Generous Orthodoxy  

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Paging Paul

A collection of my sermons on the Epistle to the Romans, called Not Ashamed of the Gospel, will be available on August 28. Perhaps this will contribute to a renewal of interest in the great apostle to the Gentiles, who has suffered a good deal from neglect in recent decades. In the mainline churches (and many evangelical churches as well), preaching has been centered on the synoptic Gospels, with serious consequences. The Epistles have been left out in the cold, along with most of the Old Testament and much of the high Christology of the Fourth Gospel. Even the Lutherans have drifted away from their traditional focus on Paul.

It is not an exaggeration or distortion to say that without Paul, there is no Christian gospel. Concentration on the Galilean ministry can only take us so far. Jesus of Nazareth is not the only person in history to offer "radical welcome" to outcasts. Paul's message is that Jesus, through his Crucifixion and Resurrection, is kurios (Lord) over all oppression, violence, cruelty, torture, and all other forms of human evil. His preaching draws out, interprets, and extends the meaning of the "Jesus tradition" collected (later) in the Gospels. Paul's proclamation clarifies the meaning of Jesus' actions during his ministry. Most radically, it is good news not only for victims but also for perpetrators (which, in the larger view, includes all of us). Paul's preaching of God's justification (same word as righteousness) -- which means God making right all that is wrong -- delivers a far larger and more powerful punch than the simple message that Jesus loves us. Indeed Jesus does love us, with a love that in Paul's words "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things"; but Paul's gospel -- with the Lord always as the subject of the verb -- proclaims him as the One who is able to overcome in us all that rebels and resists. The Lord is our victorious champion, once crucified but now enthroned in power, who will never let us go.