Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What About Jesus!?

As I was going to and fro on the blogosphere, I found a video interview with Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. They were exploring the question “What is the mission of the Church?”

For those unfamiliar with the above names, they are leaders in the “young, restless, and reformed” movement that’s making its way to a heated Bible Study on Romans near you.

Without going into the nitty gritty of everything said – which would be both boring and unfair – there is a statement by Gilbert that brought to mind N.T. Wright’s critique from yesterday’s post. Gilbert says,

You can take a good thing, which is certainly commanded of us in Scripture, which is to do good deeds of all kinds – love your neighbour, care for the poor – good things, and you can take those and get them wrapped up and twisted up around the wrong theological themes – gospel, kingdom, shalom.

Correct me if I’m reading this wrongly, but Greg Gilbert appears to be saying that to connect good deeds with the gospel or the kingdom is to connect them with the wrong theological theme.

But…but…what about Jesus!? If what Gilbert says is true then of course we’re going to be confused by the question ‘why did Jesus live?’ This, after all, is the Jesus who said “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

You cannot take the Gospels seriously and conclude that good deeds and the kingdom/gospel are in separate theological categories. The kingdom of God is where God’s will is done. And what is God’s will? What does he desire? “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before your God.” In short, do good. The gospel that Jesus proclaimed was the reality that God’s will was being done, and thus the kingdom was at hand. Was "the gospel" the proclamation or was "the gospel" the deeds? Yes!

What about Paul? What gospel did he hold fast to? Basically the same one: Through the man Jesus, God’s will was done. In him, especially in his death and resurrection, the purposes of God are fulfilled.

The irony lost on some in the Reformed camp is that because of the cross, gospel and good deeds are beautifully interwoven, for what is the gospel if it is not the announcement of the greatest of deeds?

How, then, does all of this relate to the Church’s good deeds? Contrary to what Gilbert suggests, our good deeds find their greatest motivation and significance when they are wrapped around themes (or realities) like gospel and kingdom. The event of the cross becomes a lens through which all of life is seen. And the life that we now live is joined, by faith, to the life of the resurrected, crucified Jesus. We are united with the one we proclaim.

To use one of Gilbert's examples, the command in Scripture to “love your neighbour” is thus wrapped up with the gospel, for we are called to love as Jesus loved. The “good news”, the “story” of Jesus, shapes our present stories.

DeYoung later mentions “The Great Commission” as being what the church is all about – i.e. the proclamation of the gospel is the mission of the church. But to perform an act of rhetorical jujitsu, the Great Commission is precisely concerned with connecting gospel and good deeds. Jesus commissions his disciples to teach the nations everything he commanded. To “make disciples” isn’t to make good students of abstract atonement theology: it is to make doers of the word - embodiers of the message. Paul had a shorthand way of making disciples – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Finally, regarding DeYoung’s remark about there being no New Testament interest in “transforming the whole world”, what else can taking the commands of Jesus to the nations do but call for a complete transformation? What else does the book of Acts show but a small band of passionate Jews turning the "world upside down"?

The distinction is perhaps unwarranted, but the gospel is not the thing. The formation of a new community in Christ is the thing. The gospel is the power that effects the (trans)formation.

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