November 7, 2015

Gospel Avoidance: A Thought

Why do so many trendy vicars want to stress the "I'm OK / You're OK" line rather than the good news? But isn't that the good news, you might ask? Well, not really. The good news is what comes after. What comes first is the acknowledgement -- indeed the recognition -- that all is not well with the world or with us, and that we bear some responsibility for that illness. Sin is real, and inescapable, and the human heart is incapable of healing itself, try as we might. That's not good news, and as with a devastating medical diagnosis I can understand people wanting to avoid it.

But there is good news: that there is a treatment for this illness, a salve for this wound, indeed a salvation for the human condition. This is the good news that some seem to avoid, perhaps not willing to acknowledge or recognize the condition that this good news remedies. They literally have no compunction. If all the physician can do is pass along word of inevitable death, reluctance to mention the disease might make some sense, and in earlier days it was a common practice to shield patients from such dismal diagnoses; but when the doctor has the good news that a treatment is available, what reason is there not to acknowledge both the problem of sin and its remedy?

Pelagius was probably wrongly tagged as the origin of this sort of gospel avoidance, or leaping to salvation while downplaying that from which salvation delivers. I think it deeply human. Anyone who has sat as a chaplain by a hospital bedside has seen the urgency with which family members will try to shield their loved ones from a devastating diagnosis or prognosis. But in this case, as dire as the illness, there is a cure. That is the good news. And there is no reason not to share it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


G said...

Thank you; this has been on my mind as my country grapples with the release of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. There is a certain species of (white) commenter who never fails to appear on related news stories to complain that "the natives" will never get anywhere if they continue to "dwell on the past" instead of bravely forging ahead, letting go immediately of all hurt and baggage. The latent assumption, of course, is that one can skip the "diagnostic" part as you put it and charge ahead to the healing. But the one has to be owned honestly before the "clock" even starts on the latter. To me, it sounds as if these voices are saying "We want to move forward from this, provided that it is understood that this does not constitute an admission of liability and we do not concede that there is in fact anything to move on from." This kind of contingent reasoning (where plaintiff argues A or, if A is rejected, then B) seems to have more to do with the law-courts than the gospel.

Fr. Brandt said...

I suppose that I am a bit "gun shy" about emphasizing the need for reconciliation rather than the availability of reconciliation because of my background in a more fundamentalists tradition that, in my opinion, over-emphasized the need of redemption at the expense of the benefits of reconciliation, i.e, "turn or burn." For me, the essence of Christianity is invitation rather than avoidance. Unfortunately, emphasizing the need of redemption leads too easily to seeing the sinfulness of others rather than the being aware of the gift given us through our Lord Jesus Christ. I would rather err on the side of too much love than too much hate. Of course, I could be wrong.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, G and Fr. B. Sorry for the delay responding, but I'm still surrounded by cardboard boxes after my move!

The T&R model is exactly what I had in mind, G. Reconciliation has to acknowledge that there is something to reconcile, some dis-ease or dissonance that requires a resolution. There is no need to dwell on the past, but the past has to be acknowledged if there is to be any logic to the trajectory.

And yes, Fr. B., that is precisely right. Too often, it seems to me, the fundamentalist dwells too much on the past, on the state of being a miserable sinner instead of one who has been redeemed and reconciled in and through the greatest act of love the world has ever known. My concern is with those at the other end of the spectrum who so downplay the dissonance that there seems to be no need for a harmonious resolution. And it seems to me the really good news of classical Evangelical thinking is that the resolution was accomplished in Christ, and we are welcome to participate in it.

Unknown said...

I often wonder what the outrage of grace accomplishes in vanquishing the evil within and around us. And I often think of the complicity of God in that evil by the very act of a Creation he created which participates in evil. Does grace not only get us off the hook but the Creator as well?