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Deep Church as Third Way 6

posted by Scot McKnight

ThirdWay.jpg So, what about the gospel? Is there a Third Way for the gospel? Isn’t the traditional gospel the real gospel? Jim Belcher, in Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, poses this question by examining the gospel in Brian McLaren.

Jim Belcher says the problem for the emerging criticism of tradition is that the gospel is reduced to forgiveness and eternal life; the critics of Brian say he has reduced the gospel to social justice, and therefore resurrected the social gospel. Belcher says the problem is there is reductionism on both sides and he proposes a Third Way.
 
I do have a critique here, and I wish Jim had provided as much critical evaluation of a traditonalist — one that really does spend too much time seeing the gospel as fire insurance and leading too much to concern with life after death and not enough with life in the here and now. 

So, I’m wondering if you readers have any really clear examples of the gospel reduced in that direction? I’m not asking for names so much as sterling examples.


The issue is the lack of “kingdom of God” theology in traditionalist approaches to the gospel and the lack of soteriology/personal faith in the social gospel approach. As Jim says of the traditionalist critique of Brian: “The traditional church doesn’t believe Brian is trying to correct a tragic reduction of the gospel; they see in him and the emerging church a wholesale abandonment of the gospel” (111). Jim focuses on Brian’s writings and criticizes him for the lack of emphasis — and at times presence — of a blood-based soteriology. “As I have made clear,” Belcher concludes, “I appreciate Brian’s stress on kingdom living, but his description leaves us powerless to enter the kingdom and to live it out” (118). 

As I stated in my article about Brian McLaren in CT, I agree that Brian’s writings — especially his more recent ones — have not had enough atonement theology at work. But I’m also keen to emphasize that there are weaknesses on the other side of not integrating justice, discipleship and a kingdom vision into the gospel. (I don’t, for instance, think “kingdom” simply means “justice” as many think it does — and Jim leaned a bit in that direction. I’ve done a long series and I don’t think you can ever find “kingdom” passages in the Gospels that are absent of the idea of “group/church/ecclesiology” or of discipleship to Jesus. Reducing kingdom to justice is a huge mistake.)
Belcher’s Third Way proposal: Gospel — Community — Mission — Shalom.
Now, what I would ask Jim is this: Define “gospel” for us. Here is his definition: “The ‘gospel’ is the good news that through Jesus, the Messiah, the power of God’s kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. … When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us…. The gospel motivates, guides, and empowers every aspect of our living and worship” (120-121).


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John W Frye

posted September 24, 2009 at 1:22 am


I do think that it is a fair critique of some of the more prominent names in the emerging conversation/movement for a de-emphasis or no emphasis of a blood-based soteriology. Is the emerging movement an over-reaction to the “one-note-johnny” penal substitutionary view that currently prevails as “the only biblical view”? I don’t know. I do think that the traditional view jettisoned almost all social action from the essence of the Gospel, reducing the Gospel to “how I can know I am going to heaven when I die.” If Jesus would have died of a heart attack while praying in Gethsemane, would his death in that way atoned for our sins?



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John C

posted September 24, 2009 at 3:32 am


In my experience, the most sophisticated ‘spiritualisers’ these days do take on board the kingdom of God and the synoptics (in contrast to many traditional evangelical Protestants who follow Luther in prioritising Romans and Galatians). But they focus relentlessly on what you identify as the ‘group/church/ecclesiology/discipleship’ strand of Jesus kingdom teachings, so that the justice dimension is obscured. Thus the synoptics are simply used to reiterate the emphasis on orthodoxy and group identity – Jesus is saying is that you must follow him (not some other religious path) in order to be saved.
A key text is Mt 25 – a great favourite of social justice Christians (Obama likes to cite ‘the least of these’). Conservatives will stress that the the text says ‘the least of these MY BRETHREN’, and then suggest that we will be judged on how we regard oppressed CHRISTIANS. This reinforces their essentially confessional reading of Scripture, which puts orthodoxy above orthopraxis.
Now conservatives here are picking up on an important aspect of the text that is overlooked by progressives, but I’m very uncomfortable with where they’re going with this. It seems to sanction lack of concern for the poor beyond the walls of the church, and allows us to rest content in theological correctness (plus some concern for the persecuted church). How do we counter this kind of approach?



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Calvin C

posted September 24, 2009 at 3:46 am


Hm, I must say I’m not entirely satisfied with Belcher’s definition of the gospel because he offers no certainty of future hope either in personal eternal life or God’s actual promise to renew the world eternally.
That said… hasn’t this seeking a “third way” between a soft-on-atonement, (liberal) social gospel and a fire-and-brimstone, fire-insurance, salvation-only (fundamentalist) personal gospel been around for at least half a century… or at least since the Lausanne Congress… and don’t many of us call it “evangelicalism” or “neo-evangelicalism” or “the whole gospel for the whole world”?
And I do agree with you strongly that pursuing this “third way” or “biblical Christianity” or “evangelicalism” should involve equal critique and rejection of both other options. I just commented on a blog by Kevin DeYoung on Leviticus 25 and social justice and I was utterly baffled on why he had to conclude “we must not forget that the point is always Jesus.” Sure, I agree, but shouldn’t his audience hear more of something along the lines of, “we are saved by Jesus and THEREFORE called to love the world as taught in these passages of the old testament”?



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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 24, 2009 at 4:45 am


Yes, I appreciate the importance of seeing the whole of the gospel and working on that. For many I know, it’s solely about coming into a personal relationship with God via penal substitution of Jesus. And like Calvin points out, the way it’s delivered is just in those terms, and people are left with nothing else. I guess the rest is simply considered a nonessential add on.



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paul

posted September 24, 2009 at 8:26 am


“So, I’m wondering if you readers have any really clear examples of the gospel reduced in that direction? I’m not asking for names so much as sterling examples.”
I agree with John #1. I can’t remember the amount of times I’ve heard this question (or a similar one) posed to teenagers at my Christian School:
“If you were to die right now, do you know where you would be going?”



