Tuesday, January 26, 2010

God and Morality

Over at Desiring God I found the following quote (from Doug Wilson's new book, Five Cities that Ruled the World):
Tyndale was willing to endure great trials because of what he believed about the gospel. C. S. Lewis explained that the “whole purpose of the ‘gospel,’ for Tyndale, is to deliver us from morality. Thus, paradoxically, the ‘puritan’ of modern imagination—the cold, gloomy heart, doing as duty what happier and richer souls do without thinking of it—is precisely the enemy which historical Protestantism arose and smote.”
The whole purpose of the gospel is to delivers us from morality! Although I suppose I might question the appropriateness of the word "whole" in that statement, I consider the overall point of the sentence to be true, and to be a great and essential insight that all who teach and talk about their faith or about Scripture should keep in mind.

Remember my post last week about the road from Eden? On this road that we all walk, some of us have forgotten God, choose not to honor him as God, and instead pursue what is by definition an "ungodly" or anti-Godly way (you can read Paul's nutshell description of that way in Romans 1:18-32).

But some, in an ostensible acknowledgement of God, devise another way, a way that they think may ultimately get them back to Eden (or, in other words, peace with God). That way is called "morality," and it is this way of morality that, according to Tyndale, it is the whole purpose of the Gospel to refute. The way of morality is one of the most commonly taken detours on the pilgrim road.

There is always a tendency to boil down Christianity to morality. I myself have often been a culprit in this. I'll give you an example. In Genesis 17, God speaks to Abraham:
“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”
Now note that God is promising fruitfulness, as the ensuing verses make clear, and fruitfulness is a key aspect of Garden life. In Romans 1 (and elsewhere) Paul indicates that fruitfulness is a key aspect of Kingdom living, while futility marks the way of the God-deniers.

But back to to God's word to Abraham. In my early days as a Christian (well, early and middle), I would have assumed that those words, "walk before me and be blameless," were a moral imperative, simply equivalent to "keep all the commandments perfectly." That's morality, and if it is God's plan to make moral people then Tyndale is greatly mistaken about the "whole purpose of the Gospel."

I heard a great sermon yesterday (as usual) at Missio Dei. The preacher talked about how "walk before me" is a term from shepherding. Picture the sheep walking before the shepherd, the shepherd following behind watchfully, and the sheep responsive to his voice or to his rod and staff. There is danger in straying from that place "before" the shepherd. The way that the shepherd leads is the good way, and there is ultimate safety in it.

Rather than "morality" (life in subservience to moral rules of behavior), we have life in relationship with the One who knows the way. A life of attentiveness on a road with a glorious destination.

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