Monday, January 10, 2011

Not heaven or hell; simply Jesus

John Vest, on his blog, John Vest: Posts from the blog of an untamed Cynic has written an interesting post, “What is at stake in Progressive Christianity?” He explains that in what he calls, ‘conservative, fundamentalist/traditionalist Christianity’ there are easy answers but not so in progressive Christianity. He writes:

“ … what is at stake [in conservative, etc. Christianity] is eternal salvation. If you believe in Jesus (however this is understood), you will go to heaven when you die. If you don’t, you will go to hell. It really is as simple as that.”
But he does admit that he is being simplistic.

As for progressive Christianity Vest writes, “Heaven and hell simply do not play a significant role in our teaching and preaching—probably because most progressive Christians don’t believe in heaven and hell as they are described in the Bible and traditional Christianity. So if avoiding hell is not the goal, what is?”

I didn’t write over there because I want to take this all a different direction. I am aware that some very conservative pastors, evangelists and churches may make heaven and hell the fundamental (pun intended) focus of their ministry but as a reformed, orthodox, evangelical I object. But first, to be very clear, I do believe in a biblical and literal heaven and hell.

Vest writes about the high stakes and the zeal of conservative Christianity. He wonders what will work for progressives. He asks, “What can I say to my progressive congregation that will inspire the same kind of zeal I remember from my evangelical days?”

But, it is not what works, nor is it about how to stay out of the fire. It is instead about the purpose for which we are made-it is about our relationship with the living God. As the Shorter Catechism puts it, the chief end of humanity “is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

Personally the thing that either drives me or brings me to my knees in guilt is the knowledge of Jesus’ great love for me. Better still the thing that causes me to rest and rejoice is Jesus’ great love for me. And greater still the reason for my desire to care for someone else, or tell another of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is my knowledge of his great love for both of us.

The Christian is called to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. That news is more than fire insurance, it is about living in relationship with the God of the universe. And one is able to have that fellowship because in Jesus we are able to connect with our Holy God. In Jesus we possess a righteousness that is not ours but his.

One example of that wonderful relationship and its beginning is the true story of Frederica Mathews-Green's conversion. I wrote about her in a very early posting, Holy Ones and Monsters :
Traveling with her husband in Europe and Britain, Mathews-Green met Christ in a cathedral in Dublin. She writes, “One day in Dublin I looked at a statue of Jesus and was struck to my knees, hearing an interior voice say ‘I am your life.’ I knew it was the one I had rejected and ridiculed, come at last to seize me forever. It was a shattering experience from which I emerged blinking like a newborn, and decades later I still feel overwhelming awe and gratitude for that rescue, that vast and undeserved gift.”
The whole life of a believer hinges on Jesus.

My God, I Love Thee (My Eternal King)

This song has been attributed to several authors including Fran­cis Xavier

My God, I love Thee; not because
I hope for Heav’n thereby,
Nor yet because who love Thee not
May eternally die.

Thou, O my Jesus, Thou didst me
Upon the cross embrace;
For me didst bear the nails and spear,
And manifold disgrace.

And griefs and torments numberless,
And sweat of agony;
E’en death itself; and all for man
Who was Thine enemy.

Then why, O blessèd Jesus Christ
Should I not love Thee well?
Not for the hope of winning Heaven,
Nor of escaping hell.

Not with the hope of gaining aught,
Nor seeking a reward,
But as Thyself hast lovèd me,
O everlasting Lord!

E’en so I love Thee, and will love,
And in Thy praise will sing,
Solely because Thou art my God,
And my eternal King.


Debbie said...

And you are so right, Viola. That is why. Vest is partly right--salvation is at stake. But you are more right. I haven't given my life to Christianity because of the hope of heaven. I have given my life to Christ because of him. I want salvation because I want to be with Christ. Thank you for reminding me of that poem, which says it so well.

Viola Larson said...

I have read and heard that poem and song over the years but just recently Brad showed me the music from his choir folder so it was on my mind when I read Vest's blog.
How can it be anything but Christ.