At least one of the powerful ways culture shapes theology is its prerogative to ask questions. In doing so societies around the world are building scripts to live by, each nuanced with particularities of resources, religious traditions, education, etc. Walter Brueggemann calls our Western script, “technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism” spread on the “liturgies of television” promising safety and happiness. This has had a tremendous affect on the way we do theology. The questions that remain for an incredibly wealthy, oppressive, safe society are relegated to the non-tangible, spiritual realm. The core of our gospel (and I think ‘core’ is desperately dangerous language, deciding what’s in and what’s expendable) is justification by faith – how I get to heaven. There are at least two pressing problems with this.
First, I submit that what appears to be a pious preoccupation with God’s justification on our behalf is dangerously close to atrophying the larger narrative. God, eternally existing apart from the world has created, sustained, and filled it with image-bearers to reflect his glory. Upon our rebellion he has enacted a recreation replete with a new humanity, heavens, and earth. To reduce the focal point of our worship and the springboard of our action to our personal salvation is to swallow the gnat of John 3:16 and strain out the camel of Colossians 1:15ff. Of course our salvation tunes our hearts to praise but if we bind it to the lyrics of Indelible Grace, our view of God will surely diminish not expand.
Second, our banner of salvation-turned-hermeneutic jeopardizes our reading of the text – as if Jesus’ exposition of Moses and the Prophets had less to say about himself than about how we might renounce works and embrace life. Matthew’s gospel provides a tremendously uncomfortable example. Our modern gospel has trouble identifying the difficulty of a rich man entering the
I am absolutely not doubting or belittling the doctrine of justification by faith. Neither am I appealing for an end of cultural questioning, as if there are supracultural questions that can replace our pesky cultural ones for all peoples to ask. I am saying that the reading of the Word is truly a hermeneutical spiral in which we ask our context-laden questions and receive surprising answers that sharpen new questions of the text for a faithful rendition.