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Rick

posted September 24, 2009 at 9:17 am


Perhaps one reason Belcher does not provide “as much critical evaluation of a traditonalist” is that such evaluations have been so numerous in recent years. I think most interested in this topic are aware of the shortcomings of such an approach.
In regards to the reduced gospel, I think ground level examples are the Halloween themed “Apocalyptic” or “Revelation” houses and trails that start to pop-up this time of year. The idea being to scare people into the faith due to eternal considerations only.
I still like Tim Keller’s approach of proclaiming both gospel and kingdom in various ways, for various settings.



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Randy

posted September 24, 2009 at 9:21 am


Right now I’m preaching on Our Hope and using NT Wright’s book “Surprised By Hope” as a guide in some of my thinking. I wonder if the problem of a cut-short gospel, one that is not “The Third Way” is the lack of emphasis on the resurrection.
John (#1) your comment about Jesus dying of a heart attack in the garden made me think of it. When we have a “cross only” gospel Jesus is simply an instrument of our salvation, a pawn in the play of the Father. He could have been born, died instantly, and our sins were forgiven. But when our gospel is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, He is no longer a pawn, he is king of the universe, victor over death, and will one day have every knee bow and tongue confess that he is Lord. He is also the great teacher than shows us the way to live, the one we are to follow fully.
As to Scot’s question, though I love the Awana program and am a faithful supporter and defender, I think it has a tendency to reduce the gospel to “get to heaven” rather than “follow Jesus’ life, believe in his death, and hope and act in light of his resurrection.”



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Rodney

posted September 24, 2009 at 9:29 am


I think the debate is as old as the synoptics (the kingdom of God) versus John (believe in Jesus and receive eternal life). Evangelicals have emphasized reading John’s gospel (I grew up in a church hearing that John is the first book of the NT converts should read; plus, if I remember right, the first NIV publication was John’s gospel!). Christians who have emphasized the kingdom as social justice love Matthew (the sheep and the goats parable!).
To push the tension even further, in their pursuit of the historical Jesus, scholars prefer the Jesus of the synoptics. Laity talk a lot about John’s Jesus.



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Don Heatley

posted September 24, 2009 at 9:33 am


“So, I’m wondering if you readers have any really clear examples of the gospel reduced in that direction? I’m not asking for names so much as sterling examples.”
A sterling example of the traditional gospel is the old schematic diagram of the cross bridging the chasm between man and God. Such an illustration leaves no room for the instructions Jesus gives us in Matt 25. Conversely, reducing the gospel to Matt 25 leaves little room for Jesus’ passion predictions of being a ransom for many.
Another sterling example: the denomination in which I was raised had some historical connections to the Christians in South Africa. As such, its ruling bodies would often pass resolutions condemning Apartheid. As a teen, I remember my pastor saying from the pulpit one Sunday, “What in the world do we have to do with South Africa? Our job is to preach the gospel!” I remember thinking, “That can’t be right.” I have also encountered many sterling examples of the social gospel which struck me the same way.
I have not read Belcher’s book, so I cannot comment directly on it. Often, one’s commitment to either penal substitution or social gospel can more resemble rooting for a sports team than a true way of life. Perhaps we should think less of combining the two or discerning a third way and just enter both ways more deeply and see where that leads us.



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Allen

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:10 am


Scott,
Us reformed folks have believed for generations what Jim and NT Wright are saying regarding the kingdom. We must grasp the whole picture from OT through NT God’s kingdom at work and the power of the resurrection. It’s what drives us to see “every square inch” as God’s and how the people of God might get on board with him in his redemptive work and vision. Christ ushered in the kingdom in a new a fresh way pulling us into God’s story by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
If we continue to live and speak this gospel, and engage the world, people will be saved AND discipled. Jesus made it clear that the mission of the the church is to “make disciples”, not just save people from the fires of hell. Disciples engage in God’s work in his kingdom as heirs and coheirs with Christ.



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Taylor George

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:23 am


Why is that when we’re calling out emergents it’s fine to name names but when we point the finger at the other end of the extremes we must use caution? In fact we have no problem calling out Brian M. right here in the post.



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Travis Greene

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:37 am


My sense with many of the criticisms of Brian McLaren & others is that they fall for the trap of accusing people of not believing something they just haven’t said recently. McLaren already wrote a book about evangelism. You can’t accuse him of not caring about evangelism just because his most recent book isn’t about that topic. Just because Max Lucado writes the same book every year doesn’t mean everyone else should. Scot’s piece was generous and well-written, but still seemed to fall for this a little bit.
As for the truncated fire insurance gospel, I could give countless examples. “If you were to die right now, are you sure you would go to heaven?” Evangecubes. The cross/bridge diagram. “Have you ever told a lie? Well, the Bible says that makes you a liar.” The Roman Road. The four spiritual laws. Chick tracts. The fake $100 bill that you’re supposed to leave your waitress instead of a tip, that opens up to say “Do you want a million dollars? I’d like to tell you about something worth much more…” The acronym of the Bible as “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”. The idea that if you were the only person on earth, Jesus would still have died for you (true, but an extrapolation of the gospel at best…). That song that goes “He took the fall, and thought of ME, above all”. The endless refrains of “What does [apartheid/war/civil rights/medicine/finance/whatever] have to do with us? Our job is to preach the gospel!” Altar calls at every gathering of any kind, even if everybody there is already a dedicated church member, “just in case”, because otherwise what’s the point?
That’s probably good for now.



