Thursday, 5 July 2007

An Inclusive Gospel?

THE VISION OF CHRIST that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy.
Thine has a great hook nose like thine;
Mine has a snub nose like to mine...
Both read the Bible day and night,
But thou read’st black where I read white.

Recently, over on 'Me and My Biretta', Greg wrote very well on the question of why he shall 'remain an Anglican'. However, on 'the issue of gays and women', he wrote one thing that I'd like to question. It was this: 'it would be a bit weird to proclaim an inclusive Gospel for an inclusive Church and say "no" to half the population'. I won't go into too much depth about the specific issues to which he applies such an argument, but I do wish to question the argument itself.

An inclusive Gospel

The idea of an inclusive Gospel is a favourite of the Liberal movement, and with good reason. Christ is seen to be a very inclusive figure, in contrast to the Jewish community. He spoke with a Samaritan Woman (S. John 4), and visits the house of sinners, such as Zacchaeus, an immoral tax collector (S. Luke 19). Moreover, Christ himself says: 'the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.' (ii)

This inclusive Gospel is continued in the Epistles of the Apostles: 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (iii) The equality of gender, of race and of social status is conclusively affirmed: the Gospel of Christ is equally open to everybody.

Challenging the 'inclusive' Gospel.

It can be seen, therefore, that the Gospel is open to all, without a shred of prejudice. But does this make it 'inclusive'? I contend that it does not, and rather that it is in fact a 'divisive' message. I'll take the evidence is certain sections:

The teachings of Christ

'Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the Gospel."' (iv)

The coming of Christ splits the history of the world cleanly into two parts, both in secular and theological terms. The first question is whether the 'Gospel of God' which Jesus preached is inclusive or not. The 'Kingdom of God' (or 'of Heaven') is, as I read, a complex phrase. The Greek, basileia, is an active noun, perhaps better translated to sovereignty: the active reign, rather than the monarchical institution. Origen called Christ the autobasileia - Himself a physical embodiment of the Kingdom of God.(v) Thus Christ's Incarnation is a visit to earth of a divine authority.

This authority is used quite dramatically. The first event which springs to mind is the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: 'All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.' I would suggest that this is clearly a divisive message. The division is emphasised by the differing rewards of the righteous and the unrighteous.

'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' (vii)

Where there is truth, there is falsehood; where there is life, there is death. Christ claims to be 'the truth' and 'the life'. Not 'a truth', nor 'a life' but 'the truth' and 'the life': there is no other alternative. Christ is the exclusive answer. As He says: 'No one comes to the Father except through me.' As was later written in 2 John, 'Whosoever... abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God' (viii).

The apostles' teaching.

'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (ix)

This verse should also be examined. It is incontrovertibly true that this verse teaches of the importance and correctness of equality. But is it 'inclusive' in the modern sense of the word? The very same Apostle wrote the verse condemned by many as sexist: 'I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.' (x) What this tells us is that - unless S. Paul contradicts himself - equal does not mean the same. The verse must be looked at in the broader context of the Apostle's writing: a text without a context is a pretext, as has often been said.

The second thing to remember is that S. Paul limits this equality to Christians. The equality only applies 'If you belong to Christ' (v. 29). This is important given many modern interpretations.


The conclusion to be drawn is that the Gospel is not inclusive, but divisive: Christ comes 'to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire' (xi), as well as to separate 'the sheep and the goats'. Whilst there is to be no discrimination as to who can come to Christ, the difference between those who have and those who have not is great.

This is not a message which is popular or comfortable in our times. But then, neither is the fact that we are all sinners. Humility is rarely the order of the day in 2007. However, C S Lewis wrote powerfully on such problems:

I wish it was possible to say something more agreeable. But I must say what I think true. of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing... In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it.' (xii)

'Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovia per una selva oscura
che la diritta via era smarrita'

(i) The Everlasting Gospel, William Blake.
(ii) S. Luke 19 v. 10
(iii) Galatians 3 v. 28
(iv) S. Mark 1 vv.14-15
(v) Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI.
(vi) S. Matthew 25 vv. 31-36
(vii) S. John 14 v. 6
(viii) 2 John v. 9
(ix) Galatians 3 v. 28
(x) 1 Timothy 2 v. 12
(xi) S. Luke 3 v. 17
(xii) Mere Christianity, C S Lewis.


The Lassalian said...

Shame that some people use the 'inclusive' ticket as an excuse to condone sin. The Gospel vision is for universal salvation, but on God's term's - not ours.

Phil' said...

And thus the Lassalian summarises the whole post in a nutshell. But then, it wouldn't have kept me busy if I wrote as succinctly as that!

James said...

Interesting post. Just a couple of things that I would like to pull you up on.

You talk about Inclusivism as a favourite of the Liberal movement, but we can actually trace it back to the Church Fathers, including Irenaeus and Clement of Rome.

Furthermore, rather interestingly, Lewis is seen as an Inclusivist.

Check out
Quite interesting

Phil' said...

Quite interesting indeed, though I do disagree with much of the reasoning of the article. I was thinking of the ethical use of the word 'inclusive', however, rather than Inclusivist as a theological term. I simply don't know enough to deal with such a large topic. perhaps I should learn...


Gavin said...

Woah, woah, "inclusiveness" in the sense of diversity / liberalism / relativism is very different from theological "Inclusivism", let's nip that in the bud.

What a brilliant article. Shame you didn't spice it up by applying the logic to gays, women priests and other religion, but that would have been a bit controversial - more like the sort of thing I would write. :p

The following Bible verses further support your case:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes shall be they of his own household.” - Matthew 10:34-36.

“I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” - Luke 12:49-53

Phil' said...

I've deliberately left out the specifics of gays and women priests, in order to be more general. Hopefully, since I'm preparing a document anyway, I'll post soon a specific article against women priests, from a scriptural perspective.