Monday, February 18, 2008

Election to a purpose, not to privilege

One of the areas in which I have found Newbigin to be most helpful is around the doctrine of election. I had always struggled, to say the least, with the idea that God chooses some for salvation and by implication others for eternal damnation. Newbigin argues that this is a false view of election which is unacceptable to many Christians as well as to others. We are chosen, as Israel was chosen, to be the bearers of his salvation for the world.

'It is the universality of God's saving love which is the ground of his choosing and calling a community to be the messengers of his truth and bearers of his love for all peoples.' p85

'God's electing grace, his choosing of some to be the bearers of his salvation for all, is a matter for awe and wonder and thankfulness: it can never become the ground for making claims against God which exclude others. God does no choose to save some and to destroy others. ( He has consigned all to disobedience in order that he may have mercy upon all.) His grace is free and sovereign, and there is no place for an exclusive claim on his grace, a claim by which others are excluded. This obviously has a great importance when we come to consider the relation of the gospel to the world religions.' p85f

'To be chosen, to be elect, therefore does not mean that the elect are the saved and the rest are lost. To be elect in Christ Jesus, and there is no other election, means to be incorporated into his mission to the world, to be the bearer of God's saving purpose for his whole world, to be the sign and the agent and the firstfruit of his blessed kingdom which is for all. It means therefore, as the New Testament makes abundantly clear, to take our share in his suffering, to bear the scars of the passion...It means that this particular body of people who bear the name of Jesus through history, this strange and often absurd company of people so feeble, so foolish, so often fatally compromised with the world, this body with all its contingency and particularity, is the body which has the responsibility of bearing the secret of God's reign through world history.' p86f

Relating to this tension between particularity and universalism he argues

'It seems to me that the whole nature of the gospel requires us to maintain this tension and not to try to resolve it either by a rationalistic universalism which denies the possibility of finally missing the mark, or by increasingly fruitless arguments about who will and who will not be saved.' p88


Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this a little recently, particularly in reference to how I would see salvation.

I very much find the elected for purpose - I might say elected for service, helpful.

We he talks about being bearers of God's reign - I wonder how you would see that?

I think of Jesus tying his identity and future to ours in coming to earth and living among us. In that way find myself wanting to tie my identity, my churches identity to our wider community.

Carl Maderias talks on a tape I have about centre-set and bounded-set. If we see Jesus gospel as one with Jesus at the centre, but with very fuzzy boundaries, and we (as I think Biggins says), as people serving God within that - then would we begin to envision not God's plans for us as a church, but us as a wider community?

It wouldn't matter in that sense how much I move towards Jesus - it matters how we (whole community) move toward Jesus, and our role in that.

I think I've skewed slightly what you are saying, - I'd be interested to hear your thoughts though?


Jon said...

Hi Steve,

How the church is to be the bearer of God's reign (his kingdom, Lordship of Christ) is a big question!

I would certainly see acts of service and compassion as a huge part of this, and the incarnational approach you describe of coming along side, identifying with others, especially the suffering and the poor.

And yes, I think the community aspect is vital. Newbigin's often quoted conclusion is that that the best 'hermeneutic of the gospel' is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.

Newbigin identifies 6 characteristics of the church community that is true to its calling, which I will blog about, but I will mention briefly :
i) a community of praise
-reverence over against skepticism
ii)a community of truth
-remembering and rehearsing the true story of human nature and destiny and humbly proclaiming this
iii) a community which does not live for itself but is deeply involved for the concerns of its neighbourhood
iv) a community where men and women are prepared for and sustained in the exercise of 'priesthood' in the world i.e. in public life -arts, education, politics, business etc
v) a community of mutual responsibility
vi) a community of hope

so that's what he means by being 'bearers of God's reign' and I couldn't agree more!

He finishes by saying what I think you are saying - that this will only happen as and when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument, and foretaste of God's redeeming grace for the whole life of society.

phew, that was a long comment!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jon - interesting response.