Thing. Louis: Bethany Press. obscurantism and doctrinal sectarianism in Churches of Christ.
If we neglect the biblical role of doctrine in Christian life and unity. Consequently. They thought they could select. As most would recognize. which parts of the Scripture they wanted to use in a normative way. they basically ignored the remainder of Scripture to their own detriment. We will remain in the dark alleys of church history.” From the perspective of this definition of insanity. if we continue to give ourselves over to any truncated. As I repeatedly read and considered the arguments presented in The Jesus Proposal for . Churches of Christ paid a high price for their error in neglecting the Gospels and the Old Testament. one of the destructive paths that led earlier generations within the Stone-Campbell Movement into some dark alleys was its "pick and choose" approach to Scripture. they camped primarily upon the book of Acts and the letters of Paul. spite of logic. the suggested alternative seriously softens the power of the Gospel to transform lives and typically introduces limitations to “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). This kind of attitude will get us nowhere except to an unruly anarchism. A sane posture would lead us to learn from our painful past so that we do not wander in dim alleyways characterized by imbalance." approach to doctrine. seems to say That none are wrong and all are right. Then. "pick and choose. which will be worse than the sectarianism it sought to cure. it seems to me. A statement attributed to Albert Einstein says. there is evidence of renewed insanity in the StoneCampbell Movement. Rather than determining God’s truth and the mission of his elect on the basis of “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. with impunity. truncation and a consumer-minded hermeneutic of Scripture. to the degree that it neglects the whole will of God.17 Which.
” I could not always follow the steps of thought that led the authors down their path. 37 . it should be noted at the outset that the unity paradigm offered in The Jesus Proposal would not be acceptable to major representatives of either Catholic. a path that began in their own personal participation in sectarianism and ended in a seemingly pluralistic paradigm for Christian unity. brought the authors of The Jesus Proposal to an understanding that is basically unacceptable to the majority of the Christian world37 and to a place that is so remote from their ecclesiastical family of origin? It seems to me that part of the answer lies in the fact that Shelly and York are still working on the basis of some of the assumptions and perspectives that they were taught decades ago in traditional Churches of Christ. What is there about the theological framework of Shelly and York “for maintaining the unity of the Body of Christ” that makes it so untenable to most churches for the past 2000 years? What perspective. the Churches of Christ. If the term “pluralism” seems too harsh. they heard teaching and preaching. in particular a unity that reflected on earth the realities of heaven. Thus everyone who was headed to heaven. in their history. perhaps ad nauseam. and typically not baptized by them. Problems would naturally arise as in their own theological maturation they came to realize that the neighborhoods of heaven were becoming more and more populated by those outside the "one true church" of their childhood indoctrination. that the Lamb's Book of Life. Accordingly. is basically identical to the Membership Directory of the one true church.18 “maintaining the unity of the Body of Christ. had to be in Christian union on the earth. namely. or perhaps assumptions. they retained the Neither the Orthodox churches nor the Roman Catholic churches nor the Southern Baptist denomination (just to mention the largest Protestant denomination) would accept into church membership anyone who was not baptized. the White Pages of heaven. it became absolutely necessary in their thinking to fashion a new view of church unity. By thinking in this manner. of necessity. Protestant. or Evangelical churches. In particular. Orthodox.
Barton Stone. salus extra ecclesiam non est. Their recognition of the importance of God’s truth expressed through doctrine was not to be offered on the altar of their yearnings for Christian unity. however. this conviction about the linkage between the earthly church and the population of heaven has been around for centuries. it seems to me. that the authors brought to their proposal. The Campbells. In contrast to Shelly and York. even though they might not be in unity on earth.19 paradigm of their youth that the membership of church and the population of heaven are essentially identical. They rightly recognized that church union was one. but not the only one. this willing acknowledgement of Christians in the denominations did not lead the early thinkers in the Restoration Movement to dilute and compromise their understanding of the biblical requirements for Christian unity on earth. however. "there is no salvation outside the church." This close connection between the salvation of others and their belonging to the "correct church" was a part of traditional Catholic theology for well over a millennium and a part of traditional doctrine in Churches of Christ for most of the last 100 years. is the fact that this view clearly did not characterize the outlook of the early thinkers in the Restoration Movement such as Alexander Campbell. This strong linkage between the question of who goes to heaven and who belongs to the true church was part of the sectarian heritage and baggage. of the essential doctrines of the New Testament. To be fair to Shelly and York. and was not invented by thinkers in the Restoration Movement. Stated succinctly in the following phrase from the 3rd century catholic author Cyprian. Of greater significance for this discussion. clearly affirmed that there were Christians destined for heaven in various denominations. Classic Roman Catholic doctrine held to a view similar to that held by the Churches of . and Robert Richardson. for example.
There is an understandable sadness experienced by all believers who perceive the wide chasm that separates the unity for which Jesus prayed (John 17) and the realities of the divisions in modern Christianity. One force comes from the desire for unity while another equally strong force comes from the desire to remain faithfully submitted to the authority of Scripture.20 Christ for most of the 20th century regarding the “lostness” of those outside the one true church. I suspect that like so many others who were nurtured by rigid sectarianism (with all its baggage).38 believing now that there are “brethren” outside the Roman church. were able to affirm the faith of others while also remaining faithful to their own views of the teaching of Scripture in matters of unity. 1966). In some ways this current Catholic understanding is closer to the view of the early leaders in the Restoration Movement that preceded Vatican II by a century and a half. 345-46. It is my conviction that God's sovereignty is certainly not constrained by the Scriptures. Beyond the sadness there is a painful tension created by these bi-polar attractions. This leads me to think that it is not solely postmodernism that drives The Jesus Proposal. unlike Shelly and York. 38 . Walter M. the authors of The Jesus Proposal began their journey long before the term "postmodernism" was a regular part of their vocabulary. The attitude of Roman Catholics toward Christian believers outside the "true church" mellowed following Vatican II.” in The Documents of Vatican II. ed. Association Press. in both faith and in practice. It was perhaps because the early Restoration thinkers did not need to escape a Restoration Movement characterized by a strident sectarianism that they. The Scriptures and their “Catholic Principles on Ecumenism. even though the faith and practice of the church certainly must be. Abbott (New York: Herder and Herder.
Being a proponent of "the whole will of God" means that I must embrace with equal vigor what Scripture teaches about the fact that God overlooked ignorance among some of the idolaters at Athens (Acts 17:30) and that the Apostle Paul explicitly affirms that ignorance (while no excuse) is certainly a mitigating circumstance in God’s evaluation and treatment of people in regard to their salvation (1 Tim. 1892. and future. J. repented at the message of God’s word. . McGarvey. unlike some of Jesus’ contemporaries. present. would have imagined that this response by the Ninevites made them candidates for Jewish fellowship. likewise points to the important distinction between citizenship in heaven and membership and union in the body of Christ. heard the Word of God. but certainly not God himself. unity or a place among the elect of God. but they are hardly disciples of Jesus and 39 J. This outlook certainly has approval in well recognized authorities in Churches of Christ. W. The issue of the ultimate salvation of infants and children. When contemplating issues of salvation I clearly do not intend to neglect or dismiss the church’s proclamation that salvation resides in God’s work in Christ. 1:13). will be blessed at the final judgment since they. Jer."39 I hardly think that Paul’s and Luke’s understanding about God forgiving Athenians would have encouraged Paul to seek unity with them. since obviously God -past. 115:3. for example.21 teachings were written to instruct and guide the elect of God. received the mercy of God and. however. Neither Jonah nor Jesus. according to Jesus. McGarvey. New Commentary on Acts of Apostles. for example. even though some would apparently be saved. considered the possibility that individuals could be saved in the name of Christ even if they "do not know him or believe in him."does whatever he pleases" (Pss. W. repented and obeyed it (Luke 11:28-32). In the book of Jonah the Ninevites believed the Word of God. Ohio: The Standard Publishing Foundation. 18:4). Cincinnati. 135:6. Infants will be saved.
.22 members of the Body of Christ.
rather than because of them. entering the arenas of church history. including Martin Luther.23 HISTORIOGRAPHY AND GEORGE ORWELL The Jesus Proposal is a mixture of various types of arguments and appeals. theology. those who would draw lessons and principles about church unity from earlier generations of church leaders should proceed with great caution. John Calvin. The church's romanticized view of the unity of earlier centuries is sometimes nothing more than naive hagiography and pious wishful thinking. It has been pointed out many times before that history. The authors use church history. Sometimes. It seems only fair to respond to this provocative work by examining some of the major thrusts of the book itself. but rather accomplished by the excommunication and physical punishment of other believers. including church history. These names represent important traditions and historical perspectives beyond those of the Roman church and the various Orthodox communities of faith. either by ecclesiastical or civil authorities. exegesis. The Jesus Proposal presents arguments that appeal to church history and to the lives and the teachings of earlier theologians. for example. autobiography and pragmatism will be necessary in order to give a fair hearing to the many facets of The Jesus Proposal. Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Charles Wesley. theology. History’s candid and unexpected answers often come to us in spite of our own questions. autobiography and at times pragmatism to advocate their new basis for unity. the price of achieving unity in earlier centuries was often not the compassionate persuasion of the opposition. As such. . While the arena of exegesis will certainly be at the center of my response. can have the annoying habit of teaching us more than we asked it to. Anabaptists teachers.
The defense of these methods.24 Long before the Restoration Movement.” Unity at that price was not a particular blessing to the church or to the surrounding world. I presume. 40 Sebastian Castellio.40 Men are puffed up with knowledge or with false opinion of knowledge and look down upon others. “The end justified the means. Lest one think this is some modern contrivance and caricature. written from the prison in which he died. listen to the words of the 16th century Christian author. Most of us recognize that something was profoundly wrong with the MedievalByzantine and Reformation efforts at unity that led believers to torture. to abuse and to assault other believers. both for the benefits of unity as well as for the need to get everyone under the same orthodox umbrella of truth. faith and practice. Concerning Heretics (1554):122-23 . Pride is followed by cruelty and persecution so that now scarcely anyone is able to endure another who differs at all from him. Sebastion Castellio. by killing or by slandering other Christians. For more than 1000 years a supposedly legitimate means to achieve Christian unity totally dishonored the spirit and values of what Jesus and the Apostolic church taught and lived. At times an intended panacea to cure Christian division produced greater fatalities than the illness of schism. let us agree that in the name of Jesus Christ believers should neither seek nor preserve unity by making refugees of. ostensibly for Christ’s sake. rests on the conviction that. Notwithstanding one’s opinion of the theology and of the leaders of the Church Councils of the 4th and 5th centuries (and sometimes their actions did leave an odor). or one’s appreciation for Luther and Calvin. many of these efforts over the centuries scarred and disfigured the Body of Christ as badly as any division ever did. Lamentably. church theologians struggled to unify all believers.
25 Although opinions are almost as numerous as men. for so many centuries disputed. Hence arise banishments. History from the mid-twentieth century could provide us with some insight at this point. Since WWII we have seen a radical rearrangement of nations and boundaries. more of a pox than a pax for . There is now a postcolonial recognition that the view from the bottom is usually not the same as the view from the top. From certain perspectives these councils and bishops brought painful and permanent. and not yet cleared up. primarily as European colonial powers surrendered their chokehold on vast regions of other continents.” One is reminded of an episode recorded in the work Agricola written by the Roman historian Tacitus. stakes and gallows and this miserable rage to visit daily penalties upon those who differ from the mighty about matters hitherto unknown. nevertheless there is hardly any sect which does not condemn all others and desire to reign alone. In the last half century we have begun to realize and appreciate how radically different this colonialism was experienced and perceived by the oppressive colonial powers on the one hand and those oppressed colonies and peoples on the other hand. But what of those who lived on the outside of Roman culture and were the objects of Rome’s doctrine of divine manifest destiny? Rome’s unifying influence was far from peaceful to them. There are lessons for us to learn from the wishful thinking that the great ecumenical councils of the patristic period served to engender or maintain unity in the church in the spirit of Christ. can also illumine the antithetical experiences and perceptions of the unity engendered by these ostensible “ecumenical councils. The same kind of antithetical experience that went with colonialism and which is articulated by postcolonial theory. The attitudes of most modern westerners as well as those who lived inside the Roman Empire have led to the repeated praise of Pax Romana. if we have ears to hear. imprisonments. at least to this point. chains. division to the church.
