Tuesday, November 01, 2005

three "gospels"

Len Hjalmarson has this great post - I quote it in full
There are (at east) three different versions of the gospel here in the
wealthy west..

1. a personal, experiential, non transforming "me" gospel
2. a rational, dead, powerless, dissected intellectual gospel
3. a wholistic, transforming gospel that embraces the revelation of God the
triune Creator, Redeemer and Healer who stands above and outside the world but
who spoke in Israel's history and entered it in the person of Jesus.

The first version grows out of German romantic philosophy, and was one of the false gospels against which Barth was preaching. In a sense this version was ultra-modern, and it became the foundation of liberalism. There is no transcendent God in this sysem. There are fragments of this non-gospel evident in most churches, embedded in popular culture and reflected in simplistic theology and individualistic and experiential orientations.

The second version grows out of the conservative reaction to philosophical and a priori readings of the gospel. It is best represented in fundamentalism, but also in much of evangelicalism. It manifests great confidence in human reason, a naive belief in the possibility of objectivity, and a tendency to deny the embeddedness of theological statements. In this kind of context preaching is the highest form of discourse, and answers are more important than questions. There is no mystery to God. Immanence and transcendence are flattened. This version is also thoroughly modern.

The best examples of the third version are manifest in alternative communities that are outside the main stream of the organized church. There are efforts at recovery in a great variety of places, however, both emergent and pre-emergent. Where the recovery will be successful, it will be founded in theological reflection that is rooted in a communal conversation that engages Scripture, tradition and culture.

1 comment:

Kevin Flatt said...

Mike, I think Len’s view here oversimplifies and confuses things. For example, Gospel #1 seems to incongruously combine elements usually seen in “modernist” or “liberal” Christianity (e.g. lack of transcendence) with elements more usually seen in Pietism or among charismatics (e.g. experiential orientation). Similar criticisms could be made of his picture of Gospel #2, which mixes up anti-philosophical fundamentalist reaction and liberal-modernist deification of human reason.

I could be wrong, but I think conservative evangelical attempts at systematic theology are the real target of Len’s remarks on Gospel #2. If I’m right, Len is setting up a blatant straw man – what orthodox evangelical theologian would deny the mystery, transcendence, or immanence of God? Any evangelical scholar would also readily admit that human reason is fallen and fallible. (Does this mean that any belief in the possibility of objectivity is na├»ve? Of course not. But that will have to be discussion for another post ;-) ). The thing that bothers me here is that Len seems to be denigrating attempts to rationally understand God through his revealed Word. He also appears to use “rational” and “intellectual” as put-downs.

Nevertheless, this post raises some interesting questions. Len implies that questions are more important than answers. Since I have been hearing this idea more and more often, at Trinity and elsewhere, I was hoping you could comment. Are questions valuable if they don’t lead to answers? If so, how?

Finally, I would appreciate your thoughts on Gospel #3. Specifically, is this any different from the gospel that has been preached in evangelical churches for generations? (Apparently Len thinks so). And if it differs, is it better?

Thanks for bearing with my comments and questions,


Kevin Flatt