Considering an Inclusive Gospel

About a week back I raised the question of universalism. For many in the Christian community there is great concern about who is in and who is out, and how we might know the answer to the question. In answer we heard several seemingly exclusive texts listed. The question is, as always, how do we interpret and use these texts. At the same time I've been reading Peter Gomes' The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, about which I posted a review last night.

Gomes raises the point about inclusion in the book. He does so in a number of ways, reminding us of the darker sides of Christian life. He reminds us of the stain of anti-Semitism that ultimately sustained the Holocaust. He reminds Protestants of the strong anti-Catholicism that had been present at least up until John Kennedy's election. He reminds us of the attempts to exclude women from church life and leadership. Much of this has changed or is changing, but there are still parts of Christian life that place barriers against others.

Gomes makes an interesting point about inclusion and Jesus' own ministry and message. Gomes suggests that the question: what would Jesus do? is misguided, but instead we should listen to his teachings and ask: what would Jesus have us do? Thus, he writes:

Can serious Christians seriously believe that they are the only ones upon whom God has placed his blessings? If we take the Bible seriously, how do we explain that the notion of a chosen people is one that expands rather than contracts? If Jesus Christ is the center of the biblical witness and the one in whom all that we know about God is to be found, how do we reconcile his expansive and inclusive behavior as recorded in scripture with what has so often been the constricted and exclusive practice of the church? (Gomes, Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, p. 196)

I invite your thoughts on this question.


Greg Garrett said…

Thanks for asking this question, which Phyllis Tickle says in The Great Emergence will be one of the central faith questions we wrestle with in coming years.

Although I don't agree with everything he says, I very much like the way Marcus Borg talks about the story of God that emerges from the whole Bible--not just bits and pieces of it, as some Christians read. It's a story of the God of Love and Creation reaching out to us and inviting us into love and fellowship. The Bible tells us that God seeks us, and I know without doubt that I have been called to God through the person of Jesus the Liberating King. But can I say without doubt that God is limited in how he seeks humanity to the method by which he calls me?

I think I can answer that question "I don't know" without watering down my own belief or understanding of the scriptures. Others might answer differently--and be equally faithful to their understandings. But, as Graham Greene writes, I do not imagine that I can fathom the extent of God's mercy.

Anonymous said…
First, I thank you for your bringing up universalism earlier. Personally, I disagree with the idea, but I helped me in my devotion time as I read the word. I found a verse that could be used for universalism, but I also noticed that many of the salvation verses talked about those that follow him and have been called by God. Its God that does the choosing, savings, gifting of faith, and hardening of heart.

The question you ask about inclusion and universalism seem to be to be different. Scripture states that all men can be saved... my favorite story is the prisoner on the cross, b/c he was saved simply by his faith. He didn't do anything in life to earn it. I also look at Paul as another that God "has called". The important part to me is that God does the calling.. not aisle walks, signing cards, or really really wanting to be saved. Now.. the question becomes.. does God call everyone? I would argue no.. b/c scriptures talks of harden hearts by God. So some are not chosen. The "consumer" church seems to be too busy worrying about signing people up, like some kind of fraternity rush, rather than simply sharing the Gospel and seeing how God works in the hearts. Its a much more freeing and rewarding life when we think that its God who saves, not us. We aren't his salesmen, just his witnesses.

Should we be shocked to see churches have problems? Of course not, its full of sinful people.
Allan R. Bevere said…

An interesting post indeed.

While I am in much sympathy with what you say, I also believe we need to hear N.T. Wright's words on modern notions of inclusiveness-- they are too broad and too shallow.

I am interested in your thoughts on this.
I had a conversation with God which I hope God tolerates the way God tolerated Abraham's conversation about Sodom and Gomorrah. I told God I couldn't do it. Two things I could not believe. I can't believe that every kind of homosexual love is an abomination. And I can't believe that people of other faiths are going to be punished forever in a place called hell.

I asked for forgiveness if I was wrong. And I confessed that I just couldn't do it emotionally. The person that Christ has made me to be just cannot do it.

I wonder if we all should have two issues that we just get to disagree on. Not every issue. I try to submit myself to scripture. But my gut won't go there with these two things.

I'll own any label place upon me for this. I don't care.

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