It leads painfully to another question: Will not later generations look back at some of our contemporary efforts at unity with equal dismay and similar disappointment. Just like 4th century Christians adopted the Roman Empire model for important aspects of their unity paradigm (submission to worldly methods to achieve kingdom goals) so "postmodern" and other efforts at modern ecumenism seem to be a mere reflection of western pluralism.26 them. plunder. slaughter. he states. The Romans. a minimalist interpretation of the gospel. The point of comparison is not the violence. The authors of The Jesus Proposal make important arguments based upon a certain understanding of people and events in Restoration history as well as in broader church . We join the story on the verge of a massive battle between the Roman army and a tribal leader in Britain named Galgacus and his army. and the ascendency of consumer Christianity? History teaches its best lessons and provides the best pedagogy when the “stuff of history” has not already been forced into the Procrustean Bed of a particular ideology. and rape and then give it the hypocritical name of “empire” and by their imperialism they make a region desolate and call it peace (Agricola 30). As one reads of the barbaric and ungodly treatment of “unorthodox” Christians by other ostensibly “orthodox” Christians. obviously the modern ecumenical movement and the paradigm offered in the Jesus Proposal is far removed from violence! My point is rather the serious impact of cultural values upon unity models. Galgacus encourages his soldiers into battle with an “outsider’s” perspectives on Pax Romana. Preconceived ideas and partisan commitments can infect the retelling of religious history as well as political history. lasting for centuries. one is forced to ask whether this is the kind of unity that Jesus and the Apostles longed for.
One nation’s former hero is all too often another nation’s most savage nightmare.27 history. religious and cultural propaganda bothered Orwell tremendously. And. The 20th century author George Orwell frequently addressed the issue of propaganda and revisionist history through his novels and essays. Given the dramatic appeals in the book based upon church history. the standards of historical accuracy should be above reproach. If The Jesus Proposal suggested only modest adjustments to the Restoration Plea. He was thoroughly disillusioned by the “propaganda as . the burden of proof rests with the authors of this new proposal. then it would be easier to overlook their suspicious retelling of Restoration History. of course. The nature and extent of the behavior of the Japanese Empire throughout Southeast Asia in the 1930s and 1940s is remembered quite differently in modern Japanese history books than in the modern history books of the same region written by Korean and Chinese historians and scholars. observers were reminded afresh of the complexities of history and the dangerous tendency to misuse history to establish and sustain one’s preferred identity and reputation. then the past must be accurately depicted. Since. and he made numerous points that we all should learn from. but also even volatile and explosive because of disputed political. they in fact are calling for a coup d'etat in the hermeneutical methods and general direction of Churches of Christ. If new views and paradigms are constructed and advocated based upon the telling of stories from the past. I give this contemporary illustration just to highlight how pervasive this issue is in appealing to one’s own view of history. military and cultural behaviors. however. it should bother also us. The contrast in the collective memory of these different peoples is not only sharp at times. religious. The pervasive tendency to rewrite the past in order to satisfy the needs of contemporary political. With the recent celebration of the 60th anniversary of VJ Day.
28 history” phenomenon as he experienced it through British imperialism and colonialism (pax Britannica). unlike the southern Churches of Christ the authors grew up in. methods and dangers of revisionist tendencies with these words.netcharles. later through Nazi rhetoric and even later through Communist lies. There are innumerable instances in history where authors revised history to articulate a private ideology or buttress a particular spin with the hope of controlling the future. In the context of the 21st century intellectual climate that has invaded much historical writing. 4 February 1944. accessed 21 February 2007.” Tribune. Religious history has never been spared the bane of revisionism. “Who controls the past controls the future. One of his famous novels. highlights the techniques. available from http://www. 41 .” Orwell’s words are a solemn reminder to all that history is often vulnerable to misrepresentation and distortion. and modern readers should be informed that historians of Restoration History can themselves be advocates of certain paradigm shifts.com/orwell/essays/asiplease1944-01. Who controls the present controls the past. Part of Orwell’s antidote to this highly subjective view of truthfulness was captured in one of his particularly insightful statements: “A certain degree of truthfulness is possible so long as it is admitted that a fact may be true even if you don't like it. truth becomes merely a personal construct based on how we “connect the dots” based upon our human experiences. “As I Please. truth is often conceived of as no more than each individual’s experience of the truth. as a “kinder George Orwell.htm#Feb4. In Orwell’s world of Newspeak and Doublethink he wonders if truth can even exist and be recognized.”41 The Jesus Proposal presents a view of the first generation Protestant Reformers like Luther and Calvin. Internet. 1984.
44 45 46 Michael Servetus in 1553. 47. 126-28. all in the name of God and spiritual truth. see Leroy Garrett. ed. 185. The Jesus Prop[osal. For the Lunenburg Letter. p.29 and gentler” type of piety. Alexander Campbell did not and would not form a Christian union with non-immersed believers in spite of his “baptism-is-not-necessary-for-salvation” theology reflected in the famous “Lunenburg Letter.42 This is an unrealistic view of aspects of that century. pp. On the Jews and Their Lies. Luther advocated that the homes. 1971). The religious rhetoric and behavior of the 16th century can hardly be characterized as irenic and non-judgmental. “The Lunenburg Letter. 498-99. pp. The authors of The Jesus Proposal45 believe that religious significance and leadership should still be given to earlier Restoration thinkers such as Alexander Campbell. but with the caveat that one must be careful not to merely recreate these early leaders in our own image. 268. Like it or not. one characterized by acceptance and toleration of one’s antagonists. 65 Martin Luther. In my opinion it is crucial that we do not recast the ideas of the Protestant Reformers or the Campbells in ways that portray them as thinking and sounding just like we wished they had thought and sounded. . The Christian in Society. in Luther’s Works.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement.”46 Whatever weight one assigns to the 42 43 The Jesus Proposal. I concur. 56-7. Franklin Sherman (Philadelphia: Fortress Press.43 and while Luther did argue against killing one’s Christian opponents. For the record. he certainly had no qualms in demonizing and expelling Christian opponents. vol. shops and synagogues of Jews should be burned to the ground.44 Both the Protestants and Catholics of the 16th century maimed and killed hundreds of Anabaptists. 177. John Calvin argued vigorously over doctrinal issues and on one occasion had a dissenting believer burned at the stake.
the selective use of the historical sources found in The Jesus Proposal (whether intentional or not) is certainly not commendable. This human tendency.” and at other times Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address is cited as a precedent. Specifically.30 thinkers of the Restoration Movement in formulating a contemporary unity plea. it would be misleading to suggest that the early Restoration leaders would embrace the paradigm of unity articulated in The Jesus Proposal.50 It seems disingenuous to imply that the Campbells would have applauded and supported the notions advocated in The Jesus Proposal. pp. pp. of recreating the past in our own image or within our own comfort zone is certainly nothing new. which cannot withstand the test of historical realities and ecclesiastical 47 48 49 50 The Jesus Proposal. The Jesus Proposal. 56-7. 213 . Nevertheless. It seems to me that this portrayal of the early Restoration thinkers consists of too much wishful thinking. Stone’s “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery. 56-8.” 49 This conviction of Thomas Campbell’s is the very perspective that The Jesus Proposal rejects and strives in earnest to overturn.48 While this appeal to these early Restoration documents has rhetorical value for persuasion and advocacy. Thomas Campbell insisted that unity be based upon obedience to Christ “in all things according to the Scriptures” and upon believers’ commitment to “the same rule. 46-7.” the “same mind” and the “same judgment. The Jesus Proposal. The Jesus Proposal. which stalks all of us. truth will not be well served if we reconstruct the theology of the Campbells to make their beliefs and spirituality fit into Procrustean Beds shaped by the personal likes and dislikes of the modern historian. In some places The Jesus Proposal47 approves the spirit and orientation of Barton W. p. pp.
51 They [intelligent and decent people] join different political parties. 64. Isaac Errett. St.”52 Each reader will have to decide whether the authors of The Jesus Proposal are correct in assessing the great diversity and divisions within the history of Christianity as no more than “Christians from different franchises. Given the Campbells’ antipathy to widespread denominationalism and division in the Body of Christ. as a fellowship “devoted to the teaching of the apostles” (Acts 2:42) and striving with vigor to faithfully be “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. . and practice that create different denominations. taste. 1871. 1888. p.”53 In any event. while at the same time marginalizing their concern for doctrinal unity. 214. The True Basis of Christian Union.. and a union depending on their seeing alike can never be. p. 53 The Jesus Proposal. Louis: Christian Publishing Co. intensified in the theology of the Restoration Movement. The marginalization of concern for doctrine is expressed in the following quotation. They read some biblical texts differently and are members of different denominations. March 5. These differences of view are in fact what created denominationalism. this assessment fails to cohere with the 2000-year-old identification of the church.31 history. p. Cincinnati. 3:15). they would be stunned to learn of writers invoking their names and publications with approval. But there is nothing inherently sinful about varieties of understanding. 7. A Sermon Preached in the Central Christian Church. A second generation Restoration thinker named Isaac Errett was convinced that believers could understand the central teachings of Scripture alike and was displeased with pessimistic assessments such as “it is simply impossible for them to see alike. 51 52 The Jesus Proposal.
55 54 55 The Jesus Proposal.” a precedent which the authors use in an effort to demolish “some of the Sataninspired and human-erected walls” of sectarian division in Churches of Christ. in Churches of Christ. E. p. similar problems are manifest in particular characterizations of narratives located in Scripture. pp.” Encyclopedia of Stone-Campbell Movement. Their particular strategy at this point is to argue that for the sake of unity. a shorter discussion is available in E. “Sermon of the Law. Toward this goal a story about king Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 30 is appropriated in a two-page section captioned “A Precedent to Guide Us. The authors attempt to present a view of God that neutralizes the sectarian judgementalism that they had experienced in their youth. even when these practices and beliefs fly in the face of Scripture.” Restoration Quarterly 29 (1987):71-85. “Alexander Campbell's 'Sermon on the Law': A Historical and Theological Examination. Ferguson. they have prevailed throughout the two thousand years of Christian history. .54 This vignette from the Old Testament was perhaps chosen to partially atone for a history of embarrassing neglect and misuse of the Old Testament by the Churches of Christ. and which at times they themselves promoted. Ferguson.32 KING HEZEKIAH AND THE REMOVAL OF “RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY” AND “SECTARIAN RIVALRY” FROM THE RESTORATION MOVEMENT In addition to the historical difficulties and revisionist church history found within The Jesus Proposal. Christians should not take too seriously the doctrinal errors of others. 196-97. 680. Even though Alexander Campbell’s “Sermon on the Law” inadvertently gave impetus to the “lovehate” relationship between the Churches of Christ and the Old Testament. we have no monopoly on these types of hermeneutical issues and blind spots.
voice three concerns about this reconstruction of the Hezekiah story and the suggested ecumenical implications drawn from it. in seeking theological affirmation. one doesn’t have to wait for the post-exilic summary of Hezekiah’s reign by the Chronicler to know that God doesn’t punish individuals every time they act contrary to his revealed will. God not only spared him. but the Lord constrained his wrath and promised with the rainbow not to treat humans as they . Not all of the Israelites from the northern tribes came to this “ecumenical” Passover banquet arranged by Hezekiah. These guests that decided to respond positively to Hezekiah’s summons did not have time and opportunity to fulfill Mosaic ritual purifications which meant that intercessory prayer was required since they would have to eat the Passover meal in a fashion that was “contrary to what was written” [in the Law of Moses] (2 Chron. laws and prophecies “were written down as warnings for us” (1 Cor. demonstrated in their use of the book of 2 Chronicles. One must applaud the authors’ convictions. however. 3:17). king of the southern tribe of Judah. 8:21).33 Basically Hezekiah. invites fellow Israelites from the remaining northern tribes that were not totally destroyed and exiled generations earlier in the Assyrian Captivity to come to Zion to partake of a communal Passover Meal. however. these Old Testament stories. but also protected him (Gen. Obviously Cain deserved to die for fratricide. First of all. 30:18-20). Though it has often been unpopular to think so. 10:11) and to make us “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. this approach acknowledges the intent of God through the Old Testament. spiritual precedence and examples from the Old Testament. Every human being living after Noah deserved to die since God’s diagnosis is “every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood” (Gen. 4:13-15). As Paul observed. I would.
Come to the sanctuary. David knew that it was preferable to “fall into the hands of the LORD. . and it has certainly not been emphasized enough in either past or present discussions about unity. and when those Israelites from the North came to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem it required the denunciation of the religious sins of their ancestors and their own past. Do not be stiff-necked. who were unfaithful to the LORD. Second. Serve the LORD your God. . as your fathers were. . submit to the LORD. pluralism and the flexibility advocated by postmodernism: People of Israel. . Even when punishment was deserved for sin. . which he has consecrated forever. return to the LORD. as premature when one ends this discussion with a reference to “the prayer of Good King Hezekiah for those who are flawed in certain .34 deserved. Without a doubt all participants in this modern reexamination would benefit from becoming more like king Hezekiah in regard to intercessory prayer. the God of their fathers. it is anachronistic to suppose that Hezekiah is arranging an ecumenical meeting with the northern tribes to reunite in a restored twelve-tribe confederacy where all tribes had equal standing. 30:6-9). . We should not forget that Hezekiah is the ruler of a theocratic monarchy in the South. It strikes me. so that his fierce anger will turn away from you. The list from the Old Testament of chapters and verses that teach this conviction is rather long. The king’s appeal to the fellow Israelites in the North is laced with threats of divine wrath for disobedience. . These words and sentiments from 2 Chronicles hardly bespeak tolerance. however. but do not let me fall into the hands of men” (2 Sam. . 24:14). He will not turn his face from you if you return to him (2 Chron. Do not be like your fathers and brothers. . Intercessory prayer is a rich theme in Scripture. for his mercy is great.
