please note: this post is primarily intended for those who are trying to make sense of Christianity and doing their damndest to follow Jesus. Everyone is more than welcome to read and respond, but please keep in mind my intended audience. Pax.
I am an eager participant in the emergent conversation. From my perspective, emergent is a wonderful opportunity to re-imagine the gospel, re-envision the church and realize that other Christians that we once marked as competitors are more rightly embraced as collaborators. Investing in this conversation and connecting with the intriguing folk who are around this table has helped me follow God in the way of Jesus. For that I am incredibly grateful.
That is not to say that this conversation does not have weaknesses and should not be subject to critique. In fact, the viability and strength of this conversation is the primary reason that I feel free to bring up a point of critique for discussion.
Lately I’ve noticed that a number of us are developing a tendency to either avoid or mis-appropriate the offense of the gospel. As followers of Jesus we are well aware of, and undoubtedly have experienced, the offense of the gospel. Jesus spoke about this offensiveness on a number of occasions, including in MT. 10:34ff where he taught us not to suppose that he came to bring a superficial peace on the earth for he “did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Jesus continues this line of thought by explaining that receiving and choosing to incarnate the gospel may separate a man from his father and a daughter from her mother. Paul also does not pull any punches about this issue. In 2 Corinthians 2:12ff, Paul explains that his attempts to proclaim and incarnate the gospel are the hope of life to some and the harbinger of death to others. Jesus and Paul do not appear to relish the offense of the gospel, nor do they seem eager to serve as source of division. However, they still choose to talk about this effect of the gospel in a matter of fact way. These men knew that the gospel must expose our wounds before we can be healed by Christ and nurtured to health by his church. Thus, they were unwilling to ignore the offense of the gospel.
In contrast to our Savior and Paul, I have noticed that a significant number of us are unable or unwilling to associate ourselves with the offense of the gospel. I’ve noticed this especially in our discussions of homosexuality. A little over a month ago, when I was up at the cemetery talking to a few emergent leaning yet theologically conservative students, I confessed how I have struggled to love my friends who are homosexual without denying the teaching of scripture concerning this lifestyle choice. Much to my surprise, these students told me that they were so uncertain concerning the question of homosexuality that they were “unwilling to take a theological stand on this issue.”
I admire the willingness of these students to serve this culture incarnationally and identify with their friends who are practicing homosexuals. However, I fear that the reason they are unwilling to “take a theological stand” on this issue is that they do not want to alienate their friends from the gospel/Jesus/the church or, perhaps, they are afraid of that the teaching of scripture will alienate themselves from society at large. Somewhat ironically, I think that my friends’ tendency to shy away from the teaching of Scripture in this area may unintentionally cause the disassociation between their friends and the gospel/Jesus/the church that they fear, for if we are not willing to let the gospel reveal our wounds it is going to be damn difficult for us to receive the healing that God offers.
In the end, I think we shy away from the offense of the gospel because so many of us have seen it inappropriately applied on a number of occasions. I know people who have been literally condemned within a church for what they wear, others who have been considered suspicious because of where they work and still others who have been left outside of the fellowship of community because of the leisure activities they prefer. Moreover, I think that McLaren and many others in Emergent have been right to point out that the offense of the gospel should be felt and responded to within the church before the offense should be revealed to those who are outside our community of faith. However, I do not think that we should shy away from the way the gospel offends our religious, political, communal and personal sensibilities of all people. Rather, we should allow the gospel to lance our wounds, so that the healing medicine of the gospel can effectively be applied.
Of course that’s only my opinion. I could be wrong.
I’d love to hear what the rest of you have to say about this issue. Am I creating a conflict where there is none? Talking about an essential issue in an unhelpful way? Utterly ignorant of what “the offense” is?