The NT doesn’t support our Western doctrine of Original Sin

In Luke 5:31-32 (HCSB) – Jesus says “The healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick do.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” It’s very clear here that Jesus considered some people in his generation to be in right standing with God already, before the atonement on the cross. The Book of Hebrews lists many, many heroes of faith who were righteous long before Jesus came. But the way most of us understand the idea of original sin is that everybody on the planet has some sort of cosmic evilness in them that makes God furious and the only way to get out of an eternity of hell is to be lucky enough to hear about Jesus and say the sinner’s prayer.  So, the point of Jesus’ coming is this: everyone in the world is born with a condition God is furious at, so he is sending everyone in the world to hell, (like punishing a kid for having Down’s Syndrome) and Jesus comes as the medicine so you can go to heaven.

It’s like we’ve changed stories. Because you would never read the Old Testament cover to cover and come away with that idea: that the point of the story is that God is sending everyone to hell due to original sin, unless they confess the Messiah, whereupon the can go to heaven.  You would never even remotely come away with that idea from reading the Old Testament. The storyline in the Old Testament is that Yahweh created the world and it is being despoiled by violence and idolatry and evil and God wants people to live rightly in His world. So it’s like we’ve switched storylines in between the Testaments.

So the question is, is there a change of story, or are we mis-reading our New Testaments? Logically, Jesus the Messiah came to solve the problem presented in the Old Testament: to put God’s world right. Much Protestant theology, however, acts as if Jesus came to solve the problem OF the Old Testament: as if the problem is the way people related to God in the Old Testament (the Law) which now has to be remedied (by grace).

While grace and the atonement are certainly central realities in the New Testament, I think we’ve gotten mixed up about the storyline. I will say it again: the Old Testament never remotely suggests that the central story of the world is that all humanity is sinful and going to hell and can only go to heaven if they accept the Messiah. No, the Messiah is coming to set the world right, including the people in it. This is a story about this world, not an insurance policy for lucky insiders regarding the afterlife.

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The Mexican Prayer

“Give us, Señor
Give us, Señor, a little sun, a little happiness, and some work.
Give us a heart to comfort those in pain.
Give us the ability to be good, strong, wise and free,
So that we may be as generous with others as we are with ourselves.
Finally, Señor, let us all live as your own one family. Amen.”
— A prayer painted on a church wall in Mexico,

(United Methodist Book of Worship #465)

Look at this prayer closely. The context speaks out of the prayer clearly.  Some of us believe theology would always be contextual. It’s an issue of incarnation. Additionally, all historical theological was written due to context, a fact we should remember when we utilize it in our different context. Pauls’ theology was written at and into a particular context. This is old news to Asians, Africans and Latin Americans doing theology, but seems lost on the USA crowd.

One Nepali Christian writes “…we need NCT (Nepal Christian Theology) because the western theology is inadequate to address the existential concerns of the Nepali context. The reason for this inadequacy is because western theology comprises of thought patterns, and the existential concerns of its own context. Thirdly, we need NCT because it’s interaction with other religions. It is imperative for Nepali church, to present the Christian faith in a comprehensible manner to other religions. This requires Nepali theologians to articulate Christian faith in its multi-religious context.”  (Towards Nepal Christian Theology: A Proposal  by Yeshwanth B. V  at  http://yeshwanthbv.wordpress.com/2014/05/23/towards-nepal-christian-theology-a-proposal/)

One of my old missiology professors from seminary, Donald Leroy Stults, wrote “ “Young Asian theologians often turn to the West for mentors, only to discover that the questions that occupy Western theologians do not always relate to the problems facing the church in Asia” (Developing an Asian Evangelical Theology (OMF: 1990).

Another worthy resource is Eastern University theologian Eric Flett’s “Dingolayin’: Theological Notes for a Contextual Caribbean Theology.” Book chapter in A Kairos Moment for Caribbean Theology: Ecumenical Voices in Dialogue, edited by J. Richard Middleton and Garnett Roper. Pickwick Publications, 2013.

