Sunday, September 04, 2011

Scot McKnight's new book

Joel Willitts, old friend from my last sabbatical in Tübingen, has blogged about Scot McKnight's new book.

I find his description very exciting.  In the past, I've blogged on the idea that God judges us according to the light we have.  This is a venerable Christian idea that has been in the mix of Christian thinking for centuries.  If I remember correctly, Bounds considers it the majority opinion of Christian history.

Frankly, I don't see how Christianity can be coherent if it is not true.  I am a Wesleyan-Arminian.  I do not believe that God picks and chooses who will be saved and who will be damned.  If you have to have heard Jesus' name to be saved, then, in effect, there is geographical predestination.

Rather, as a Wesleyan, it is essential to me that God's "prevenient grace" light everyone who comes into the world and give everyone a chance to be saved, even if they have not heard of Jesus' name.  The idea that God judges everyone according to the light they have is thus a key idea for Wesleyan-Arminian theology, in my opinion.

That is not to say that everyone in the Wesleyan Church or some of our related churches hold this position.  Because we have come to swim in evangelical waters, we often can't tell the difference between what current is what.  Frankly, just seeing McKnight's book has encouraged me because I was wondering whether I needed to back off talking the "God's judges according to the light we have" position.

You see, it changes how you look at evangelism and missions.  I can say--it is God's will for us to take the good news to everyone we can.  I can say--we go because we want everyone to know the truth, because we want to bring everyone we can into our fellowship and into the blessings of God's people.  But these kinds of motivations pale beside the urgency of saving people from hell.

I might be very motivated to go undercover and do mission work in Iran if I saw that mission work as the only thing that stood between the Iranians and hell.  Would I be as motivated if I only believed that those whose heart was right but heads messed up would be blessed so much more to understand the full story and be brought into Christian fellowship?

Of course these are issues of the consequence of ideas more than the truth of ideas themselves.  If God does judge people according to the light they have, then I just have to accept the consequences.  These sorts of things are diversions, logically, from the key question.  If God commands us to go, then God commands us to go, and that's that.

There is an irony in this position because we find ourselves in a similar situation to the Calvinists in the 1700s.  Some argued against missions by saying, "If God had predestined those in India to be saved they would have been born in England or Europe." The response was, "This is the way that God has chosen to reveal who is predestined among those in India."

Now someone says to the Arminian, "What of the biblical language that yearns to see as many saved as possible?"  The response is, "This is language about the how more than about the why."  God has willed the in-gathering of those who yearn for him and missions is the path by which he does it."

I cannot be dogmatic on this issue, only to say that it seems to me Christianity is incoherent if something of this sort isn't true.  If God is love, then he must surely try to save everyone.  And if you have to hear Jesus' name to be saved, then God has failed miserably.  For this reason, I go with God judging everyone according to the light they have.

The implications are, to me, profound and exciting in their own right.  Evangelism ceases to be about getting people to make a decision and be baptized--a focus that seems quite insubstantial.  The goal becomes to see people move toward Christ and his kingdom. It becomes a massive life-long task that isn't reduced to a prayer you read on a card one afternoon.

Now my goal is to share more light with those in unbelieving lands to see them know God far better than they do.  I nurture children on the path to God not because they are out and need to come in but because I want to give them as much light as possible.  And long after a person makes a personal decision for Christ (and I am not in any way denying the importance of an event of Spirit-filling), we have the task of pushing others and ourselves on to Christian maturity.

In short, sharing the good news (evangelism) becomes a whole life-long task, not a blip in a lifetime that has often proved to be most superficial and shallow. I'm looking forward to reading McKnight's book because I have a hunch it is where the church as a whole is headed and should head.


FrGregACCA said...

I agree with the general thrust of this. One point that is important to me with regard to evangelization has to do with the fact that salvation is not just fire insurance; it is healing and transformation beginning in, and profoundly affecting, this life, and in order for that to be fully effective, knowledge of the gospel and entry into the Church and participation in the sacramental mysteries is required.

If I am dying of some fatal illness, it is possible that I may spontaneously recover; however, if medicine is made available to me that is guaranteed to heal me if I take it as prescribed, what am I going to do, if I am a reasonable person?

A couple of related considerations: it may be possible to get to San Francisco from New York by way of Dallas, Texas and by taking a stagecoach, but if I want to get there as quickly as possible, I am going to fly.

Also, the general question is not, "Can someone be saved if they have never heard of Christ (or, out of sincere ignorance, they misunderstand Christianity and therefore reject it)?" But rather, "Can _I_ be saved if _I_ reject Christ and stay out of the Church?"

Angie Van De Merwe said...

YES, one can be "saved" MANY different ways!!! Salvation is not about supernaturalism. It is about society n general.

It is not missions, necessarily, but about restoring the principles of good government.

Missions can be humanitarian as to the greater needs in the world.

In fact, the Great Commission is not in the orignals....isn't that true?

Evangelization can be patronizing to another culture. Colonizing is what our Founders understood to be nation building or bringing civilization to barbarians!!!

I believe that what one chooses to do has to do with self-percepton most of all, as how people understand themselves is how they compare others and make judgments about them.

But, this judgment is also how we divide ourselves in our groups defined by these definitions of what we value and the "outsider" is seen as "proof" of our justifying stances and values. But, it really proves nothing except that people can be cruel.

Class warfare is what happens when there are discrepancies not so much in economic status, but position and power positioning in group behavior toward the outsider.

Those that are in high society and know how to dress or behave, also should know how to be kind and gentle toward those that do not have that priviledge! Most that are secure in their social status have these graces. Those that are not as secure think it their duty to prove they are justified in protecting their place in an elite class, so they tend to "put people in ther place".

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Actually, it was the European aristocrats that were more likely to colonize. Our Founders were given to individual liberty as to conscience, therefore, would see no value to colonization, until our nation got to be an empire, where economic interests and international relations made things much more complex...Now "colonization" might happen because of America's economic or security interests...