Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Exclusive Good News

With the on-going collapse of modernity and Christendom, there is a mix of those who will readily engage in discussion, and others who won't. If one engages in discussion, not like we see Paul and Jesus, but from a Christendominal (can I make up words?) mindset there will be resistence among those typically willing to share in metaphysical dialogue. In other words, there is a willingness today for many to talk about spiritual matters, but often the way Christians try and have that discussion results in closing down the dialogue.

It is amazing to me that in Christianity where the foundation of our identity is in grace we often can't seem to speak about our faith without coming across as intolerant. We are so certain that the Good News means asserting our exclusive claims on truth we are perplexed when others don't hear any Good News in what we have to say. We attribute the problem to their relativistic leanings, rather than asking ourselves whether we know what the Gospel is. Maybe the Good News isn't "you're wrong and I've got the only real answers . . . want to hear them?" Maybe if we learn the Good News of the nearness of God's Reign then we will be able to speak readily without always coming off as intolerant of others.

When we consider the posture of Paul in conversation with Greeks in Athens (Acts 17) he doesn't say that he's got the truth and that they don't. He doesn't condemn the Greek gods, tell those philosophers that they are lost, or try and accuse them of being guilty of sin. Instead he compliments their spiritual orientation and devotion while seeking to expand their thinking about God. He proclaims the nearness of God and the grace of God in history. He manages to talk about Jesus without maligning their gods. I think if he'd been able to keep going, the grace of God through the resurrected Christ would have been where he would have gone - calling people to accept this outrageous gift.

Is this a aberrant behavior on Paul's part, or did he go around sharing Good News without trashing the beliefs of others? What about the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19)? Surely the artisans who started that were upset because Paul had denounced their religion - right?

Read carefully: even those who were angry with Paul had only this accusation - "He says that man-made gods are no gods at all." They didn't say "Paul has denounced Artemis as a false god." Why didn't Paul preach clearly that their god was false?

I can't believe that these artisans were missing an opportunity to accuse Paul. Seems that he wasn't denouncing their faith in Artemis, but only pointing out that graven images could never represent that which was truely divine. It seems from what he's accused of that Paul was doing in Ephesus what he'd done in Athens. He is talking about God's nature being beyond the conceptions of idolatry - that God needs our service or that he can be represented physically - in other words, that he's just a bigger version of us. But vilifying the beliefs and faith of pagan people, Paul doesn't do that.

Of course, to people of faith, he can speak bluntly that the there is no communing at the tables of demons and of Christ. But sometimes I think we have missed the difference between how we are able to speak to one another and to those who are unaware of the Good News.

I'm not done - but gotta go . . .


Frank Bellizzi said...


Another good post. A tie-in to your comment about Acts 19 . . . In Exodus 32, the golden calf is not another god. It's supposed to be a representation of the God of Israel (esp. verses 4 and 5). It was a long time before I ever noticed that. Probably because I'd often heard, "Here's another example of ancient Israel worshipping other gods."

Travis Stanley said...

Great post. I think you are right on with your understanding of the Gospel. If the Gospel is the "good news of God", it would follow that it should be, well, GOOD NEWS. No one accepts as good news, "Everything you believe is wrong and everything I believe is right!" But if you show someone a God who is gracious and loving, who desires to teach humanity the proper way to be human, that's some good news people can latch onto. Thanks for your post.