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Jim Belcher

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:49 am


Hey Friends,
I enjoyed reading all your comments. Of course, you can imagine how difficult it was to cover this topic in one chapter! I thought the best way to deal with it was over the idea of gospel reductions that often happen on each side of the debate. Brian’s works were really helpful because his critique of the traditional side is so clear and his writings are so engaging to work with.
A few of you have mentioned the idea of resurrection as an important part of our gospel understanding–the whole idea of new creation. Since the gospel and the kingdom is so all encompassing I decided to highlight new creation in my chapter on culture at the end of the book. But you are right this is an important point. I love NT Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope and used it a lot to prepare for my Easter sermon last April. Great stuff. Inspiring.
So here is my point of the chapter. If we reduce the gospel to just “fire insurance” then we neglect what it means to be faithful to all of God’s Kingdom and our calling to live obediently in it and to witness its reality. On the other hand, if we reduce the gospel to just living in the Kingdom and modeling Jesus, we don’t have the power and motivation that comes through justification.
I realize this is a shorthand for a very complicated dialogue but do you think it is an accurate discription? And do you think the third way that I lay out can help bridge the gap and unify the church. Remember my goal in the book is both biblical fidelity AND unity. Do you think this can bring unity to the two sides, whether or not my formulations are perfect or not? Does this make sense?
Let’s keep talking. I have to get my kids off to school right now and then I have a meeting for a couple of hours so I may not check back in for few hours. But I look forward to returning. I hope Scot McKnight will jump into the dialogue as well because I learned a ton from his book on atonement. I would love him to add his nuances to the conversation.
One more thing: For those who read this particular chapter would you mind providing some quotes from it that could stimulate the conversation.
Shalom,
Jim



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Darren King

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:52 am


While it may be true that some emergents downplay atonement theory – in terms of framing the gospel, it should also be noted that some traditionalists over-emphasize it. For instance, when it comes to Jim’s book, he writes that atonement theory should have a “first among equals” place in our framing of the full gospel. My question is: why first among equals? Why make that tiered system? Isn’t that just “soft-fundamentalism”? My concerns is that some will take away from this that justice/holistic redemption issues are not REALLY the gospel.



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Rachel H. Evans

posted September 24, 2009 at 10:54 am


This chapter in Belcher?s book caused me the most anxiety, not because of anything he said or didn?t say, but because I always get a little stressed out when I encounter a bunch of lengthy, competing definitions of the gospel, definitions that sometimes seem to border on theological hair-splitting (I?m thinking specifically of the Piper vs. Wright debate over justification here).
I suppose that it?s the recovering fundamentalist in me that wants to ask, ?Shouldn?t the gospel be simpler than this?? ?Shouldn?t it be easy to understand and explain?? When I read about a bunch of theologians arguing with one another about the gospel?some calling those with whom they disagree heretics?it?s tempting to lose faith in the power of the message itself?whatever the message is.
Having grown up in the conservative evangelical subculture that cast Christianity as little more than fire insurance (I think of Judgment Day houses ? walk-through dramas that served as Christian haunted houses around Halloween time – in which participants went to ?heaven? and ?hell? and then were asked to make a commitment to Christ), I?ve since become enthralled with the emerging church?s perspective on the Kingdom of God. Never before have I seen Jesus? LIFE mean as much as his DEATH.
Contrary to popular belief, this doesn?t mean I gave up on the doctrine of atonement. For me, the emerging perspective (and the NT Wright perspective) has simply provided balance.
I think that a lot depends on where you are coming from. For folks who grew up with a sort of social gospel, perhaps a good dose of substitutionary atonement theology is needed. For those of us who grew up with Judgment Day houses, a good dose of the Kingdom of God is needed. I can?t begin to explain how liberating and how important it was for me to realize that salvation wasn?t just about eternity, that there was hope for the world and that my life actually mattered. For me, it was like being born again?again.
I think that the emerging perspective is a good one, particularly for evangelicalism. Might McLaren and others be downplaying atonement? Probably. But isn?t that what usually happens when we try to compensate for what?s been lacking? Didn’t the Reformers do that? I think that if we give it some time, it will organically balance itself out.



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dopderbeck

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:07 am


Don (#9) thought of the example I was considering; and I would add the “four spiritual laws” tracts and many other “gospel” tracts. Another is a recent video I saw produced by the Gospel Coalition on “what is the gospel”. Basically, the video was a description of substitutionary atonement and double imputation. I think substitutionary atonement and double imputation are essential parts of the gospel story, but they are not “the gospel.” Watching that video was kind of like having a mechanic describe my “car” solely in terms of the pistons in the engine.



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dopderbeck

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:12 am


I think Jim’s definition is a very good one, and I appreciated this chapter of the book. My criticism would be that I think the “gospel” functions more broadly than the way Jim seems to envision it. If I’m reading Jim right, the gospel involves the transformation of all creation, but this primarily occurs, at least before Christ’s return, through the regeneration of individuals and the leavening / salting influence of the Church.
I’d like to see more appreciation for “proleptic eschatology” (e.g., Moltmann and Bauckham, and Grenz and Franke, and other “theologies of hope”) as well as more appreciation for anabaptist, pietist, and pentecostal / charismatic ideas about how the gospel is currently defeating the “powers.” Jim’s notion of “gospel” doesn’t seem to include any miraculous spiritual gifts. He also doesn’t seem to expect that structural sin can be transformed structurally prior to the full realization of the eschaton, except through the leavening / salting influence of individual Christians.
It seems to me that this ties in to Jim’s consistently conservative-Reformed approach. Getting ahead of the discussion a bit here, this become very evident when Jim brings in Abraham Kuyper as the model for cultural engagement — and quite oddly and abruptly dismisses the notion of virtue ethics, thereby eliding the entire, robust tradition of Catholic Social Teaching (?). T
The Reformed-amillennial-Kuyperian tradition is very helpful and important, particularly as a corrective for dispensationalism, but IMHO a robust “third way” concept of “gospel” must also somehow must incorporate insights from the theologies of hope, pentecostal / charismatic views of the Spirit, and the Catholic Social Teaching tradition.



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beckyr

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:13 am


I’m lost with the quote of Jim defining what kingdom means, because to me it reads that kingdom is God’s kingdom which leaves the question what is God’s kingdom. Kingdom is kingdom.



