life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Monday, October 03, 2005

so what is the good news...

To add to the questions already raised on this site, let me throw another one into the mix. This may seem very basic, so basic that I might seem either an idiot or a simpleton (what’s the difference?) or uneducated in the most basic understandings of what we have defined in modern times as Christianity. But despite that, let me throw it into the mix....

So, what is the good news? And depending on what you answer, how is that good news?

I was raised in a denomination where we did not at first even use the term “good news.” We used the term gospel. Since no one in the pew knew the etymology of that word (or the Greek which it transliterates) we contented ourselves with believing our mission to be to convince people of the need to hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized. We called it the “five-fingered plan of salvation,” and labored long and hard with logical arguments with our evangelical neighbors. Somewhere along the line, we learned about grace, or at least the evangelical concept of what grace was. It focused on the unmerited favor of God in regard to our legal status before him. Now it was more than that for many, but it was still very individualistic in application.

I’ve been down both roads. I know the Bible pretty well, having been trained in it at the collegiate level and having spent at least ten years in the pulpit. I’ve read numerous books on all aspects of systematic theology, have written lengthy, learned papers on various aspects of the doctrines which were important to my fellowship. (Somehow soteriology [the study of salvation] seems to be the equivalent of the North Star for those from my fellowship as we struggle with our denomination’s standard doctrines on how one responds to God. I’ve done my share of papers on baptism.) And still I ask the question....

What is the good news?

I believe this to be a very critical question that everyone is assuming we already have the answer to. I am not satisfied with the answer. I read Isaiah 61, and Jesus’ self-proclamation to the Nazareth synagogue where he grew up of that same text, applying it to himself, and I ask the question whether our description of the good news is adequate to his description... even more whether it is adequate to his subsequent message and life. (See the Sermon on the Plain in Luke or the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and tell me where you see what we’ve traditionally called the “good news.”) How does going to heaven after you die, having lived through hell on earth, adequately address what you see in the life of Jesus. (I know, I know. He suffered on the cross. But is there no hope in what he says for people in this life?)

I also struggle with the social justice answer to that question. I understand though don’t know what I think about things like liberation theology, a radical understanding of good news that has Central and South American pastors advocating for armed rebellion against corrupt governments. Is that the good news? Or a part of it? I’m currently struggling with a more local definition in an effort that is inviting me to participate in organizing for social change. I’m struggling very hard to see that in the gospels and Acts. So far, I’m not finding it there, though I heartily think justice for the poor, the alien and the dispossessed of our world enters the picture somehow. It seems more a critique of our have/have not society. But I don’t know that the change will take place by applying current theories of fomenting social change. Jesus seems to be concerned with something that may lead to the result of social change, but goes more to the heart of what is wrong in man and in society.

I don’t have an answer to my question yet that I’m happy with. I’ll throw this meager, inadequate attempt on the table and let you beat up on it for awhile.

So far, the good news of sight to the blind, freedom for the prisoners, good news to the poor, etc, seems to be wrapped up in the simple message that God in Jesus has come near. As a result, if we want to experience that nearness (or maybe because we are experiencing that nearness), we need to change how we think about just about everything. We need to let God redefine our reality about what is truly important in the world and what we give our life’s energy to. We need to allow God to completely recast how we look at the world, especially at people in the world. We need to take seriously the character of our God as we live with, love and deal with each other, even those who are in no sense Christian at all. The good news to me appears to be that the world was never intended to go on by itself. Rather people were intended all along to walk with God and each other in an honoring, fulfilling, loving, others-serving, justice-seeking way. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. That’s the dynamic process that is supposed to be going on, the good news that brings hope. Or such is the trail I’m currently on.

Now, I may be all wrong. Or I may be just way too simplistic about this. I don’t know.

But here’s my dilemma.

If I am close to what the good news as defined by God/Jesus really is, then God’s nearness and communication with and empowerment of his people in their mission to join him in spreading his realized presence in the world and the justice that comes with him is vital.

Do you see why I’m so focused on the knowing god and the voice of god posts?

I don’t think God wound up the clock and is just letting things run down until he says, “Enough!” and zaps the world with intense heat. Or that as deists might claim today that he will allow the universe to collapse in on itself again into one instance (or whatever you want to call it) that recreates the big bang all over again, complete with a new universe and new physics, etc. (This is not a critique of the Big Bang, by the way. I happen to believe it happened as the astrophysicists up in the Owens River Valley are saying it happened. There is a lot to be said for scientific observation, as flawed as it is, and for the current higher mathematics, which are useful but equally flawed.)

But if God is at all personal, if Jesus Christ was God in the Flesh, then what is the good news? And, more importantly, why is it good for me, for us, for all peoples, for the world?

It seems to me the most critical question to be asked today. And I don’t hear many people asking it.

