I’m starting a list of everything I’ve learned. Granted, there are things which I intuit, presuppose, and confess to knowing. However, there are those things which I’ve come to learn through experience which have in someway have become touchstones to which I’ve returned again and again. Here are a few:
- I don’t know much of anything.
- My wife told me this about my preaching, “Don’t sex up the gospel; you can’t make it gooder news.”
- Men and women are basically different.
- When suffering with a kidney stone and the nurse is late in coming to give you your morphine shot, be nice to her. People with kidney stones aren’t in any position to speak to their care providers in any tone of voice other than one of grateful respect.
- Never attempt to replace a disconnected sparkplug wire when the engine is running. The result is shocking.
“To Aristotle, and to many Christians still today, God is the Unmoved Mover. God can’t change, God can’t become human, God can’t suffer, God can’t become sin, God can’t crucified and numbered among the transgressors. God can’t go to hell. So when Jesus does those things he can’t really be God – but he is! The gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified was foolishness to the Greeks because they couldn’t get past their revered law of non-contradiction.” (p.6)
“Paul doesn’t tell us that Christ died so we wouldn’t have to, he says when Christ died we died, every single human being died with Christ (2Cor5:14).” (p.10) and
“If the cross covers all sins for all times, past, present, and future, how can their still be leftovers? Was the work of Christ impotent or ineffective? Is there still justice to be meted out?” (p.13) and
“For instance, surely it is better to live with the question – How can one who belongs to God end up in Hell? — than to live with the dangerous idea that some belong to Jesus and some do not (even the goats of Matthew 25 belong to the shepherd!). Did Jesus die for some but not for others? Did Jesus decide from all eternity that he would create some folks and then send them to hell without a chance?” (p.14)
“A person cannot truly confess until he is given a safe place.” (p.12)
I don’t believe that McSwain is out to present a plausible heterodoxy. Rather, I think he rightly apprehends the increasing irrelevance of the gospel as forgiveness approach for this younger generation. I do think his passion in ministry is commendable and inspiring. However, as one who leads others, his communication of the subtleties reflects a lack of circumspection and wisdom, and as such he appears a maverick charging ahead and doing his own thing because he likes his way of doing it more then other’s way of not doing it. Is this unjust? The children will tell.
Recently, Christianity Today included an article on the recent controversy within Young Life regarding a paper written by Jeff McSwain and the ministry’s formulation of gospel non-negotiables. It seems that the area director and a good many of the staff in Durham/Chapel Hill resigned because of the disagreement. You can read the CT article here. You can read Jeff McSwain’s paper here, and you can read the Young Life Statement here.
After reading the paper, here are my thoughts. If I’m wacked or my church history isn’t what it should be, would somebody tell me?
1. Not a bad place to start.
“Is it possible that we could clearly and faithfully preach a Christ-centered gospel without the penal/legal formula and the bridge illustration paradigm?” (ref. p.2)
What seems to be behind some of McSwain’s thinking is all the debate in the Emergent Church circles on penal substitutionary atonement. Though I am not sympathetic with arguments against the centrality of justification by faith in the propitiation which Jesus Christ has worked in his own’s behalf, McSwain’s concern about the manner in which the gospel is being presented and the subsequent confusion has some merit. In particular, I believe Dr. Timothy Keller and others have done great work on critiquing gospel presentation models.
Keller notes two current models of gospel presentation: gospel is forgiveness and gospel is freedom. Our increasingly secular and irreligious culture finds the gospel as forgiveness increasingly irrelevant because the starting presupposition: “there’s a God and he has rules” is not believed. To try and convince people who don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong that there’s forgiveness offered for their sins is incredibly difficult. However, there is another means to communicate our sin and Christ’s provision.
Keller suggests that our gospel approach should follow a “gospel is freedom” model. The gospel is freedom says that sin is slavery. (Slavery is naturally repulsive to a culture who values freedom, autonomy, and choice and is consumeristic and independent), Keller writes, “…the way to show more deeply secularized persons their need for the gospel is by saying, “your sin makes you a slave! You are actually being religious, though you don’t know it — trying to be righteous in a destructive way.” (Slavery is the biggest nightmare of the “choice–worshipper”. We say, “you are not really in control” so they are threatened). This approach creates anxiety and relieves it by showing how Christ redeems us (lit. “ransoms us from slavery”), liberates us.
McSwain uses labeling which inclines the reader to prejudice. The labels he gives the model he espouses: the “Trinitarian/Incarnational Model” allows him to take the generous orthodox position while the term “Legal/Separation Model” implies a litigious, restrictive and ungracious position. Whether intentional or not it’s an old straw-man’s trick.
In his paper, McSwain writes the following,
To be continued…
Well, actually, no.
While in seminary I had read that Charles Simeon (minister of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge) exhorted his students to “mind the three-mile marker.” I lost the exact quote years ago. However, “minding the three-mile marker” became a rallying cry of sorts to not neglect exercise. Simeon, an exercise enthusiast himself, often swam in the Cam River (which could not have been very clean) and was regularly seen walking the countryside of Cambridgeshire — in particular the three-mile walk to the stone and back. For the Christian and the “reading man,” one must remember that we are embodied souls. To neglect the care of the body and to deny one’s physicality (that the physical world is real) is to fall into pseudo-Gnostic error.
Thinking of stones and weighty matters moved me to locate the quote of Charles Simeon which has provided such help over the last 15 years. I am please to provide it in its entirety here.
“It is your duty to God to work hard at the studies which belong to the University. Hard regular study is the best discipline which your minds can have, and the most likely to fit your characters to usefulness in the ministry, if you are called to that office. But act wisely. Remember to give your hearts to God in the way of this duty. Use common wisdom also. Your success in the Senate House [picture to the left] depends much on the care you take of the three mile stone out of Cambridge. If you go every day and see no one has taken it away, and go quite round it to watch lest any one has damaged its farthest side, you will be best able to read steadily all the time you are at Cambridge. If you neglect it, woe betide your degree. Exercise, constant, regular, and ample, is absolutely essential to a reading man’s success.”