Monday, January 11, 2016

The simple gospel

I've been in a two year process of deconstructing my faith. I've been doing some deep soul-searching to understand what it is I really believe. I've been raised in an evangelical, charismatic tradition my entire life and have always felt I understood the gospel of Jesus. And then something wonderful happened that transformed my head knowledge into heart knowledge. I no longer believed in God's love with just my head; I believed in God's love with my heart.

Since that time I've been trying to understand why I didn't see and experience this before and why those around me haven't seemed to experience this either (or perhaps they have but I was unaware of it). Now that I've had some time in solitude I think I found a key to something that might be missing to our understanding in what it means to be "saved."

Bear with me for a second as I sketch in broad strokes and forgo some details. I think one of the main points of the Protestant Reformation was the rejection of the papal system and the authority of the Catholic church. It's my understanding that this happened because of certain abuses the church was committing. The Protestants rejected the authority of the church and placed authority on scripture alone (sola scriptura).

I think this is what brought about higher institutions of learning for theological study. If we hold the Bible as authoritative we need to understand it clearly. So we train people how to interpret Scripture; how to read Greek and Hebrew, the historical context surrounding the original audiences, literary styles, etc. We in the Protestant and evangelical community place a lot of emphasis on exegetical study of the Bible; eisegesis is strictly forbidden.

Just a quick aside. Exegesis means "to draw out" while eisegesis means "to read in." When we exegete something we detach ourselves as much as possible and try to understand the author's meaning as objectively as possible. When we eisegete something we interpret what the writer means in light of our own experiences and context.

Given this backdrop of the authority of scripture and the importance of exegesis it makes sense why when we go to protestant churches we have educated speakers reading and interpreting the Bible during the service. We as Christians believe that belief in Jesus is what leads to salvation. From what I understand we think that belief is coming to the conclusion that a set of propositional truths concerning Jesus is truth. How are you going to know what truth is if it isn't adequately explained? Makes sense, right?

Here's where I start my questions. Bear with me as think this through.

We come to the Bible with the view that exegesis is the proper way to believe in Jesus but where in the Bible does it actually say that this is true? That proper exegesis is the way to know Jesus and be saved? Didn't Jesus himself speak to the contrary? In John 5:39-40 Jesus speaks these words to the Pharisees: "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life."

The teachers of the law were the best interpreters of the Hebrews scriptures around. And yet they missed understanding who Jesus was and what he came to do. I wonder if we evangelicals are doing the same thing today.

I had a relative recently tell me that he's concerned that we're losing our respect of the Bible, that we're beginning to pick and choose what we like and don't like. And if we lose the authority of the Bible we lose our faith because that's what our faith stands on.

Did you grow up with this song in Sunday School? The B-I-B-L-E. Yes that's the word for me. I stand alone on the word of God. The B-I-B-L-E. Good luck getting that melody out of your head now...

I'm think I'm beginning to understand where the disconnect between head and heart lies. It's true we as Christians place trust in the authority of Scripture. There's a vivid picture of New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 that describes the foundation of the city as being the names of the 12 apostles. I believe this is a symbolic picture that the teaching of the apostles are foundations to the teaching we receive today. But there is something more foundational than the teachings of the apostles. There is a cornerstone which is a foundation to the foundation of the apostles.

Look at what the apostle Paul writes at the end of Romans 9. He's wrapping up a large discussion about faith versus works. Romans 9:30-33 reads:

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written:

"Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense,
And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame."

The Gentiles were not experts in the scriptures and yet they obtained righteousness by simple faith. But the Jews who were well-versed in holy scriptures did not obtain righteousness. Why? Because the did not pursue it by simple faith. They were white-knuckling their righteousness through their righteous acts. The stumbled over the stumbling stone.

Who is the stumbling stone? The stone that builders rejected? The cornerstone of our faith? It's the person of Jesus. Not scripture, not the words written about Jesus, but Jesus himself and what He did on the cross.

I've thought about the cross of Jesus and why this needed to happen. Why does God need to pay a debt to Himself? He's God. Couldn't he just forgive people? Wouldn't that be more glorious and further demonstrate that He is God and we are not? People seek vengeance. People forgive imperfectly but not God. Couldn't he forgive without all that bloodshed?

I'm not sure this is spelled out in the Bible but one idea makes sense me. Perhaps God needed to come down as a man to empathize with us. Maybe He just needed to show us that there's no animosity or anger on God's side. Maybe Jesus came to demonstrate to mankind that God can be trusted through an act of surrender to evil.

Let's face it. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. We all do things to cause pain to ourselves and others. We hurt and are hurt. This life is marred by pain. How could we trust in a God that didn't experience our pain? How could we relate to a God that we felt didn't understand us?

When I was in my depression it felt like no one could understand what I was going through. The pain was real and I felt alone in it. I didn't want it to be there but it was there notheless. I could quote scripture until I was blue in the face but nothing made it go away. I didn't need empty promises. I didn't need sympathic looks. I needed someone to crawl down in the hole with me, feel what I felt and tell me it was okay. You're not alone. You're not abandoned. Ya, this sucks! The reality around you just plain sucks right now. And I love you. I'll sit with you in this. I'll be with through this. You don't have to change anything about your circumstances or attitude. Just know that I'm here with you, feeling what you feel.

To me this is what the cross of Jesus means. It's God telling us He gets it. Life is hard and painful and there are no easy answers sometimes and it's okay. He just wants to be with us through it. Not to change us, not to make us presentable to Him but just to be with us. As Brennan Manning says, "God loves you as are and not as you should be because you're never going to be as you should be."

I think this is the core of faith out of which everything else springs. Doctrine won't save you. Theology won't save you. The onion-skinned paper of your Bible won't save you. Salvation is your heart becoming awake to the unconditional, amazing, unrelenting love of God for you. It's not a one-time moment in time. It's a continual experience of God's love washing you and filling you over and over again. It's a dance between you and God that continues through joy and pain, happiness and sorrow, peace and anger. It's going on right now and it will never end.

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