Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Waiting for Gospel, by Douglas John Hall

Chapter One - The Mystery of Gospel

1.  The gospel as mystery…now there’s something to think about.  And you know that Hall is a deep thinker.  He begins by contrasting this mystery with the fundamentalist presentation of gospel as plain truth.  For the Apostle Paul, a pretty bright guy, after all, the gospel remains a mystery…always new each day.

Let’s step back from our usual assumptions/traditions and ponder what both Paul and Hall (nice ring to it!) imply by the gospel as mystery.  Why must the gospel come to us as mystery (think Holy Spirit and grace here)?  How does gospel differ in nature and function from law (think conviction of sin here)? 

2.  Hall continues with a long list of misuses of the gospel over the centuries…especially in teaching and preaching.  At its worst, it’s given preaching (and preachers) a bad name in some parts. But it’s not just the preachers…it’s also the doctrinal positions and attitudes embodied in the specific denominations through which they’re nurtured and expressed.

Throughout your life, what types of preaching have you encountered?  Please give specific details.  In each case, how was the gospel communicated?  Did it come off as mystery, grace, and truly good news?  Or as moral certitude, oughts and musts, and less than good news?

3.  Hall clarifies the gospel by saying it is not something that we do, but something that has been done for us by our loving God.  This is also what separates gospel from law.  As such, gospel is always news...very good news!  Thus, the context/setting of the gospel is each new day…each new moment, experience, and encounter. 

If the gospel message is that “Christ is making all things new,” what is our daily posture/attitude toward hearing, receiving, and responding to this personal invitation to “be made new?”

4.  Hall emphasizes that the mystery of the gospel leads to its discovery…new each day.  Let’s look at his summary statement:  “The church is not an institution of those who feel that they already have ultimate truth.  To the contrary, when it is most real, the disciple community is a gathering of human beings who are united in their common longing: they are waiting for gospel, remembering that they heard it once, hoping against hope to hear it again.” 

What does this mean to you?  Why does the cross symbolize this good news as we seek to address the suffering of the world, past and present?

5.  Our common vocation, Hall says, is “to acquire the wisdom we need to discern what time it is, and to articulate, as best we can, a message that is worthy of this holy and precious word of our tradition, gospel.”  But we must speak up and not remain silent!  Yes, we are called to be doers of the Word, as well…but not doers only, as we’re often content to be.  The gospel is meant to be heard…to change hearts and minds.

I recall as a child being asked the question (usually after being caught in the act of something bad), “So, what do you have to say for yourself?”  It was meant to lead to a confession.  Let’s apply that statement to our own witness to the gospel:  “What do we have to say for ourselves?” 

What public and personal confessions have we made on behalf of the gospel?  Where might the Holy Spirit be prompting and leading you right now to “speak up” in witness to the mystery and grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Waiting for Gospel, by Douglas John Hall

1.  Hall begins by announcing that “most of the once-powerful ecclesiastical institutions of North America will disappear entirely within the near future”…a conclusion recently corroborated by a team of researchers.  While the typical response is to look for more effective means of preserving the churches, Hall says, “The only thing that can salvage a moribund religion is a lively recovery of its life-giving essence…it is whether we are able to hear and to proclaim – gospel!” 

What signs and trends have you observed in recent years that point to this widespread decline in churches?  With many so-called “gospels” circulating and completing for our allegiance, which of them can truly be called “life-giving good news?”

 2.  Hall notes that this great recession of Westerners has created an empty void that no substitute can fill.  Religious and non-religious folk alike are quietly waiting and longing for something of genuine spiritual substance.  In the meantime, the old church bodies fail to speak to this inquietude…seemingly trapped in another time warp.  Hall labels this a systemic problem…an historical condition that has been brewing for centuries.  The great cultic clock of Western history called Christendom is at the end of its life…its pendulum barely swinging.  Those in the minority who continue to look up…are waiting for gospel (and not just the same old same old)! 

How is the steady religious decline in the U.S. becoming more homogenous with European attitudes, values, and trends?  Why is this happening here and now?

3.  Next, and rightly so, Hall lays into evangelical aggressiveness.  Can I get an “Amen?”  Such proselytizing systems and behaviors have never been effective or welcome.  Hall observes, “established churches are prevented from proclaiming gospel precisely on account of their establishment, or the remnants of the same!”  His conclusion: “We are shallow…and must go much, much deeper than our superficial routines!  No one is to blame; everyone is to blame.”  Also contributing is the inevitable dumbing down of theological thought, dialogue, and biblical studies…resulting in simplistic slogans, abbreviated discourse, and ultimately worship as mere entertainment.  Ugh!

 So…let’s look again at our rapidly shifting cultural attitudes, priorities, and behaviors.  How have they re-shaped our religious landscape (for better and for worse)? 

 4.  Hall persists, “In my opinion, the evangelical, biblicist, fundamentalist takeover of biblical and theological language is one of the most deplorable aspects of contemporary North American Christianity.”  Them’s fightin’ words, alright!  But I couldn’t agree more.  “It constitutes an almost insurmountable barrier to all thoughtful Christian theology that wishes to be true to the best insights…”  “The point then, I contend, is not to behave as if these ancient biblical and historical categories were optional.  It is rather to find ways of thinking, speaking, and writing about them that at once puzzles and intrigues those who are…waiting for gospel.” 

 Let’s take a moment to look at our own preferences and behaviors.  How have your own religious patterns of late been influenced and re-shaped by current cultural trends (again, for better and for worse)?

 5.  Finally, Hall recognizes “two problems that pinpoint the failure of liberal and moderate Protestantism to address the human quest for gospel: 1) the substitution of moral or ethical counsel for gospel; and 2) the neglect of personal life in favor of attention to the public sphere.”

Let’s use our remaining time to further examine and unpack these two powerful statements.  Where do they hit home?