Saturday, December 13, 2008

Believe the Good News, Yet Another

I've been attempting to show that salvation is less a status that you possess and more the manifestation of a new age belonging to God in which you are invited to belong. The death and resurrection is the axial event of this new age, allowing us to see what it is that God is up to and providing a way for us to attend to the world in a way that saves us. "Save" here refers to more than just the forgiveness of our sins. It also involves the overcoming of death and powers that diminish us and distort the world that God has called us to love.

This is bigger than limiting salvation to a theory of atonement. This does not mean it is wrong to develop theories as a way of talking about the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It does mean, however, that we need to develop new ways of talking about salvation that don't rely fully on partial explanations.

My sense is that most of our language related to penal substitutionary atonement has primary roots in the letters of Paul, albeit a fairly narrow reading. So, I want to do some imagination therapy by focusing on Jesus' announcement of the gospel in Mark 1:15, "The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news." Four movements here as I see it. 1. The time is fulfilled, 2. the Kingdom is near, 3. repent, and 4. believe the good news. I am convinced that by attending to these four movements a new way of seeing and speaking can emerge over time. Here's the quick overview.

The time is fulfilled. A new age has dawned, the age of God's future salvation. The status quo is no longer the only game in town. God is acting to pull back the curtain, to reveal, the way the world ordered by his concerns appears. Christian life, in this sense, is learning to tell time, learning how to discern the distorting patterns of this present age which is fading away, and to discern the things that will endure in the age to come. Telling time requires a deep engagment with the world for the sake of the world and God's coming range. This is not a call to huddle on a mountain top somewhere until God pulls us out of the world, but to engage the world more deeply according to the pattern of the emerging age.

The kingdom of God is near. So much to say here. But two things for today. Jesus not only announces the new age, he embodies it. We recognize the kingdom of God by following Jesus, by taking up our cross and following him. But we also know that the Kingdom is near. It is already, but not yet. It is near, not in our possession. We continue to pray, "your kingdom come, your will be done... ."

Repent. The announcement of the kingdom of God is one of life under new management. Regime change. The kingdom is not simply the necessary outcome of the way things are going. It is an alternative future. And we cannot remain the same and belong to God's alternative future. Repent here is not scolding, but opportunity. It is the gracious call of God to align our lives with his coming reign. Repentance is a way of attending to life in belief that God's future kingdom is what is most real. It is repentance that allows something newsworthy to emerge as we learn to see life in a new way.

Believe the good news. It is not always easy to see how God's power is being manifest in the world, how his reign is the one that will ultimately prevail. After all, Mark prefaces Jesus' announcement of the kingdom by reminding us that John the Baptist is shut up in Herod's prison (Mk 1:14). The victory of God is hidden in the cross of Jesus. It is not always easy to believe. We are always tempted to half-measures, to going back to Egypt, to giving the concubine to Abraham, to making our peace with the way things are. Believe the good news!

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