Discerning a theological vision

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A couple of reflections on a post which is in response to an online discussion of the doctrine of the atonement. Note: the views of the person quotes reflect only her views just as my views reflect only my understanding of Scripture, the Confessions, and tradition.

  1. This person equates being presbyterian with being a member of the PC (USA). This is false sort of misleading although a common way we in the PC(USA) speak about ourselves. There are plenty of faithful presbyterian denominations beside the PC (USA). In fact, there has always been more than one presbyterian denomination (using that word is an anachronism, but it communicates) in the United States.
  2. This person seems to equate being presbyterian with denying the existence of hell and of heaven. At the very least she denies a connection between profession of faith in this life and destiny in the life to come. This raises the question of what we mean when we profess to that Christ “descended in hell, the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven…” Clearly, in the authors’ mind, a part of “being presbyterian” is the ability to deny claims held in common with the ecumenical church.
  3. This person summarizes Jesus’ message as: be accountable, accept responsibility, turn the other cheek. This reminds me of my son’s elementary school motto: “Be respectful. Be responsible. be a Bulldog!” This is a false gospel–a vanilla message of personal morality, the gospel of niceness. Jesus’ message–in biblical terms is–“repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” That message is explained and unpacked by Paul and the other apostles.
  4. This person limits Jesus’ work on the cross to a moral example. Jesus’ death was “the ultimate lesson in love in the face of persecution.” However, it was also more than that. If that’s all that Jesus death was, we remain dead in our trespasses and sins. The gospel includes an account of the atonement: “We deserved eternal death, but the Lord Jesus, because He loved us, died instead of us on the cross.”

Interestingly, this single post contains an almost complete theological vision. This persons’ theological vision is, at least as it is expressed here, a negation.

Virtually every vision entails, to some extent, the negation or denial of certain other views that stand at odds with it. It is problematic when the things that are seen to stand at odds with a vision are truth expressed in the ecumenical creeds and affirmed by most people, in most places, at most times. 

So what…?

Where I’m going with this is that in order for a congregation to have an effective ministry, it has to be united around a theological vision. Not everyone has to agree with every word and members ought to be free to differ from the overall vision if their conscience dictates, but without a unifying notion of why God has put us here as a congregation we’ll just exist, but not flourish.

Negations are important, but they cannot carry the freight of a church’s mission. Central to my understanding of life and ministry is not the assertion “I’m not a unitarian.” “I’m not a fundamentalist” is not a particularly helpful vision either.

To the extent that we get hung up on negations, we’re going to get nowhere fast.

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