A Challenge to Christians Everywhere

Here is an excerpt from The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, from Tom Wright:

The now-tradition scheme (the victory over evil as a whole that was won, according to the New Testament, on the cross) projects the victory on the one hand inward, into the heart and conscience of the believer, and on the other hand forward, into the state of affairs after death or at the end of the world. In neither case is there any outward change in the world, except in that the forgiven sinner will now live in a different manner, out of gratitude for forgiveness and in the power of the Spirit working in his or her life. This, of course, is not to be sneezed at: forgiveness is one of the most powerful things in the world, and when God’s forgiveness is then passed on by the grateful recipient, all sorts of new situations can be created, all sorts of new possibilities of healing can open up.

I will grant to Tom that leading up to this passage is an incredibly articulate argument for the authenticity of the gospel accounts of the death of Jesus. In summary, he lays out convincing proof that Jesus’ death fit within first-century messianic expectations, and as such the stuff of Jesus speaking about his death should not be seen as imagined by the early Christian community. This idea can ultimately lead us to reinterpret the way we read the gospels as fitting within the theology of Israel rather than our later interpretation of the significance of Jesus for the whole world. Remember, the ‘whole world’ was a lot smaller in those days.

The problem I see is one that has been 18 years in the making for me – that is, how this idea of individual salvation through forgiveness of sins actually makes a difference in day-to-day living. If I could concede to the truth of Tom’s words as quoted, I should see ample evidence of Christians ‘living in a different manner’. On the contrary, I see the same kind of evils inside the church as outside. In many cases, the evils can be amplified inside the church. This gets back to the problem of Christian religion in devising easy answers to complex problems.

The challenge is not for Christians to suddenly ‘get their act together’. Instead, it’s to put a question on how the relationship of the Christian with the Church and the Spirit should actually look. If grace and forgiveness are the supreme values, shouldn’t these be visibly present within and outside the Christian community? Unfortunately, that has not been my experience, or the experience of many other Christians I’ve known. This is why I now carry a high suspicion and have avoided church involvement for quite some time.

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