Tag: gospel

Book review: The Gospel According to Jesus

Chris Seay’s The Gospel According to Jesus: A Faith that Restores All Things attempts to refocus Christians to a proper understanding of the Gospel message. Centering his discussion around a reported misunderstanding of the terms righteousness and justification by the majority of Christians (at least here in the US), Seay sought to clear up those misunderstandings and get the reader to grasp, and be able to present, the fundamental message of Jesus’s Gospel.

For much of the reading I was frustrated, and a bit confused. Seay did not really develop his definitions of righteousness and justification in a significant way. He said righteousness was God’s “restorative justice” (pg 12). But, he then defines justification as “God’s restorative justice” (pg. 134). I think it’s clear in the book that Seay is presenting a connection between the two concepts, but they are not the same and the author’s road is not that easy to follow. He does present to probably novel ideas about righteousness for maybe the general population who hasn’t read books from maybe Stassen or Yoder or the like.

As a book trying to present a clear exhortation of what Christians should understand as the Gospel according to Jesus, I think it falls well short of the mark. While easy to read (written like a pastor, I guess), it’s a bit choppy and bumpy along the way. In the end, there are a lot of other books I would recommend to people discussing the Gospel before I’d reach for this one. Whether or not I’ll keep this one on my shelf is still in question.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Watching for Ehrman and his bias

Darrell Bock recently discussed his use of Bart Ehrman’s The New Testament: An Historical Introduction for this course for his classes. The focus was on the clear bias of Ehrman, and, as I want to bring out, how we need to be very careful and purposeful when reading the man’s works. He has contributed some challenging (and ultimately helpful) texts, but if you’re not well grounded in Christian history, and the history of the canon and its manuscripts, then you could very well fall into Ehrman’s very obvious and meticulous traps.

Bock wrote,

For example, in treating the authorship of the gospels (all of them), he does not address any of the external evidence for authorship that comes from sources like Eusebius or Irenaeus or any of the canonical church lists. This is historical evidence and ignoring it prejudices his volume’s work, cutting out one of the two key factors one has to address in treating authorship, namely external evidence for a work’s authorship. Vincent Taylor and C. E. B. Cranfield regarded such evidence as decisive in treating this question in terms of Mark’s gospel.

Bart Ehrman hasn’t kept his prejudices out of his work; the popular Misquoting Jesus is a prime example, where they are subtle enough to entrap the unsuspecting and more gullible. But, they are masked within a lot of good information, accurate history, and so forth. Too bad it’s nowhere near comprehensive history, and stays away from balance and a fair presentation of various arguments.

Ehrman has a very strong anti-Christian, anti-God bias that he premises all of his works with. That becomes very clear, as Darrell Bock pointed out, with what Ehrman does not talk about. Especially when discussing the history of New Testament documents. Keep watch. Don’t necessarily not read Bart Ehrman. But, if and when you do, remember to keep watch.

Public Service Announcement for the day.

Yoder on Jesus and lording it over.

But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant” (Mt. xx.25-26)

John Howard Yoder produced an excellent commentary on the above passage.

After perfection the next trait is servanthood, or renouncing lordship. In all of the Gospels, in different ways, Jesus tells his disciples to be servants. In the first three Gospels this teaching is given in very parallel ways, although reported in different places within the story: Jesus says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them. . . . Not so with you” . . . Jesus does not say that the fact that rulers exercise dominion over their subjects is a bad thing, as if it could be done away with through some kind of anarchistic development that his followers would promote. Neither does he say that it is a good thing, so that it should be blessed and supported by Christians in an active way, as they did beginning with Constantine. Jesus merely says that it is the case: rulers do dominate. We might call him positivistic. But while not saying it is either good or bad, he says that it is not for his disciples. They have a different task, namely to be servants. The reason they are to be servants is that he is servant. Thus this second mark of the Christian style of involvement in conflict is derived not from an analysis of the stakes or the setting but from a reflection upon the style of Jesus as a person in society. He did not avoid conflict. In fact, he sometimes even provoked it. Yet within it he renounced, intentionally and not merely out of weakness, the temptation to impose his will upon others through superior power. – John H. Yoder, The War of the Lamb, 147

Jesus renounced the idea of having power over, of enforcing our own will—e.g. the Christian will—on others. We are not to have or seek the seats of control and power: “It must not be this way among you!.” The Way of Jesus is different from the way of the kingdoms of this world.