Finally. allowing persons unclean because of contact with a corpse or unavailable because of traveling on a distant journey to partake in the Passover at a later service. one will miss a salient point of this Hezekiah story if it is not read in the context of the larger unit of 2 Chronicles 29-31. The pardon for which Hezekiah prayed was for “everyone who sets his heart on seeking God — the LORD. smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. They destroyed the high places and the altars throughout Judah and Benjamin and in Ephraim and Manasseh. In fact. After they had destroyed all of them. the Israelites who were there went out to the towns of Judah. p. Therefore many of Hezekiah’s decisions regarding the Temple and its ceremonies had to be conducted from the perspective of an “emergency situation. long before Hezekiah. the importance of Hezekiah’s restoration of the Temple and its proper worship are readily apparent. 31:1). . The Chronicler’s own theology about this episode and what he meant by “setting one’s heart” on seeking God is sadly understated by Shelly and York.35 interpretations and practices”56 without making reference to the fuller context. When all this had ended. not from doctrinal indifference and religious inclusivism. “in the 56 The Jesus Proposal. 30:19). the God of his fathers” (2 Chron. and not only their remote ancestors. When studied within the context of its literary unit. When Hezekiah came into power the Jerusalem Temple was in disuse and for some time the worship of the Jews had not been done in accordance with the teaching of the Law of Moses. This joint participation in the Jerusalem Passover required the repudiation by the northern Tribes of the religious heritage of their current families.” Making decisions to worship in ways “contrary to what was written” arose from crisis and necessity. 197. the Israelites returned to their own towns and to their own property (2 Chron. God had already stipulated exceptions.
31:20-21) was mirrored in his deep devotion to the Temple. festivals. sacrifices and the accuracy of genealogical records. Even the Jews in the South initially had to worship in ways that did not follow the teaching of Moses. 9:11). even though the Mosaic Law required that the Passover be celebrated in the “first month” (Exodus 12:1-20). From the Chronicler’s perspective Hezekiah was one of the rare kings of Judah that “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chron. Thus. This high esteem in which Hezekiah was held arose from the very strict standards to which he held the northern Israelites and not because of some postmodern spirit of inclusiveness that he possessed. They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem (2 Chron. the correctness of the priests along with their ceremonies. 29:2). circumstances precluded this from happening early in Hezekiah’s reform. The king and his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. The Chronicler reports. This punctilious mindset of Hezekiah (liturgically speaking my way or the highway) can hardly be associated with postmodern ecumenical efforts and an inclusivistic demeanor. This “emergency situation” perspective needs to be a larger part of one’s understanding of the Israelites’ worshipping in Jerusalem than an anachronistic “ecumenical” perspective. . It strikes me as ironic that The Jesus Proposal employs this Hezekiah narrative in an attempt to diminish a contemporary Christian’s concern about the significance of regulations and liturgical rules in discussions about unity. 30:2-3). Hezekiah’s faithfulness (2 Chron.36 second month on the fourteenth day” (Num.
QUEST FOR THE CORE Certainly the authors of The Jesus Proposal are to be lauded for their sensitivity to the heart of God on the issue of unity among believers. They put forward three possible theological perspectives for Christian unity, each with its own history and advocates, and each with advocates convinced that their perspective provides the best “theological framework for maintaining the unity of the Body of Christ.”57 Options two and three are quickly dismissed. Option number two ostensibly represents the theology of moderate Churches of Christ's in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The third option represents the more rigid doctrines of the majority of Churches of Christ in the 1950s. Option 2 The Church of Christ is a Bible-believing fellowship which affirms Jesus as the Son of God who died and was raised to atone for human sin and who gives eternal life to all those who are in him, rejects the five cardinal tenets of Calvinism, practices adult immersion for the remission of sins, participates in the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis, worships with a cappella music exclusively, organizes the local congregations under the oversight of a plurality of male elders, and embraces amillennial eschatology. Option 3 The Church of Christ is a Bible-believing fellowship which affirms Jesus as the Son of God who died and was raised to atone for human sin and who
The Jesus Proposal, pp. 148-49.
gives eternal life to all those who are in him, rejects the five cardinal tenets of Calvinism, practices adult immersion for the remission of sins, participates in the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis, worships with a cappella music exclusively, organizes the local congregations under the oversight of a plurality of male elders, and embraces amillennial eschatology, pleads for the unity of the body of Christ among all who see each of the items already listed as it sees them, and believes that anyone who is not a member of one of its faithful-by-this-definition local congregations is in jeopardy of being lost. These last two are faulted for being unbiblical, sectarian, and too burdened by doctrines,58 leaving the reader with only one option, the wording and theology preferred by the authors of The Jesus Proposal. Option 1 The Church of Christ is a Bible-believing fellowship which affirms Jesus as the Son of God who died and was raised to atone for human sin and who gives eternal life to all those who are in him. From this option, The Jesus Proposal offers the reader a “theological anchor point” on which the unity of the Body of Christ can be advocated. All Christians should unite at this point, namely the death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus as taught in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.59 To their
The Jesus Proposal, p. 150. In so doing, the authors disparage key historical doctrinal convictions of the Restoration Movement, including things such as “adult immersion for the remission of sins” and the rejection of “the five cardinal tenets of Calvinism (The Jesus Proposal, p. 148). “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold
credit Shelly and York do not deny the reality of the doctrinal disagreements that Churches of Christ have with the theology of various Protestant and Catholic churches. They, however, are eager to sacrifice these theological differences on the altar of Christian unity.60 The reader is told that the core, according to Paul himself, is that message recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. The numerous other doctrines and spiritual formulations which are distinctive to denominations and that have caused divisions in the Body of Christ simply do not represent the core of the gospel, the theological anchor point for maintaining unity. The notion that there is a “core” or “center” or “foundation” to the teaching of Scripture could hardly be contested since Scripture itself teaches this. Judaism certainly understood that the Ten Commandments revealed the foundation of God’s Law to Israel. In the same Jewish way of thinking, Jesus himself embraced the concept that the Law could be divided into the "least" and the "greatest" of these commandments (Matt. 5:19). Similarly when viewing the breadth of God’s Law, Jesus recognized there were “more important matters of the law” (Matt. 23:23). The whole dialogue about the “most important commandment” (Mark 12:28-33) in the Synoptic Gospels shows that this way of thinking that distinguished between levels of importance within the totality of God's revelation was at home within Judaism and its offspring, Christianity. Each of these metaphors (core, center, foundation) is used by modern authors to express firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” The Jesus Proposal shares this conviction with others such as D. Gannon, “With Whom Should We Be United? A Biblical Theology of Church Unity,” Stone-Campbell Journal 3 2000, pp. 155-69 which advocates a “Saving Orthodoxy” [= 1 Cor. 15:1-5] that is distinct from a “Sustaining Orthodoxy.”
what they believe is at the “heart” of the New Testament. While this recognition of levels of doctrinal importance can be justified on the basis of biblical, ecclesiastical and practical evidence, this perspective has not always been applied with prudence. The term “core,” for example, has a history of its own in New Testament studies, and this history highlights its potential liabilities as a metaphor for a conservative interpretation and appreciation of Scripture. In the 20th century it was used with vigor by Rudolf Bultmann to distinguish between what he regarded as the disposable layers of the Christian faith and what he regarded as the permanent features. Typically Bultmann peeled away layers of material about Jesus that include both his miracles as well as other traditional Judeo-Christian views of God. Many orthodox beliefs were ripped off to get to the “core” of what was left. In order to make the message of Jesus available to “modern man,” Bultmann peeled away what he regarded as the primitive myths of the ancient world contained in the New Testament.61 More than one scholar has pointed out the extreme difficulties of this approach. “Even if you cannot believe much,” Prof. P. Henry noted sarcastically, “you can believe the little you do believe with full conviction, because it is the core of the New Testament — all else is beside the point, or is simply an elaboration of the point.”62 It is laudable that within this current generation of theologians in the Restoration Movement many have undertaken the “Quest for the Core.” Indeed, such a quest finds antecedent in the early stages of the Restoration Movement. Alexander Campbell’s last essay written a few months prior to his death in 1866 was titled “The Gospel.” In this final written
Bernard Ramm, A Handbook of Contemporary Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 33. Patrick Henry, New Directions in New Testament Study. Westminster Press, 1979, pp. 258-59.
The idea that “the whole gospel” could be represented by only these seven categories and not by all the accumulated doctrines of the New Testament does not seem to have been an anomaly in the theology of Alexander Campbell. teachings. and Coronation of Christ. 12-13. Advocates for the quest for a core include Bill R.” Cf. life. Burial.”64 This quest has re-emerged in the current generation as a significant point in theological thinking among Churches of Christ. ACU Press.” If Christ himself was the foundation. Resurrection. preached. 15:3 as the “bedrock of the gospel. College Press Publishing. His Love Compels. Abilene Christian University Press. in his work entitled The Core Gospel. “Campbell. The True Basis of Christian Union.63 Campbell acknowledged the concept of "core" and on the basis of this concept he argued that all beliefs. resurrection and ascension of Jesus. 1992. Love. 2000. 133-34. 10 cites 1 Cor.” For Alexander Campbell these seven points were the Birth. I first learned of this essay by Alexander Campbell from Leroy Garrett. Olbricht. “that foundation was not laid except in the incarnation. 1996. Ascension. 1865.65 Tom Olbricht. Hearing God’s Voice.41 piece Campbell enumerated seven foundational points of theology “that constitute the whole gospel. Olbricht. Death. p. The Sacrificial Message of God from the New Testament. Thomas H. death. who saw himself as an heir of Campbell. p. From a similar perspective Isaac Errett.66 and some of Olbricht’s former students at 63 Alexander Campbell. pp. 338. My Life with Scripture in the Churches of Christ. Life. 516-17. doctrines and values were not equidistance from the heart of God. Love. Errett continued. The Core Gospel. Alexander. 64 65 66 Isaac Errett. sufferings. . Thomas H. Millennial Harbinger Nov. Bill R. “the very moment that he [=anyone] avowed his faith in Christ — no matter how wrong he might be on a thousand other things — he was admitted through baptism to the fellowship of the Christian Church.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. pp.
the authors of The Jesus Proposal wisely avoid some of the classic mistakes made by previous generations of leaders in Churches of Christ. and the Future of the Churches of Christ. chapter 7. and the remainder of the New Testament.67 If for a moment one can hold in abeyance the suggested “anchor point” of the “death. . 15:1-4) and the “to know nothing . a type of doctrinal alchemy. or even all doctrines taught by Jesus. Examples of this doctrinal The Crux of the Matter. esp. . and resurrection” (1 Cor. Shelly and York did not encumber the core of the New Testament so that it includes every belief and doctrine found within the New Testament. They quite correctly refused to twist texts such as 2 John into meaning that everyone is an antichrist who does not hold to all the doctrines in Scripture. . Tradition.42 ACU. where Childers sometimes regards the core as the Bible’s “center of gravity”. 2:2) language of 1 Corinthians in order to consider the evidence of Acts. but also eschew putting at the center doctrines that are of minimal significance or that receive only minimal attention in the pages of Scripture. The authors not only avoid locating too many doctrines at the center of the faith. burial. then the serious problems embedded within the proposed core of The Jesus Proposal rapidly become apparent. except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 68 67 Some marginal ideas are found many times while significant themes are rarely mentioned. To their credit. In particular. becomes apparent when one compares the relative insignificance of some doctrines in the New Testament with their embellished and inflated significance in later Christian history. the other Pauline epistles.68 The transformation of simple biblical statements of faith into elaborate ecclesiastical dogma. most recently in the contribution of Jeff Childers in the book The Crux of the Matter: Crisis.
philosophy and theology. 2 Cor.. Matt. and the Spirit (e. performed in later centuries to satisfy the needs of piety. the affirmation of these (and scores of additional) biblical concepts about the Father. his unique Son. The Scriptures clearly teach the oneness of God.g. 13:14) are rarely regarded as adequate for speculative Trinitarians. 28:19. 69 . that the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus of Nazareth. As the early leaders of the Restoration Movement knew from experience. and that God’s Spirit has been poured out upon the elect in these last days. the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ and speculative Trinitarianism. the Son. include matters such as the Millennium of Rev. 20.43 alchemy.69 Once again The Jesus Proposal eschewed this flawed method and did not inflate the significance of these types of doctrines by moving them from the margins to the center.
