Wednesday, November 5, 2008

a gospel I can preach

Over the past few months, as I’ve had time to recover from our pastorless state and have removed myself from the board at Ecclesiax, I continued to find church to be a somewhat empty experience on more Sundays that I’d care to admit. It was partly that I was so used to church being a place of stress and business, and feeling responsible for everything that happened there, and I needed time to come down from those associations. There was another part, though – I’m going through another period of examining and deconstructing my faith, and the conclusions I am coming to make me wonder why I am there.

Throughout the fall, I’ve had the nagging feeling that, while church means something to me, it is not what it means to everyone else. If I am honest, I don’t really believe that the point of Jesus is that he died to remove our sins and bridge the gap between us and God. But I am still there, calling myself a Christian – so what is the point of Jesus? Because if there is no point, I might as well stay home on Sunday mornings and read the paper (and sometimes I do).

This past Sunday, I remembered why I was there. One of our members was giving the sermon, and he preached the social gospel. I’ve had a similar experience, when my faith was teetering on the edge, and an uninspiring looking Bible study book full of liberation theology was put into my hand. It was a similar jolt of recognition this Sunday, while I was sitting in the back corner knitting. Jesus is an example of an inverted social order in which the last will be first, and his message is about experiencing and serving God by recognizing the dignity and worth in every single person in the world. That is a message I understand, and being in a community of people who want to act it out in their lives is a reason to be there.


Ryan said...


You could try doing what I'm doing at my church--bring in a Professor from the University who is an expert on the subject to give a talk on it. I have found that even some of the more reactionary members of my church are interested in the talk.

You could even use the poster I've made as a template ;)

Colin Toffelmire said...

Though I think that it is important to critique simplistic views of the incarnation or the cross (like penal substitution), even the social gospel must be challenged from time to time.

Why is it good to love and serve the poor? Why is it important that Jesus preached that message? How does that message relate to the idea of the death and resurrection of Christ?

I don't think that "Jesus came to die for our sins" and "We should love the poor" are disconnected questions.

Ryan said...


The idea of substitutionary atonement has only been around for about 1000 years since Anselm of Canterbury. The idea that Christ suffered in place of the suffering of humans is both a) relatively new, and b) doesn't make much sense for a supposed God of love, if you look at the idea literally.

However, I do agree with you on the point about the social gospel being challenged. While the SG is good for social justice, where does it sit as far as giving meaning to our lives go? Should we be intent with decent paying jobs and a low rate of poverty? There is a spiritual element that many strains of the social gospel has yet to capture. Just the notion that there is a moral "force" in the universe that draws some sort of line when it comes to right and wrong can be a start. The social gospel, on occasion, tends to leave God/the transcendent reasoning out of the equation.

Ryan said...

I didn't mean to sound preachy at the beginning of that comment, just meant to be skeptical of "jesus dying for our sins."

el Maggie said...

I agree that the social gospel in and of itself can become divorced from spirituality (I think this is a problem that the United Church sometimes has . . . while a denomination like the Mennonites - from what little I know of them - seem to walk the line well).

I DO think that striving for social justice has a spiritual element, though. To answer your question, Colin - I think that Jesus focused on that message b/c we all carry God within us, but in our power hierarchies, we forget that about people on the bottom - serving and loving the poor makes us more human and, therefore, more in touch with the divine.

And I guess I don't think that "Jesus died for our sins" and "we should love the poor" are necessary antithetical - it's just that the latter speaks to me, and the former doesn't.

Ryan said...

Oh man. That is absolutely the worst part about the United Church.

I was actually told by someone yesterday that the United Church should keep its nose out of climate change & the tar sands and concentrate on the "issues it knows" like poverty.

Yet, it looks to me like that is essentially saying that the church is just another opinion, rather than a spiritual force that should undergird and inform ALL aspects of life. Unfortunately, the United Church for many people has just become a place to go listen to some archaic music, get a little ego boost about how God helps you when you're at the water cooler and taking art lessons and then drive home in your SUV and bitch about how high your taxes are.

Just a little venting... had some congregational interviews yesterday & have to admit, I was a little disheartened.