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rebeccat

posted September 24, 2009 at 11:36 am


Over the last year I have been studying and considering the Eastern Orthodox teaching of theosis, particularly in relationship to the issue of salvation. I cannot possibly explain it as well as someone more knowledgeable about EO could, but basically theosis concerns the full restoration of believers into the image of God that we were design to be through the saving work of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (It is a concept which one finds popping up consistently in the Western Church in various places, but has been preserved as a central tenent of the EO church forever.) Like I said, I am no EO theologian, but as I understand it, the idea is that the death of Jesus atoned for our sin and sinfulness. The believer, having been washed with the blood of Jesus through baptism becomes an available vessel for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is theosis or the restoration of individual to the image of God. The focus of salvation touches on the afterlife, but is also focused a great deal on saving us from the human condition we find ourselves in now. If the Holy Spirit is not able to do its work of restoration, we are unfit for dwelling in the presence of God anyway. Part of being restored to the image of God through salvation necessarily includes restoration of community and good works. Basically it seems to me that salvation becomes not about either what you believe or what you do (although it of course includes both of these), but instead salvation is about who you are. Which it seems to be removes the tension and need for “balancing” that we talk about in the western church. Instead, what you believe and what you do are intimately entangled together and flow out of who you are because of the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus leading to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer leading to the restoration of man to the image of God leading to the restoration of proper community, justice and service to others. Again, I am hardly an Eastern Orthodox theologian, so please forgive me if my explanation is a bit off, but hopefully I’ve managed to convey the “jist” of it. It seems to me that this view of atonement, salvation and restoration offers us a much better 3rd way than continuing to struggle find “balance” between what are really two sides of the same coin.



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Steve S

posted September 24, 2009 at 12:00 pm


I have been swayed by Wright’s understanding of the gospel, a simple proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus.
This obviously includes all of the categories we are so earnestly trying to include.
Jesus as Lord has conquered the ‘powers’ and in fact all evil (external and internal). This is a basis for discipleship; unto both justice and peace, as well as holiness and piety. Indeed it is also a basis for, spiritual gifts, our authority over darkness and spiritual ‘warfare.’ On top of this, Jesus as Lord is capable of overcoming our alienation and redeeming us to God through his powerful, death-conquering, sin-conquering, satan-conquering act on the Cross.



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Travis Greene

posted September 24, 2009 at 12:02 pm


I like the image (I think it is Brian McLaren’s actually) of atonement theories as windows on a house. What really happened at Calvary is the sky, and we have all these windows that show us parts of the sky. We need them all to get a better view, and in fact we should probably be making new ones too.



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Taylor George

posted September 24, 2009 at 12:14 pm


We received a ad on our door from the local Assembly of God church. It depicted a man burning in fire on one half and a man living in bliss on the other half. On the bottom was an invitation to a theatrical event.



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Travis Greene

posted September 24, 2009 at 12:31 pm


Taylor,
That would be “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames”.
Don’t go to it.



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Andrew Kenny

posted September 24, 2009 at 12:42 pm


Although it is quite a lengthy definition one can do no better that look at how John Stott defines the gospel. I believe that the greatest influence on evangelicalism but also its greatest critic was Stott. The emerging theology also critiques it but too often the baby is thrown out with the bath water.
The Content and Communication of the Gospel
Having thought about God’s communication of the gospel to us in Scripture, we now come to the very heart of our concern, our responsibility to communicate it to others, that is, to evangelize. But before we consider the communication of the gospel, we have to consider the content of the gospel which is to be communicated. For “to evangelize is to spread the good news?” (Lausanne Covenant, para. 4). Therefore there can be no evangelism without the evangel.
A. The Bible and the Gospel
The gospel is to be found in the Bible. In fact, there is a sense in which the whole Bible is gospel, from Genesis to Revelation. For its overriding purpose throughout is to bear witness to Christ, to proclaim the good news that he is lifegiver and Lord, and to persuade people to trust in him (e.g., John 5:39,40; 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:15).
The Bible proclaims the gospel story in many forms. The gospel is like a multi-faceted diamond, with different aspects that appeal to different people in different cultures. It has depths we have not fathomed. It defies every attempt to reduce it to a neat formulation.
B. The Heart of the Gospel
Nevertheless, it is important to identify what is at the heart of the gospel. We recognize as central the themes of God as Creator, the universality of sin, Jesus Christ as Son of God, Lord of all, and Saviour through his atoning death and risen life, the necessity of conversion, the coming of the Holy Spirit and his transforming power, the fellowship and mission of the Christian church, and the hope of Christ’s return.
While these are basic elements of the gospel, it is necessary to add that no theological statement is culture-free. Therefore, all theological formulations must be judged by the Bible itself, which stands above them all. Their value must be judged by their faithfulness to it as well as by the relevance with which they apply its message to their own culture.
In our desire to communicate the gospel effectively, we are often made aware of those elements in it which people dislike. For example, the cross has always been both an offense to the proud and folly to the wise. But Paul did not on that account eliminate it from his message. On the contrary, he continued to proclaim it, with faithfulness and at the risk of persecution, confident that Christ crucified is the wisdom and the power of God. We too, although concerned to contextualize our message and remove from it all unnecessary offense, must resist the temptation to accommodate it to human pride or prejudice. It has been given to us. Our responsibility is not to edit it but to proclaim it.



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ChrisB

posted September 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm


“the critics of Brian say he has reduced the gospel to social justice, and therefore resurrected the social gospel.”
And those are the charitable ones. Some say he, and other emergents moreso, have preached a works “gospel.”
I think Belcher’s description of the gospel is healthy, robust, and fair.