Christ's authority and rule." In particular. without the dynamic contemporary reign of the enthroned Christ. Without these additional three. we are left with artifacts. and the eschatological judgment of God. Specifically. If the work of God through his Son is to move beyond the incarnation. the core proposed by the authors of The Jesus Proposal does not in my judgment supply all that is required. of a religion of the distant past. to use the authors' words. particularly God’s judgment of his creatures and the kingdoms of this world.44 NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT Nevertheless. one's core remains insufficient for the task of advocating for "a theological framework for maintaining the unity of the Body of Christ. it is devoid of any significant exploration and conversation about God the Father and accordingly overlooks the central role of the “one God. Perhaps the history and conditions of the contemporary western church necessitate the church's ambivalence about God's . delegated by the Father and manifested in his enthronement of his beloved Son. Finally. their portrait is noticeably remiss to the ascension and enthronement of Christ. Notwithstanding the significance of God’s work 2000 years ago. burial. albeit spectacular artifacts.” Beyond the "death. from whom all things come and for whom we live” (I Cor 8:6) in the doctrine and piety of the New Testament. and resurrection. for a "theological framework for maintaining unity. tomb and resurrection of 2000 years ago." there are at least three more major theological points that are at the core of early Christian preaching and theology: Centrality of God the Father [theocentrism]. When the authors work in the area of Christology. the enthronement and rule of Christ. the Father. The Jesus Proposal offers an “anchor point” devoid of any substantive eschatology. The Jesus Proposal offers a “theological anchor point” that is too truncated. must come into sharper view and move toward the center in a more dramatic way.
the eschatological vision and perspective of the New Testament will remain forever beyond their grasp. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ. a core limited to one statement found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Paul saw God as important everywhere in the present time and he looked forward to a time when God would be "all in all" (1 Cor. These three surely do not encompass all the theological components that might be shared for Christian unity. These three theological convictions reflect. to the theological “core” presented by The Jesus Proposal. and he spoke constantly about the One who was central to his thinking. Leon Morris’s perspective in this matter.45 eschatological judgment. It seems to me that until Churches of Christ intentionally behave like a sub-culture. especially regarding Paul. New Testament Theology. is worth citing.70 Paul was a God-intoxicated man. as the word "saints" denotes. and God’s eschatological judgment – are exceedingly pervasive and significant doctrines in the New Testament. 70 Leon Morris. . 1986. devotional literature. . prayers and apologetics. 15:28). Everything he dealt with he related to God. an improvement and necessary addition. cannot be ignored in issues of Christian unity. God the Father Notwithstanding the impression left by Christian hymns. . Christ’s enthronement and rule. God the Father rather than Christ the Son is the focal point of the New Testament. 25. in my judgment. but these. I argue.. p. . I will argue that these three truths – the central role of God the Father (theocentrism).
One of the more egregious examples of this christocentric aberration in recent literature is found in the words of Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. . p. The Shaping of Things to Come. 1997).A. 356-59. Blowers.71 and numerous Protestant scholars continue to address the abysmal disregard for the Old Testament and God the Father in theology. This disregard for the Old Testament and theocentrism can be found all along the theological spectrum. The Living Word Commentary (Abilene. Even in the Restoration Movement discussions about the “Doctrine of God” have regrettably too often been articulated in terms of Christology. all theology must now be understood through Christology.” in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity.. D. The Gospel According to John: Part II 11:1-21:35. Hendrickson Pub.” The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. To say this more technically. Everett Ferguson (New York: Garland Publishing. TX: ACU Press. The Churches of Christ certainly have no monopoly on this flawed emphasis upon christocentrism. 392457). Carson.46 Lamentably far too much of theology has been christocentric rather than theocentric. but rather that God is actually Christlike. The far-reaching tentacles of the Marcionite heresy of the early church continue to reach into the modern era of the church.72 The remarkable truth is not so much that Jesus is Godlike. ed. 70. 2003. 37. pp. 2:714-715. The Gospel According to John 74 73 72 71 . . (God is Christlike and in him is no unChristlikeness at all). “Doctrine of God. “No one is good — except God alone" (Mark 10:18) continue to fall largely upon deaf ears in contemporary Churches of Christ. “Marcion (ca. Paul M. Frank Pack. Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch..74 For a description of Marcion’s heresy see Everett Ferguson.73 Jesus' own pronouncements that "the Father is greater than I" (John 14:26) and “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. . Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church. 1977). 2d ed.
Perhaps it arose when the church began to read the Scriptures backwards rather than forwards. the way it was intended. that led people to think that the “Great Commission” began in Matthew 28 rather than Genesis 12 or that Christians were supposed to thrive spiritually on a truncated Canon of 27 books at the expense of the Old Testament and its authority. for example. 508. . This was the same type of skewed perspective.47 The unified witness of the New Testament is so thoroughly theocentric that one wonders how Christianity became Christocentric so soon. Sometimes even the wording of certain English translations have obscured the presence of theocentrism. Consider the following translations from two different versions of the text of Colossians 1:15-20. 1991). (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
11:16. Holloway and Lowery. 75 . 12:27. 4:12. p. 230. 2 Cor. Baker. how is theocentrism compatible with the emphases of the famous "Christ hymn" in Phil. The obvious theocentrism of Paul in this area of ecclesiology is manifest in his frequent and preferred use of the phrase “Church(es) of God” (1 Cor. 15:9. “An Evangelical Response to Ferguson. 2:5-11? Turning to some of the preceding objections to theocentrism.” Even though Paul often discusses the church in association with the imagery of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. Stanley Grenz. then why are we called the Churches of Christ? If theocentrism is valid. 1:22-3. William R. 1:2. an outlook certainly not normative for Scripture." “believers. Col. it is not even clear whether believers or their antagonists coined the word. 4:16). isn’t Christ supposed to be the center of the Christian faith. Based upon the three occurrences in the New Testament (Acts 11:26. 5:23. 1 Pet. 10:32. But. one understandably asks? Isn’t the centrality of Christ manifested in the fact that we are called “Christians?” If christocentrism is flawed. 16:16) than does the term “Christian. Eph. Ed. 1:18-9).” “brothers. The TNIV's wording makes it clearer that Christ is the agency through whom the Father acted as Creator. Stanley Grenz has correctly observed that “the Christocentric character of the Stone-Campbell ecclesiology”75 has limited the vision of the Churches of Christ in respect to other Biblical paradigms for describing the people of God.” in Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement.48 I have known more than one Christian who drew from the NIV's wording that Jesus was the Creator. 1:1. the phrase “Churches of Christ” occurs with even less frequency in the New Testament (Rom. Clear terms of choice in the New Testament include words such as "disciples. the term “Christian” is hardly a term of choice used by Jesus or his earliest disciples.” and “saints. 3:11)? Furthermore. 2002.” Interestingly. 26:28. then what did Paul mean by “Christ is the only foundation” (1 Cor. Foreward by Mark Noll. InterVarsity Press.
Acts 20:28) rather than Churches of Christ. 1224-25. 3:23). 3. 3:16-17). 35c (Dallas. Paul and Apollos are “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. Furthermore. or lack of it. While Jesus’ physical departure from earth is classically portrayed only in Acts 1. and “God’s temple” (1 Cor. The context for Paul’s metaphor that Christ is the only foundation highlights the theocentrism rather than the christocentrism of that section of 1 Corinthians. 1993). speaks volumes about its theological emphases. 1:4.76 his subsequent enthronement at the right hand of God exercises a prominent role in the New Testament. then there is no need even to debate whether the enthronement and reign of the Son of God have been neglected. Translation. 3:9). and Notes.49 Gal. TX: Word Books. this third chapter of 1 Corinthians ends with a theocentric affirmation when the apostle writes to the Corinthians. vol. “and you are of Christ.” according to Paul. Word Biblical Commentary. Thus the building in which Christ serves as the “only foundation” (1 Cor. One of the important truths lost in the diminishing appreciation for Acts chapter 2 in the 76 Some scholars believe it is also presented in Luke 24:50. The Anchor Bible (Garden City. Ascension-Enthronement Until the art and iconography of the church gives equal attention to the enthroned Christ as it does to the crucified Christ. 1586-89. 1:13. 2 Thess. 3:9). 3:9) and the Corinthians are “God’s field” (1 Cor. Luke 18:35-24:53. and Christ is of God” (1 Cor. . NY: Doubleday. John Nolland. “God’s building” (1 Cor. Fitzmeyer. 15. 1985). The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV): Introduction. cf. 3:10-15) is none other than “God’s building. In the context of 1 Corinthians 3 and its metaphors. 5. It is astounding that scholars could have forged a core that omits something as central to the message and faith of the New Testament as the ascension-enthronement of the Christ. 1 Tim. Joseph A. The church's artwork and architecture.
”79 I would hope that no one attempts to define Jesus' own mission on the basis of one story alone. . loving. and compassionate treatment of their fellow human beings. Luke goes to great lengths to construct and sustain an intentional Davidic Christology. especially in the writings of Luke. This attempt to grasp who Jesus is from a non-Davidic. The authors argue that Jesus decided not to “conduct seminars in biblical doctrine” (cf. 7). non-royal and non-enthroned perspective undermines important teachings found throughout the NT. . pp. which provides the Jewish backgrounds to the enthronement theology of the New Testament.50 theology of Churches of Christ is Peter’s robust doctrine of Christ’s ascension-enthronement (Acts 2:25-36). 5:17ff) but rather to “exhort his followers to upright. a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. 79 The Jesus Proposal. The Jesus Proposal wants to lead its readers to the opposite conclusion. 159-60. Yet. 77 78 John Chrysostom Homilies on The Acts of the Apostles 1. . associating Jesus with the enthroned King David in order to reveal what he himself believed was at the core of the Christology: Luke 1:27 . even an important one. The virgin’s name was Mary. a descendant of David. John Chrysostom's comments in the 5th century that almost no one in the church of his day knew of the book of Acts might well have been a prophecy for the Churches of Christ of the 21st century.”78 They then conclude that "Jesus defined his own mission in the world by his reading of an Old Testament text in the Nazareth synagogue" from Isaiah 61 while neglecting the “several texts that tied the Messiah to King David. is ubiquitous in the Christology of LukeActs.77 The Davidic covenant (2 Sam. Jesus' emphasis upon "small doctrines" in Matt. A cursory look in Luke-Acts at the use of the Greek stem dida—and its cognates (or the English term "teach" and its cognates) reveals the inappropriateness of this evaluation.
just as he had been in the infancy narratives. always supported by the firm conviction regarding Christ’s enthronement. it was this very connection that engendered faith in those early audiences! Those early groups exposed to apostolic preaching would have been stunned had the sermons normally ended with merely. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea. he is Christ the Lord. ." Notwithstanding Mel Gibson's magnification of the vicarious suffering and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. "Christ crucified. because he belonged to the house and line of David. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you." or the "risen Christ. in fact. These foundational and paradigmatic sermons of both Peter in Jerusalem and Paul in Pisidian Antioch promote an explicit Davidic Christology. the apostolic preaching that Luke reported had as much or more interest in the enthronement and reign of Christ as a Davidic ruler. Rather than giving every apostolic sermon equal space. Luke typically gives more attention to the earlier evangelistic sermons in the ministries of Peter (Acts 2) and of Paul (Acts 13). It is Luke’s hope that the reader will perceive what a “typical” sermon was like so that he would not have to repeat it every time he mentioned a sermon by Peter or Paul. Accordingly. Luke is likewise very deliberate in his adaptation of Davidic Covenant Theology in his construction and use of speeches in the Acts of the Apostles. Luke 2:11 In addition to the centrality of an enthroned Messiah in Luke's formulation of the birth narratives of Jesus. to connect Christ to David and to the Davidic Covenant.51 Luke 1:32 Luke 1:69 Luke 2:4 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. to Bethlehem the town of David. Luke was intentional in these preaching summaries from Acts 2 and 13.
