I intend to spend a lot more time in the Gospels this year and I would like to tell you why. In 2015 I tackled N.T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God. I started it while on jury duty via my kindle app and when I first downloaded the book it told me I had over 60 hours to go! I am over half way done and will finish it in the next few weeks and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I also did a lot of studying, teaching and preaching from Paul and from Acts this past year. After thinking through a lot of that in 2015 I have decided that I am going to dedicate a lot more of my time and focus on Jesus and the Gospels in 2016. That will be reflected here on the blog and I look forward to engaging in discussions about Jesus with you this year!
I am going to kick this off with a brief thought on the Gospels in Churches of Christ. I can only reflect on my own upbringing and experience so that is what I am going to do here. What I say here will not be universally true but I can only imagine that it is generally true on some levels across our movement.
The Gospels (Matthew – John) have traditionally not gotten much airtime in Churches of Christ. We would say we preach the Gospel and that the Gospel is what ends every sermon (e.g. – the five steps to salvation) but that is something entirely different to what I am talking about and I believe what Paul would have said the Gospel was all about as well.
Why did we give more time to Paul than to Jesus? I believe the Gospels lacked airtime because of the kinds of discussions we were engaged in and the sorts of verses and tactics that are needed to win the discussions we believed were most important. We leaned more heavily on Paul than we did on Jesus because our discussions were often attempts to convert other groups to a Church of Christ understanding of scripture and how to read scripture. Jesus just didn’t help us out there as much as we would have liked and the proof texts for the points we had to make were slim to none in the Gospels so that is where Paul stepped in for us. Paul was helpful to our cause because in our minds Paul was addressing church stuff and that is (so the thinking goes) the kinds of disputes we were having with “the denominations” and so Paul provided us the ammo for our “war for unity” that was actually quite divisive and sectarian. Ironic, I know.
Now, if you take a good look at Paul and even at the verses we like to quote from Paul it is not always as straight forward as we made it and he is not always saying what we thought he was saying. We constructed a Gospel that didn’t need the Gospels. If we really read Paul we would have known better but in my experience and as best I can tell it that is what happened and we were not better off for it.
In a sense I believe we really lost our way and are struggling to find it back. We are struggling because we knew ourselves to be a “people of the book” but our approach to the book didn’t land us on solid ground. Our hermeneutic (method of interpretation) was broken and the fruit it produced wasn’t always in line with the Spirit. There is a better way forward and I think it walks backward from Paul to Jesus. We should have learned that from our study of Paul as Paul constantly pointed us back to Jesus but somehow we still missed it. But the past doesn’t have to dictate the present or the future. There is a better way forward in our movement and I believe that way forward is founded on the bedrock of Jesus Christ and his life, teaching, actions, death, resurrection and impending return. Let’s not miss it this time around!