This past week the seminary where I am doing my doctoral work, United Lutheran Seminary (formally Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg), hosted the 40th annual Urban Theological Institute. One of their speakers was Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley of Alfred Street Baptist Church. During one of his lectures he said:
“A lot of movements had a whole lot of Bible and very little gospel. Historically we have seen it’s possible to preach the Bible and not proclaim the gospel, that is, the good news of God. The bible without the gospel is dangerous. The preaching of the Bible without grounding in the gospel has led to some of the worst human atrocities. Slavery had bible, but no gospel. White supremacy has bible but no gospel, manifest destiny, the holocaust, Israeli occupation of Palestine, apartheid, the subjugation of women, the oppression of our lgbtqia siblings in Christ – all have Bible but no gospel.” (excerpt from Pastor Davis sermon on the same lecture. Full lecture from Dr. Wesley here. The Bible without the Gospel? I wonder if that is part of the reason we find ourselves in the predicament where we struggle with denouncing White supremacy or recognizing how the church has historically harmed so many people in the name of Christ. Could this be the difference between just doing what was done in the Bible verses living the Gospel truth of Christ’s proclamation to love all, honor all, and harm none? In his lecture, Wesley does make this distinction between repeating the Bible and proclaiming the Gospel. To ground ourselves in the Gospel we need to admit a few things. We need to admit our sinful selves and the need for Jesus to be our savior and source of not just strength but also our source of grace. We need to admit that we can no longer stand idle or silent when injustices are occurring all around us. We need to admit that a church in this twentieth year of the 21st Century needs prophetic voices of justice that call to turn the world upside down so that the message of the Gospel is not just heard but is lived. It is hard to hear, but there is no doubt in the truth of Dr. Wesley’s point that “the Bible without grounding in the gospel has led to some of the worst human atrocities.” So the bible without the Gospel is dangerous on so many levels. A Gospel without action is missing the point of the life of Christ and the message of Dr. Wesley. I think if we are going to see ourselves through this disturbing phase of world history we need to collectively live the Gospel truth of love and grace. The challenge that faces us is how do we live this love in a world that shouts over one another. Perhaps we just shut up for a moment and listen. Not to those shouting nonsense and hatred, but to the voices that have for centuries been crying out in pain. Listen to their stories, their voices. Perhaps we might just begin to hear the Gospel and find a path forward into a more profoundly grace filled world.
Yours in Christ,