Barton Gingerich, East Liberty, evangelism, General Assembly, globalism, Great Commission, heresy, Institute on Religion and Democracy, IRD Blog, justice, localism, Micah, PCUSA, relativism, social gospel
Before the heavy proceedings of General Assembly 2012 went under way, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) took the opportunity to visit various churches in Pittsburgh. Progressives flocked to the gorgeous East Liberty Presbyterian Church (ELPC), Pittburgh’s flagship congregation for liberal theology. It turns out that the packed sanctuary would be about 2/3 to 3/4 out-of-town visitors. I went to listen in on what this (in)famous congregation had to say to its numerous visitors. Chances for a good scoop were high since the church website revealed that the sermon would center on that veritable standby of progressive theology—and, to my knowledge, one of the few portions of Scripture that liberal Christians put to memory—Micah 6:8. Those unfamiliar with liberal eisegesis may be unfamiliar with the narrow partisan positions derived from this verse as it is pulled out of context. I, however, always anticipate some humorous nonsense culled from this Scripture portion and wondered what Sunday’s particular reiteration would look like. Reinforcing my professional hopes was the announcement that openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson would act as liturgist. Just the night before he had spoken to the radical pansexual More Light Presbyterians.
I tried to glean as much as I could from the pre-sermon service: a gorgeous Gothic cathedral, rousing hymnody provided by a massive organ (something I direly miss from my childhood) and the Pittsburgh Symphony brass, and a stately (and very un-Presbyterian) procession of the cross. As the medievals might say, my soul was lifted to the higher spheres thanks to this gorgeous rendition of “All Creatures of Our God and King.” But the exultation soon came to a crashing halt by the time we arrived at the teaching part of the service as I had expected.
The Rev. Dr. Randall K. Bush opened with this famous viral video to prove that we now live in a “single global civilization.” “How would we live to see the world as God sees it?” he asked. The pastor then asserted, “We started to commodify [the Gospel] as if we owned it.” He mocked the 1700s and 1800s missionary movements, with missionaries and their supporting societies going out into the world to share the Gospel of Christ. He made sure to put the phrase “evangelize to the heathen” in ominous scare quotes. To my astonishment at least, he then claimed, “As of this point, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached to all the corners of the world, so knock it off.” He followed up with yet another proof of theological cluelessness: “Once the evangelical notion of the church can be turned down for a moment, the wisdom of other faiths can finally speak.”
In the crass dialect of internet memes, I essentially said this in my head during the entire proceeding:
But I digress. After discrediting the church’s duty to evangelical proclamations, Bush prophesied, “Once the evangelical approach to the New Testament church has been turned down a bit, we can finally hear the calling of our foundational faith.” That foundation, of course, is doing justice, showing mercy, and walking humbly with God. That’s right folks, one verse pulled from context (and one, I might add, we fail to follow on a near-daily basis) overrides the Gospels and Paul’s epistles (Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians especially come to mind). Bush offered such tropes as “justice means a religion not so much about doctrine but reconciliation,…it means balancing your personal good with the common good,” and “we redistribute power, we redistribute priorities.” The pastor told his flock that, when they “do” Micah 6:8, “redemption,…atonement,…everything else comes from that.” In other news, free energy discovered by harnessing generators to John Calvin and John Knox as they roll in their graves.
The Rev. Dr. Bush made several claims that merit further inquiry. First of all, how does the existence of a “single global civilization” somehow discount the Great Commission’s call to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world”? I fail to see the logic here. I really don’t see how it follows that A (global community) demands B (no more missionary evangelism). Perhaps there need to be changes for the attitudes and techniques, but since when does “there are other people groups and religions out there” mean “don’t try to convert people to the one true faith”? Likewise, how come the global issue isn’t seen as a problem, but as a sort of unqualified good? As local communities disentegrate in the “global” age, we give up true human incarnational neighborliness for interface with various electronic screens.
Also, did the church somehow “commodify” the Gospel message out of the blue/through time, or have its exclusive truth claims always been there? Let’s look at the Great Commission again: “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The Gospel isn’t commodified. Instead, the church is entrusted with the Gospel. That is its work: to establish the Kingdom of God. And that Kingdom is made up of citizens, not just warm feelings of relativist multiculturalism.