Saturday, April 7, 2018

On reading the Gospels wisely

I've been Reading Jonathan Pennington's Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction. It's as good as I expected it would be, even if one or two chapters were decidedly slow-going for me.

Bottom line, "reading the Gospels wisely" is a major goal for me. I'm glad that Pennington points out what I've often noticed as well: the strange lack of emphasis on the Gospels (as opposed to the epistles) among many reformed evangelicals. And when they do reference something in the Gospels, the passage is inevitably seen through the lens of the (Pauline) epistles. In fact, this inverts the proper relationship. We ought to be reading the epistles through the lens of the Gospels.

I'll illustrate this from my own experience. In a recent conversation, a seminary student told me that Jesus' words in the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, where he equates anger with murder and lustful thoughts with adultery, were intended to show our helpless state and need for God's redeeming grace.

Well, that's a fine example of reading the Gospels through the lens of the Pauline epistles. In fact, such a reading is not so much Jesus-centered as Paul-centered, and not so much Gospel-oriented as Reformation theology oriented.

For me, coming to grips with Jesus has been the longest of long-roads in my faith walk, and one that even now I have only just begun. There have been many diversions. The "saved-by-faith-not-works" diversion was one, where absolutely everything was boiled down to that one message. The trouble is, the Sermon on the Mount cannot be boiled down to a mere truism. Sometimes reformed theology can seem nothing more like a theological avoidance-mechanism.

I suppose I should say here that I believe in the formulation -- saved by faith, not by works -- with all my heart. I suppose I should also say I have loved Paul's epistles for many years. But my primary study from now on is going to be in the Gospels. This is simply addressing a felt-need, I suppose. Jesus is the most supremely attractive figure in human history. We have four sources for his words and deeds -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This is not to say I won't ever again be reading the OT or the epistles (after all, I go to an evangelical church, so the preaching will probably be frequently settled on the epistles), but that for me, in my private study and prayer, the Gospels will come first.

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I'll be back with more from Pennington's book, and more also about the Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5, in a later post.

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