Friday, October 2, 2009

Gospel and Cultures, 6

When I began this series of reflections months ago, I was after the notion that gospel was a particular way of naming the church's engagement with the world. What is it that defines the church's relationship with the surrounding world? News. Good news. And this is a different kind of engagement than words like truth, mystery, law, etc. The question then is, how does the church stay in the mode of news?

A few weeks ago I suggested that because the gospel is related to the kingdom of God, a future reality that is breaking into the present, surprise is always a category of the gospel. The church stays in the mode of news by attending to surprises, particularly those related to hope.

But not all surprises are good surprises. Not all of them are connected to the in-breaking of God's future. This requires a certain judgment related to a particular way of seeing. Paul calls this way of seeing "the word of the cross." This "word of the cross," he says, "is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for those being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18). This word is not obvious to all. It is a scandal to both Jews and Greeks--not a way of seeing at all. But for those who are being saved, it is the wisdom of God.

But what is this "word of the cross?" For Paul, it seems to be the capacity or ability to see the patterns of death and resurrection at work in life. "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live..." "I want to know Christ and the power of his rising, share in his sufferings, conform to his death..." "We carry in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal bodies..." The death and resurrection are not for Paul simply a formula whereby we experience forgiveness of sins and a home in heaven. Death and resurrection is a script for our lives whereby the powers of sin and death are overcome. Death and resurrection is a way of life, a way of participating in the life of God which is coming for our salvation. It is a being saved, a way of living and seeing that has transformative power.

And this way of living and seeing produces a specific wisdom, a wisdom not of this age or of the rulers of this age, but a wisdom of the age that is continuously coming. It is a way of seeing through the things that belong to the future--faith, hope, and love. By attending to the world through faith, hope, and love, the hidden rule of God becomes manifest both in God's movement in the world and in our lives. We learn both to recognize and enact pictures of God's coming future.

To the extent that this discernment (discrimination, judgment) produces a unique wisdom, the church remains in the mode of news. The gospel is not another way of saying what already is the case. It is not simply a particular way of naming general human experience. The death and resurrection of Jesus, and all that surrounds the eventfulness of this way of God's being with and for us, is new. It is a resistance to the powers that be, a refusal of the status quo, and the embrace of hope, the possibility of a new, coming world, ordered by different powers.

This does not mean that other wisdoms based in other criteria of judgment are pointless or powerless or even evil. The news of God's way of being with us in death and resurrection is not an obliteration of all other categories, but a conversion within them. The strategy of the new age is not to overcome other perspectives through force or power. Rather, the power of the new age always comes through leaven and mustard seed, God's victory hidden in death, in the unsuspecting, and through passionate identification with what is passing away. The new comes not through obliteration, but through passionate, suffering engagement. The way of death and resurrection is not a way to avoid the world until heaven arrives, but a way of entering the world more completely with different eyes, serving different powers. God's desire, after all, is not to forsake creation, but to fill it, to be all in all, to transfigure it. Those who live through the resources of the new age, the word of the cross, learn to recognize the signs of God's coming and announce it as newsworthy.


Unknown said...

I'm trying to think through what it means to live true to the notion that God's future is breaking into the present. It seems to me that the communities formed by this shared understanding of how God is working, of faith in and devotion to Jesus as the world's true Lord, is where the rubber meets the road. The community of faith, clued-in to what God is doing, is empowered/ free to live according to the future rules and principles, anticipating when God will be fully visible to all. The community reveals God to the world. The community's life is news to all who would behold it.

I think it takes something of a "community imagination" to see this actualized. How do we provoke congregations to imagine such grand possibilities? I am struggling with how to advance amidst a congregation that is entrenched in patterns of thinking that close off such exploration of thought.

I'm just venting - not expecting a response.

Mark Love said...


Excellent observation and question. Straining against the limitation must be some kind of beginning, I would think.