Practicing Faith from Edge of the Inside

But if you are both inside and outside, you are the ultimate threat, the ultimate reformer and the ultimate invitation. -- Fr. Richard Rohr

Signs, Small Houses, Church, and Gospel Math

A new business is going in near where we live. The east facing sign stood alone for some time. It told passersby a new storage facility would soon be built. After months of no visible activity I wondered when would the construction begin.

Recently large equipment rolled in. Concrete was poured. Red steel arrived as did z-panels. After several months what has been promoted by sign is now seen in new buildings, new utility service, and a fence. What the sign promised is becoming reality.

We need more small storage buildings. It has become too expensive to build large enough houses to contain all our stuff. In this way the sign and the buildings expose our excess.

Elsewhere in the United States there is a small house movement. I saw this on Scot McKnight’s blog. Young families with children are deciding not to give into long-term mortgages. For some, they have sold their 1500 square foot house – modest for our parts – and built a house less than 500 square feet. In the clip from the story the couple now lives in a 168 square foot home.

For these young families what ranks higher on their scale is the ability to work less and enjoy more. You could say they have decided against what some refer to as indentured servitude by debt. Others desire sustainability and an environmentally friendly footprint.

Their homes serve as signs. I confess it difficult to get my mind around living in a home described as 168 square feet with two children. But, the movement serves as a sign both that living may be done without excess and those signing up for this way of life themselves become the testimony of its possibility.

The Jesus Movement – the Coming of the Promise in the Flesh – finds its testimony in both local communities intent to say “yes” to life together under the vision of Jesus and is given witness to in the lives of those whose way of life points up the shape of the Kingdom to come.

Missional fell prey to the death of a thousand nuances. Even though, later this week I will spend some time with a group who believe the term is both redeemable and useful. I tend to agree. After missional became all things to all people, some turned to “gospel.” The entire move seems predicated on a need to tell others they either do or do not have the Gospel “right.” So, we begin reading of debates, arguments, and conversations over, “What is the Gospel?”

I found and still find the recurring imbroglio to center on the need to control access to book deals, conference platforms, and the reigns of “Evangelicalism.” For those of us in the SBC, it is like arguing the Bible, which we did and do well. The one way to lock-down debate and division is to win the battle for the Bible. Win the battle for defining the Gospel seems to mean much the same.

Pete Enns pointed to a post by David Williams on gospel math. Williams argues that the Gospel as anything other than “Jesus (Messiah) is Here,” is an implication of the Gospel. I confess this seems eerily similar to what one would read from N.T. Wright or Scot McKnight’s recent, The King Jesus Gospel. Here is what Williams wrote,

A lot of us Evangelicals are waking up to the fact that the New Testament gospel is the gospel of the Kingdom, but we’re still stuck on this idea that “the gospel = the doctrine of justification.” The most common solution I’ve seen is to add the Kingdom to the formula, saying “the gospel = the doctrine of justification + the Kingdom.” More socially conscious evangelicals want to throw in even more things: “the gospel = the doctrine of justification + the Kingdom + social justice + being eco-friendly +….”

I don’t think the gospel-math approach is serving us very well, both because it does not fit well with the thought of the New Testament writers and because it dulls our capacity for thinking Christianly. The gospel-math approach does not really encourage a close reading of the arguments in Paul’s letters or anything else, and it allows us to just assume that our old “the gospel = justification” formula can by salvaged simply by tacking on a few more items. Perhaps more problematic, however, is the fact that the gospel-math approach is a great way to turn the gospel into a grab-bag of our own pet-projects, and thus a great way of tailoring the gospel to suit our own personal and political preferences. But it’s not a good or a biblical way of thinking about the difference Jesus makes for our lives and our world.

Others see things differently. They illustrate Williams point. To them Gospel = justification. Any other theme or subject becomes a subset, or implication of the Gospel.

I like the idea that Jesus is at the center. Everything turns on Jesus, as Messiah. Or, to follow his interpretation of Daniel 7 where Jesus redirects what is signaled in the title, “son of man,” to himself and in a way that totally confounded the disciples. Why? Because the way Messiah comes is not in betrayal, death, and resurrection. But, the Messiah to come in Jesus comes decidedly that way. It is as if to say Messiah – the Son of Man – is here. Now, here is what happens to him. But, the Good News is, “He is here!” That is precisely how he preaches Good News before his death and resurrection.

The Church as Jesus community becomes sign and form of the reality Jesus the Messiah is here and is to come. We embrace the way he was treated as implication of following the King. We then find it less disconcerting when we read of self-denial, betrayal, suffering, rejection,  and death all in the Name. Our participation in a life that benefits and blesses others in  ways the prompt these, often, painful experiences give material expression to our conviction Jesus the Messiah is here – and is to come. It is to believe we can live without the excess that captivates and shackles us because we have heard the Good News the King has come and set captives free.

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