4:10) that undergirds these admonitions concerning unity. Mark 14:62 Luke 22:69 Acts 2:29-36 “I am. the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God. Exalted to the right hand of God. without the ministry of the ascended and enthroned Lord. "Is a theology of the ascended and enthroned Messiah connected directly with unity?" If the two are connected. God has raised this Jesus to life.” (Eph. 1:10. he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit . But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. The statements concerning unity must not be ripped from the soil of the surrounding theology. 4:3) and the “unity of the faith” (Eph.” But from now on. at the same time. and we are all witnesses of the fact. It should come as no surprise. the ascension Christology from the same chapter of Ephesians. As the following citation of verses highlights. then. in order to fill the whole universe. who “is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven. Brothers.52 One might ask. and his tomb is here to this day. 4:13) and.” said Jesus. nor did his body see decay. 4:10-13. one should heed both Paul's admonitions about honoring the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ. numerous vital facets of New Testament theology and spirituality would simply disappear and the Body of Christ would remain anemic. As such. 4:3 and 4:13) and the nearby ascension Christology manifest in Eph. I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried. that he was not abandoned to the grave. Seeing what was ahead. is it not the case that believers ought to embrace both the divine mandates about unity as well as the theology that undergirds the mandate. that the type of unity the apostle Paul had in mind will forever be illusive as long as the church acts and preaches as though there is no necessary connection between the theme of unity (Eph. 20-23. For the apostle Paul it is the reality of the enthronement of the Christ.
who for the joy set before him endured the cross. and so is the Holy Spirit. which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms. “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’. the author and perfecter of our faith. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. Jesus Christ. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. you have been raised with Christ. set your hearts on things above. 3:21-22 Rev. power and dominion. not only in the present age but also in the one to come. . 8:1 Heb. She gave birth to a son.” Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus. 15:25. in heaven and on earth and under the earth.53 and has poured out what you now see and hear. whom God has given to those who obey him. it is clear that this does not include God himself. authorities and powers in submission to him. 12:5 . 1:20-22 Phil. both Lord and Christ. and every title that can be given. To which of the angels did God ever say. For he “has put everything under his feet. who put everything under Christ. who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand — with angels. who died — more than that.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him. and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 27 Eph. whom you crucified. far above all rule and authority. to the glory of God the Father. that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow. 12:2 1 Pet. 3:1 Heb. a male child. and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. 2:9-11 Col. and yet he said. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. Since.” Christ Jesus.” Acts 5:30-33 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead — whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. . then. who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church. Rom. scorning its shame. 1:13 Heb. We are witnesses of these things. where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. . who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. For David did not ascend to heaven. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 8:34 1 Cor.
and resurrection” is that this keeps the focus comfortably on what God has done for me. The death.”80 and “Likewise the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to a heavenly position alongside himself (a glorification) is common. bespeaks Lordship. however. 11:15-17). the enthronement of Christ was alarming and threatening to them (Acts 17:6-7). . including a forced genuflection and confession from God’s enemies and a subjugation of the kingdoms of this world.”81 Since the current neglect of enthronement theology cannot be explained by the infrequency and faintness of its voice in the New Testament. burial. p. Many Witnesses. and it subverted any hope of true Christianity becoming an attractive civil religion.54 Regarding the importance of the ascension-enthronement I. InterVarsity Press. p. All of this kind of language and worldview radicalizes the Christian message and raises its level of annoyance to outsiders. 2004. New Testament Theology. 720. my sins and my mortality. Perhaps one of the reasons that Christians have been more amenable to keeping the core associated primarily with the “death. Howard Marshall. Little wonder that the Revelation of John presents Jesus’ coronation as the zenith of the sounding of the seventh trumpet at the opening of the seventh seal (Rev. Howard Marshall concludes. The enthronement of Christ. Churches in North America are not especially attracted either to the kingship of Christ. resurrection and exaltation of Jesus constitute the saving event . While the cross of Christ was foolishness to pagans. 81 80 Marshall. 696. . One Gospel. “Peter’s understanding of salvation is likewise close to that of Paul. I. basic Christian belief. New Testament Theology. . . since they generally prefer a Savior rather than a King. one must look elsewhere for explanations.
Paul mentions this dimension of their turn to Christianity (1 Thess. 24:25. John 5:22-30. since Paul himself (2 Tim. it would be difficult to regard the New 82 The Jesus Proposal. Heb. p. Since these new converts in Thessalonica and Athens came from audiences that were primarily pagan rather than Jewish. 1:9-10): “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. 2:16-18) believes that the teaching of distorted eschatology is sometimes to be associated with phrases such as “gangrene. The view expressed in The Jesus Proposal is that our “best understandings of eschatology”82 do not have to be in agreement for believers to have unity. 16:27. Acts 10:42. 1:17. 13:36-43. 4:5. in his summary of the conversion of the Thessalonian believers.” and “destroying the faith of some. 2:23. 20:11-15). 209 . 1 Pet.55 Eschatological Judgment The third egregious omission from The Jesus Proposal and its theological anchor point is the New Testament doctrine of eschatology. 25:1-46. whom he raised from the dead — Jesus. Yet. and to wait for his Son from heaven. Paul’s sermon in Athens (Acts 17:31) certainly included a message about God’s “judgment of the world. Furthermore. 5:9.” Likewise. with its pillars of the final resurrection and judgment. 9:27-28.” “godless chatter.” It should not be overlooked that in both of these instances (Athens and Thessalonica) those who became believers were converted by a gospel that included the message of the future wrath of God on Judgment Day.” “wandering away from the truth. James 4:12. 17. who rescues us from the coming wrath. Rev.” we would be remiss to categorically ignore this doctrine in contemporary discussion of issues central to faith and unity. 12. the Gospels as well as other New Testament writings manifest how widespread this doctrinal belief was both in the teaching of Jesus and the early church (Matt.
in fact. are undisturbed by the fact that there is not a single occurrence of the noun agape or the verb agapao in all the evangelistic sermons in the Acts of the Apostles. 2:12. 11:31-2.56 Testament doctrine of the eschatological judgment of God as some mere Jewish husk or peeling that can be stripped away from the “core” of the gospel. 5:10. 83 . what led to its evaporation in the current generation. Eph. 3:6. many Dieterich Bonhoeffer. 2:2-8. That is. 1 Cor. If this conviction about eschatology was so clear in the mind and speech of Jesus and the early church. of the ascendancy of consumer Christianity and western pluralism in recent decades. it also played a decisive role in Paul's teachings to believers. 2 Cor. subverted and neutralized by the Bride of Christ's own illicit and idolatrous love affair with a permissive agape-love. anywhere in Acts. 2 Tim. it seems to me. or. It has been increasingly difficult to keep theological perspectives about the judgment and the wrath of God in the thoughts of the contemporary church because. In lieu of finding guidance and insight for preaching and teaching in the sermons and narratives of Acts. Col. 5:6. In reality. 14:10. No matter how clarion and how loudly the Scriptures speak about the certainty of the wrath of God. 1:5. then God will treat him as such. the voice of Scripture is often marginalized. rev ed. 45-60. Furthermore. 5:9.83 I find it more than a little peculiar that many modern preachers in the West. 1:8-9. but also of their own eschatological destiny if they continued in behavior that resembled their non-believing contemporaries (Rom. 2 Thess. In this way he taught believers not only of the destiny of their nonbelieving contemporaries. (New York: The Macmillan Company. The Cost of Discipleship. Paul’s doctrine of the eschatological wrath of God was not taught solely to describe God's treatment of non-believers. Gal. 1963). 4:1. 3:6. 8). 4:5. who would claim to be biblical and evangelical. if a believer continues to act like a non-believer.
when leading preachers from "Bible believing" churches and ministries refuse to preach about the doctrine of God's wrath against sin.85 After spending over 700 pages looking at the various books of the New Testament and the variety of their theological voices. 21:00 ET. History has come to expect the abandonment of traditional views by the left wing of Christendom. Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. Joel Osteen. 85 84 .” interview by Larry King. A new era seems to have arrived. one is forced to conclude that this is not the "old time religion" of conservative churches. when a self-acknowledged fundamentalist preacher evaluates the spiritual condition of Hindus on the basis of their sincerity. aired December 25. however. Billy Graham. 295-97. aired July 3. H. 2005. Howard Marshall states. when they preached about the necessity of knowing God through Jesus Christ. 1973). If this above-described situation existed principally among liberal Protestant and Catholic scholars and denominations. Carl F. Likewise. CNN Larry King Live. ed. CNN Larry King Live. Nicholi II. “Interview with Reverend Billy Graham.” interview by Larry King.57 contemporary believers recite John 3:16 and Matthew 7:1 as mantras for spiritual tranquility and guidance.” in Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics. I. “Homosexualism and Homosexuality. It was not too long ago that conservative believers consistently regarded homosexual lifestyle by Christians as sinful. “Interview with Joel Osteen. 21:00 ET. nothing would seem out of the ordinary. Thus in broad terms our analysis suggests that there is a significant core of agreement and identity within the theologies of the individual constituents of the New Testament. Throughout the New Testament we are presented Armand M.84 That is no longer the case. Is it possible to give an account of this core? The main theme. 2005.
. 17:7. so to speak. 19:13. . 12. . In these instances unity must be dissolved since one of the two groups is destined for the wrath of God. 3:11-12) and also in the closing chapters of the Apocalypse of John (Rev. p. God will bring his redemptive action to its consummation with the parousia of Christ. New Testament Theology. it is noteworthy that at times a firm commitment to eschatology actually led to the dissolution of visible unity among believers. 5:9-13) and egregious doctrinal errors (Gal. 21:21. An important intersection of unity and God's judgment is made clear in Paul's treatment of both flagrant moral sins (1 Cor. 24:7) with the goal of the sinner's repentance so that he will escape God's eschatological wrath. 717-18. 21:8). 4:28-31).86 The frequency and centrality of this eschatological doctrine within the New Testament is symbolized by the fact that one encounters the unquenchable eschatological fire of God's wrath both in the opening chapters of Matthew (Matt. In these instances he promoted the removal of unity! Sometimes divisions and the erection of barriers between believers is exactly what fidelity to God requires. final judgment and the destruction of evil . 20:10-15. . evident in his allegorical interpretation of Genesis 21:9-12.58 with a religion of redemption. . 24. 13:5. In the former case of moral sins Paul adapts the thematic “purge the evil” texts from Deuteronomy (Deut. that the churches of Galatia “get rid of” agitating Jewish Christian brothers who oppose Paul's own 86 Marshall. from cover to cover. Regarding God's eschatological judgment. . . The same four stages are common to all the writers: There is a situation of human need that is understood as sin that places sinners under divine judgment. 22:21. 19. 22. 21:9. In these instances it was Paul’s conviction and practice to discourage the continuation of unity already existing between believers. In the latter case of false teaching Paul insists.
burial and resurrection" of Jesus.” or “personal taste. p. 4:28-31). as affirmed by the authors of The Jesus Proposal. In both instances Paul demands that believers terminate the practice of unity because of the sinful behavior or erroneous doctrine among other believers. If the gospel core consists solely in the death. 87 The Jesus Proposal.59 particular doctrinal view and practice of mission to the Gentiles as revealed to him by God. the apostle demanded that they expel them (Gal. 210. Paul had no ground upon which to frustrate the unity within the churches of Galatia. This common “core” was not sufficient for unity in the setting of the Galatian issues. burial and resurrection. as well as in scores upon scores of other beliefs. This ability to dissolve unity for the sake of doctrinal purity is incongruent with the method of reasoning and the conclusions expressed in The Jesus Proposal. burial. The stated conviction that anything beyond “the central story of Christ’s death. and resurrection for us” must be relegated to the lesser matters of “denominational background. There can be no doubt historically that Paul’s opponents in Galatia also shared a common faith with Paul in these “core” beliefs. .” or “distinctive interpretations of biblical texts” or “even trivia”87 does not resonate with the writings of Paul or Luke or any other New Testament author. Rather than demanding that the churches of Galatia embrace these false brothers who also believed in the "death.
15:1-4 from its surrounding context. This includes a sensitivity to the style and genre of the documents of Scripture.89 Yet.88 1 Cor.90 could one not use 1 Corinthians 2:2 to establish that the believers at Corinth became Christians without even hearing from Paul about the resurrection of Christ? After all. 105. 15:1-4 is often viewed as containing the clear idea that Paul believed in a "core gospel" and that it consisted of the triad "death. 15:1-4 The training of the scholars. in this verse Paul does explicitly state that he knew “nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor.” As a methodology this is suspiciously similar to the one which affirms that verses simply “say what they mean.g. therefore. and rhetoric. by this same simple methodology of merely taking a verse at its face value. troublesome and perplexing that many of those who now claim to have located (with greater erudition and insight than their forebearers) the core of the New Testament have done so by lifting 1 Cor. Despite this variety. the preachers and the high profile individuals leading in the call for this current reexamination represent a variety of academic fields.” Often translations and technical commentaries point out that the Greek prepositional phrase rendered “of first importance” could also be rendered “at first. It is. without manifesting much sensitivity to issues of genre. Even the traditional translation “of first importance” does not preclude other items also being “of first importance. Love.” thus reinforcing the previous emphasis on “I remind you about the gospel I preached. all agree that we should interpret Scriptures with an awareness to insights provided by scholarship. to the specific occasion of an individual letter. The Core Gospel. style. narrative or Gospel and to the rhetoric and tone of its various parts. and mean what they say. burial and resurrection" of Christ.60 AN ANCHOR THAT WON'T HOLD: ANOTHER LOOK AT 1 COR. occasion. 314. poem. 88 89 E.” 90 .