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Jim Belcher

posted September 24, 2009 at 3:05 pm


Hey Friends,
Great comments! I am learning a lot and appreciate the time it has taken some of you to formulate your responses.
Couple thoughts:
Darren King #17 wonders about Rich Mouw’s thought about the atonement and whether it is just “soft fundamentalism.” Good question. I write in the book regarding my time with Mouw the following: “But he stressed that that justification or penal atonement on the cross had to be held as ‘first among equals’….he was saying that penal atonement–that Christ died on the cross for us individually to satisfy the wrath of God toward sin–is the necessary foundation for salvation.” So it is not so much a hierarchy as it is the foundation on which all the ways that Christ saves rest, including the Christus Victor view. They rest on this but like a house rests on a slab of concrete (a least that is the way it works in CA).(Deep Church, 116).
David (#17 dopderbeck), just wondering why you think that I”quite oddly and abruptly dismisses the notion of virtue ethics”? Sorry if I gave that impression in the book. I was trying to be careful–I do think there is a place for ‘virtue ethics.” I try to practice them every day and attempt to inculcate them into my kids.I think godly habits can produce godly habits.
Here is what I write in the chapter.
“I understand that a certain cooperation of the will is required for
Spirit-led Christians to develop godly habits. This is part of working out our ?salvation with fear and trembling? (Philippians 2:12). But if this is not balanced, perhaps superseded, by the doctrine of transforming grace, what I call ?grace ethics? (God?s grace in our lives is what gives us the power to change and live the kingdom life), we will produce two types of people?(1) those who are burned out and cynical because they could not live this way, or (2) those who have become proud or arrogant because they think they pulled it off on their own. Ironically, once the latter figure out they can pull this virtue ethic off on their own, they will
start thinking they can change the world through their own efforts, and we move right into social gospel reductionism.” (p. 119)
I think Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, really visualizes this point. Awesome book.
Rachel (#15)really enjoyed your post and discussion about how we so often react against what we have grown up in, particularly if we have grown up where the gospel has been reduced. My goal is to get the balance back, the best I can, without overreacting into either reductionism. I hope I have accomplished this.
Here is how we attempted to do it at our church. I would love to know how others have done it at their churches.
“The gospel is at the center of all we do. The ?gospel? is the good
news that through Jesus, the Messiah, the power of God?s kingdom
has entered history to renew the whole world. Through the Savior
God has established his reign. When we believe and rely on Jesus?
work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship
to God,that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us.We witness this radical new way of living by our renewed lives,
beautiful community, social justice, and cultural transformation.
This good news brings new life. The gospel motivates, guides, and
empowers every aspect of our living and worship.”
What would you or should be added to this? How can it be improved to reflect what the Bible teaches on the gospel? If there is stuff that can be added by the theologians of hope, for example,how would you add this to my formulation?
Let’s keep dialoguing.
Thanks,
Jim



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dopderbeck

posted September 24, 2009 at 3:58 pm


Jim — my copy of the book is at home, but I think the sentence that caught my attention is on p. 101 (using Amazon preview, but can’t see the whole context of the sentence). Maybe I’m just confused by the terminology of contrasting “virtue ethics” and “grace ethics.”
I sense here the influence of Francis Schaeffer’s critique of Aquinas — whether intentionally or as an unconscious resonance with Schaeffer’s impact on neo-Calvinism. I think Schaeffer was basically wrong and that he didn’t really understand Aquinas. It’s true that, for Aquinas, the Fall didn’t completely destroy reason, and thus unregenerate people can practice the virtues; however, Aquinas also is clear that no one can truly excel in the virtues without the infusion of Divine grace. Therefore, I think it’s incorrect to contrast “grace” and “virtue” ethics, at least as virtue ethics were articulated by Aquinas. I agree that people who fail to understand that God is that true source and ground of virtue inevitably will either become burned out or hypocritical, but I don’t think this results from a conflict between “virtue” and “grace.” In that case, it’s really just a mistaken notion of “virtue,” and therefore not “virtue” at all.
Re: the theologians of hope — maybe something like “The gospel announces to us that we are set free to participate now in the beautiful, peaceable future God is creating.” Maybe it’s just a subtle nuance, but for me something really resonates in the notion that God is re-creating our present from the eschatological future. For me, it’s the difference between looking for “signs of the times” that portend doom, and “signs of the times” that portend hope. The same kind of notion is present in traditional Reformed ammillennial eschatology, but I think in a much more limited way that tends to focus more on the covenant community than the whole world.



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Casey

posted September 24, 2009 at 3:59 pm


I have heard it said that Jesus is good news for the individual (sins atoned, brought into the kingdom) while the church is good news for the world (church as salt and light). Anyone have thoughts regarding that? Does it embrace the tension of the NT’s understanding of good news?
Harvie Conn said something to the affect that “the church is the only institution whose members exist for the sake of its nonmembers”. In that case, the church is the hope of the world, while Jesus is the hope of the individual. Yet who cares about the world if we don’t care about the individuals of the world. Would it not be then, that the gospel of the kingdom is derivative of the gospel of substititon/justification?
Jesus inaugurates his kingdom via death and we enter that kingdom by faith. So as our savior did for us, we now do for the world, in hope that they put their faith not in the program of the kingdom but in the king who inaugurated the kingdom program.
Any thoughts?



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RJS

posted September 24, 2009 at 4:16 pm


Jim,
To my reading the problem here is the “perhaps superseded by” because of course superseded by means “to take the place or position of something that is less efficient, less modern, or less appropriate, or cause something to do this.
“grace ethics” as you define it (God?s grace in our lives is what gives us the power to change and live the kingdom life) when taken alone will too often produce people who sit back and wait for the Spirit to zap them into compliance. And if he doesn’t – well it isn’t their fault (or problem).
(By the way — I realize that this is an extreme, almost a caricature. But I also think that your two types of people are extremes, almost caricatures. This leads to a need for an emphasis on both – not one or the other)



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Cam R.

