One of the primary tasks I have taken up in pastoral ministry is helping people think through and understand a larger picture of the gospel. I think when I left seminary I felt as Karl Barth did in his first pastorate, albeit in a different way. When Barth came to his first pastorate he felt he lacked the tools to preach to the people because he was entrenched in the historical critical method and liberal theology. When I left seminary I don’t think I was entrenched in either of those things as much as I had become wise to know that the the church had very little idea of what the gospel actually is, and the one many people have been familiar with has been very harmful to some and too small for others.
However, the congregants wouldn’t let me off so easy. They were willing to accept that maybe there were other ways to talk about the gospel, but they actually wanted to know what they were. Feeling myself at a lack of words I have set on a path to discover how as an orthodox, postliberal, white middle-class (and aware of that), Anabaptist, (postmodern-ish) seminary-educated, post-evangelical male I might actually talk about the gospel instead of just critiquing others versions of it.
So, I began to reflect upon the words of Anabaptist missiologist Wilbert Shenk. Wilbert told us our last day of class, “What is the Gospel? That is the question you should always be asking.” And then before finishing with this point he stated, “Never write an article about it.” I think I have done my best to keep in mind those thoughts as I attempt to keep asking that question which is in front of me.
But this blog post began as a way to point towards an excellent article in this month’s Christianity Today (link forthcoming, it’s only in print right now) How Far Should Forgiveness Go? by Christine A. Scheller. As I rethink through the gospel one of the words that has been on my mind is forgiveness and how we conceive of it in a better way. This article is stirring, personal, and theological that has written exactly what I hope the church would come to say and struggle with as we talk about forgiveness. Here is the ending for you while I wait for the online edition to link too:
“Forgiveness is not so much a word spoken, an action performed, or a feeling felt as it is an embodied way of life in an ever-deepening friendship with the triune God and with others. As such, a Christian account of forgiveness ought not to simple or even be focused on an absolution of guilt; rather it ought to be focused on the reconciliation of brokenness, the restoration of communion—with God, with one another, and with the whole creation. Indeed, because of the pervasiveness of sin and evil, Christian forgiveness must be at once an expression of commitment to a way of life, the cruciform life of holiness in which we seek to “unlearn” sin and learn the ways of God, and a means of seeking reconciliation in the midst of particular sin, specific instances of brokenness.” (From Embodying Forgiveness by L. Gregory Jones.)
Each of us lives in the midst of particular sins and specific instances of brokenness. And each of us must choose how we will respond. Living a life of holiness and learning the ways of God sometimes means letting go of our need for justice and instead embracing a world that groans in anticipation of the day when it, and we, will be redeemed. It means accepting with humility that God alone is good.