This fact raises some question about Crucicentric (centrality of the cross) theologies (e. 1990. Becoming a Cross-Shaped People in a Secular World. First. and rhetoric as employed elsewhere in the NT. the reason for which Paul writes 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 and the choice of terms that he uses stem directly from the occasion of that particular chapter. It would. 2nd ed. and the Future of Churches of Christ. were focused on “teaching them the Word of God. “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead. In an epistle where content and theology are clearly structured around the apostle’s dealing with various problem areas. the simple fact is that in Paul's writings "Christ crucified" is simply not highlighted and put on a pedestal. e. 92 91 . Jeff Childers. Leonard Allen The Cruciform Church. occasion. resurrection. Keck. incarnation. Romans. The Crux of the Matter.” In light of the charges against Paul by the unbelieving Jews at Corinth and Gallio’s response to them about Jewish “words.92 Two points in particular should be kept in mind regarding a contextual handling of 1 Corinthians 15. of course. and law” (Acts 18:13-15). enthronement. Nashville:Abingdon Press. 2001. Abilene:ACU Press. names. during which time he certainly continued to have converts. pp. and Jack R. 125-39.. p. pp.61 2:2). Tradition. esp. Crisis. Abilene: ACU Press. 32 observes that the term “cross” does not appear even once in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Reese. The specific occasion is revealed in the wording of 1 Corinthians 15:12. Leander E. esp. 223-28).g. it is clear that both 1 Cor. Foster. it seems improbable that Paul only preached “Christ and him crucified. how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” This summary statement of their denial of the resurrection demonstrates with clarity that the According to Acts 18:11 Paul’s 18 months there.91 with no reference to the resurrection in this Pauline summary of the core.” The focus on the cross of Christ is much more popular in Christian hymnody and devotional materials than it is in Paul’s letters. 2:2 and 15:1-4 must be subject to the same inquiries about genre. removed from the cluster of several other theological themes. 2005.g. Douglas A. Although parts of church history and Christian literature might lead one to think otherwise. be a strange situation indeed if only Jesus’ death on the cross was preached by Paul.
The Concept of Biblical Theology: An Old Testament Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press. “Hermeneutics/Interpreting Paul. Osborne. Bernd Janowski. often built upon erudite research and advanced methods of investigation. That this element is omitted from several contemporary presentations of the three part "core gospel" reveals that the threepoint gospel has been artificially lifted from Paul's original four point gospel message. 666-79 provide two summaries of proposed methods and proposed solutions to this issue. 28-32.” was central to the gospel of 1 Corinthians 15. 393-94 and S. The fourth point. 337-43.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. “Paul and His Interpreters. the reality of Christ’s appearance “to Peter. all of which makes abundant sense in light of the historical circumstances of the letter and the particular issue of chapter 15. J. Hafemann. it is often unnoticed that Paul’s message “of first importance” begins in 1 Corinthians 15:3 and ends in 15:5.” Theology Today 57 (October 2000): 297-324. how do the authors of The Jesus Proposal so quickly privilege these particular verses in James Barr. 313-16.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. A contextual handling of Paul's message must include the post-resurrection appearances of Christ.62 reasons for the wording of 15:1-4 arose from the need to discuss at this particular juncture the resurrection of Christ as a harbinger of the later resurrection of believers at the time of Christ's return. 94 93 . Over the decades numerous works have been penned that have investigated and discussed the issue of the center and core of the Old Testament93 and of the New Testament. and then to the Twelve. pp. Grant R. Second. pp. This reveals that his message was in actuality a four-point gospel and not the three-point gospel that is typically represented. 1999).94 In light of these many studies. “The One God of the Two Testaments: Basic Questions of a Biblical Theology. both in the Greek text and in most English translations.
If this proposed “core” provides a simple and obvious strategy for Christian unity. burial and resurrection. 11:18. If the “true core” of the gospel consists essentially of Jesus’ death. shouldn’t one begin with the texts in 1 Corinthians that treat division and unity rather than one that focuses on resurrection? In order to understand Paul's strategy for unity. 1:10. One would expect that "a proposal for Christian unity that is so thoroughly Jesus-centered that it will commend itself to thoughtful believers from many quarters"95 would stand out in the writings of the apostles and other major authors of the New Testament. a letter with the greatest frequency of the term “gospel” (with its cognates) of all of the Pauline letters. 12:25). perspectives and reasons that the Apostle himself employs in 1 Corinthians both to combat strife and to promote unity. especially when he needed to advocate unity. If The Jesus Proposal truly "commends itself to thoughtful believers. it could be helpful to look at the various themes. then this triad should easily fit into Paul’s presentation of the gospel in other letters." then why weren't the apostles "thoughtful" enough to anticipate and use this proposal in their own ministries? Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. .63 1 Corinthians 15 as the anchor text and the definitive basis for unity over all the other possible verses and doctrines of Scripture? Since the Corinthian church is known for its struggles with strife and division (1 Cor. then what kept Paul from realizing this himself when writing the Corinthian Letters? Why didn't Paul quote the triad of 1 Cor. 15:1-4 at those junctures in the epistles where disunity and strife are dealt with? This question must also be asked of other Pauline letters and of other writings of the New Testament. 21. demonstrates that this understanding of 95 The Jesus Proposal p.
’” The gospel of Galatians is that the blessings of God given to Abraham are now extended to Gentiles on the basis of faith. New Testament) states. burial and resurrection. Several contemporary scholars don’t even regard the Galatian opponents as guilty of — to use a non-biblical term — legalism. faultless” at Phil. a contorted historical reconstruction of Scot McKnight. one needs to look no further than Galatians 3:8 to find the meaning of gospel in Galatians: “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith. 3:6. This perspective from Galatians on "gospel" would obviously not have had any relevance to 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul needed to address the issue of the future resurrection of believers. “as for righteousness based on the law.” 96 . burial and resurrection. The Today’s New International Version (2002. The NIV Application Commentary. 1:6-9)? There is no indication from Paul that he believes that these Christian "false brothers" are guilty of denying Jesus’ death. pp. rather than to some pristine theological nugget from another epistle that must be imported in order to rightly understand Paul's writing to the Galatians. but the committee has since rethought the issue. 19-46. and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you. It would demand arduous mental gymnastics. faultless. The traditional NIV translation contained the phrase “as for legalistic righteousness. If the definition of the core gospel given in 1 Corinthians 15 does not supply the appropriate meaning for the gospel in Galatians.64 the “core” from 1 Corinthians 15 is far from adequate. what does Paul have in mind when he accuses his opponents in Galatia of “turning to a different gospel” or “trying to pervert the gospel” or responding to “a gospel other than the one we preached” (Gal.” Galatians. then where does one find the appropriate meaning? A commitment to historical and exegetical methodology requires that one looks to Galatians. “Introduction: Legalism Then and Now.96 much less that they denied Jesus’ death. In fact. For example.
burial and resurrection" to solve this major rupture of unity and fellowship. slave nor free. 2:14). While focused on the Apostle's letter to the churches of Galatia. 15:1-4 with the gospel used by Paul to address the false teaching among the churches of Galatia. the Antioch episode mentioned in Galatians 2 is very instructive at this point. When Paul castigates the Apostle Cephas for “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. Neither of the authors of The Jesus Proposal seems to hold to a view of baptism that resonates . Looking more deeply. Barnabas and other believers is reckoned as hypocrisy because it repudiated the "right hand of fellowship" acknowledged earlier at Jerusalem. 2:12-14). There is neither Jew nor Greek. That is. 3:27-29). it is helpful to look at what theological point Paul employs when giving teaching about unity in that particular setting: For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. If you belong to Christ. It is especially striking that the Apostle Paul did not invoke the “core” of the "death. the "separation" or "drawing back" behavior of Peter. for you are all one in Christ Jesus. male nor female. do we find scholars suggesting that Peter had doubts about the “death. and resurrection” of the Lord? Peter’s sin was specifically in regard to his hypocrisy about the inclusion of Gentiles into the elect of God (Gal. burial. then you are Abraham’s seed. Interpreters have rightly seen unity among believers at Antioch as an issue associated with “table-fellowship” among Christians there. and heirs according to the promise (Gal.65 the opponents in Galatia and a fertile imagination to identify the focus of the gospel of 1 Cor. either when meeting with the pillars of the church in Jerusalem or when castigating Cephas and others at Antioch.
there appears to be something akin to the division and community fragmentation that The Jesus Proposal wants to overcome that took place during the formative decades of the early church. already devoutly believed in the truth stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.97 This probably explains the obvious neglect of baptism in their own proposal for unity. even though baptism serves as an crucial component in Paul’s explicit theological reflection about unity.66 with the doctrinal and historical view of the Churches of Christ. who demanded Gentile Christians’ obedience to the Law of Moses. Interestingly. Some Jewish believers. were ignorant of or denied the death. enthronement and return of Christ as well as the significant role played by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. An attempt at unity by the church. There is no evidence that these Jewish brothers. both in regard to becoming part of God's elect by keeping circumcision and remaining faithful to God's will by keeping the holiness rules given in the Law of Moses. whether one looks at Paul’s treatment of baptism and unity in Galatians. were even arguing that Gentile believers were not yet saved because they were not obeying the necessary commands of Scripture. 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. its elders. pp. We need to be clear about the fact that all the believers at this event. especially for the purposes of discussing unity among believers. so Luke informs us. 12:13) or Ephesians (Ephesians 4:5). . 171-75 (Shelly). including those Christians who were card-carrying Pharisees (Acts 15:1-5). ascension. resurrection. In addition to the fact that the nascent 97 The Jesus Proposal. and apostles culminates in the well-known “Jerusalem Conference” of Acts 15. Galatians is but one of many texts that highlights the inadequacies of locating the core gospel narrowly in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. pp. 88-90 (York). burial.
the brother of Jesus alludes to the four stipulations for “alien-gentiles” who lived among Jews in the Old Testament." we ought not forget that Christ's post resurrection appearance to "more than five hundred of the brothers . All the brothers seated around the table in Jerusalem already believed in the death. Had the leaders at the Jerusalem Conference invoked this theological anchor point proposed by The Jesus Proposal. all the participants would have sat there in stunned silence and with blank stares since it goes without saying that everyone.67 church in Jerusalem was "devoted to apostolic teaching. The apex of the arguments used to defeat the false teaching of the Pharisee believers and to promote the Jew-Gentile Christian unity sought at the Jerusalem Conference was a quotation from Amos 9 (Acts 15:13-20) cited by the brother of Jesus. 98 . indeed could not. realized in Christ’s resurrection and enthronement. Next. and resurrection” did not. abstain from food polluted by idols. Had the Jerusalem church chosen to invoke Jesus' death. . These Gentiles had to: 1. burial and resurrection to resolve the debate at hand. burial. 3. many of whom were members of the Jerusalem church and some of whom would have been participants in the Jerusalem Conference. from blood. and the Gentile mission of the church. those convictions. serve as the "framework for maintaining the unity of the Body" at the Jerusalem Conference. from the meat of strangled animals and 4. and indeed eyewitnesses. the church decides upon four items necessary for the resolution of this Jew-Gentile division in the churches. Since the details of the unity discussion in Acts 15 relate to Jewish acceptance of Gentile brothers and sisters. burial and resurrection of Jesus. from sexual immorality. This particular Scripture was chosen at the Jerusalem Conference in order to demonstrate the necessary connection between the restoration of God’s covenant with David. but it is my conviction that James utilizes Leviticus 17-18 to arrive at the four items. both Jewish believers Scholars debate this issue. 2.98 The suggested core gospel of the “death. . were certainly in place and available. most of whom are still living" referred to Jewish believers. .
Is there anything to be learned from the fact that neither the Twelve. It is not as though the list is defective. but rather that it is too specific. The seven “ones” of Ephesians 4:4-6. One might as well imagine that the Apostle Paul had one form letter that he distributed to each and every church that he wrote. There is no evidence biblically for the idea that there existed one creedal statement or formulation in Scripture that always and everywhere served as the universal confessional platform to unite all believers99 under all circumstances. believed these things since “the beginning” (Acts 11:15). 99 . there is no "form creed" to address every issue of unity among believers. The seven "ones" of Ephesians 4:4-6 are necessary. that are sufficient for any and all discussions of unity. within the Scripture of the New Testament there are no minimalist “core verses. is a list determined by the needs of that particular epistle and could not serve as an “ecumenical” platform for Christian unity in all times and places. burial and resurrection” core to overcome what is regarded as one of the greatest divisions in the nascent church? While Leviticus 19:18 is still being invoked in the modern era to promote aspects of Christian unity. had already.” no seven point creeds.68 and Gentile believers. long ago. nor the brother of Jesus nor Paul and Barnabas broached the “death. Whether those of an ecumenical persuasion wish to embrace the fact or not. but not sufficient for all discussion of unity. the fact that Amos 9 could be so integral at Jerusalem but so irrelevant to most other efforts to unite believers reveals a fundamental truth. for example. Since there is no "form letter" to bring about unity and to correct congregational problems and aberrations.
