Jesus Deconstructs Me, This I Know

I want to say, if anyone’s wondering, that my insistence that we keep asking “What is the gospel?” does not mean that we shouldn’t come to some conclusion—and then decide how we’re going to respond to the gospel’s ethical summons (thanks to David Dark for that phrase). I’m not after some wishy-washy, relativistic “pick your own gospel” sort of mind-set. Far from it.

Why keep asking the question? Because we (the church) have gotten it wrong in the past. Too many Christian preachers stepped into the pulpit and proclaimed that “God so loved the world…” Then from that same pulpit they preached sermons that in one way or another sanctioned slavery or the slaughter and displacement of Native Americans or the massacre of European Jews, or that in one way or another sanctioned the abuse of women by men. am_i_not_a_man

Now it’s easier (if not easy) to look back and see where we’ve gotten it wrong in the past. It’s much harder to figure out where we’re getting it wrong now. Who is it that we’re excluding, demonizing, or not loving as God loves, even when we think we’re being “biblical” or in step with the will of God?

The reason we keep asking the question is that none of us has it all right. None of acts, believes, thinks, or knows outside of our own finitude, not to mention the constant temptation to walk our own path rather than in the way of Jesus. We keep asking the question, not because we don’t have an answer, but because the good news may be better than we think. We keep asking the question to remind each other of the gospel, to help each other see as others see so that our blind spots can be overcome. (This, by the way, is why the emerging church conversation is a conversation.)

The emerging church interest in our postmodern or late modern context does not serve the purpose of being hip; it is to help us all be more humble. Without creative tension in our thoughts or talk about God (between what we know and what we don’t), it becomes easier to create what Bruce Ellis Benson terms “graven ideologies.” In other words, the idols we’re most likely to create and worship these days are our own conceptions of God and what God wants. And, friends, when the church has gotten this wrong, it’s REALLY gotten it wrong! As our Native American, African American, and Jewish brothers and sisters know all too well, the ultimate consequence of our unacknowledged idolatry is death for those who are not “us” or the same as us.

If we need biblical support for this idea, well, the texts have been there all along. When Jesus says to examine the log in our own eyes before we rail about the splinter in someone else’s, or when he presses the law to unexpected extremes in the Sermon on the Mount, or when he declares that one receives the kingdom like a child, or when Paul says that he sees through a glass darkly, or talks about not having finished the race, we need to have ears to hear. We need to hear that the gospel comes to us where we least expect it, in ways and forms that we didn’t expect, and from persons we thought not to hear it from. Thus, like the woman searching for the lost coin, we rejoice when we receive the gospel, and we invite our friends over to celebrate—and to share the coins they’ve found too.