Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Deadfall Pit

"I grew up in a town like this, we knew the names of every street
On the surface it looked so safe, but it was perilous underneath
That's the place you shoved your doubts and hid your ugly scars
God forbid if word got out about your house of cards"

Mary Chapin-Carpenter

All of us have things we relish. One of the biggies for me (and, I suspect, lots of you) is chocolate. I can't recall the first time I ate some, but I can easily tell you the occasion when I ate something that claimed to be the desired item and it wasn't. I was in America a decade ago, and I thought I'd buy the popular brand and give it a go... most of it went straight into the bin. Gone was the smooth, rich encounter with dairy milk confectionary, to be replaced by a sickly, OTT sugar bar (no wonder the Americans label it candy). I was so relived that I'd brought some good old British Chocolate with me and that later in my stay, I found somewhere that sold the real mc coy - phew!  Imagine my shock, then, to walk into my local store recently to discover several shelves of the confectionary counter now selling the American glupe (I can call it that because that's the way several of my American friends describe it) - have people lost all taste?

It is, of course, one of the issues of the day - our seemingly insatiable passion for sugar, which, it appears, is softly killing a generation.

Now, I appreciate that there's always going to be an issue of tastes when it comes to something like which chocolate bar you consume, but what about when it comes to truth?

I spent some time this past week looking at and conversing with people on a "progressive christianity" site to see just where such theology desires us to go with regards to the nature and the value of truth. It's always interesting to see that what counts in such a realm is not what you or I may believe about God - particularly when it comes to the nature and message of Jesus Christ - but that we really just need to figure out how we can, well, just get along with everyone, because that's what counts, right?

The 'gospel' here then, so far as there is one, is that Jesus came to give us an example of love, so all the seeking to see Christianity as something that needs to defined in the manner given to us by The Apostles and others in scripture is, well, pretty pointless - we just have to follow the 'golden rule' of loving people and everything else will be fine.

Well, I'd agree that religion can be all about what we do - Adam's first "religious" act was to cover himself with pretense when God came looking for him - but it really doesn't begin to deal with our deepest problem; that we're alienated from God and need rescue. You don't tell a drowning man that he needs to do all manner of things to be comfortable with where he is (any more than that man thinks his rescue is his doing) - you just reach out and save him! That is why the key message from the moment we fall into our own exile is how God will brings us back (Genesis 3:16, John 3:16) - Jesus is the one who rescues us.

I think what bothered me most about this last week's discoveries was the way in which people could blithely dismiss the actual theology of the faith, usually on the pretext that my concerns (or, as they put it "interpretations") were marginal or only "one view", which was fine until I submitted materials from the early church which showed that this wasn't the case at all, at which point the retorts became more personal and the silence regarding what I'd supplied telling. How can we call something "Christianity" if it seeks to distance itself from the clear and vital sources of that faith?

If we take away the very nature of God, revealed in Jesus, and the good news of what has been given to our world through Him, then there's not much left to say. The problem for the 'progressive' movement is that, like certain kinds of candy, you may develop a liking for it, but it only leaves you liking something that is a substitution for something better - it leaves you hiding with your own pretensions, and whilst you may think it tastes/feels OK, it's really doing you no good, but a great deal of harm.

The Apostle John says in his letters that real fellowship can only come when we know that God is our Father, and we know that because we trust in the love He has shown in sending His Son. Those who wish to effectively dismiss what John is telling us here and in his Gospel have placed themselves into a very deep pit indeed.


Paul Blackham said...

Very helpful. It is always going to appear more 'relevant' to our flesh when we develop a religion that involves patching up the old flesh. The old humanity wants a 'religion' that will try to fix it rather than kill it. When we stand at the death of the Immortal God on the Cross and face the fact that everything in this old world has to die, then we realise the sheer extent of the judgment on this world and on our flesh. The way of Jesus is the Cross - death to the flesh; the wrath of God on even the very best of the flesh; the verdict of Hell on our most noble and creative and pious work. Yes, and on the very worst as well.

There are times when I've tasted the sickly sweet theology of human improvement - and there are times when I've understood the attraction. it can feel so much easier to have a gospel that will integrate with the world's view of self-improvement and cultural progress. BUT, then we come to Jesus who is rejected and hated by the world - with His apostles and prophets... and His faithful martyr churches in every age... and then we remember just how deep the judgment goes, how desperate our situation is. When I am facing the darkness of my deceitful desires and godless, faithless flesh then I know that only the Cross can kill it... only the Cross can face the true consequences and punishment for who I am and what I have done.

Howard said...

Thanks, Paul.
After seeking to unpack The Gospel, especially from Isaiah, John and Romans, I was fascinated, for example, to face a denial of Philip speaking about Jesus on the basis of the Eunuch's reading of Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:33). I kept being told that my belief in Justification was "late" and that my understanding of Jesus wasn't sourced from what was recorded in the scriptures or what was believed by the early church (!), so I made the following conclusive response:
"Some final clarifications. Acts 8:33 employs terms which make it clear (as shown in the rabbinical tradition, cited, for example, in the book of Zohar) that Phillip began at the same Scripture: "the fifty third of Isaiah" to speak of Jesus. The Prophet is quoted some 85 times in the New Testament, and on several occasions, his words are understood as a fulfillment through the words and deeds of Jesus, which is why, no doubt, the Early Church Fathers (First Clement, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Melito of Sardis, and Isidore of Seville, for example) treated the Isaiah 53 passage as clearly referring to the atoning work of Christ . Regeneration (via the means I have expressed in my references to the words of Jesus and Paul) is viewed by you as something very late, but again, this is incorrect. In one of the earliest Christian documents we have outside of the New Testament - the letter of Mathetes to Diognetus - we read :"But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had clearly been shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great longsuffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on the burden of our iniquities, He gave His Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!" Similar expository statements are clearly found, for example, in the ministry of Clement (letter to the Corinthians, chapter 32) and John Chrysostom (Sermon on Colossians 2:6-15). Paul in Galatians, as I noted, seeks to clarify the message he brings as Good News (THE Gospel), which had become undermined by their succumbing to a manner of religion entirely annulled by the life they had received in Jesus Christ. To belong to the one who humbled Himself to the death of the cross, we must be those who hold out the word of life - that is what the church is here to do - because only then can the world see the astonishing gift of love and mercy that comes to us from the Father through His Son. May Christ, through His precious word, bring you to the amazing riches of such love".

You're so right about The Cross. May we only boast in the God who has come to us as the Lamb slain.