Jan/Feb 2013 Theology Matters
Includes articles examining
the boundaries of Christian faith
The articles in this issue discuss the boundaries of faith. We live in an age when boundaries are seen as artificial impositions limiting our autonomy and self-understanding. Yet theology or doctrine draws essential boundaries around our faith. If we reject the doctrines of faith, we soon reject the cross and the love of God. Click here to read the following articles in this issue:
Falling Short of the Solas by Rev. Carolyn Poteet
Centers and Boundaries by Rev. Robert Mills
Why Do We Draw the Line? by Dr. Carl Trueman
Identifying Boundaries by Rev. Susan Cyre
Like the “doctrines” of mathematics, physics or chemistry, the doctrines of Christian faith describe how things really are. Few people would argue that the law of gravity is limiting. The law of gravity describes how things really are, and if we are to live an abundant life, we need to pay attention to gravity and how it works. Theological truths are not limiting, but rather they free us to be who God has called us to be in light of his great love for us.
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, writes in his book, The Reason for God, that people ask far more frequently, “Why would Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t God just forgive us?” than they ask, “Does God exist?”
Clearly most people know there is a God. The question is what is this God like? Why is the cross central to Christian faith? Sadly, a PCUSA panel survey in 2008 found that “members are divided about the necessity of belief in Christ for salvation.” The panel reported that only 39 percent of members believe that “only followers of Jesus Christ can be saved.” Only a startling 35 percent of pastors agree that only followers of Christ can be saved.
Those who believe that faith in Christ is not essential for salvation then clearly also believe that the cross is optional. Presbyterian pastor John Vest at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago makes clear in his recent blog that he just “doesn’t find this story [the atonement] very compelling anymore.” And in 1993 Re-Imagining attendees, including many PCUSA staffers, worshiped Sophia and applauded the comment, “I don’t think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff.”
Why did Jesus have to die?
Scripture tells us, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV).
How do we know that God loves us? Some people might say, “Well, I see the sunset and know God loves me.” Yes. But there are also hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes. Are the people who experience these to conclude that God does not love them? Is the reality of God’s love based on my experience of pleasure at the moment?
Others might say, “Well, I know God loves me because I have good health, a wonderful family, and an exciting job.” Yes. But there are many who do not have good health, whose family is fractured, and who are experiencing unemployment. Are they to conclude that they are not worthy of God’s love or that they have sinned and are being punished by God?
Scripture tells us that the demonstration of God’s love is the cross. Everything that I experience is to be viewed through the lens of the cross. God died for me. He died for me, not when I had cleaned up my act and turned from sin, but while I was still steeped in sin, rebelling against him and hating his Word and will. Our faith does not rest on what I experience today. Rather what I experience today is viewed through the cross that is a completed act in history and demonstrates God’s great love for me.
So, because of the cross, I can join with the apostle Paul in affirming:
We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:3-5).
The cross gives us confidence in all circumstances:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
How do we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord? Because “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
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