A few “tough texts” sermons starting this Sunday

August 18, 2011

Don't forget Vinebranch is at two times now: 8:30 and 11:00. Come early, come often.

After agonizing over how to finish off our 12-week sermon series on Romans (understanding, of course, that we could take a year and not finish Paul’s letter), I’m relieved to have a new plan. My original plan—to cover a little of chapter 9, chapter 10, and chapter 12 (using the suggested Revised Common Lectionary readings)—doesn’t work for me anymore. By which I mean it wouldn’t work for the congregation.

Romans 9-11, which is virtually ignored in mainline Protestant churches, raises too many challenging questions to breeze by it. So, this Sunday, I’m covering Romans 9:1-5, and talking about the difficult question that Paul raises: What about ethnic Jews who aren’t Christians? I know what we all want to say about our Jewish friends: Our differences don’t really matter. The Jews have one perfectly good covenant with God, and we Christians have another.

And I would want to say that, too, if I believed it were in the vicinity of what Paul has been arguing for eight chapters of Romans, or what he focuses on in particular in chapters 9-11. But it’s not. And since, as a good Methodist, I am prima scriptura, I want to be faithful to the Bible more than anything.

So this Sunday, I’m talking about the problem of unbelieving Israel in the context of Romans 9, but I’m going to challenge the congregation to think more broadly about the problem: Do we really believe that what God accomplished in Jesus Christ through his life, death, and resurrection is for the whole world—indeed, for all creation—or is it only for the billion or so people in the world who call themselves Christians?

In Romans 9:1-5, Paul expresses great anguish for “his people,” ethnic Jews who don’t know the saving love of God in Christ. Do we, among our circle of friends and family, have that same passionate concern for our people, whoever they may be? If so, how is it reflected in our actions?

So that’s “Tough Text #1,” and it’s this Sunday.

Next Sunday, August 28, I’ll be dealing with another troublesome question raised by Paul in both Romans 8 and 9, that prickly word (and concept of) “predestination.” This sermon will be more topical, but I will focus on those passages from Romans that are used as proof-texts for important tenants of Calvinism.

The strongest, most conservative version of Calvinism, sometimes called the “neo-reformed” movement, which is enjoying a surge in popularity among followers of John Piper and Mark Driscoll, elevates God’s sovereignty so high that human free will—not to mention, in my opinion, love alongside it—becomes meaningless. Calvinism also emphasizes double-predestination, which means that God chooses who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. If this sounds harsh to us non-Calvinists, it’s only because we fail to grasp that since everyone deserves hell, the fact that God spares some from it is to his glory. (Such is my revulsion that I struggle to even type those words!)

Don’t worry. I’m not going to get in the nitpicky details of Calvinism, but I do want to rescue these Romans passages from the hyper-Calvinists. What is Paul really saying in context and what does it mean for us today? Avoiding the issue seems irresponsible. If we Methodists—whose founder, after all, was an outspoken opponent of Calvinism—fail to talk about it, our people will only hear popular preachers and teachers in the media talk about it, and what they say often contradicts what we believe.

Finally, on September 4 and 11, I’m going to preach about a religious issue that’s been in the news recently: heaven, hell, who goes there, and why. I’ve read Rob Bell’s controversial new book, Love Wins, and some of the book’s critics. I’ll bring that into the discussion.

But do I also have to read that best-seller about the little boy who goes to heaven and comes back to talk about it? Maybe… Ugh!

2 Responses to “A few “tough texts” sermons starting this Sunday”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, these are great and important issues, and I look foward to reading these sermons on your posts.

    If I have any caveat to this post, it would be as to your point that, ” And since, as a good Methodist, I am prima scriptura, I want to be faithful to the Bible more than anything,” with respect to your beliefs as to evolution versus the “literal” understanding of Genesis. But we’ve about talked that point out already.


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