Rustlings (August 1, 2016)

Okay. Here we go. I’m about to reduce decades of biblical scholarship and centuries of church history (as well as my own theological education) to the designated 360 words allowed the ‘Rustlings’ article in The Branch. (And I’ve just wasted 38 of those words.)

Our New Testament has four gospels. You know them: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each presents a slightly different portrait, personality and understanding of Jesus. Matthew was intended to persuade a primarily Jewish audience of Jesus’ messianic identity by tying his life and teachings firmly to Old Testament texts. Mark presents a fast-moving, miracle working Jesus who dies in isolation and leaves his disciples in fearful wonder. Luke’s Jesus appeals to a gentile audience and others who live on the fringe; Jesus advocates for the outsider. And John’s presentation of Jesus borders on superhero – Jesus is all knowing, all powerful, and in control. The early church fathers vigorously argued over which gospels should be included in the Bible. Marcion favored only an edited Gospel of Luke. Tatian felt the four gospels should be merged into one book with all discrepancies reconciled or erased. Origen argued that all four be retained in separate form. The latter prevailed. Why? Particularly when parts are so disparate? Because, no single narrative can completely describe Jesus. And, we all experience the living Christ differently. Our particular personalities, contexts and world-views cause us to connect more intimately with one gospel over another.

Okay. Here we go again. The presidential election season is upon us. Some will gravitate toward one party rather than another. Some will connect with a particular candidate in favor of another. This does not necessarily, however, make any of us – or anyone – ignorant, wrong or demonic. It simply means we live with different personalities, contexts, worldviews and opinions. We can vigorously disagree without insulting or damning another. Listen for the next hundred days. Discuss to your heart’s delight. Vote on Election Day. And along the way, be courteous, kind and respectful of your fellow citizens. Honor the diversity with which God has created us, the gospels have nurtured us and we have affirmed as Baptist Christians. Just a suggestion… and a hope…

— Jim