Thursday, January 19, 2006

anthrakia

anthrakia: Thoughts on Translating the Faith

This week I've been reading a recent book by William J. Abraham, Wesley for Armchair Theologians. As the title suggests, it's a popular book on the thought of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. At the end of Chapter 5, (p. 106) Abraham says Wesley, thoughout his career, opposed "the evangelistic strategy of accommodation" of the world.

Specifically, Abraham says:

"In these circumstances the stragegy of translating the language of the faith into the jargon of the streets is superficial. The intention is good, and there is even a grain of truth on offer. It is wise to develop contemporary analogies that will capture in a vivid way the great truths of the gospel. Charles Wesley's poetic skills were a godsend to early Methodism in this arena. However, the mistake is to think that folk are ready to roll over and accept the Christian faith if only we could find a way to make it intelligible to them. This ignores the offense of the faith. To see what is at stake in salvation requires an intellectual revolution that shakes the foundations of one's standard conception of oneself. The darkness and cognitive malfunction are so great that the active grace of God is required to wake us from our dogmatic slumbers. We should permit the claims of the faith the call into question the common intellectual assumptions of our day rather than capitulating at the first sign of opposition. Moreover, it is not always easy to explain the deep things of God even to veteran believers. Thus, to rely on strategies of translation, or on cute analogies, or on church growth techniques, in order to relieve our anxieties is disastrous for the church in the long run. We need to keep our nerve, pray for divine assistance, and launch forth boldly in the teeth of opposition and ridicule. Cutting a deal with the world at this poitns and reworking the faith to accommodate its wishes is simply wrongheaded and ineffective."

This paragraph concluded a complex discussion of Wesley's theology. (In fact, the discussion was quite over my head.) In summary, Abraham says Wesley taught that a new believer must come to understand sin in order to really understand grace. In other words, if a person doesn't recognize his-or-her sinful nature, then God's gift of grace won't mean much. So a concept of sin was central to Wesley's message, and one of the keys to his success.

I cite the paragraph here because it reminded me of a comment C.S. Lewis made somewhere--probably in Mere Christianity--that the main stumbling block to recruiting new Christians was not the reality of miracles, but the reality of sin. If you take sin seriously, then you can't act like you did before. In other words, people know that accepting Christianity means rejecting the way they act today, perhaps even giving up their current lifestyle.

They don't want to do this, so they stay away from church.

Thoughts? Comments? Are some churches opening their doors too wide?

Mason Smith

2 Comments:

Blogger Andrew Harnack said...

Abraham and Wesley are completely on target. Local churches too often think they will effectively bring people to Christ in ways that avoid confrontations with the horrendous realities of sin at a personal, communities, and national level. It would be well for us to remember and frequently confess our sins, perhaps using the following (or similar) words from The United Methodist Hymnal:

Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (8)

This confession in The United Methodist Hymnal is then followed by a great and wonderful announcement made by the pastor:

Hear the good news: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God's love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

We then are instructed to say: Glory to God! Amen!

Such a communal confession and announcment of forgiveness and gospel absolution is to be made and received daily on a personal level as we remember our baptisms (Romans 6) and daily commit our lives to doing battle against temptations and the forces of evil that surround us. When we daily examine our lives and find ourselves in deep need of forgiveness, then the Gospel means something--everything.

Thanks, Mason, for sharing with us Abraham's, Lewis's, and your insightful thinking about the necessity of acknowleding the awful reality of sin in our lives. And thanks to God the Father through Jesus in the Holy Spirit for the grace that does away with sin and eliminates its spiritual consequences in our lives.

(Mason, may I borrow Abraham after you're finished reading it?)

Tuesday, 31 January, 2006  
Blogger Andrew Harnack said...

Abraham and Wesley are completely on target. Local churches too often think they will effectively bring people to Christ in ways that avoid confrontations with the horrendous realities of sin at a personal, communities, and national level. It would be well for us to remember and frequently confess our sins, perhaps using the following (or similar) words from The United Methodist Hymnal:

Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (8)

This confession in The United Methodist Hymnal is then followed by a great and wonderful announcement made by the pastor:

Hear the good news: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God's love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

We then are instructed to say: Glory to God! Amen!

Such a communal confession and announcment of forgiveness and gospel absolution is to be made and received daily on a personal level as we remember our baptisms (Romans 6) and daily commit our lives to doing battle against temptations and the forces of evil that surround us. When we daily examine our lives and find ourselves in deep need of forgiveness, then the Gospel means something--everything.

Thanks, Mason, for sharing with us Abraham's, Lewis's, and your insightful thinking about the necessity of acknowleding the awful reality of sin in our lives. And thanks to God the Father through Jesus in the Holy Spirit for the grace that does away with sin and eliminates its spiritual consequences in our lives.

(Mason, may I borrow Abraham after you're finished reading it?)

Tuesday, 31 January, 2006  

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