Second, emergents believe that the gospel they heard as children or were exposed to as teenagers is a caricature of Paul’s teaching — what McLaren sometimes calls “Paulianity.” The discovery of Jesus, the Gospels, and his kingdom vision creates an irony: “If we are followers of Jesus, why don’t we preach his message?” Emergents I know are sometimes wearied or put off by Paul, yet enthusiastic about Jesus and the Gospels. When McLaren describes the message of Jesus as a “secret message,” he speaks of the emergent discovery of the radical kingdom vision as really new. The political vision and the global concerns of emergents flower from the discovery of Jesus.
Amen. Now, be careful. McKnight is not questioning the inspiration or importance of Paul. Rather, he challenges the Reformation bias toward focusing on Pauline issues — justification by faith, predestination, and such — while, in relative terms, ignoring the Gospels. Indeed, we often forget that the Gospels were written after most if not all of the Pauline letters. At least two of the authors — Luke and Mark — were part of Paul’s circle. They weren’t using their Gospels to teach a more primitive, less thoughtful theology than Paul’s!
Now, I’ve been there. When I graduated from Lipscomb, I had just the first glimmerings of an understanding of grace from Romans. I had an introduction to the Holy Spirit — again focusing on Paul. And these were great, life-changing lessons that I will be thankful for — even a million years from now after I’ve been with Jesus a very long time.
But I well remember wondering why the scriptures have so many pages dedicated to the Gospels. I mean, the death, burial, resurrection story is essential, but the Sermon on the Mount and other accounts seemed more about history than theology. I thought serious Bible study was all about how to worship and how to organize a church! And Paul is the one who speaks about these “central” doctrines.
Well, this should have been a clue that I was clueless. I mean, Jesus only spent three years in ministry. Why would the Son of God waste nearly all that time announcing proverbs, parables, and aphorisms, and not give us any truly important theology while he had the chance to tell us directly what’s really important?
But, of course, Jesus really did tell us what’s most important. My mistake was in thinking that I knew better than Jesus of Nazareth what really matters. I was judging his teaching by my own prejudices, rather than sitting at the Master’s feet to learn. I was (what’s the word?) arrogant. And wrong.
I’m not over it yet, but I’m doing better. I’ve had a lot of help from N. T. Wright and John Howard Yoder and many others. And as an elder, I’ve learned that the Sermon on the Mount answers far more questions about life in God’s church than (dare I say it) Romans. It’s just a rich, deep well of God’s wisdom to which we elders are repeatedly drawn.
I guess the biggest difference between my early training and McKnight’s is that I was taught that the gospel is actually found in Acts (except for the Holy Spirit passages, of course). And so my spiritual journey began in Acts, moved to Romans, and then moved to the Gospels. And lately, I’ve been learning about the gospel from the Old Testament (thanks to N. T. Wright and others). Who knew?