Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Just how hard is the Christian faith?

I think my anonymous dialogue partner makes a good point about Christianity being for everyone and not just intellectuals in his comment on my recent post on Michael Gorman's new book. I think the challenge for Christian teachers is simple: how do we grasp the depth and breadth, height and length of God's word to us and pass it on so everyone can respond to it.

The Christian faith is both disarmingly simple - as Karl Barth famously said: 'Jesus loves me this I know for the the Bible tells me so' - and mind-stretchingly complex and intricate.

I actually think that what Gorman is saying is fairly straight-forward - he speaks, of course, as a theologian and New Testament scholar and as with all branches of knowledge, this discipline has its own language (jargon, if you like) and ways of expressing ideas that can appear opaque to those unfamiliar with them. Again, it's the job of the teachers in the church to take what is opaque and try to make it clearer - without dumbing down.

The simple idea at the heart of Gorman's book seems to me to be that Jesus calls us to die to self and live to God; he calls us to stop running our lives according to our agenda - the what's-in-it-for-me approach to life - and start listening to what God says and living it out at home and work, in politics and in our relationships with one another.

The New Testament, says Gorman, uses a number of pictures for this of which 'becoming like God/sharing the divine nature' (theosis) is one central one.

The question that immediately arises is 'how does this happen?' There are lots of people who want to lead less self-centred lives that pay attention to the needs of others, especially those who haven't landed on their feet the way we have, but who struggle to do so because the impulse to look after number one is so strong.

Gorman's answer is that God pours himself out for us (that's what kenosis is all about) in Christ, so that we can be empowered through forgiveness and receiving new life (his life through his Spirit being poured into us) to live as Jesus lived (this is what he means by justification - being put right; this is one of Gorman's distinctive and more controversial suggestions).

One central idea he uses - based on Galatians 2 and Romans 6 - is of co-crucifixion, that by faith, we share the cross of Christ so that we might share his resurrection. I will blog on the detail of this later - once I've finished and digested the chapter dealing with these two texts.

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