'100 This well known exchange between Humpty Dumpty and Alice encapsulates a profound issue related to biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. that not even all believers agree on the meaning of many of the words and phrases expressed in this “theological anchor point. 148-49. there is the equally troublesome issue of the meaning of words and the correct interpretation of texts of Scripture. 'it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less. The Jesus Proposal. 148.' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone. . Beyond the above-mentioned difficulties with finding any one simple text or doctrine to remedy all issues of unity and fellowship.” Going back to the hermeneutics of Humpty.” that identifies the biblical Church of Christ as “a Bible-believing fellowship which affirms Jesus as the Son of God who died and was raised to atone for human sin and who gives eternal life to all those who are in him. associated with its own “theological anchor point. certainly known by the authors of The Jesus Proposal.' said Alice.”102 One of the more perplexing points about this choice of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 is the fact. 'whether you CAN make words mean so many different things. the question at hand is whether discussions of texts of Scripture and unity can ultimately bear fruit when words of Scripture can mean what “I” choose 100 101 102 Lewis Carroll Through the Looking-Glass chapter 6.”101 It rejects two of these immediately as characteristic of the American Restoration Movement and prefers a third. p. pp. The Jesus Proposal.69 Humpty Dumpty Hermeneutics 'When I use a word.' 'The question is. The Jesus Proposal sets forth three possible approaches to Christian unity and defining “the Church of Christ. Humpty Dumpty.
For Christians seeking a framework for unity today. Since.org. Based. upon the perspectives stated at www. If the right denominations were present. the Latter Day Saints would certainly regard themselves as a “Bible-believing fellowship.”103 In the clear light of day. but which Scriptures are we to have in mind as a component of this “theological anchor point?” For Paul the term “Scriptures” typically referred to the books of the Hebrew Scriptures.” A similar situation exists with those of Mormon faith.” there is not much constructive in evasive theological language or an obfuscated and confused discussion of the gospel. this skit would bear an amazing resemblance to the famous Abbott and Costello skit. are we to understand by the rhetorically charged phrase “Biblebelieving fellowship?” I am certainly not against “Bible-believers. do we work with only the sixty-six books of the There is also the issue of aberrant and eccentric hermeneutical perspectives about the Bible like those espoused by “Theomatics. with a little imagination.70 them to mean—neither more nor less. however. one must ask “Which Bible?” The phrase “according to the Scriptures” is very significant to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.” 103 . however.” the “Omega Code. What.mormon. “Who’s on First?” Unlike those at the Tower of Babel. however. Anyone aware of the subtle nuances associated with hermeneutics and Christian systematic theology could. Notwithstanding the attractive “family values” of the Latter Day Saints. after the shadows of rhetoric have vanished.” but similarly I do not want to be unwittingly exploited by ad hominem rhetorical phrases such as “Bible-believers. for example. write a humorous skit depicting a discussion of these verses by preachers and theologians from various theological perspectives.” the “Bible Cores. but from the fact that they used words in the same language whose meanings were capable of diverse meanings. the goals of vaudeville skits are not the same as the goals of one “who correctly handles the word of truth. almost everyone else in Christendom regards their theology as heretical and cultic. the inability of Abbott and Costello to communicate did not arise from the fact that they spoke different languages.
1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees. Internet.crcna. 104 .tpcopelika. Sirach. the anchor point of The Jesus Proposal could lead us to embrace the 16th century Council of Trent convened by Pope Paul III. that they might be delivered from their sin [of idolatry].htm for a Presbyterian affirmation of the same doctrine. Accordingly.org/Trinity_Belief. the "whoever" verses (Matt. The Council of Trent clearly incorporated those Deuterocanonical books such as Tobit. . Since Roman Catholics can cite “chapter and verse” from 2 Maccabees 12:39-45 for the doctrine and practice of “praying for the dead . Equally difficult to overlook is the absolute incompatibility of the different views regarding the seemingly simple statement of the gospel. Consequently. and 2 Esdras into the Scriptures of the Catholic Church.71 “Protestant” Bible? Without further comment or restrictions. looking beneath the surface shows how confused and conflicted the interpretation of these few words is in the Christian world. In numerous ecclesiastical websites and denominational publications of Reformed and Presbyterian churches one encounters the belief that faithful believers should affirm the doctrine of the “Limited Atonement. see also http://www. the doctrine of Purgatory. those denominations based upon the teachings of John Calvin (and later treated at the synod of Dort) oppose as a false teaching the belief that Jesus died for the sins of every person and that Jesus can be the Savior of any and every individual (see 1 John 2:2). While these few words are a mantra in evangelical churches.cfm. . 16:25.” I cannot imagine how a non-Catholic could protest since this ubiquitous Catholic practice arises from their “Biblebelieving” hermeneutic. Mark 3:35.”104 That is. 18:4-5. John The Christian Reformed Church has traditionally affirmed the canons of Dort. for example. those of us who use the “Protestant” Scriptures could not fault “Bible-believing Catholics” for advocating. including “Limited Atonement” see http://www.org/pages/dort_canons_main. “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 12:50. accessed 23 February 2007. 10:32-39. 15:3).
15. Col. since he has already chosen them. if all Bible-believing Christians are to meaningfully understand their “common faith” (Titus 1:4). be irresistibly (the “I” of TULIP) drawn to God’s grace from the world. In the classic Calvinistic interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:3 the term “our” does not encompass the sins of all humankind. since in the judgment of Calvinists. who will. 10:9) are viewed very differently by Calvinists and non-Calvinists. Paul’s statement teaches that salvation can be lost. but only those who are among the elect. if you hold firmly to the word” (cf. Consequently the LIP portion of the debate about TULIP is inextricably woven into even these . according to Calvinists. those predestined by God. A final point reveals another reason why 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 is a poor choice of verses. This would violate the “Perseverance of the Saints”. 36. Phrases from 1 Cor.72 3:16. there cannot be any conditionality to salvation. again according to Calvinists. the “P” of TULIP. Consequently. From my perspective. but only for the predestined saints. providing the “L” in the five point Calvinistic acronym TULIP. 1:23. Christ’s atonement is “Limited”. Thus. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The possibility of apostasy and “falling from grace” have always been part of both the faith and practice of the Churches of Christ. since the saints will always persevere. 15:2 such as “you are saved. as is the "our sins" of 1 Cor. verses like 1 John 2:2. before the creation of the world to be saved from the world. 7:38. is that God’s atoning work in Christ’s death was not for everyone in the world. "if you continue in your faith") and you “believed in vain” certainly raise problems for the possibility of a common understanding of these verses by all believers. and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” do not mean to a Calvinist what they might sound like they mean to a non-Calvinist. What they truly mean.
” both in faith and practice. thereby breaking with the historically held views of the Stone-Campbell Movement." as though I myself am the final arbiter of God's word.” the “extent of the atonement. New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove.105 As I understand the nature and purposes of the church described in Scripture. 106 . it would be very difficult to carry on what is often called the “work of the church. If in these four brief verses of 1 Corinthians 15 believers do not have a shared understanding about significant concepts such as the “Scripture.106 a clarity which includes an intelligible and coherent sharing of faith and practice. always saved” did not derive from Calvinism. A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture. if its self-understanding as well as its message to the outside world was so confused on these particular doctrines of atonement and perseverance. not to mention unbelievers. possess a coherent view of God and his work in Christ. always saved” belief that abounds in the evangelical world. that does not validate a Humpty Dumpty Hermeneutic where a significant theological term "means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less. 2006).” how could believers. Mark D. A cogent case can still be made for the clarity of Scripture. even among those who do not usually hold to the other four points of Calvinism. It is questionable whether this clarity of Scripture could be associated with this “theological anchor 105 Some historians note that “once saved. Thompson.73 few verses.” and the “security of salvation. The authors of The Jesus Proposal regard “the five cardinal tenets of Calvinism” (TULIP) as doctrinally irrelevant for discussions of unity. Even if one regards the significant differences with Calvinism as irrelevant for unity. IL: Intervarsity Press. but in grass roots Evangelicalism that is now closely associated with Calvinism. The grass roots manifestation of this doctrine of “Perseverance of the Saints” is the “once saved.
Is there adequate gravitas to a theological framework for maintaining Christian unity if it is constructed on a foundation that ignores differences of substance? For example. the mighty acts of God surpass our human understanding. at Presbyterian and Baptist churches today are to ‘speak the same thing’ about the One who saves and sanctifies. the understanding of salvation and sanctification is so diverse within the evangelical. 15:1-4 can simultaneously mean so many contradictory things and bear the weight of so many personal interpretations. “The people of God .74 point. That is. or the Son of God. To be sure. then the unity and outreach that Jesus prayed for (John 17:17-23) will diminish for lack of a truthful word. but God's gracious actions neither bypass our understanding (Eph. If I and other believers cannot achieve a critical mass of theological clarity and coherence in our discourse as well as our understanding and experience of these verses of Scripture. if these verses in 1 Cor.” concluding then that this should remove all barriers to unity. . Even though these slogans of "Jesus alone" are often connected with reverential references to Jesus. . Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches that this statement is almost meaningless in terms of how one benefits from the saving and sanctifying work of Christ.” especially if the readers are interpreting from lexicons as diverse as Calvinist and nonCalvinist. or Christ. then what is the value and need of referring to these verses at all? A focus on a "Jesus alone" hermeneutic is equally inadequate. typically accompanied by a very selective use of the words of Jesus. 1:15-19) nor negate the resources of our God-given minds and their capacity to understand his revelation. All too often “Jesus alone” perspectives eventuate to the place where theological substance is replaced by pious feelings and slogans. Yet. or the Lord Jesus. the authors of The Jesus Proposal state. Catholic and Protestant. it seems to me that Jesus himself was not overly .
the major author of the New Testament. “Blessed are you. not seem satisfied with a “Jesus alone” message? Luke describes the Good News and the preaching of the apostolic church as more than just "preaching Jesus.” then why should the modern followers of Christ lower the bar on this type of issue.” void of their correct meaning. then I imagine there was substantive content and doctrines of the faith being given them. Simon son of Jonah." The apostles proclaimed both Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Christ was not particularly satisfied with the “Christ” rhetoric at that point. Jesus drove a stake through the heart of that kind of rhetorical Christology once for all at Caesarea Philippi (Matt. Part of Jesus’ time with his disciples was spent to reshape the doctrines and thinking of the Apostles in order to move them from misconceptions to meaningful theology in their thinking about him. Even Jesus’ words. 31. “Satan. In fact. you do not have in mind the things of God. why does Luke.” for not grasping the correct substantive understanding of this term. about the coming kingdom and the about the Law of Moses. Since "preaching Jesus alone" was not a regular part of the The account of this story in Matthew’s Gospel. about God. and he made his displeasure at this abundantly and painfully clear when he called his closest friend Peter. 107 . does not alter this point. If Jesus spoke to the apostles about the kingdom for "forty days" (Acts 1). Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. “Get behind me. Furthermore. though worded differently. cf.107 If Jesus Christ himself was not pleased with Christ “rhetoric. for this was not revealed to you by man. but by my Father in heaven” (16:17) is followed by the words. to mention a few doctrines of faith that needed to have improved understanding. 28:23. 1:3). but the things of men” (16:23).75 impressed by slogans and titles in and of themselves. 14:22. 16) when the Apostles he was mentoring tossed around terms like “Christ” and “Son of God. 19:8. and Luke certainly did not regard Jesus and the Kingdom as synonyms (Acts 8:12.
once discovered. The 20th century missionary and theologian Albert Schweitzer taught us that far too often the Jesus we look for. Montgomery (London: A & C Black. trans. As others have noted. 108 . Burkitt. a "Jesus alone" spirituality and theology fails to reflect the breadth of the biblical text and should be unacceptable. but upon closer inspection the disappointing and painful truth is always revealed. For believers committed to having their theology shaped by the Word. 2d English ed. all "Jesus alone" theology continues under a dark cloud of suspicion. quite predictably.76 apostolic preaching of Acts. 1931). Finally. The Question of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. a “Jesus” created in our own image.108 This recurring idolatry of creating Jesus in our own image is found in both liberal and conservative. Initially it provides hope and excitement when viewed from a distance. with a preface by F. Albert Schweitzer.. The original mirage. this quest for and hope of the “Jesus alone” perspective usually turns out to be a mere mirage. often turns into the sand of our own personal and denominational needs and appetites. C. looks astonishingly just like us. W. both modern and postmodern and both traditional and iconoclastic interpretations of the Christian faith. Jesus himself preached the “Kingdom of God” prior to his proclamation of his own death and resurrection.
