Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A review of Horizons' "A gift of Love and Life: A Bible Study of John 3:16-17"

This is the last of the five reviews I intended to do from the Nov/Dec 2012, Presbyterian Women’s Horizons. Since Voices of Orthodox Women will no longer be publishing articles I intend sometimes to write some reviews of some articles. When I am interested in a subject and feel it is important enough to write about, I will write. I am certain that will not be so for all issues.

Beth Herrinton-Hodge, with her article, “A Gift of Love and Life: A Bible Study of John 3:16-17,” stands on the very edge of truth about Jesus Christ and his love. But she doesn’t dive into the depths of salvation. She sticks meticulously close to her text; two verses—the cross of Christ is not mentioned in the article.

Herrinton-Hodge makes it very clear, by using verse 17 as well as 16, God loves us and desires to save us—give us eternal life. She writes:

This familiar passage is so simple and straightforward that it’s difficult. God stands before us holding out a wonderful gift of love; all we need to do is take the gift. All we need to do is believe in God’s gift and in God’s Son. Yet, the receiving and the believing are often the most difficult to embrace.

And after adding verse 17, Herrinton-Hodge writes of the broadness of salvation with the additional verse:

John 3:17 reads, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

This verse puts an additional perspective on the familiar words of John 3:16. It contains information regarding the why of Jesus’ coming. He came not to condemn, but to save the world, not just the handful of people who met him or had the privilege of hearing him speak. God sent Jesus to save the whole world.

The article gives just a hint that Herrinton-Hodge is thinking in terms of universalism, (That is, all people will be saved) but I do not believe that is her intent because she insists on belief. However, the editors of Horizons seem to imply this because they, in a separate box on the last page of the article, recommend two resources. One is an article from Christian Century, “A Hopeful Universalism” by Paul Dafydd Jones. The other a book, Who Will be Saved?, by William Willimon.

But to continue on with Herrinton-Hodge’s thoughts, she presents her views on God’s purposes for sending Jesus as found in these two verses. She offers three purposes. The first:

The incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ was a supreme act of love. God sent Jesus to this world so that the people whom God loved could come to know God in very tangible ways: by seeing, knowing, talking with, learning from, following and believing in Jesus.

The second purpose was “the gift of eternal life which Jesus brings.” Herrinton-Hodge explains that God gave humanity many good things and wanted to have an eternal relationship with them so he gave the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The third purpose was to give salvation. She traces God’s continual maintenance of relationship with humanity despite our disobedience. Herrinton-Hodge writes:

We have tried to make our way in the world without God. By all rights God should have cast us away for refusing the blessed life offered to us. But God does not abandon God’s people.

From that point on Herrinton-Hodge gives a quick small version of biblical history which includes God’s call to Abraham, leading the Hebrews out of Egypt and giving them the law—she writes that this all culminates in the “life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” adding, In Christ, God provides a means to salvation so that the promise of eternal life with God is restored.”

Herrinton-Hodge insists that Jesus’ words to Nicodemus were meant to help him move from a literal view of rebirth to its metaphorical meaning. Nicodemus was to make a leap of faith. As she puts it, “God does not want to condemn those who don’t get it; God wants to save, Jesus Christ came to do just that. God loves us. God saves us. God offers us eternal life. Our response is to believe.”

That is all good news except it isn’t complete. The cross is missing—it is simply hinted at with an acknowledgement of Jesus’ death. And belief is almost made into a kind of salvation by works.

So first of all: the cross. The cross is that great high point that marks God’s great love. Jesus speaks of his own acts of service and states that he came “to serve and give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28) At the Passover and the first communion service he points to the wine as his blood, “which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”(Matt 26:28) And to his disciples, after his resurrection he admonishes:

O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into his glory? (Luke 24:25b-26)

Without the cross, in the midst of humanity’s decadence, speaking of the love of a holy God is mere sentimentality. Speaking of God’s continued reconciliation is meaningless unless it is wrapped around the cross.

And secondly, a belief that saves is so much more than mere certainty about facts. It is the leaning of the whole person on the grace of God. When Paul was preaching as a prisoner to King Agrippa he said, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do.” And yet as far as we know from history Agrippa never trusted in Christ. A belief that saves comes from faith given by God. We are led to Christ by the Holy Spirit. We are given to Christ by the Father.

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me, I will certainly not cast out.

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