[We are] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Joel's Day of Wrath & The Gospel

by Johanna Sawyer

An animated French couple advance on a tourist attraction on a beautiful day in Chicago. The two are non-practicing Catholics and environmentalists, with the man wearing a "Green Party" t-shirt. Meandering toward the center of activity, they are approached by a woman they don't know.  She asks if they have strong opinions on the bigger realities of life and whether God exists. They beg off from the interruption, feeling the urgency to move on to the next leg of their sightseeing. But the woman hands the couple a flyer, which is promptly stuffed into the man's messenger bag. Two nights later, the man finds and carefully reads the printed flyer on his Air France flight out of JFK...

The Great Dystopia

Originating in the near east, Christianity has constantly been in flux in its language and culture. Instead of being based on ethnicity (or culture) it is based on a text. And its text is urgently concerned with a future time of great ecosystem damage. This period of global disorder will be sent by God. But He would rather not (or is extremely hesitant to) send it. Because of the immense loss of life that will result, and because of His hesitancy regarding the loss of life, God’s period of great hardship has been delayed. The God of the Christian text is a 3-person God. This means that He is the most relational God possible or conceivable, and also the most personal God possible or conceivable. Because He is compassionate, He has sent (message-like) evidence to scientifically-informed humanity. This evidence shows that God is both creative and protective. It is the great mass of evidence that an invisible, cosmic Architect finely-tuned the vast universe and the Earth’s ecosystem as a complexly-responsive habitat for mankind. However, a time of loss is approaching our habitat. God will make our habitat dramatically less habitable. Lasting for less than a decade, the period of ecosystem degradation will be God’s subjective, personal response to (and judgment of) various human sins: corrupt political leadership in the world, greed in the international economic system, deceptive rhetoric, religious violence and genocide, the current genocide of Christians, wars based on ethnic hatreds, the sex abuse of children in media and in schools and families. But God will also judge a universal sin, which is the resolute refusal of humanity to be grateful to Him (our habitat’s Architect) and give thanks to Him and worship Him. Therefore, the unappreciated Creator will begin to un-create and dismantle our habitat. Our highly passionate Creator will judge the Earth’s ecosystems with fierce destruction, so that at one point a third of the Earth’s residents (perhaps 2 Billion) will perish. Earth’s political rulers will respond to the devastation with genocide on Christians. But our Christian text teaches something else. It is that God’s fierce anger has already been expressed in space and time. Earth’s 3-person God has already expressed wrath—onto God’s Son. On the Cross of Christ, God the Son both “expiated” and “propitiated” human sin, meaning He fully purged (by paying for) sin—and fully satisfied God (and God’s justice) regarding the punishment of sin. In purging sin, the Son suffered immense pain, but did so because He looked forward to refreshing peace, intimacy with, and emancipation of, those He loved. But humanity has rejected the Son and His love. Even though He proved Himself the righteous master of our fragile habitat by rising from the dead, humanity has refused to be thankful for the Son and to worship Him, esteeming only Nature and themselves. Nations refuse to repent from corruption and refuse to worship the Son. Individuals refuse to admit sins from their past and to repent from sins in their current lives. If humanity would repent, God would bring healing—and the period of ecologic dismantling would again be delayed. No one except God Himself knows when the destruction of our habitat will ultimately come—but you (and your friends and family) will not perish, or enter Hell, if you believe in the Son, who generously gives eternal life to whoever believes in Him and His faithfulness. When you believe in Him, eternal life and future resurrection is secured to you through the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. That is, because of His compassion for the world, God sent His Son—so that whoever believes in His Son would not perish, but have eternal life. All of this is what the Christian text, the word of God, teaches. Carefully considering this message is in our self-interest. After the end of Earth’s judgments, after the genocide of those who love Him, after His enemies are judged, the Son will bring peace and healing to the Earth. He will rule the nations with love, purity and justice in our newly-healed habitat, planet Earth.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Is This So What?