What do you think?

Grace and peace,



Blogger Johnny said...

I would like to add my thoughts to yours. I am new to reading your blog. I found it from worship forum. I too grew up in the same tradition as you and used to brag that I was a 4th generation member (what misunderstandings we sometimes have). I used to teach what I now call the "bad news" of the gospel, hopfully I am overcoming that but traditions die hard.
The good news is forgiveness Rom 1:16, peace Rom 5:1, life Luke 4:18-19 and much more I am sure.
When we separate reality into secular and spiritual, I think it tends to lead us to believe God is not involved in todays world. I am coming to the conclusion that there is only one reality and God is in charge of everything and involved in my day to day life. This I believe is what Paul is talking about in Gal 2:20. If Christ is living within me then there is only one reality not two, is there?

10:21 AM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

Welcome, Johnny.

Your comments brought several thoughts to mind... separating secular and spiritual is very dangerous. I would agree. There is a book I was supposed to read in my collegiate studies years ago that I never quite got through. It's called The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade. I don't remember the premise, but judging by the title I should probably dig it out of my library, dust it off and read it again.

Somehow, I have great difficulty in separating the two realities. I think that is a modern construct, not a biblical one. At the same time, I fear being so captured by the sovereignty of God as understood by some Christians that I can't decide (as Marshall's daughter was struggling with) whether God wants me to eat at Burger King or Carl's Jr. (or whatever choice she was struggling with at the time--for a very honorable reason, by the way. Would that all of us would give that much thought to God's desire to use us, as conflicting and paralyzing as it was!). That's not a healthy view of God either IMO.

For those who are familiar with the knowing god 2 conversation we've been having on this blog, I do want to point out that about a week ago, I got the distinct impression that I was about to have a "Job" moment with God, at his initiative. Not the suffering part, but the "sit me in a chair and ask me questions I can't answer" part.

I don't remember who it was, maybe St. John of the Cross or Thomas a Kempis (On the Imitation of Christ and I seem to remember it was a Kempis) or one of the other Christian mystics who, after an incredibly profound vision of God, considered all of his own written works (which we still highly value today) as straw and complete ignorance of the God he had encountered.

I freely admit my ignorance. Now if I just knew which parts of what I understand are the ignorant parts, I would be in better shape! As I said before, I must get me to a monastery for some quiet time away, methinks.

Anywayz, welcome Johnny. Feel free to comment anytime.

Grace and peace,


9:11 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Wow, Owen, you threw me for a loop with this one! I've been thinking long and hard.

I would say (today) that the good news must be restored relationship, God among us. At the beginning of the Bible story, our relationship with the divine is shattered. As I read Job, Satan calls into question the whole possibility of relationship, telling God, in effect, "They only love you for your money." But in the person of Jesus, God once again walks among us "in the cool of the evening." The flaming sword is extinguished.

And I think this means that the average person can relax. Love wins.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

Of course, to the extent I'm right above, that the gospel is restored relationship, then the questions raised in earlier posts about the difficulty of knowing God become even more significant...and troubling.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Owen B. said...

And, Marshall, that is exactly my dilemma. I think much depends upon what we mean when we say "relationship". It's tempting to propose king/subject relationship-at-a-distance and ignore the more personal aspect of "walking in the cool of the evening."

Somehow, king/subject doesn't do justice to Jesus' words, "My sheep know my voice." (John 10)

I think he's still speaking. I just think we (or at least I) never learned to hear the voice. Maybe we were (I was) too busy hearing the systematic theologies and pet doctrines of the churches we grew up in? Again, I don't know the answer to the why of it. But I do know the ability to hear his voice is critical.

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Marshall said...

For what it's worth, the charismatic assembly I attended for a few years taught the following:

First, that God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3). Second, that we are thus more likely to hear from God if we praise. With that in mind, they taught that "tongues" are languages of praise; therefore, speaking in tongues increases the liklihood that we will hear from God. Tongues are not mandatory - singing, raising hands, etc. also increase the likelihood. They encouraged vibrant praise as a method to "press in" to the presence of Christ.

I must say that their teachings do provide an interesting context for the teaching, "be filled with the Spirit," whose grammar sounds as though this is something we can control. Overall, they might be said to teach "draw near to God, and he will draw near to you," with the emphasis on praise as a method of drawing near to him.

It was during a period of giving myself over to this process that I experienced the moment I describe here elsewhere as "hearing" These mid-life crises will pass after the girls leave home.

The problem, however, for me with this process is that the "voice" is purely subjective, and it's hard for an honest fellow to say with certainty, "I heard from God." One does tend to "work oneself up" into a state of heightened expectancy in which one is likely to engage in wish-fulfillment fantasies.

Or am I just weak in faith?

2:30 PM  

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