Monday, August 18, 2014

N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Part 4 – Summary of a Prototypical Protestant Evangelical Sermon on Christ and the Law

In the coming blog posts of this series, since I have pretty well summarized a baseline picture of N.T. Wright’s way of looking at Torah, Christ, and their relationship, I would like to start to compare the differences between what we see and hear in the protestant evangelical church today and what Paul is saying, at least according to what I have explored N.T. Wright as saying. To serve that purpose, I will start by exploring a sermon I recently heard on Galatians 3, which was part of a series on Galatians in general. I will then explore how Wright’s thought either does or may provide commentary on that sermon, followed by some extended point of application concerning where I see the rubber meeting the road for the church in light of all of that. The sermon I am about to summarize provides the perfectly prototypically evangelical Protestant point of reference for the very issues raised by N.T. Wright’s reading of Paul.

In discussing Galatians 3: 2, then, the pastor started off said sermon – part of a series called “Simple” - by summarizing what was taught as the context of Galatians in general with this paraphrased statement about the gospel: “The Galatians started making it more complicated by adding lots of rules. It’s not about rules and religion.” And, still on Galatians 3: 2, to quote the pastor this time, “You don’t get what God has for you by doing stuff. You get what God has for you by believing and loving God more.”

After discussing Gal. 3: 2 out of biblical context, the sermon then jumped ahead to Gal. 3: 11-12. On that, the commentary was as follows: “The law is a system of rules of how to live life. It’s like the hamster wheel of life. It’s a SYSTEM!”

From Gal. 3: 11-12, the sermon jumped back to Gal. 3: 3-6. First of all, once again, the bulletin and sermon left out the verse that requires the biblical context to make sense. I will address that in the next post. Regarding the part of Gal. 3: 3-6 that was addressed in the sermon, it was The Message paraphrase was what was printed in the bulletin, which includes:

only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God…[God is] working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you?

The pastor’s teaching on this was: “The point of Galatians is the simplicity of the gospel.” His point there refers back to how he started the sermon, noting that the Galatians had supposedly made the gospel more complicated by adding lots of rules to it.

“God doesn’t work miracles in your life because you’re good. He works miracles in your life because you believe” was the pastor’s commentary on Gal. 3: 5. Continuing its commentary on Gal. 3: 1-6, the church bulletin and sermon mentioned Genesis 15: 1-6. Taking his cue from a closely associated verse – Genesis 17: 5 - the pastor, while talking about Gen. 15: 1-5, commented that “father of many nations” meant that Abraham would leave a great legacy. Concerning O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessing when I don’t even have a son? (Gen. 15: 2) the pastor attempted to relate scripture’s “blessings” to us by asking, rhetorically, “What good is all this stuff?”

Genesis 15: 6 – And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith – was specifically addressed. Notably, the commentary on this was that Abram was not counted righteous because he doubted and then did enough stuff to be good. Abraham, the sermon said, was not saved because he did enough penance. Here the pastor was building off the earlier part of the sermon that established the problem with the law being the following of rules.

By attempting to build on Abraham’s belief in God’s promise, the pastor of the sermon then went on to provide an idea of what faith means. Not surprisingly, however, faith was not defined in relation to the covenantal story being told in Genesis about God’s plan for working within the history of the earth. Instead, since he is modern, the pastor offered a modern version of faith to his church. The bulletin point to get the idea across was: “Move from the SAFE zone to the FAITH zone.” The question was asked, “So, as you sit here right now, what are you believing God for, that you know you can’t do on your own?” The answer was said, firstly, to be about eternal salvation, which means going to heaven when you die. The pastor also made it a point to state, however, that we should be asking ourselves if we are trusting God that we will have food on the table. In other words, we should believe in the practical, and we should believe in the supernatural.

Philippians 1: 6 - And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. - was quoted as the reason to trust God to do more than you could do on your own. The idea wasn’t fully explained there, due, I think, to time constraints, but the idea was that trusting in God allows Him to craft us into the person he intends for us to be.

That concludes my summary of the sermon that serves as a prototypical Protestant Evangelical take on the Law, Christ, and their relationship.

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