There is an important lesson that European history can teach us about responding judiciously to errors. Along with the Apostle Paul. shares responsibility in moving beyond our own past. It may be a quirk of history or the brevity of the American Restoration Movement rather than any indication of a virtuous temperament. we hope. Nationalism and Genocide. e. Each of us. but not ourselves. All Christian denominations have skeletons in their ecclesiastical closets. to such a high standard? There is little moral authority and authenticity in telling others to ignore the abuses of the church in their search for truth. is it justifiable to hold the non Christian. As already noted. WIKIALITY AND GOD'S CONGREGATION Spiritual and doctrinal abuse is as real and nefarious as any other form of abuse. we still hope unbelievers will be attracted to God’s truth and to enter a relationship with him. Nevertheless. in spite of the depth of pain. committed by our predecessors. while we ourselves refuse to do the same.77 AUTOBIOGRAPHY. the Inquisition. either individually or collectively. the Crusades. but the Churches of Christ have fewer skeletons in their closet than many other groups.. Sexism. devastated by the Blitzkrieg of . 2:24). If we hope and expect the nonbeliever to look beyond the sins of the church. At the onset of World War II both eastern and western Europe lay in shambles. anger and frustration. work toward and pray that unbelievers would not shun Christianity solely because of the bad behavior of Christians. the authors’ pain and deep scars from their participation in Churches of Christ are evident in The Jesus Proposal. most believers realize that God's name is blasphemed among unbelievers because of the hypocrisy of the saints (Rom. even egregious errors. Racism.g. Notwithstanding the many. many heinous sins and atrocities committed in the name of Christ by churches.
This new Prime Minister realized.78 the Third Reich. and that there was plenty of blame and guilt to go around for allowing the ascendancy of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.” A free Europe and indeed a free world were possibly on the verge of extinction. 62. p.”109 109 The Jesus Proposal. No one could have faulted Churchill had he decided to blame his predecessors for this failure of judgment and for permitting this catastrophe of history. “Of this I am quite sure. Winston Churchill spoke before the British House of Commons. . we shall find that we have lost the future. . The previous British government had been deceived by Herr Hitler. lest “all that we have known and cared for.” In my judgment The Jesus Proposal threatens the future by its acerbic and unrelenting magnification of the “quarrel between the past and the present. only two weeks after the devastating retreat of approximately one-third of a million Allied troops at Dunkirk and only twenty-four hours after the surrender of France to Hitler. getting over some early bad experiences of church. There could be no doubt about the significance of this point in time in the history of the free and “civilised order in the world. . 1940. it comes as no surprise that the authors acknowledge that they “have devoted a great deal of our adult lives . On June 18. however. that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present.” On the basis of these perspectives and his awareness of the urgent mission thrust upon England Churchill stated. Churchill realized the necessity of defeating Hitler. The Prime Minister had a profound awareness of the urgent mandate put upon Britain by destiny. will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age.” In light of the number of negatively painted vignettes. that it would be “utterly futile and even harmful” in light of the task facing Great Britain and its Allies to fulminate against the stupid decisions and reprehensible actions of the past.
his plans and his truth. in my experience. are any of us. He defines the term as “A reality where. are a mere drop in the bucket to God when compared to his wisdom.110 I have in mind a kind of theology where God's will and truth are discerned on the basis of the consensus of personal frustration. represent a minority in Churches of Christ. our personal preferences about the Cosmos and our personal stories are of little significance in the matter of discerning and establishing the eternal truth of God.” the term “wikiality” was coined by the political satirist Stephan Colbert on a segment of The Colbert Report.” we must beware of surrendering to a type of spiritual wikiality.79 Notwithstanding these “bad experiences of church."111 In light of An apparent portmanteau of “wikipedia” and “reality. it becomes the truth. The authors of The Jesus Proposal provide unassailable proof by their own lives that much has changed in the past generation. which aired on July 31. 3:21). Even though these faces were formerly in the majority. the painful autobiographical and anecdotal narratives in this book document situations that in many instances reflect what are the older faces of the Churches of Christ. In light of God's eternal work. they now. When the largest Church of Christ provides a Saturday evening worship in lieu of Sunday. with all their successes and failures. more than a mere pixel in the spacious and ever expanding picture of God's plan for the ages? If the great empires and civilizations of world history. then I am relatively sure that our subjective intuitions. if enough people agree with a notion. Finally.” 111 110 The leadership of the Richland Hills Church of Christ has provided as brief . Consequently. are any of our congregations. it has abandoned a nearly 2000 year old Christian spiritual and theological commitment to the "Lord's Day" and the "first day of the week. including his glorification in Christ and in the church (Eph. 2006. reactions and counter-proposals are sometimes being directed at what now amounts to a caricature of the contemporary Churches of Christ.
80 this and many similar situations. Internet.org/index. 8. accessed 02 March 2007. . statement concerning the introduction of a Saturday evening instrumental worship at http://www. see also Bobby Ross Jr. I am rather confident that for the most part we are not still stuck in the 1950s doctrinal outlook of the Churches of Christ.cfm?pg=news&id=26. “Nation’s Largest Congregation Adding Instrumental Service.rhchurch.” Christian Chronicle 64 (January 2007): 3.
and nurtured by patriarchal figures. Typically they have in place a polity that allows it to consciously respond in an informed and calculated way to the ebb and flow of culture and its subsequent impact. the decline of influential publications in Churches of Christ. sustained by minimal formal religious education. This current generation. buttressed by intramural publications. One of the positive results from this is a renewed vision and practice of congregational autonomy. Accordingly. Furthermore. when the patriarchs died their mantles were not passed on to others.81 A LOOK AROUND THE CORNER Clearly. however. a task God gives to each and every congregation and generation. like it or not. its creeds. but most have some form of institutional governance – someone or some group at the helm to steer and stabilize the course of their religious faith and practice. which means that reexamination can and should begin to take place within the context of the family of God. In earlier generations Churches of Christ steered its ship with a firm hand. the Churches of Christ of our grandparents no longer exists. resolutely guided on the basis of its religious doctrines. some are more democratic while others are more hierarchical. these ships on the sea of American religion can with deliberation decide to stay the course as far as possible or to change direction when new winds blow. at least not as a brotherhood. its faith and its practices. The details of the governance of American denominations vary. Most church groups recognize the impact of culture(s) upon their particular denomination. and a major shift in the focus of religious education. the loss of interest in debates and gospel meetings. passed down through debates and gospel meetings. saw the death of the patriarchs. In this period .
112 The “average member” may have some sense that the seas are rougher and the ride more jolting than usual. including internal controversies. In a period when it is not clear who is at the helm. Special interest groups continue to struggle to make their way to the helm in hopes of steering the Churches of Christ. an awareness of this diffusion of new perspectives is crucial for the rank and file of members. they are This is not to dismiss the helpfulness of the Christian Chronicle that basically reports selective news about Churches of Christ. teachers and scholars. but since there has not yet been an obvious mutiny. while still others have found rowboats and skiffs and sailed off into the sunset. One could believe that "ignorance is bliss" for the person in the pew. about the reexamination of older perspectives. Beyond the leadership of individual congregations. God has called them to play a very crucial role in the direction and development of the church. 112 . There are several possible attitudes that could be held toward the person in the pew by those desiring to be at the helm. In the interim some have jumped ship into the billows below.82 of recent history. These Christians themselves are the church and as such should be the last people in the Churches of Christ to be kept in the dark about new perspectives. he assumes that all is well and the captain is at the helm. the stereotypical “person in the pew” may not be aware of all that has transpired. and about fruitful dialogue taking place among the church’s leaders. the previous homogeneity of Churches of Christ evaporated and a moderate polarization has begun to emerge. Accordingly. the scholars and teachers of the church are accountable to God first and second their fellow believers. or even who should be. In this setting of a fellowship of autonomous congregations. I think it is better. with no recognizable captain at the helm. however. when the “average Christian” is informed and educated about the changes in the pilothouse.
it is imperative that these deliberations and commitments must encompass decisions about the lifestyle of Christians. which doctrines must be privileged in the Christian walk and in discussions of unity. Can issues of unity be biblically discussed without serious consideration given to the “imitation of God” as an essential .” resulting from apathy. As church history so painfully demonstrates through poignant examples. catastrophic shipwreck awaits individual women and men. because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). my brothers. so that their lives might bring glory and honor to their Creator.83 clearly responsible to the aggregate membership of Churches of Christ for their ministry. Not only will congregational leaders need to decide. affluence. hopefully based upon Scripture. as they are faithful to Scripture. pluralism and every wind of teaching. but also how to relate to other believers who do not share similar convictions about the teachings of Scripture. This task will be hampered and crippled if these fellow Christians are all “tossed back and forth by the waves. congregations and denominations who encounter a spiritual “perfect storm. congregations and their leaders to decide which issues should be regarded as central in the theological deliberations and commitments of Churches of Christ. Equally important. 4:14). Churches of Christ will be especially vulnerable if they are seduced into the belief that teaching and doctrine have become basically irrelevant. Certainly all of us who teach (as well as those who are taught) must not fail to remember that “Not many of you should presume to be teachers. The reason for the existence of Christian scholars is the faithful exercise of their gifts and ministries in equipping saints for the task of ministry. and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. This will clearly call upon all believers.
In my personal judgment it is not necessary for Churches of Christ to come forth with a radically new reconceived. dating back a few millennia. remixed and repackaged Restoration Plea. 1:10. sad track record.. even though it has surfaced in the 21st century. of placing too much emphasis on how one worships to the neglect of how one behaves in life. 15:16) and to define and retain the required integrity of the church’s life and fellowship. Our own penetration into the deeper aspects of Scripture. not necessarily meaning devotional . 1 Tim. sound words and doctrines include ethical issues (e. whether it comes from the lips of someone who is progressive or someone who is conservative. That whole mentality. No wonder Jeremiah was driven to tears by the theology and spiritual orientation of his contemporaries who had made an idol of liturgical perspectives (Jer. the fruit of this kind of scholarship clearly needs to have greater impact on our developing Scripture-based theology. As one who believes that the Restoration Plea is compatible with conservative biblical scholarship. 12:1-3. My personal prognosis is not very optimistic. 6:3).g. both to keep the church acceptable to God (Rom. Here we are 50+ years beyond the distained “1950s theology” and we still seem to think that what we believe about and how we behave during a 1-2 hour time slot at a particular building each week is at the top of God’s list of priorities. appears to be directly out of the playbook of the 1950s. On occasion I am asked what I think of the “worship wars.” this internecine fight that divides congregations and is fueled by dogmatic preferences for either traditional or contemporary worship. Issues of purity and sanctification must regain their biblical prominence alongside issues of justification. 7).84 component of the life of a genuine community of faith? As even a quick look at the Pastoral Epistles shows. God’s people have a sad.
connecting afresh with the deep wells of God's eternal truth. With a firm commitment to nurturing indigenous Christian communities based upon Scripture and Biblical theology. is still in its beginning stages. None of us can truly imagine the questions and issues that churches throughout the world. 113 . Each of us. Is the contemporary Body of Christ to be dressed with apparel worn by churches during the Patristic Period. we need to revisit Scripture with questions. semper reformanda secundum verbum dei)” captures the vision that the term Reformation (as Campbell called the movement) or Restoration denotes. It is obviously difficult to give answers to questions that are not yet even imagined! This is all the more reason to move forward in a proactive rather than a reactive fashion. a Restoration Movement (rather than a Restoration Monument) has every hope for a vibrant existence. nevertheless. including the one of unity. including the world of the so-called Bible Belt. will come to fruition in ways that are often inscrutable and unpredictable to us mortals. like David. We must ask questions about how the Body of Christ is to present itself to the world. or should some of this be left behind.113 There is every reason to believe. There is much more that needs to be done. its mission and the foundation for its mission and message. that God’s goals. will be dealing with in the next decade.85 aspects. It seems to me that if we are going to continue the Restoration Plea. during the Protestant Reformation. including North America. simply because it no longer fits? Any attempt to be biblical requires a commitment to the globalization of God’s message. about the church's calling. among others. A laudable post Reformation slogan "The church has been reformed and must always be reformed according to the Word of God (ecclesia reformata. has the mandate to live in such a way that later generations will say that we. and during the American Restoration. served God’s purpose in our own generation (Acts 13:36). for example. notwithstanding the detours erected by human rebellion.
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