The Gospel Minus X Equals ???
Part 1, The Moralization and Politicization of Faith
In the Sunday morning adult Bible class I help lead at church, I had the class contemplate a subtraction.
The question I wanted us to explore was this: "What is the gospel?"
There are many moderate to progressive Christians who are struggling with that question. Specifically, once you turn your back on atonement theories like penal substitutionary atonement, that the gospel is an announcement of salvation from judgment and sin, a void is created where once "good news" existed. To illustrate this, I led the class through the following exercise.
"Imagine the gospel," I started, "Then subtract from the gospel your values, morals and political views. After that subtraction, what would be left over?" I wrote this equation on the board:
I hope you can see the point of this mental exercise. For many of us, the gospel "just is" a religious expression of my value system and how that manifests itself ethically and politically. Because of the gospel I believe that every human being is person of worth and dignity. Because of the gospel I fight for social justice. Because of the gospel I treat people with kindness and love. Because of the gospel I'm a political activist working for social change.
And if that is all the gospel is--your values, morality and politics--then once you subtract all that out there is nothing left over in that righthand box.
In Hunting Magic Eels I make the argument that the moralization and politicization of faith is the greatest threat to faith in the modern world. The equation above illustrates the point. If we perform the subtraction above and find nothing left over on the right, or at least nothing very interesting or compelling, then Christianity has been reduced to having the proper values, ethics, and political views. And if that's the case, if the whole point is being a good person and voting well, then the gospel becomes superfluous and unnecessary. The gospel isn't needed to hold the proper set of values and political views.
How did we end up in this situation?
Well, for many moderate to progressive Christians, the gospel functions as our reason for holding certain values and political views. I said it above. Because of the gospel I believe in gender egalitarianism. Because of the gospel I fight for social justice. Because of the gospel I'm accepting of LGBTQ folks. All of which makes perfect sense. The gospel does inform and justify our values, ethics, and politics. But when the gospel becomes a "reason" then the gospel becomes instrumentalized, made into a tool, a means for a political end. When the gospel becomes a tool, a means toward a political end, then the gospel is placed in a subordinate position in relation to that political goal. The political outcome is the most important thing. How you get there is irrelevant. You can reach these same values and political goals from many possible paths--Christian, humanistic, atheistic, pagan, and on and on.
That is how the gospel gets reduced to values, ethics, and politics. And that is how the gospel becomes irrelevant.
So look at the equation above and ask yourself. If I subtracted from the gospel my values, morality, and politics, what, if anything, would be left over? What would be in that righthand box?
More, would what remained in that righthand box be something compelling and amazing? Something more energizing, pressing, and relevant than our current political debates? Would anyone call what was left over in that righthand box "Good News"?
Feel free to answer, but before you do I'm not quite done. Tomorrow, as I did for my Bible class, I'm going to make the equation above even more difficult.
Removing “me” from the equation should result in more of Him which would rapidly and dramatically create new order with humility civility and focused purpose
The Gospel is a return to Eden. It does inform my values ethics politics, or should. Without the Gospel I would be adrift in forming such. But because I am a flawed, fallen human being, my values ethics politics can never get me back to Eden. They only help me approach it and to help others do the same. If I take my flawed efforts away, the Gospel is still there in all its perfect glory. My $.02 anyway.