posted September 24, 2009 at 4:56 pm


Jim,
When you talk about “grace ethics” do you mean living out of the reality of the gospel of grace? Where our ethics, choices, and action come out of our identity in Christ–our acceptance, worth, security, and life come from union with Jesus, his work and record not ours. If we get all our worth, life, and identity from Christ then we are free to live the Kingdom life.
Tim Keller seems to talk about this a lot. Prodigal God is a great book.
I think that something that is missing from the gospel definition is the Holy Spirit being given by grace for new life, to guide, to empower, and to transform. Jim, from your definition the good news seems to take the place of the Spirit in some places guiding, motivating etc.
As well where does resurrection fit in to the good news of Jesus?
Respectfully,
Cam



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Jim Belcher

posted September 24, 2009 at 5:11 pm


Some really good comments to respond to. This is fun.
Casey #28, I really like the way you phrase it, particularly the last paragraph.
Regarding the comments on “virtue ethics.” Maybe it was not a good thing for me to contrast “grace” and “virtue” ethics. I did not mean to confuse or set up a false choice.
David # 27, I understand well Schaeffer’s critique of Aquinas but this was not on my mind when I wrote this part of the book. I was not referring to that argument, though it is an interesting one. I took a class at Georgetown on Aquinas and Aristotle’s ethics. So I spent a ton of time reading him and realize that there are vastly different perspectives on St. Thomas-some like the Apostle Paul and some closer to Aristotle.
RJS, you are right that there is such a thing as “cheap Grace” but this it is not what I am describing by “grace ethic.” True grace changes us, motivates, and empowers us to live differently.
What I have in mind when I talk about grace is what I hope Paul does. That we, along with Creation, were created good. We sin and experience guilt. Sin mars us and Creation. The gospel of the Kingdom and Christ’s work is offered to us to us as a gift, we receive it in faith; we experience salvation and gospel transformation, and then have the motivation and power to begin living into biblical virtue. And of course we are the first fruit; the Creation is also in the process of experiencing re-creation. Romans 8:19-24
David #27, you write: “For me, it’s the difference between looking for “signs of the times” that portend doom, and “signs of the times” that portend hope. The same kind of notion is present in traditional Reformed ammillennial eschatology, but I think in a much more limited way that tends to focus more on the covenant community than the whole world.”
I love the “signs of the times” that portend hope! I am right there with you! Some of my Post-Mill friends accuse me of being a closet post-mill guy because I am so optimistic about the Kingdom and re-creation. I have to try to convince them that I am not post-mill but just a very optimistic amilennialist! And there are plenty of us out there who don’s spend much time looking for the “signs of the times” in “gloom and doom” because we are too busy (or at least attempting to) sharing the good news, creating culture, attempting to transform institutions, and seeking the shalom of the city. The gloom and doomers stayed outside of Babylon and never came in, too afraid of being contaminated by the world!:) So I am right with you. Hope, hope, hope.
let’s keep dialoguing. I am having a lot of fun.
Shalom,
Jim



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Travis Greene

posted September 24, 2009 at 5:23 pm


Casey, “I have heard it said that Jesus is good news for the individual (sins atoned, brought into the kingdom) while the church is good news for the world (church as salt and light).”
I’m afraid that any gospel claiming Jesus is not good news for the world, but only for the individual, is not really the gospel of the Bible. I just wouldn’t put it that way.
More like Jesus is good news for the whole creation, and he is transforming the world, right now. You can, right now, personally (I think I’d never say “individually”) be part of that transformation by joining with him in his death and in the new life he offers.



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RJS

posted September 24, 2009 at 5:27 pm


Jim,
Well, this isn’t the really related to the question Scot posed – but it is related to where I am heading with the two posts that I put up this week. Dopderbeck is much more fluent in theology and philosophy than I am, so he (or you) may correct my terminology or understanding.
I’ve been listening of late to a couple of lecture by NT Wright, one delivered at Fuller last February and one delivered at the IVCF Following Christ Conference last December. Both deal with virtue and the discipline leading to virtue. I’ve also been reading Scot’s book on fasting.
All of this goes together – we are organic unities – not separable into soul and Body. We are trainable – and training now affects our future. In addition our response to the grace of God must be body and mind. This doesn’t neglect grace or gospel.



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dopderbeck

posted September 24, 2009 at 6:19 pm


Jim (#31) and RJS (#33) — I think underlying this conversation is another one of those important theological divides that distinguishes confessional Reformed theology from other theologies.
Jim, you mention reading Aquinas / virtue through Paul. The next question is, how to read Paul?
RJS (#33) mentions NT Wright and Scot McKnight — both advocates of the New Perspective on Paul. I haven’t heard the lecture RJS mentions, but I’m guessing that NT Wright’s understanding of how to read Aquinas / virtue ethics through Paul differs from Calvin’s in some important respects, and that these differences stem in part from differing understandings of Paul.
Likewise, an anabaptist such as Stanley Hauerwas or a postmodern Catholic such as Alasdair MacIntyre will approach Aquinas differently than Calvin (and will probably insist they are reading Paul through Jesus!). There is also the important Radical Orthodoxy (Milbank et al.) approach to Aquinas and virtue.
So, my thought is a similar one to the questions about scripture that we never quite finished discussing: is the “deep church / third way” regarding gospel ethics simply conservative Reformed theology — Aquinas (if at all) through Paul, and Paul through Calvin (maybe Calvin through Van Til?) — or does it include also Hauerwas, MacIntyre, John Paul II, Benedict, NT Wright, and so on?
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Reformed theology, but “deep church / third way” has to encompass more, doesn’t it?
BTW — Googling for a Wiki on Calvin and Aquinas, I found this link to a box score for a soccer match between Calvin College and Aquinas College. The Aquinas College squad tried really hard, but in the end, Calvin’s team was predestined to win: http://www.calvin.edu/sports/womens/soccer/results/2007/a06aqws.htm



