Common Ground

6 Responses

  1. Good post.

    I agree that love of our neighbor or a thirst for justice will not alone save us yet they are still integral and essential aspects of our salvation. Too often the message the traditional church lays on us is that our salvation is solely personal yet it seems to me that Jesus and the prophet's would disagree.

    And perhaps this is why people like McLaren, Jones, Padgitt etc tend to seem so one sided (liberal) in their perspective even as they preach a need for common ground. They have been (and continue to be) representing the Christian underdogs and so they spend perhaps too much time defending their embattled positions against the established religious hierarchy . They speak so strongly about 'common ground' because most of those that so strongly disagree with them will rarely ever engage them, instead dismissing them readily as heretics or apostates (check it out on the web).

    I once belonged to the church that Brian lead and have no doubt that Jesus is the center of his life. An emphasis on justice and mercy does not in any way crowd Jesus out of our lives. They are essential if we are to follow Christ. I am not sure if this amounts to 'new' doctrine but it may certainly be more scriptural than what the current, modern and traditional doctrines we have; doctrines that have resulted in a distinct lack of universal orthodoxy (or else why all the denominations?).

  2. Charles says:

    The traditional evangelical church does seem to speak far more about personal change than collective. But I don't think their focus is improper.

    We can agree that social justice does not lead to salvation, but, if approached with intensity and submission, won't salvation inevitably lead to social justice? Shouldn't we expect that by teaching about purity, holiness, and empathy we'll see a change toward compassion and justice? Of course we should. But we don't teach nearly enough of those things, which is the real problem. We (on both sides) too often teach "do" instead of "become". Becoming begets doing, but the reverse is rarely true.

    I don't have the slightest clue as to why the emergent leaders seem so one-sided, and I'm not sure what you mean by "Christian underdogs". I'll call them the minority. And the "established religious hierarchy" is pretty small in evangelical America, since some of its strongest leaders planted their churches, or revived dead ones. They are just as new and revolutionary as their opponents.

    When liberal leaders teach about social justice, I'm on board. I think that Jesus wants us to help people in need. That's one of the ways we show that we're his followers. But where I have to separate with them is in their theology. Most seem to think that the Reformation was all wrong, and we need to run somewhere…anywhere…fast.

    McLaren teaches that "eternal life" is actually "life of the ages" because aionion means "an age", and the relevant phrase is to be translated "ages of ages". But I know of no Koine Greek term for "eternal", except for this idiom. It is used to describe God, as well as heaven and hell. Are we to believe God's attributes are only temporary? Are we to ignore statements like, "He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." Is this a bad translation as well?

    In short, I would have to skip over far too much scripture to agree with this side of the argument. I see the heart for social justice in conservative churches. I don't see the desire for holiness in progressive ones.

    The "new" doctrine may be more scriptural, but it's quite unlikely. As I experience it, most conservative and traditional denominations are distinctions of comfort and preference, and agree that they are in communion with each other, though they disagree on minor issues.

  3. Helping people in need is one (good) thing. Realizing that perhaps those people are in need because we are too attached to those 'distinctions of comfort and preference' is another. At the very least an awareness of this possibility is worth promoting. Often I see the heart of social justice in conservative churches but I don't see too much action. (Which of course is all about 'doing'). I suggest that this emphasis on striving for personal holiness first often stands in the way. Too much self absorption.

    The problem with much of the preaching about holiness and purity that I have heard over the years that it is lacking that element of empathy. I think this what the 'first stone' story is about as well as Jesus suggesting that mere lustful thought link us to the adulterer we are about to condemn. I like the way Dallas Willard approaches this idea in "The Divine Conspiracy".

    But you are right; focus on Christ and the heart is likely to change to where justice and mercy (along with holiness and purity) become unconscious by-products. But focusing more on Christ might cause one to pay less attention to religion and what is being preached from the pulpit.

  4. Charles says:

    "…but I don’t see too much action."

    I agree in one sense, which is that a lot of the teaching on holiness is about doing holy things, not doing unholy things, and feeling compassion. These aren't talking about becoming anything. they are "all about doing".

    But I do see plenty of action. It's rarely on the scale of a full congregation moving to meet the needs of their community, or any other. But members of every congregation I've been a part of giving huge amounts of time and money to help people out.

    I personally value that small bit of action out of a church that teaches personal focus more, because it is plainly seen as the overflow of the Spirit, and not just church culture running its course.

    I hardly expect to run across a full congregation of genuine believers, particularly in Texas. Which means that I assume the majority of the conservatives and traditionalists are faking devotion one or two days a week, so they will fit in. I also assume that the majority of progressives and emergents are feigning interest in serving Christ, because they want the benefits of the Church (community, heaven) without the beliefs they find unpleasant.

    One in ten following a both-and system of personal holiness and social justice would be a big deal. On either side.

  5. "One in ten following a both-and system of personal holiness and social justice would be a big deal. On either side."

    OK, you lost me there. Are you saying that if 10% were doing this you would be surprised or is 10% pretty darn good?

    "giving huge amounts of time and money to help people out. " …I still think that's too reactive and not proactive. I think Jesus was about being proactive. Cut the problem off at the pass.

  6. Charles says:

    I'm saying 10% is pretty darn good. It seems like most people, including myself, fall pretty hard on one side. So finding people who do well on both is great. And I don't have high expectations. I'm not saying that those who don't reach that standard are lost, I'm just pointing out what I see as the standard. My version of Watchman Nee's term, the "normal Christian life".

    What is the difference between proactive and reactive justice? Doesn't the concept require a state of injustice that needs to be righted? Jesus' entire mission was reactive…Humanity went astray, so he came to bring us back, set us right, and atone for our sin. All of that is reaction. To "cut the problem off at the pass", there must be a problem already.

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