Lesson 9: New Love Narrative

Before turning to the specific contents of a modern Christian narrative it might be worthwhile once again to point out that this in no way distorts the Gospel message. To give thought to words and ideas that make sense to people living in our time is not surrender to worldly values or agendas. It is simply good evangelism.

For that matter, giving thought to the words we use brings clarity to our own understandings. Caring for widows and orphans or associating with sinners and tax collectors have meanings for people in biblical times that no longer pertain to us. We get a lot closer to what Jesus teaches when we proclaim Christian love for those who are victims of our conventional society or those who are demonized by those in power.

In the same fashion, past narratives make assumptions that are no longer relevant. For instance, nobody around me really builds their lives around the sacrificial system. Yet many still speak of Jesus sacrificing himself so we might have eternal life, or God accepting his sacrifice on our behalf, or the Eucharist being a sacrifice performed on our altars. The Bible certainly used a sacrificial narrative to proclaim the faith for first century people, and we can engage in all sorts of mental contortions to explain it for ourselves; however, most people to whom we want to speak hear it as complete nonsense. The prophets long ago pointed to its limitations when they insisted God wants justice and mercy rather than burnt offerings.

At the same time, I am not sure using a narrative based on the law court really says what we want any more either. Claiming that Jesus willingly allowed himself to be killed on our behalf so we do not need to suffer a punishment we deserve or that we are justified (declared innocent) by faith really does not get to the heart of the Gospel message. People around us hear this one defining God as a judge who insists on some sort of eternal justice that necessitates measuring up or suffering eternal penalties. The church comes off sounding like its job is to force a parochial legalism on society. Again, we can rationalize this narrative by offering all sorts of conditioning explanations, but we might better ask if it really is effective in expressing the covenant that runs through the scriptures.

A love narrative seems to come a lot closer to the Gospel message. On reflection I find this is the one I used at least in the later phases of my ministry. When I used sacrificial language it was in the sense of a lover giving up her life to save the beloved. When I spoke of justification by faith I was really talking about God’s unconditional love. And when I defined justice I was referring to a social form of compassion that wants to make sure every one has enough and lives in safety. I started using this narrative, because I thought it best expressed the Gospel message but also, because people seemed to understand what I was saying, whether they liked it or not.

In the love narrative salvation is described as a father coming to rescue his beloved children from self-destruction. The divine seeks to nourish and give life to everyone, especially those victimized by human society and demonized by those in power. God is love from beginning to end.

This narrative is hardly naive when those who want to follow Jesus are called to deny themselves and take up their own crosses as he did. In it the Church is called to be a community of loving friends willing to share and even give up their lives for one another.

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4 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Anne Crawford says:

    “To give thought to words and ideas that make sense to people living in our time is not surrender to worldly values or agendas. It is simply good evangelism.” This is so simple (and profound) that it is almost counter-intuitive. I struggle with this every time I try put a parable or story in modern terms, wondering if I’m mangling the meaning by trying to find images that speak the same truth in language that resonates in the 21st century. It is not an easy task and I admire those who do it well.

  2. Paul Wildman says:

    Indeed Fritz bravo very hard to separate these two.  Estab Religion as imperium uses estab religion as a cash register and to brainwash dumbos into going and killing other peoples sons daughters and babies.
    Substitutionary atonement for Progressive Christianity and me is bullshit theology – is was and always will be.
    God is conceptualised in a way that makes him happy at the killing of his son cde this is paedophilia at its worst.
    The love narrative you portray is I believe the way out – for me love in service.

  3. John Myers says:

    I was reading Isaiah 9 earlier this morning and was struck at how well it describes so much of our current broken world. In contrast, I read this lesson where we discuss the current church narrative. Fritz describes the change in church narrative during my lifetime, where we go from judgement to love. Indeed, we are the Body of Christ and He speaks to us. He is with us in the Spirit as we walk in the Light that is Christ’s love. What are we to do? Mark 12:30-31 provides our prime directive – (A) love the Lord your God with everything in your being……and (B) love your neighbor as yourself. If you truly love your God, part B comes naturally. Loving your fellow man means doing what Fritz describes. Everything falls into place as to what we are to do. They will know us by our love……by our love.

  4. Fritz Foltz says:

    A lot of modern scholars back off from using love, because people use the word to describe their feelings about their spouses, their cars, and their food. That certainly does make it difficult, but I believe it simply means we have to very carefully and deliberately explain what we mean. For instance, last Sunday when my pastor spoke of inclusiveness I I felt everyone there was defining it the way it suited them (sorta like political leaders who say “Nobody loves women, immigrants, etc more than I do”). In this situation we have to carefully define our words. That’s what I hope to do in the coming lessons. I would be pleased to know what others think.

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