Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Meat vs milk

A friend sent an email to several folks wondering whether it's more important to live a particular way or to learn doctrine. (It was a bit more involved than that, but I don't want to quote the entire thing, and I think you'll get the drift anyway.) Bits where you see “quotes” around the text are where I am quoting his phrasing. Let me know what you think.
I'm finally getting around to replying to your email from September. I'm truly sorry for the delay. Here're some random thought about what you wrote, guaranteed to be out of order. BTW, for those of us who still check your blog every day (!), this would have been good fodder in that trough.
  • The degree to which I consider the Gospel to be good news is directly proportional to my perception that I am a sinner justly condemned by a holy God.
  • The notion that what Jesus focused on was “loving others and changing lives” seems odd when you read more of the Sermon on the Mount than the Beatitudes. The most frightening words in the whole New Testament are in Matthew 7. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, Jesus said most of the hard stuff, and Paul said most of the comforting stuff. Somehow we've gotten it backwards ...
  • The notion that the Gospels and the Epistles can or should be set in opposition to each other is hard to believe when you read all of either.
  • Setting “changed lives” above “knowledge” really means the Law (usually a weakened, non-crushing version of the Law) has become more important than the Gospel of free forgiveness. Setting “knowledge” above “changed lives” is just making an excuse for being puffed up (at best) or neo-gnosticism (at worst).
  • The problem with the preaching of justification isn't that it is done too much (vis-a-vis life-changing), it's that it's done badly. “Life-changing” messages just give me something to do, and all too frequently, they tell me it is actually possible to do it. Everything God requires of us is impossible for us to accomplish.
  • When we do accomplish something good, it's like this story (which is told by the son as true): There was a father who did all his own work on his car, and never took it to the shop. Mike, his son, was a klutz. But the dad loved Mike, and once when the dad was just finishing up, he called Mike over. The wrench was already sitting on the nut, and the dad told him, “Turn that wrench a quarter turn clockwise.” The son did so, then they packed up the tools and went inside, where the dad told the mom, “Mike fixed the car.”
  • I wonder what proportion of Christ's teaching was actually about “love and forgiveness”. Has anyone actually compiled the real data on this? Surely John 6, for example, leans toward doctrine rather than practice.
  • In the end, both the “meaters” (doctrine) and the “milkers” (love and forgiveness) have the wrong goal: They are both trying to pick and choose from the Bible what they're interested in rather than learning from the Scriptures (the “apostles' teaching” from Acts 2:42) what is there, in the proportion it is there, and in the order it is there. (BTW, trying to achieve “balance”, whatever the heck that is, is another way of picking and choosing. Working through the Bible passage by passage is the only way I know of to avoid hobby-horsing around.)
  • Finally (can you believe I'm gonna stop?), there are ways in which we can never be Christ-like. Here's a partial list, all obvious things, but when we talk about being Christ-like we must never forget them.
    • We are not the creators of the universe.
    • We do not have as our mission dying for the sins of the world.
    • We are not sinless. If we are honest, we are the exact opposite. (Added March 28, 2008) In fact, we are the exact opposite even if we aren't honest.

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