Monday, November 16, 2009

Getting back into it

Somehow, I've just sort of let interpersonal contact drop off to almost nil. I haven't been emailing, calling, or blogging. So to get the ball rolling again...

I just started to read Romans Verse-by-Verse by William R Newell.

So far, it's an excellent book. I'm not too far into it: chapter 3, as of last night.

This commentary is really interesting in its style, depth, and breadth. It deals with Romans in an expository flow (hence "verse-by-verse"), but Newell makes no apology for diatribes, rants, and tangents along the way.

I found this particular quote to be extremely thought-provoking:
I affirm that the present day popular preachers DO NOT KNOW what human guilt, before God, is! DO NOT KNOW that Christ really bore wrath under God’s hand for the sin of the world! DO NOT KNOW that He was forsaken of God, as the whole race, otherwise, must have been! I affirm that they are preaching as if an unrejected, uncrucified Christ were still being offered to the world! They preach the “character” of Jesus, saying “nice things” of Him, and telling people to “follow His example”: while the truly awful fact that Christ “bare our sins in His own body on the tree,” that He was “wounded for our transgressions,” that He was “forsaken of His God”; that “God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up,”—and that “for our trespasses,” is never told to the poor, wretched people! (Chapter 2)

Newell puts his finger dead on the central problem in modern Beattitudes-based theology. It's easy to try and use the Sermon on the Mount (or any other palatable passage) to define our Christianity. But the Epistles start from a totally different assumption: that the Christ who did and said those wonderful things was subsequently beaten and killed by the people to whom He preached.

God, of course, raised Him from the dead. But we can't just go on as though that hadn't happened. The whole game has changed: any implicit offer made in those sermons were rejected, and God has taken the human rejection of Christ seriously.

The Scriptures uniformly declare that Man is a hostile race, living in a hostile system of our own creation. God has broken into it time and time again to draw us out: each time, we reject His offer. And whether we consider the world before Noah, or the people under Moses, or their rejection of the Law and their stoning of the prophets, or even the explicit rejection of Christ Himself ("we have no king but Caesar!"); there is no attempt God has made to rescue Man from this hell of our own making that hasn't met with instant, deep, and lasting hatred and rejection.

So the Epistles start with the assumption that Christ has been rejected, was actually crucified "by your wicked hands," and we were happy to be rid of Him. From there, it is God's grace in bringing wicked sinners to eternal life through the very murder we committed that becomes the theme of the New Testament.

Now, I don't question that God's eternal purpose was for the Christ to die for us. In fact, the Christ "gave Himself for us," neither the Father nor the Son was taken by surprise in our treachery. Of course that is a foundational belief to Christianity! But actions have consequences, and whatever good God had in mind to bring about through our murdering the Son, our motive was simply to get rid of Him.

Newell is correct. He's an evangelical and a fundamentalist. That's unpopular, but he's correct. Christianity is not defined by the Golden Rule. It's defined by the love of God for wicked sinners. If you're not a wicked sinner, the gospel isn't for you. But if you are, there's some really good news here.

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