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Jim Belcher

posted September 24, 2009 at 7:24 pm


Thanks for all the great comments.
David, #34 Here is something I am trying to figure out. Are you saying someone in the reformed/Great Tradition cannot posit a third way, can’t be an advocate for a mere Christianity? :) That he or she is disqualified from the get-go? Am I reading you correctly?
Also, just to be clear I was not thinking of Aquinas in the least when I wrote the words “virtue ethics.” I was just looking for a phrase to juxtapose against the biblical view of the gospel. Next time I might choose another phrase.
I am all for developing the habits of virtue! And I think Christians should. What I am saying is that we can’t get far with gaining virtue without the empowering grace of God’s adoption and grace in our lives to motivate, inspire and give us the ability to want the virtues in the first place and to persevere in them when the going gets tough. I have learned this best from Tim Keller. I doubt Scot or Tom Wright would disagree. I think we are all reading Paul the same way on this. Does that make sense?
Shalom,
Jim



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RJS

posted September 24, 2009 at 7:52 pm


dopderbeck,
The talk by Wright is available here: http://www.parablesofaprodigalworld.com/2009/03/audio-nt-wright-on-christian-virtue.html
Scroll down and you can download the mp3 and an mp3 file of the Q&A after the talk. Wright is introduced by Richard Mouw. This is an excellent talk on this subject of Christian virtue.



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Mick Porter

posted September 25, 2009 at 1:39 am


I put forward a small discussion paper to elders at a church I was at, arguing that the gospel was communal, eschatological, cosmic, and for all-of-life. I was told that I was outside orthodoxy. In particular, when discussing whether the gospel was eschatological, the lead pastor split Galatians 1:4 in half – thus “gave himself for our sins” is core gospel, but “to rescue us from the present evil age” is a non-central truth! Had to leave the church, quite traumatic really.



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dopderbeck

posted September 25, 2009 at 9:52 am


Jim (#35) — goodness no, that’s not what I’m saying! But what I am saying is that if you want to posit a “third way,” it can’t just be Reformed theology! That’s not a “third way” — it’s “one way,” Reformed theology! Obviously, if you posit a “third way” as someone coming from the Reformed tradition, than your proposal is likely to be influenced by Reformed themes. Great! But if all you’re doing is restating Reformed theology in language that might be appealing to “postmodern” people, that might be a valuable project, but it’s not a “third way.”
So here you say “reformed/Great Tradition” — and I wince! Is “reformed” the same as the “Great Tradition”? Is “reformed” the “third way”?
This is what I hear you saying, and maybe I’m misreading as well: “hey, you ‘emergents’ who are disatisfied with modernity, c’mon over to Reformed theology — we’re the ones who really hang with Augustine and historic Christianity, we never gave in to the modernity thing!” (I also hear you saying to the “Truly Reformed” — “hey, lighten up on those ‘emergents,’ they’re saying lots of the same things as us and they don’t even know it!”)
If you’re saying more than this, I’m not hearing it. See, I raised another thorny issue — the New Perspective on Paul — and you dodged again! Is there room in the “third way” for people who are convinced the NPP is on to something? Or is it like inerrancy — we can’t talk about it?
Sure, at the end of the day NT Wright and Scot McKnight and John Piper will all agree that true virtue only develops as we experience God’s grace — but before the end of the day, there will be large spaces of disagreement that surely will impact the practice of virtues in the Christian life. Scot McKnight can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s no accident that some NPP people lean towards more anabaptistic views of “virtue” and cultural engagement. The same is true of people who lean more Arminian / Wesleyan. The systems differ, and the effect of depravity on reason and the will, the nature of justification, the practice of ethics, and the relation of faith and culture are bound up together in some irreducible ways.



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beckyr

posted September 25, 2009 at 10:27 am


I have to disagree Andrew. The Bible is much more than an instruction manual to salvation. The Bible touches all areas of life, has something to say to it all.



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Rick

posted September 25, 2009 at 11:42 am


Dopderbeck asks some good questions.
If this Third Way is dealing with emerging and “traditional”, what is the full definition of “traditional”?



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Casey

posted September 25, 2009 at 2:02 pm


Travis (#32),
Thanks for answering my question(s). I think we agree but I also think you took my statement in the wrong direction. I am in no way saying Jesus is not good news for the world. However, if Christ is at the center of the church, then the church, functioning as Israel was suppose to, brings the good news to the world. The church must confront the world with Jesus, just as every individual must confront Jesus before they can enter the kingdom.
Your final statement however, offers more than it promises. In just studying history in general, no society has successfully sustained itself as the product of being transformed by the kingdom of God. I think we need to look at what the NT promises as far as transformation. Signs of the new age typically evidence themselves as beleivers turn from sin and become children of God, first fruits of the already/not yet. Creation will continue to groan even as societys taste glimpses of the new heavens and the new earth. Cultures may enjoy the temporarl evidences of the kingdoms power, but no culture has enjoyed the sustained power of the kingdom.
Dopderbeck and Rick,
I am reformed and for the most part understand your concerns. The problem you raise however, flies in the face of how we humans operate regarding the effects culture has on us. Nailing down traditional is a hard task, though it shouldn’t keep us from wanting a “new ecumenism”. Though I am overstating your problem, consider for a moment if Jesus had come as an acultural, asexual, unbiased savior. He would have made no sense to anyone. Rather, being an Israelite, who took Torah and the prophets very serious (and interesting to note that he did quote from a targum, evidencing that he has bias towards certain traditions, which is not found in the canoncial OT, thinking of the woman at well scenario for instance), even he couldn’t maintain harmony with every tradition surrounding Israel’s religion. Giving a true definition of traditional might be a little overdemanding. All we can do as individuals, is offer a tradition that tries to be as faithful to the scriptures as possible. And here my bias will come out. I see very few people making the headway that reformational scholars (NT Wright included) are making in the field of biblical theology and the study of the languages. I am biased so I might be blind to the rest of the scholary world, but it is quite the sociological phenomenon.



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dopderbeck

posted September 25, 2009 at 2:48 pm


Casey and Rick — I don’t think the “third way” is between “emerging” and “traditional.” For me, the question is a “third way” between “liberal” and “conservative” theology, particularly in the contemporary North American context. The Church was divided by the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. In my view, most of the theological disputes between the “emerging” and “conservative” wings of evangelicalism are reiterations of the fundamentalist-modernist debate. So this is what we need to get past.



