Tuesday, March 07, 2006

musing

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?

12 comments:

g13 said...

a lot of my thoughts grew out of a conversation i had with rick this weekend. just want to give credit (and perhaps help you assign a bit of blame: ) where it's due.

Jason Ardell said...

Good post; very encouraging. Ben and I had a very interesting discussion about how the church approaches homosexuality last week. As you know Atlanta has a huge gay community, and we talked about having a "confession booth" during the gay pride parade--similar to what I understand you all did with the witchcraft stuff in Salem.

I think it's extremely important for the church to actively communicate love to all sinners. Pain of the gospel? Absolutely. But you'll never get a word in edgewise unless you love first.

I like your discussion of the fact that the gospel may not be appreciated but that we are to preach it anyway, even if it is a sword. At the same time, I was reading in Luke when Jesus sends the demons into the pigs, the formerly-demon-posessed man asks permission to follow Jesus, and Jesus tells him no. Jesus only wanted him to go and tell his friends and family what God had done for him. I think we must do the same--just tell what God has done for us in overcoming our sins.

g13 said...

thanks for stopping by and for the kind words jason. i would really encourage you to give the confession booth a shot. so many people have been hurt by the church. the least we can do is offer our apologies for the times in which we have failed to be Christlike. perhaps, in the midst of that interaction, you'll be able to incarnate Christ's love as well.

i'd also like to add one minor clarification to this discussion. i think there is a ton of difference between letting the gospel be an offense and MAKING the gospel an offense. i am in no way arguing for the latter. i am simply saying that we are doing ourselves and everybody else a disservice when we shy away from the former.

pax.

ben said...

It's nice to hear you bring this up, so thanks - I deeply resonate with the question.

Obviously there's a lot of emphasis these days on relevance and culture in faith circles, and I don't think it's a bad thing. However, maybe we need to do a better job at defining what gets treated from that perspective and what doesn't.

I've wondered many times why I try so hard to make the gospel relevant to others, when at its core, it speaks to the single-most core thing that we all share - our wounds (using your words). It's ALREADY relevant. It cuts to the chase. but it does CUT - so do we change the gospel to make it seeker sensitive too?

What I'm getting at is that I'm coming more and more to see the gospel as a purely spiritual reality, but perhaps less of a cultural reality. It is what it is - a transforming message and reality.

concerning emergent (and frankly all approaches), you are wise to suggest we embrace a holistic view of scripture.

but derek webb was right - the truth is never sexy.

junkyardlove said...

I admit I am currently not taking a stand on issues such as homosexuality for the same reasons as your friends in the cemetary. A) I don't have it all figured out yet, and B) Yes, I don't want to offend. I work in the Art world. Every other person I come into contact with is gay. So, it really hits home.

I am bothered by my lack of a stance and fear of offending. I go back and forth, because am I not living out the gospel when I embrace and *love* my homosexual friends and colleagues as they are who know I am a Christian? You know the whole, "while they were yet sinners," thing? But then I worry that I am just making excuses. And what about the ones who don't even know I'm a Christian? I know I hold back in sharing that info for all the reasons shared above and more. Sigh. I don't know.

I do know that I'm really glad for this post and am eagerly reading the comments of others so I can figure something out.

g13 said...

hey lover,

thanks for opening us up to your struggle with ambiguity. i think many of us share this struggle. moreover, i don't want anyone to think that i am condemning those who don't know what to do with this issue. i'm still processing through it - and expect to be doing so for many more years - as well.

pax.

junkyardlove said...

didn't feel any condemnation whatsoever, but thank you for disclaimering.

ahbahsean said...

Right now I'm wondering not so much about the "sin" of homosexuality but about the culture that surrounds it and its general negative social stigma. What if we cured homosexuality but these ex-gay men were still effeminate? ...Would Christians be accepting or still treat them differently? I'm guessing there would still be problems. We have this idealized masculinity out there that men are supposed to be tough and strong and when people threaten that (women's movement, gay rights, etc) men end up compensating in different ways. For instance look at how we view strong men in media now versus even 20+ years ago. Men are seen as ridiculously muscular and violent. 90%+ of all violent acts are perpetrated by men, yet that's not even news worthy - its considered cool and commendable. Even during the Film Noir montage on the Oscars they showed men slapping females across the face. How is that at all still acceptable behavior?! On the flip side, if you aren't that idealized strong man you are called fag and pacifists are seen as weenies, rather than strong, progressive men.

As Christians we are called to love others - all others. Are we afraid to do this for homosexuals because of what we know they do in the bedrooms, or because of how they act in front of us? Is it truly the sexual behaviors that bothers us or is it the masculine/feminine roles we want them to conveniently fit into? We as Christians should be taking a stand to support the uniqueness of all individuals because they are beings formed by God's own hand and yet we fail to do that. Christians feel this need to save the lost homosexuals by bringing them to Christ and yet how are they going to do this if they don't even feel comfortable befriending them?

ahbahsean said...

As a sidenote, I've never been 100% certain that homosexuality is something that can be "cured". I have never been under the impression it is 100% choice or 100% genetic. I have friends that have made the conscious choice to date someone of the same sex, but I also know of studies showing the large number of people with altered sexual organ development. I cannot bring myself to fault someone as being sinful because their genetic make up isn't considered as "perfect" as my own. I once heard a minister state that if genetic errors do exist we should have them um, well..."taken care of". So because they don't fit into the masculine/feminine role we have outlined for them this is the type of "christian love" we decide to show instead... heartfelt, huh?

kidpositive said...

i feel like homosexuality has become the scapegoat issue for Christians, as opposed to actually dealing with carrying out Jesus' commands such as "love each other as I have loved you." look how many blogs there are dedicated to destroying another view/take on Christianity. compare that to how many blogs there are dedicated to helping people learn how to love each other.

if homosexuality was/is so relevant to the Gospel, then why is it that Jesus never approached the issue? i mean, if homosexuality is so deserving of damnation, and can screw you so badly, then why is it that Jesus didn't lend us a hand in figuring out how to deal with it? he certainly did this with issues like greed, pride and adultery.

i have to admit that i'm completely on mclaren's side when it comes to this issue. Christians today barely know how to love each other anymore; just look at the blogs we have and the caustic and spiteful language we use against each other (and how we justify it by saying Paul used sarcasm in the epistles). before we try to help those we perceive are in need of help, we really need to learn to take Jesus' message to heart and figure out how to love each other. until we do that, we're sort of like homeless drunks applying to work in an afterschool program with autistic kids. take care of your speck before you try to remove their planks.

my guess is that once we learn how to love each other, extending that form of love to homosexuals won't be as complicated as it seems.

Mike said...

thanks for bringing this up. i struggle with being ambiguous about homosexuality. when i read the scriptures it is clear that homosexual behavior is sinful just as adulterous behavior, as is lying and theaft and hate and on and on.

but i also don't want to be a dickhead.

along with that, i think the reason i find myself distancing myself from the emergent movement is this issue of trying to be so relevent and trying to avoid offending anyone that we have become irrelevent in that we have spiritualized the gospel or become no different from those who don't follow christ that we have nothing to offer.

i dono, just my 2cents

Rick said...

good thoughts all.

The one thing I would add, concerning this behavior and other such behaviors that carry stigma and condemnation based upon so much more than the actual sin or behavior is this...

posture.

How we discuss difficult things must be done with a posture of humility as we speak what we feel is the truth about a subject.

the right posture assumes relationship and trust, along with care, love and the understanding that you could be wrong and have your mind changed (even if you think you will not).

just a thought.