Christians killing Muslims in Nigeria, violence begetting violence

The summary by CNN’s John Blake for his story “Religious hatred simmers in terror suspect’s homeland” could not have been stated better:

Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab wouldn’t have to go to an al Qaeda camp in Yemen to learn how to hate. He had examples closer to home. Christians and Muslims have been killing each other in Nigeria for much of his lifetime.

As comes in later in the story, “violence begets violence.” But what John Blake stated was very true: when killing is the culture you grew up in, there is no need to learn it from elsewhere. When you factor in the history of Nigeria (brought up and summarized in the story), the general history of Christian and Muslim animosity, and then the retaliation and attitude of revenge taken by those Christians in Nigeria who chose to act in that way and be part of the violence, it would be difficult not to breed violence in the younger generations.

Christians and Muslims have been killing each other in Nigeria for much of AbdulMutallab’s lifetime. At least 10,000 Nigerians have died during Christian-Muslim riots and ethnic violence during the past decade.

That is a very telling statistic. That is not the message and mission of God’s Kingdom. That is not the Good News of Jesus. That is not serving and loving your neighbors and enemies. That is not the way of the cross.

I understand there is a lot of cultural turmoil behind the violence. As was also brought out in the story, poverty is a big factor. Poverty and oppression was a major influence in the time of Jesus as well, especially to the zealots who wanted the violent uprising and takeover of their home from Rome and the elites. Still Jesus came in, supplied the method and means to revolution, and not one bit of it was violent. Despite the history, despite the social factors, despite the oppression, the Christian leadership and missionaries there have to bring the focus back to the message and teachings of Jesus. Let Jesus guide the response of the people.

Yes, that is difficult. Yes, that seems “pie in the sky.” But please show me where Jesus said something to the effect of “You don’t really have to do what I say or follow my example. That’s just idealism. Try your best, and if you can’t do it, then go ahead and kill your enemy. Take over with bloodshed. Either way will work out for you.” (Okay. So I ran on a little with that one.)

Am I saying had the violence not existed that young men like Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab would not take up the call for violent, militant, suicidal jihad? Of course not. I am saying it’s very, very hard to kill someone who does nothing but love you, serve you, take care of you when you’re sick, visits you in prison, gives you clothes when you’re cold, shelters your family from the rain, houses your community’s widows and orphans, develop methods and utilization of technologies that help restore the communities, speaks up for you when you are being oppressed and wronged.

The situation is not simple. The answers are not simple. But Christians must be guided by the Lord, not natural impulses or even common sense. Leaders and communities there know far better than I do how that will look and feel and proceed. However, the second violent action is sanctioned, condoned, or even endorsed, our Christ is chucked aside and told to stay inside the church walls while the Christians go do the will of God.

No, I do not believe the violence in Nigeria is actually that widespread and all encompassing. But anywhere that Jesus and violence seem to join hands is a place where the Good News is being suppressed. And that should be troubling for all Christians, everywhere. Christianity is given a bad name here in the US because of the ties it now has to such things as imperialism, occupation, oppression, capitalism, torture, militant anti-abortionism, anti-gay, and capital punishment. So much so that there are Christians who are tending toward not really liking being called Christians. Too many negative connotations involved, and preconceptions in the minds of those who hear you are a Christian. There needs to be a change of that tide here in the US (and there is evidence of that actually happening), and also in places like Nigeria. If the dominant idea of Chrisitans in Nigeria is “they are in a fight with Muslims,” then the name and message of Jesus gets dragged through the mud a little bit.

The message of Jesus in the first century was revolutionary and far from passive (there’s a difference between being a pacifist and being passive, but that’s not the last time I’ll have to mention that); nonviolent to the core, but very active and obviously subversive in the community. The message has not changed now 2,000 years later. So maybe we need to confront the Good News and be told what to do.

I welcome you to read over John Blake’s article and engage in the conversation. How can you and I help in any way? Should we help? What is best: a defensive, retaliatory Christianity or one more pacifistic?

The Death Penalty Denies the Gospel

A good word from Melanie Weldon-Soiset from God’s Politics on the abhorrent practice of the death penalty. I’ve dropped in a wonderful statement below, but have a read of the original.

The death penalty also denies the transformative power of the gospel.  If we as Christians believe that the Holy Spirit can restore even the worst of sinners (2 Corinthians 5:17), then who are we to deny anyone the chance to become a new creation in Christ?

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