Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Finding The Core

A little while ago the New York Times had an interesting article about Christians and politics in the USA. It has its own predictable slant, and quotes broadly and therefore pulls in a lot of loons. It perpetuates confusing use of the noun "conservative" to mean either "theologically conservative" or "politically conservative" when these are very different things --- whose divergence the article is supposed to be analyzing. There are some quotes I really like, though.

But many younger evangelicals — and some old-timers — take a less fatalistic view. For them, the born-again experience of accepting Jesus is just the beginning. What follows is a long-term process of “spiritual formation” that involves applying his teachings in the here and now. They do not see society as a moribund vessel. They talk more about a biblical imperative to fix up the ship by contributing to the betterment of their communities and the world. They support traditional charities but also public policies that address health care, race, poverty and the environment.

Amen --- though there is nothing new or radical about that in the history of the church.

If more Christians worked to alleviate needs in their local communities, he [Rick Warren] suggests in the church’s promotional materials, “the church would become known more for the love it shows than for what it is against” a thinly veiled dig at the conservative Christian “culture war."


On the Sunday before the referendum on a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, Carlson reminded his congregation that homosexuality was hardly the only form of sex the Bible condemned. Any extramarital sex is a sin, he told his congregation, so they should not point fingers.


"I think they are going to have a hard time going out into the pews and saying tax policy is what Jesus is about, that he said, ‘Come unto me all you who are overtaxed and I will give you rest.’ ”

The article mentions "the Gospel" many times without actually saying what that is, except that it has political and social dimensions and evangelicals struggle over the emphasis placed on them. That gives the impression that evangelicals are more divided than they really are, because the core of the gospel is more important than anything mentioned there.

That core is, roughly --- acknowledging that each of us is guilty before God; recognizing that God has provided for our forgiveness by having Jesus take punishment that we deserve; and claiming that forgiveness by committing ourselves to Jesus as Lord.

That's really what we're all about. Of course that has huge social, political and other implications. But to me, that article and most others like it feel hollow. They pick at the fringes and try to understand what's going on (cue the "blind men and the elephant" analogy). I wonder whether the author actually know what "the Gospel" means themselves. I wonder who out there does. I didn't myself, for twenty years.


It's fascinating what happens when a journalist really does try and get real Christian viewpoints. Matthew Parris wrote an article a while ago for The Times [UK]. He investigated what 'the gospel' really means and was fairly amazed by his discovery. Sadly not amazed enough to commit to it himself, but he does have a startling rebuke for Christians: "if I believed even a tenth of [the gospel]...I would drop my job, sell my house, throw away my possessions, leave my acquaintances and set out into the world with a burning desire to know more and when I had found out more, to act upon it and to tell others." (see http://www.church.org.uk/resources/sermondetail.asp?serId=175 , second quotation.)
Matt Sayler
I don't think it's my browser or fonts that are screwed up, but I could be wrong.. I get lots of odd Unicode-like pasting errors at
eg process of “spiritual formation” that
Hi Robert,
The following bit of yours caught my attention:-
"... God has provided for our forgiveness by having Jesus take punishment that we deserve;"
I am struggling with the nature and theology behind Jesus' death. I read another blog by a bloke named Simon Cozens ( http://blog.simon-cozens.org ). Back in April (2007-04-25) he posted something entitled "It's not fair". This URL should get you there http://blog.simon-cozens.org/post/do_search?content=forgive
His blog goes into some of what he perceives as misunderstandings by Christians of what Christ's death was really about. In a later blog he links to
an article by NT Wright on the meaning of Christ's sacrifice. A viewpoint Cozens agrees with.
I'd be interested to know what you have to say about the issue of "substitutionary atonement" and Jesus' death. If you've got the time. :-)
Robert O'Callahan
Lionel: yeah, it is shameful how lightly we take it sometimes. But work and family can also be holy. It appears Jesus lived "normally" for most of his life.
Matt: sorry, something's screwed up in my blog and I'm too lame to fix it.
Jeff: I agree with Wright as far as I understand him, which is less than fully since I'm missing a lot of context. Not so sure about Cozens. Maybe I overspoke; if pressed I would just point to Jesus's words in Mark 10:45:
> For even the Son of Man did not come to be
> served, but to serve, and to give his life as a
> ransom for many.
and especially Isaiah 53:
> But he was pierced for our transgressions,
> he was crushed for our iniquities;
> the punishment that brought us peace was
> upon him,
> and by his wounds we are healed.
> We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
> each of us has turned to his own way;
> and the Lord has laid on him
> the iniquity of us all.
Thanks for the reply Robert.
I think I'll be studying this topic more deeply in the near future. :-)