Tuesday, March 06, 2007

THE SINNER'S PRAYER VS. THE BIBLE
watching the mental bell 'ding'

It has occured to David Gushee that there's a problem with the 'Sinner's Prayer'. It isn't in the Bible:
In reading through Luke, I had discovered that twice (10:25, 18:18) Jesus is asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

In the first passage, Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer who asks it. The lawyer replies with the Old Testament commands to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (cf. Mt. 22:34-40). Jesus affirms his answer: "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." The lawyer then tries to narrow the meaning of neighbor. So Jesus tells the unforgettable parable of the compassionate Samaritan, who proved to be a neighbor to a bleeding roadside victim.

In Luke 18, Jesus responds to the same question, this time from the man we know as the rich young ruler, by quoting the second table of the Decalogue, forbidding adultery, murder, theft, and false witness, and mandating honor towards parents. His questioner says that he has kept these commandments, and Jesus proceeds to call on him to "sell all … and distribute to the poor." Jesus assures him, "You will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." The "extremely rich" ruler won't do this, and Jesus goes on to teach his disciples about how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.

Trying to be an honest expositor of the texts in front of me, I told the chapel students that morning that on the two occasions in Luke when Jesus was asked about the criteria for admission to eternity, he offered a fourfold answer: love God with all that you are, love your neighbor (like the Samaritan loved his neighbor), do God's will by obeying his moral commands, and be willing, if he asks, to drop everything and leave it behind in order to follow him.

I concluded by suggesting that the contrast between how Jesus answers this question and how we usually do is stark and awfully inconvenient.

Yes, Mr. Gushee is not far from the kingdom of God. If he discovers the book of Acts in his Bible who knows what conclusions he might reach.

3 comments:

Jeff said...

"he offered a fourfold answer: love God with all that you are, love your neighbor (like the Samaritan loved his neighbor), do God's will by obeying his moral commands, and be willing, if he asks, to drop everything and leave it behind in order to follow him."

Isn't the whole point of the gospels that we can't do any of these things, and so we need Christ to do them for us?

Chris said...

Thanks for calling our attention to this, Alan. What a glaring hole in Baptist/evangelical theology, but it is good that someone is noticing it. That's where we come in -- I would think -- with a well-reasoned and Scriptural alternative, namely baptism.

Anyway, and this is a minor point, a question for Jeff: you're right to say that all of that is a tall order, but I'm more comfortable saying that we can (and should) do those things through Christ, instead of saying that He should do them for us. Or am I misunderstanding your point?

Best,
C.

Jeff said...

Well, in a sense, it's both. On our own, those things that God requires aren't just a tall order, they're impossible. But they have to be fulfilled, and fulfilled perfectly, or it's no good. So someone else has to do it for us. Christ did that--he lived a perfect life, keeping and fulfilling all of God's law and perfectly doing his Father's will. By grace through faith, the guilt of our sins is imputed to Christ, and His righteousness (that perfectly obedient life) is imputed to us.

After that imputation, and secondary to it, the Holy Spirit both enables us and teaches us to live holy lives and follow Christ in these ways. But even with the Spirit indwelling us, as long as we are in this body we do it haltingly, imperfectly, and sinfully. We never get beyond the point of needing Christ's atonement for our sins and His righteousness reckoned to our account.

Does this clarify things at all?