In response to my last blog, someone asked the question: free from what?
It would require a long answer to fully explain it, but I’ll try to make a couple of comments. If you have further questions feel free to ask.
I would guess the main freedom is this: I grew up with the idea that the Gospel was primarily about going to heaven when I/we die. The focus was on making sure that I had the right/enough faith so that I could answer the famous Kennedy question: are you sure God would let you into His heaven if you were to die tonight?
This has also been a primary theme of my almost 30 years as missionary, evangelist and pastor. Can the other person also answer this question with confidence?
Underlying the concern for this question is of course the issue of hell. If someone cannot answer this question (and its companion question: on what basis should God let you into His heaven?) then I need to be concerned that he or she will spend eternity in hell.
This perspective led to several kinds of stresses: concern for the “lost” world and the pressure to take every opportunity to “lead someone to Christ”. No contact, friendship or relationship was without that underlying “pressure”. No sacrifice, even of family relationships, was too small for that one “eternal soul”. The “Day of Christ’s Appearing” was, in theory, a day of great joy, but in reality a day of judgement for myself (had I correctly believed?) and for those of whose “salvation” I was not “sure” whatever that meant, and that question was a source of many fiery theological discussions. Not to mention the “depression” of living in a world that was doomed to destruction, even though we did our best to obey the command to make the most of this world.
For the last 20+ years I have been wondering if that (eternal destiny) is the central issue of the Bible/New Testament. I have come to believe it is not. I’m not saying those issues are not discussed, they are just not the central ones.
N.T. Wright has helped tremendously in putting all these questions in a good Biblical context, one that takes the Bible and the work of Christ seriously. He asks (and provides (his) answers to) questions about what Jesus and the early church meant when they said certain things. It is a scholarly approach to the Scriptures that takes belief seriously, instead of the critical approach which undermines so much.
The perspective of the Kingdom as Wright outlines it really does “free” one from the stresses I mentioned above while providing a real positive way in which to be involved in today’s world.
The words of Jesus “as the Father has sent me, so send I you”, have taken on a much newer and deeper meaning for me, and I am able to put this into practice (with all my failures) with conviction and joy.
To understand more of Wright’s thought, see him Home Page, linked in that blog. I don’t have time or space here to summarize everything. Try his stuff on the resurrection first. The Resurrection as a Historical Problem, for example.