When we use Paul’s theology we need to keep in mind that it was written in a context wildly different than ours, and work it accordingly. This might save us a lot of triumphant verse-quoting trying to prove something with Paul which Paul wasn’t even talking about at the time.

John Wesley: the world will not be destroyed

The Left Behind version of Christianity claims God will destroy the world. (As if John 3: 16 read “For God so hated the world he sent his only Son into it to snatch a relatively few people out of it and then burn it to a cinder… not to save it through him!”). Here are John Wesley’s comments on Romans 8, and the whole Creation longing with eager expectation to be set free, liberated, when the sons of God come into their own, from the bondage to death and decay. As in our day, many people in Wesley’s time thought the world itself will end. In contrast to that, Wesley understood the great biblical expectation of God mending Creation, what Jesus and his generation called ‘the renewal of all things’ (Mt. 19:28) in the age to come. Wesley argues that a woman in labor doesn’t long to be destroyed, she longs to give birth to new life! And whatever is destroyed isn’t delivered at all – so it’s not the Creation itself that will be destroyed, but rather delivered from sin, death and decay.

“For the earnest expectation – The word denotes a lively hope of something drawing near, and a vehement longing after it. Of the creation – Of all visible creatures… each kind, according as it is capable. All these have been sufferers through sin; and to all these (the finally impenitent excepted) shall refreshment redound from the glory of the children of God. Upright heathens are by no means to be excluded from this earnest expectation: nay, perhaps something of it may at some times be found even in the vainest of men….

The creation itself shall be delivered – Destruction is not deliverance: therefore whatsoever is destroyed, or ceases to be, is not delivered at all. Will, then, any part of the creation be destroyed?     Into the glorious liberty – The excellent state wherein they were created.

22. For the whole creation groaneth together – With joint groans, as it were with one voice. And travaileth – Literally, is in the pains of childbirth, to be delivered of the burden of the curse. Until now – To this very hour; and so on till the time of deliverance.”

–       Founder of the Methodists, John Wesley (1703-1791) Commentary on Romans 8

 

Paul trumps Jesus’ own apprentices in Western Christianity

It’s ironic, is it not, that the three guys who actually spent THREE YEARS WITH JESUS EVERYDAY as his very own right hand men, disciples of the rabbi, have been side-lined in Western Christianity as second-rate to the great Apostle Paul, a guy who never met Jesus except in ecstatic visions? It’s hilarious. The six letters written by these three immediate learners from Jesus are down-played while Paul’s thirteen are held up as the centerpiece of Christian doctrine and belief.

How can we deny it? Western Christianity, and certainly Protestant Christianity, is built lock, stock, and barrel on Pauline theology, not least because the Reformation was largely a movement built on Pauline doctrines.  Every single time in my entire life that I have ever heard someone quote a passage from Peter, James or John’s letters that disagreed with something Paul said, everyone within earshot scrambles to make sure that Pater, James or John conform to what Paul said. “Well, what they really mean is…” is what they say, and what follows is a way of explaining the passage so that it agrees with what we perceive as Pauline doctrine. Not once have I EVER heard someone read something in one of Paul’s letters and make it conform to the theology in Peter, James or John. And yet, logically, who would we think knew what Jesus intended better?

Well, we say, Paul was SO WELL EDUCATED! And Peter, James and John, well, you know, dumb blue collar fishermen and such. Country bumpkins. Paul’s the real theologian. These guys are more like someone telling fireside stories.

I’m not buying it.

The Reformation is long done. We don’t need to keep chanting it’s formulas and favorite verses for the next two thousand years. Meaning: we don’t need to act like the Reformation question is the centerpiece of Christianity. Do we really think the point of the Bible is “here’s how you get to heaven”? If so, we’ve got a really, really, thick set of 16th century European lenses on for glasses.

What if we took Peter, James and John just as seriously as we take Paul? What if we took them even more seriously than we take Paul, and made his theology fold into theirs? Saw theirs as prior since they were WITH Jesus all that time? I can answer that: our theology would look a lot different.

And that’s not even to mention the more obvious question: What if we read Paul through the lens of Jesus, instead of reading Jesus (as we have for 500 years) through the lens of Paul?

Time for some theology, bro.