On May 24, 1728, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote:
In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
If Wesley were to read today’s news, then somewhere (or, more appropriately, somewhen:) he would be crying. In an article entitled Claremont Seminary Reaches beyond Christianity, the LA Times reports: In a bow to the growing diversity of America’s religious landscape, the Claremont School of Theology, a Christian institution with long ties to the Methodist Church, will add clerical training for Muslims and Jews to its curriculum this fall, to become, in a sense, the first truly multi-faith American seminary.
In a similar article in USA Today, Rabbi Mel Gottlieb helpfully clarifies: “God is the God of all people, and we want to get back to the notion of treating people the way you’d want to be treated,”Gottlieb said. “That is the basic principle of all religions, instead of an entity that divides people and creates friction and acrimony.”
Where to begin? Well, from a purely sociological perspective, this and other movements attempting to increase awareness among the world’s “great religions” are wholeheartedly welcomed. People should continue to strive for that gold star we all coveted in kindergarten next to “gets along well with others.”However, from a theological perspective, there is a tragic irony that underlies this move; while we would affirm with Gottlieb that “God is the God of all people,” following Luther, “to seek God apart from Jesus Christ—that is the devil.” This is why we endeavor with the Apostle Paul, “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”(1 Cor. 2:2), because as much as we may want to believe that it “comes in peace,” outside of Jesus, this abstract god is, in fact, our enemy.
In his book, Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation, Oswald Bayer explains: [outside of the Crucified One] God is at enmity with me as the dark, utterly distant and, at the same time, utterly close power—consuming, burning, oppressively near. God hides himself within that almighty power that works in life and death, love and hate, preserving life and removing life, fortune and misfortune, good and evil, in short, working everything in everyone, and we cannot extricate ourselves from having a relationship with him.”(4)
This is why projects like the one at Claremont, from a Christian perspective, are tragically misguided, because when we look for a“god of unity” outside of Jesus, then we find the Law—we come face to face with the holy, living, powerful God of wrath, justice and retribution. Despite the almost incessant mantra that “God is love,” no amount of PR on God’s behalf from these “theologians of love” can take the law away; the end of the law, and the recognition of the Love of God, comes only by faith in Christ (Rm. 10:4). Bayer explains:
God’s love is not something that is obvious in and of itself; it can be experienced and conceptualized only in the dynamic action of God to provide redemption, which tears the sinner away from judgment “as if though fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). His mercy and love is that which we have no right to claim; that which is completely secret and wondrous: that he turns to go the other way and repents (Hos. 11:8-9). God does this because we cannot; he turns back and takes his judgment away. That is the gospel.”(336)
Some may say that Claremont simply represents the logical end of the Methodist emphasis on morality, but I believe that John Wesley would want to distance himself as far as possible from the anti-Trinitarian heresy that is being perpetrated on these benighted students in California. I would like to believe that he would not critique this move firstly on ideological or even theological grounds, but on pastoral, because it is only in faith in Christ crucified that sinners are delivered from the hands of an angry God.
WHAT: Mockingbird seeks to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life in fresh and down-to-earth ways.
WHY: Are we called Mockingbird? The name was inspired by the mockingbird’s peculiar gift for mimicking the cries of other birds. In a similar way, we seek to repeat the message we have heard - God’s word of grace and forgiveness.
HOW: Via every medium available! At present this includes (but is not limited to) a daily weblog, semi-annual conferences, a quarterly print magazine, and an ongoing publications initiative.
WHO: At present, we employ two full-time staff, David Zahl and Ethan Richardson, and four part-time, Sarah Condon, CJ Green, Scott Jones and Bryan Jarrell. They are helped and supported by a large number of contributing volunteers and writers. Our board of directors is chaired by The Rev. Aaron Zimmerman.
WHERE: Our offices are located at Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA.
WHEN: Mockingbird was incorporated in June 2007 and is currently in its ninth year of operation.
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