The message of exclusion is a fundamental problem for christianity and the church today.
While there are abundant examples of the message of exclusion, the Chik-Fil-A episode is an obvious recent example. Regardless of the first amendment issues involved, this was an epic failure in communicating the message of Christ for the christians who were involved in “taking a stand.”
In christianity, we are very comfortable with the designation of an outsider group. How we treat the outsider is reflective of our understanding of the nature of God. Too often exclusion and rebuke are emphasized, furthering the outsider’s sense of shame and alienation. With a punitive understanding of the outsider, we collectively, and possibly individually, become self-righteous about opposing and excluding.
The reality is that God’s benevolence in not confined to the church. God has never let go of the outsider, even when the outsider lets go of God.
In an earlier post, What’s the Difference?, I pointed out the areas of concern that I have with central message of the western evangelical gospel. The message communicated is to convince an individual of their sinful state, of the fearful verdict awaiting them from a wrath-filled God, and of the conditions required to save themselves from eternal punishment.
The central problem of humanity is not God’s demand for judgment. The central problem of humanity is our sense of alienation from God. Shame and guilt magnify this alienation and are barriers that must be overcome to approach God. Unfortunately, in a gospel of exclusion, the myth of alienation is perpetuated by focusing on accusation and by falsely portraying the anger of the Father. In an orthodox inclusive gospel, the primary message is to convince a person of God’s love for them and His acceptance of them.
I understand that the phrase “gospel of inclusion” makes us nervous. Often when this phrase is used, we see a message that is watered down, containing little truth or life and bordering on pluralism. I do not believe that all roads or belief systems lead to God. Jesus is the only way that we could be reconciled to God. A belief system, including christianity, is hollow if it is not leading a person to share life with God.
However, we do not have to let go of the essence of scripture and truth to communicate a gospel of inclusion. If we look to scripture, the Father’s embrace of all humanity is evident. He has included sinner’s before they (we) do a single thing.
But what about their sin? Don’t worry about it, it isn’t our job. Our concern should be their sense of alienation and lack of understanding of the Father’s love for them. This is the “sin” that must be overcome in their life, and it is not overcome through moralizing condemnation. It is overcome through a convincing communication of the truth of the Father’s loving embrace. Whatever moral issues a person struggles with can only be transformed through the love of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. When and how that happens will occur within a person’s relationship with God, not according to our agenda or timeline.
For the church, having an orthodox theological basis for inclusion is essential to an engaging missional stance toward others.
An unconditional theology of the gospel makes a difference in the freedom and assurance that we experience in Christ. It also makes a huge difference in how we approach others. Although we may not know where someone is in their understanding and knowledge of God, we start with the assumption of their inclusion and acceptance by the Father and then encourage them in the love of God.
So what do you think? Do you feel that Scripture can support an orthodox theology of inclusion?