A Gospel of Liberation

Over on another local blog, a man not terribly fond of mine refers to “inane” Christians who read all the wrong things into passages like Galatians 3:28, which is sort of the Prevailing Winds motto — “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” His concern, it seems, is my insistence that a Gospel that doesn’t liberate everyone cannot liberate anyone, and he asks, rhetorically and pointedly, what THAT has to do with sodomites and abortionists and murderers.

Well, actually, quite a lot. First, though, I refuse to discuss “sodomites” with a man who has previously written some of the most vile, hateful, obscene things I’ve ever read about gay men and lesbians. “Sodomites” is a term guaranteed to provoke hostility in the one it’s aimed at, just as it confirms the hard-heartedness of the one who uses it. I require a level of decency from people before I engage with them on controversial topics; he hasn’t met it. Not that he cares, but he lost me at “sodomite.”

I’m sure, in referring to abortionists and murderers — same thing, he says — that he would understand my contention that people truly transformed by the Gospel and by the Spirit of God are no longer murderers, having been liberated from the sin nature that caused them to murder in the first place and having been forgiven for those and all other sins by Christ’s atonement. But I’m quite sure that’s not what he’s getting at, since his question was prefaced by how stupid I am to believe that God loves abortionists, et al. I’m happy to answer that question.

“Does God love murderers?” Uh, yeah. Just like he loves me, my best friend, Billy Graham and the man who raped and murdered more than 50 sex workers in B.C. a few years ago. God takes no pleasure in the loss of any soul. My Calvinist critic would disagree, believing that the third petal on Calvin’s TULIP is a limited atonement, sufficient for all but provided only for the Church. As a non-Calvinist, I believe the atonement of Jesus Christ was not only sufficient for every sin ever committed ever in the world, but was actually offered to all humankind. I am not a five-, four- or any point Calvinist, and I reject that theology based on my understanding of the Scriptures. (I’m not Arminian, either, and find “Openness Theology” repugnant in its apparent negation of God’s omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence).

So, having taken care of that, I’ll address why I believe that a Gospel that doesn’t result in the complete liberation of all those transformed by it is no Gospel at all. Jesus Christ came to reverse the effects of the Fall; we don’t see that reversal in its full fruition yet, but we will at the parousia, Christ’s second coming. As his disciples, we are supposed to live it out and work to establish that reversal in every corner of our lives. If a person is redeemed, if that person is forgiven his or her sins and assured of eternal life in Christ Jesus, and if that person is transformed into a Spirit-filled child of God, that person is truly free, and no one can deny him or her access to God, access to his Word, or the free, full, fruitful expression of the gifts God has given them.

If the Gospel results in the strengthening of old divisions or the establishment of new ones — divisions that keep some people elevated and other people diminished — then that Gospel is merely a religious attempt to construct a “new” life in Christ with his power or blessing. When the veil in the Temple was torn, it symbolized the utter banishment of restricted access to God or reliance on mediators, priests, or authorities; each person in Christ is now freely able to approach her Lord, freely able to serve him as he gifts her, and freely able to claim all of the liberation that only Christ can provide. When circumcision — a ritual that, by definition, excluded women –was no longer the mark of covenant membership, that membership in the community and covenant of the people of God became as freely offered to women as it was to men. And when Pentecost fulfilled the prophecy of Joel, women and men were assured the right to exercise those gifts as given by the Holy Spirit, gifts that, as listed in the Bible, are never designated by gender — only by the will of the Giver.

There are “Christian” churches that would deny leadership, membership, and expression of Spirit-giftedness to certain races or other classes of humankind, and we would rightly conclude that they are operating contrary to the Word, contrary to the Spirit, and contrary to the boundaries-shattering Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unless, of course, those churches were denying leadership and the full use of their gifts and talents to women. That’s seen as Biblical — a peculiar contention, given the evidence of the New Testament, and one that relies on an inconsistently literal interpretation of three verses in Paul’s letters. For the Church to encourage a return to the ugly circumstances and conditions of the Fall in this area while worshiping the One who came to fully redeem us from it is tragic. It’s tragic because it denies the power of our Savior and the intent of his death and resurrection, because it hamstrings the church by denying full use of the gifts given it, and because it places obstacles to the Gospel that prevent people from receiving it, laying out a rutted, twisted, treacherous way that is no Way at all.

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