To: UOG readers

From: the blogger Johanna Sawyer (formerly HK Flynn; from back in the day when some of us kept our personal information off the internet.)

Here’s my premise: 

The tribulation judgments are far more central to the Gospel & evangelism in the NT, than to the Gospel in today's churches. 

Eschatology is now thought of as a very separate topic from the Gospel message. But this means there is a sharp difference between NT evangelism and our own evangelism. The tribulation/day of the Lord judgments have gone missing from our Gospel.

Is this a big, So What??

No, it really isn't, in my not so humble opinion.

It’s not a small shift. 

Because of it, we distort the Gospel. 

Objection #1 might be, Isn't the day of the Lord a vague expression with several meanings? 

I agree that it and similar expressions, that day, the day of wrath, the day of Christ, have a range of meanings. Bob Wilkin has shown that the day of Christ is a term pointing to the Bema seat judgment where believer’s deeds will be judged by their Savior. And the day of the Lord can mean the tribulation judgments (Daniel’s [final] week), but also the final war that apparently takes place at the end of the Millennial Kingdom.

Objection #2 might be, Isn't all of eschatology an absolute distraction from the discipleship issues we desperately need to focus on? 

I agree that discipleship issues are urgent and central, but see NT eschatology as key to filtering discipleship through a thoroughly biblical perspective that has the potential to add turbo-ness to all of our pathetically lame efforts.  (I'm an expert I'm afraid in that latter department.) And I would have to agree that eschatology is often weirdly severed from a devotional perspective.

But even if a pastor decides he does not want the coming judgments as part of evangelism in his church, there is still a reason for close study of this Gospel shift out, where we shift out the topic of the day of the lord judgments, and shift in the topic of Hell. 

The Apostles clearly taught Hell.  

But they usually preached Joel’s day of wrath in their Gospel preaching.  This can be seen in the Acts sermons of Peter (in Acts Ch 2) and Paul (Ch 16), in Romans, and in John the Baptist’s preaching.
For the Apostles, the day of wrath prophesies of Joel were solidly linked with the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Gospel in general.    

But again, many will ask, So what?

This is what. We risk falsifying the Gospel whenever we fully conflate ideas the NT writers did not. 

What two ideas do we conflate? 

When we conflate Hell with the judgments of the Earth, we pull in repentance to a place the NT writers never brooked.

Don't get me wrong. The urgent message of repentance is necessary to prepare for the Kingdom.  Repentance gets regenerate individuals ready for being presented with all the church as the bride.  Repentance gets nations to give thanks to the One true Creator and worship Him, and this worship gives God an opportunity to continue to delay His judgments. But... when we say that turning from sin is part of the free offer of eternal life, we have gotten creative with the stern and authoritative promise Jesus makes to the readers of John’s Gospel. And that is not okay. Repentance (as turning from sin) and belief are two things not one.

Jesus sternly offers life freely.

By first conflating Hell with the day of wrath we end up conflating repentance with belief.

Offer of life Illustration: A (Catholic) Christian missionary lives in the Philippines. She works and lives in poverty in order to bring the love of Christ to the poor. But if that missionary is stopped on the sidewalk and encouraged to receive eternal life by faith alone, or to be justified by faith alone, she may be less than Christian in her verbal response. She might be totally outraged by the idea of not relying partly on the sacraments and partly on good works—both as gritty expressions of her deep faith in Christ and His atoning grace for her. She'd likely be insulted.

Regarding Hell, Free Grace believers put all their eggs in one basket.  We cling to Jesus and His offer of life because of the finality of His work on the Cross.

Regarding the day of wrath, we teach repentance.  Repentance is most desperately needed in many situations, personal, relational, local, regional, cultural, and (yes, even) political.  We need to realize that if we keep clarifying and re-clarifying grace and leave repentance as a minor point to be slipped into our evangelism near the end, we are not teaching the whole Gospel that Jesus left us with.

In my next post I hope to give an example of how the day of wrath might connect powerfully in modern evangelism.

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