There's been a lot of buzz lately about the Bashville Statement (I will be calling The Nashville Statement this moving forward, since the very city who holds the most legitimate claim to the name, has disavowed themselves of it) came out last week. Many are opining on whether the statement is "right vs. wrong" or "true vs. false" and even "good versus bad." And many counter-statements can be easily be found. This is my attempt to articulate my concerns with the Bashville Statement.
Such statements (statements which seek to draw lines of inclusivity and exclusivity, which seek to make clear where the line is that demarcates the supposed boundary that separates those who are "in grace" and those who are "out of grace") are nothing new. The many church creeds that we all know and claim were created to delineate the difference between orthodox belief and ideologies that had drifted into heretical thought. These statements were based on the gospel and were written to clarify and to promulgate the gospel. In short: they were Gospel Products. But the Bashville Statement, despite it's claim to be one such statement, is not one of these. The Nashville Statement is not a Gospel Product. Here's why...
The problem that we have here is in definitions. Definitions prescribe premises and premises produce products. I'd like to assert that if you start out with an ill-defined premise, the product you produce won't be capable of producing the result you had intended. Bear with me on this.
In order to be able to bless the world, our understanding of God (our theology) has to be on the mark, so to speak. As Karl Barth said: "If we get God wrong, we get everything wrong." Likewise, if we get the gospel wrong (our understanding of salvation and what Jesus came to proclaim and enact), we get everything wrong, as well. Our sotieriology and our understanding of gospel has to be accurate, but it has to be charitable, relevant, meaningful, and attractive as well. That is what it means to be “the aroma of Christ”- our understanding of the Triune God should be such that it is irresistibly compelling. We need to be able to speak the language of those around us, and we need to have eyes that see the world through their eyes. We need to know that the world is evaluating our behavior and are well aware of our hypocrisy when we sit around and ruminate about our theologies and doctrines, but fail to actually be the gospel. We need to be able to move ourselves from our sanctuaries into the world and theologize with our actions. Christian theology is most compelling when it acts out its understanding of God in palpable ways that actually flesh out our oftentimes ambiguous and otherworldly conceptualizations. This starts with our understanding the gospel and enacting it well.
What is often described as the "core business of Christianity" (i.e. forgiveness of [personal] sin [behaviors]) is considered by many to be "the gospel." This is generally the byline of the subset of Christianity we know as 20th century evangelical Christians. But Christianity is an old and wide river, and this is only one small rivulet in the stream. To many others, this understanding of the gospel is considered to be a stripped down (anemic) characterization. Indeed, it is some of the gospel, but not all of it. Not by far. This stripped-down version takes into account what some of the Pauline writings say about salvation (albeit through the lens of late-day theologians such as Abelard and equally watered down explanations of justification...but that's a post for a different day). It doesn't even bother to take into account what Jesus himself said the gospel was. Seriously, if Jesus' death is what the gospel is about in it's entirety, then it is impossible that he himself could have preached the gospel (because it had not even happened yet...). But Jesus did preach the gospel, the Bible tells us so. So, what is the gospel, then if it is not merely about the cross?
A robust gospel is about way more than personal sin and individual soul-salvation. It takes into account the restoration of all things; the reconciliation of all of creation to God, to God's intent, and to each other. It is holistic and all-encompassing. It includes physical healing, justice for the socially deprived and oppressed and outcast; it is saving and freeing in its barrier-demolishing and merciful hospitality. It begins with the prophetic good news to the poor...of restoration of sight to the blind, freedom to those in bondage and oppressed, that Jesus preached about in that little synagogue in Nazareth, when he said that scripture had been fulfilled "in your midst". Did you get that? The gospel had been fulfilled...right there and then, mind you... and the Cross Event had yet to take place! This Robust Gospel moves to The Mount of Olives where it is proclaimed from a hillside to thousands…no mention of the cross here or of soul salvation, mind you... And it was circulated throughout the towns and villages where it is preached and it was taught and it always was preached and taught accompanied by healing. A Robust Gospel heals. A Robust Gospel saves, to be sure...body, souls, mind, spirit, relationships....ALL of creation! A Robust Gospel demolishes strongholds. A Robust Gospel proclaims that the kingdom is here and now, just as Jesus proclaimed "the kingdom is among you". A Robust Gospel has less to do about "getting people into the kingdom" than it does in helping people to recognize the kingdom is already within them. A Robust Gospel doesn't have "social justice" as an add-on, neither does it expect that the "government will take care of problems". A Robust Gospel addresses everything because it's the real deal. A Robust Gospel draws all things to itself. A Robust Gospel delivers (in both senses of the word). A Robust Gospel doesn't appeal to itching ears, but it doesn't offend the nose, either. A Robust Gospel smells like Jesus. A Robust Gospel does not produce products like the Nashville Statement.
So that's where the differences begin: in our basic sotieriologies (our theologies of salvation). Unless we have a theology that describes God as hospitable and which attributes to God a mission of offering healing, release, rescue, haven, solace, hospitus, to the stranger-other (not over and against, but combined with- or more accurately- as part of the salvation/conversion process)...then we have a less-than-robust sotieriology. Such a sotieriology/gospel is inadequate to speak to us and is not able to help us to rightly form our imaginations regarding our mission and our response to our neighbors. Such a sotieriology cannot produce a robust "product" that is capable of drawing anyone toward transformation. But it can produce a diatribe. Because it's roots are established in an anemic gospel, for all its fancy verbiage, for all its well-crafted language, the Bashville statement is a product that is incapable of performing the most basic function of the gospel...healing.
And for this reason...bereft of a true understanding of the gospel of love, The Bashville Statement (as the Apostle Paul would opine)... rings hollow in the end and is incapable of either proclaiming or promulgating the gospel. So this leaves me scratching my head: what, then, was the point?