Ironic Faith: Rediscovering the Gospels

McKnight continues his article on “Ironic Faith” by discussing the emerging churches’ attitude toward the Gospels —

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?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Emerging Church, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ironic Faith: Rediscovering the Gospels

  1. Tim Archer says:

    Someone told me that they were scolded for preaching too much about Jesus, being told that that was a mark of a change agent.

    Preaching too much about Jesus???

    I've also been told that everything Jesus said was just for the Jews of His day, that the apostles taught the Christian message.

    Huh? Don't those people realize the gospels were written for the church? Written by the apostles? That the gospels ARE the message the apostles taught?

    My journey has been similar to yours.

    Grace and peace,

  2. rey says:

    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.”

    And they're right, because the so-called "gospel" they hear as children was Calvinism. "God programmed you to sin just so he can punish you for it by burning you in hell forever. You're nothing but a robot who cannot do anything but sin. But, God presided over a cosmic lottery and some people won the gift of faith, and now God gives them faith and saved them so completely that sin however much and however bad they may (and God the puppet master makes them sin very bad), they will still be saved even though they never repent (because God makes them not repent). But all the rest, who differ not at all from these except that they didn't win the arbitrary dice roll, God is pleased to eternally torture for no good reason. So, smuck, God didn't choose–now go burn in hell."

    Inasmuch as this is the "gospel" they heard as children, the emergent movement is very pitiable. They are revolting from Scripture because they cannot makes heads or tells of Romans 9 without submitting to the blasphemy above. So, they throw all the Bible overboard for doctrinal chaos.

    McLaren, therefore, chooses the right word when he call what they heard as children "Paulianity," because the Purtians were Calvinists, and right here on American soil actually bored through the tongues of anyone who disagree with them with a hot iron!

  3. Micah says:

    When I was younger I often heard people claim that the gospels weren't central because they were pre-cross. We have to look to Acts to see what Christians do. Or, as some people put it, the Gospels were addressed either to Jews or to the Apostles, so not very much applies to us.

    Then, I was struck by the verse in the Great Commission "…teaching them all I have taught you."

    Jesus says directly that his teachings in the gospels apply to us.

  4. Todd says:

    I think stating that emergents "revolt" from scripture is taking it a bit far. Most of the students and young adults we are woring with actually have a very high view of the scriptures – it is the accepted interpretations of the texts that they differ with. And frankly, we (in the CoC – or coC, whatever) have developed our own theological issues so just banging away at the "Calvinists" isn't all that beneficial.

    The simple truth is that we as a movement have built our churches on Paul and not on Jesus. I have actually had discussions with brothers who tell me I am in danger of my salvation if I don't treat the Gospels as OT – instructive but not binding.

    How we got here I don't know, but we better head back.

    What "emergents" are focused on is the vital difference between living out your faith and understanding cold points of doctrinal law. And they have some powerful ammunition. The judgment in Matt. 25 doesn't even mention what was believed – heaven and hell are in how we live out our faith by loving others. To the extent that we argue over words and ignore real needs we lose this generation.

    And by the way, this is also how the "Evangelical" movement will wind up realigning itself politically in the next generation. If the Dems ever moderate on abortion the GOP will lose the Christian advantage they enjoy now.

Comments are closed.