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RJS

posted September 25, 2009 at 2:53 pm


dopderbeck,
I think you are right – and what was emerging is splitting along the same lines and moving to liberal or conservative poles.
Sure hope that there really is a third way … because I find neither pole either hospitable or believable.



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Casey

posted September 25, 2009 at 3:01 pm


That is perhaps true and something few are willing to do. I could name some conservatives who read and interact with liberals for the sake of honest scholarship but are liberals willing to do the same? There is often not an irenic tone when these interactions happen and justifiable so. Often the task and goal at hand for each side is different. The irony of liberalism is that is comes, dies and comes again. Conservative theology is inherently a conservationist approach to the traditions handed down. Liberal theology often arises from men and women rejecting the conservative stance, which often leads to, respinning the wheel. You have few self conscious Schleiermachians today, but you do have many people drowning in the same self autonomous approach to theology that he did, yet producing a new breed of Schleiermachians, that is not conscious that they are simply restating what has been rejected.



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Rick

posted September 25, 2009 at 4:04 pm


Dopderbeck-
“I don’t think the “third way” is between “emerging” and “traditional.” For me, the question is a “third way” between “liberal” and “conservative” theology…”
Or is it between liberal and Reformed theology?
Since the word “traditional” is in the title of the book, I would like to hear how Jim Belcher defines it.



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dopderbeck

posted September 25, 2009 at 4:55 pm


Rick (#45) — I wouldn’t say that, because I consider Barth solidly “Reformed.” So if my overall outlook is evangelical-Barthian, ala Donald Bloesch’s “Theology of Word and Spirit,” I consider that both “Reformed” and somewhere between “liberal” and “conservative.” I’ve said it before: Donald Bloesch was “third way” before it was cool. But for the Truly Reformed, and for many conservative Reformed, Barth is really a “liberal” and Bloesch is wishy-washy. So a lot depends on how we define these terms, “liberal,” “conservative,” and “reformed.”



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Rick

posted September 25, 2009 at 7:40 pm


Dopderbeck #46:
I think most conservatives (depending on how one’s defines the term) would mainly agree with much of what Bloesch states, but would have questions about his take on Scripture (perhaps that is the wishy-washy you refer to). But yet he holds to a high view of Scripture.
His deep appreciation of Barth, although he does qualify it, would make some nervous.



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Mick Porter

posted September 27, 2009 at 8:05 am


BTW, I had a go at doing an even-handed parody – it’s not so easy to be impartial, I found out!
Short YouTube video clip – “Jesus Christ: Left Wing or Right Wing?”:
http://unveiledface.blogspot.com/2009/05/jesus-christ-left-wing-or-right-wing.html



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Tony Stiff

posted September 28, 2009 at 10:43 am


It seems to me as I read this chapter what Belcher was trying to accomplish as a ‘third way’ between emerging and traditional churches is what a number of NT scholars who favor penal substitutionary models of atonement but believe in the presence of multiple atonement theologies in the NT are trying to accomplish in the atonement wars.
Take Seyoon Kim’s article called, “The atoning death of Christ”;
“Thus, when the doctrine of Christ?s penal substitutionary atonement on the cross?and the doctrine of justification that issues from it?is properly expounded, it can integrate the Christus victor motif in itself and provide the adequate basis for sanctification or imitatio Christi. Hence Paul uses penal substitutionary atonement for his moral exhortation not to sin against brethren, especially the ?weak? ones (?the brother for whom Christ died,? Rom 14:15; 1 Cor 8:11), and not to sell one?s body into slavery either of sexual lust or of a human master (?You were bought with a price,? 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23). Above all, in expounding the missionary and social implications of the doctrine of justification, Paul makes the most revolutionary declaration: ?There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus? (Gal 3:28; cf. also Rom 3:30; Eph 2:11-22; Col 3:11). Since justification does not depend on any innate quality or merit of human beings, but it is only by God?s grace manifested in Christ?s substitutionary atonement, and solely through our faith-appropriation of it, racial, gender, or social differences do not count any more. There is no doubt that this gospel has exerted its liberating force over against the still mightily raging diabolic force of discrimination and oppression in the dialectical history of the Christian world. What an irony it is then that the basis of such a liberating doctrine is now made the target of abuses by some ?postcolonial? and ?feminist? theologians! Evangelicals, if they are to be true to their historic identity, should not succumb to any polemics based on distorted versions of the Biblical doctrine of Christ?s penal substitutionary atonement, nor yield to the attempts to marginalize it for the sake of the (independent) Christus victor theory or the (biblically questionable) moral influence/example theory. Rather, they must uphold the doctrine, expounding it fully and celebrating the grace of God that it highlights.”
Belcher wants to retain some sense of priority among the models in the NT but doesn’t want to pin atonement against the themes of “Kingdom of God” and “Resurrection”. If I understand right this is the third way he’s suggesting: 1) traditional churches emphasize atonement, justification, and union with Christ as the gospel (individualized forms of these); 2) emerging churches emphasize kingdom of God & resurrection (corporate & creational focused); a third way would be to emphasize them both.
How does Belcher do this? Through using penal substitutionary atonement as a priority upon which other forms of atonement like Christus Victor (which is deeply connected to the Kingdom of God theme in the gospels) flow naturally from.
This move does seem to be done by NT scholars who are from a reformed outlook (eg Boersma, Kim, McCartney in his point/counter-point forum talk with McKnight at WTS). Other scholars who are not reformed posit a different third like Scot McKnight and Joel B. Green where there isn’t a clear priority but a presence of a multitude of atonement theologies.
Both of these are “third ways” in my opinion, and both still retain the presence of influence from what C.S. Lewis said was rooms connected to the great hall. I think Jim’s chapter was great. Thanks Jim!



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