Over at Common Denominator, Dr. Ken Schenck has been engaging in in some of the difficult theological questions in the Christian faith. In Pastoral counseling a graduate biology student . . . he addresses evolution, and in Can we “lose” our salvation? he addresses eternal security. What makes Dr. Schenck’s approach exceptional is that he addresses the root struggle of these theological issues. If one take a particular view of Genesis, literal rather than mythological, then we don’t have to wrestle with the more difficult Pauline theology of sin though Adam in Romans 5. If one takes a particular view of eternal security, once saved always saved, then we don’t have to wrestle with the more difficult issue of second repentance in Hebrews 6.
There is something to be said for not trolling for problems where there doesn’t need to be one, however, some of these views may not be so helpful when we move from theology in theory to theology in practice. Taking that step back to evaluate the more difficult issue, theological or practical, going to root issue, is one way we work out our salvation. I think that is where Dr. Schenck is going with his posts. For my take, I will start with the practical.
Recently I attended a fundraising banquet for our local crisis pregnancy organization. The organization (New Life Family Services) is doing great work. At the banquet, we heard testimonies about lives that were changed and saved. However, I was personally challenged with something that was not said. What was my role supposed to be as a volunteer of this organization and a local pastor to help people before they are in need of the services of the crisis pregnancy center? I could simply accept a premise that people will fornicate and some will want to abort their children, or I can teach and proclaim that there is a better way to live. Providing adoption services, and free: pregnancy testing, STD testing, ultrasounds, abortion recovery groups, and parenting classes, are all good and necessary in reducing abortions, but they do not stop abortions completely. Changing the law to make abortions illegal also will not stop abortions completely. To get to a place of life, we have to deal with the more difficult root issue of sin. There is pride; there is lust. There is also forgiveness, transformation, and empowerment through Jesus.
Why didn’t United States Prohibition work? We outlawed liquor, but we didn’t change hearts. This led not to a society transformed for the better, but a society full of gangster crime, and death from drinking denatured alcohol. John Wesley faced a similar situation in 1700s London, where gin and crime was destroying lives.1
“In 1750 London physician reported fourteen thousand cases of illness, most of them hopeless, due to the use of gin . . . assault and robbery were not uncommon on the London streets in broad daylight . . . The laws were savage but ineffectual. The infliction of the death penalty alike for murder and for petty theft tended to increase crimes of violence.” (Winchester, pgs 74-75)
C. T. Winchester states that this situation, along with the economic disparity between the upper and lower classes was leading to a revolution in England similar to the French Revolution, but it didn’t happen. What was the difference between England and France? What was the difference between 1700s England and 1920s United States? “The historian must pronounce that this improvement was due, very largely, to the influence of the Methodist movement” (Winchester, p. 77). The Methodist movement preached holiness through a life transformed by Jesus Christ. Transformed people transform society, but it sometimes seems simpler to focus on minimizing the effects of sin, or to try and make a law.
Jesus knew how to get to the root of an issue. When a woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus (John 8:1-11), he made everyone confront their sin. Then he said to the woman (my translation), “Nobody is willing to kill you? I’m not going to kill you either, but you better change your life so that you don’t end up in this situation again.” Jesus had both compassion and judgement.
The Church wrestles with theology, the role of women, divorce, sexuality, economic disparity, immigration, ethnic reconciliation . . . This is not limited to the most recent Catholic Church Synod on the Family. I suppose I wrote this to call us all to actually take the time to wrestle with these issues, and not just take an easy answer, not matter which side of an issue we begin on. In going to the root we search to know God, that we may learn how to love and live in holiness.
- Winchester, Caleb Thomas (1912). The Life of John Wesley. London: The Macmillan Company