If you are an Anglican, you probably spent some time on X yesterday reading posts and discussion about the Mere Anglican conference in Charleston, South Carolina. The Reverend Calvin Robinson threw a large stone into the ACNA’s already turgid waters by bringing up women’s ordination. I’m going to immediately disappoint you by not talking about it this morning. Because I wasn’t there and only saw smatterings of the tweeting I don’t want to comment until I’ve had a moment to read the transcript and collect my thoughts.
Besides, it’s Sunday, and in the spirit of sanctification and delayed gratification, I think it would behoove me to muck around amongst the heretics on TikTok as I consider the lections appointed for today.
So, first of all, here is the usual heretic, saying dumb and incompetent things about Jesus and the Bible. Give it a listen:
Robertson is such an interesting cultural phenomenon. He’s so confident and sure of himself. Though he leans far into what appears to be controversial, he always says exactly what you expect him to say, and nothing that might get him canceled by the world. He looks like a baby, and yet the substance of his expostulations are the worn-out quarrels of the 90s, theological hot takes dispatched some thirty years ago. He delivers those stunning and brave explanations that Jesus and Paul contradict each other, that somehow one might get to the “real” words of Jesus out of the Bible and leave the rest behind, and the foolishness about James and Paul being at loggerheads about faith and works, and his eyelids are a little weary.
If you watched the clip, you know how propitious it is, for Robertson quotes today’s gospel text, plus we are in the middle of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and there is a heavy lashing of Jeremiah to make it all go down easy. Here’s Mark:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
This, according to Robertson, was Jesus’ gospel which is different, he says, than Paul’s. The two are, in fact, preaching “different” gospels. “Paul” he insists, “never met Jesus” and “never heard Jesus preach.” His knowledge of the Lord is “secondhand:”
He’s removed from Jesus himself. And Paul and Jesus are preaching two different gospels. Both are important to Christianity, but one is the gospel that we live by, and one is the Apostle Paul’s unique mission. Paul’s mission was to tell the story of Jesus around the world. That was his goal.
How does Robertson divine this crucial insight? Because, “when Paul talks about ‘his gospel’—and if you actually read Paul’s writing he refers to it as ‘my gospel,’ not ‘the gospel,’—his gospel is the story of Jesus,” which is the summary statement, “Christ crucified, died, and buried.” This, according to Robertson, is “primarily theological.” It was about “Who Jesus is” and “Why was he important?”
Whereas, he goes on:
The message of Jesus is quite simple. God is doing a new thing in the world. God is calling us to a new way of living in the world. And Jesus’ gospel is primarily social and ethical. It was about a new way of living, a new standard of justice. How do we live in a more just and generous world? How do we create a better world that benefits everyone?
Wait, you might be saying, didn’t Jesus appear to Paul personally on the road to Damascus? And didn’t Paul recieve his gospel from church, as he says in 1st Corinthians? How is this different than anything Jesus said? Oh, wait, sorry, I get it. The Kingdom of God isn’t about being reconciled to God. It’s about how “we can create a better world that benefits everyone.” Jesus was just preparing the world to more fully receive the UN’s millennium development goals. The “gospel” is a “new” standard of justice that strangely doesn’t look like anything in the Bible, but more like those ghastly Love is Love yard signs.
It’s just that, in point of fact, it’s not. The gospel is the good news that the Son of God came to earth to reconcile the alienated sinner to himself and establish his rule on earth first in each human heart but eventually by destroying all his enemies. It behooves the sinner to ask, why would Jesus bring up the subject of repentance first, before he said anything else? And, more curious still, why would Robertson quote the verse so blithely, as if he and the crowd understood it and had moved on to greener vistas, like “making the world a better place?”
I think we can all guess the answer to the second question, but the answer to the first is also barely and inconvenience, especially when we discover that Jeremiah, Jesus, the Psalmist, and Paul are all saying exactly the same thing. The theme of the day, one might say, is repentance, the business of stopping hard in your tracks when you were rushing along to perdition, having been arrested by some voice, some new information warning you that you didn’t want to go there after all, turning around, beginning the impossible journey back to where you should have been at first, but then finding that the Lord is right there and has been always, ready to take away your sin, your shame, and your reproach. It is a two-person kind of thing—you admitting your helpless condition and God rescuing you out of it and joining you to his kingdom. I love the way the Psalmist puts it:
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.
What the Psalmist says so aptly, Jeremiah also says though with different words (my children’s Chreia Maxim formulations are stuck in my head, sorry):
A voice on the bare heights is heard,
the weeping and pleading of Israel’s sons
because they have perverted their way;
they have forgotten the Lord their God.
“But from our youth the shameful thing has devoured all for which our fathers labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us. For we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even to this day, and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.”
To which God, through the mouth of Jeremiah, responds:
“If you return, O Israel,
declares the Lord,
to me you should return.
If you remove your detestable things from my presence,
and do not waver,
and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’
in truth, in justice, and in righteousness,
then nations shall bless themselves in him,
and in him shall they glory.”
God, as you can see, wants Israel to stop their journey in the wrong direction, wants them to turn around, and very much desires them to go the opposite way. One way we know they are going the wrong way is that they are doing “detestable things” in the Lord’s presence. They don’t think there are any consequences for profaning God’s house, for worshiping false gods, for “not obeying the voice of the Lord.”
But there is another element to repentance that lies underneath the more obvious action of entirely reversing course. If someone has genuinely repented, the people around them will be sure to see the effects. If you are a hard, bitter, unforgiving person and then you see how distant you are from the Lord and how you are living in the Kingdom of this World rather than the Kingdom of Heaven, and then you stop, begin to go to church, ask God for help, and forgive your enemies, some people might notice. But they might also assume you had just made a lot of wellness decisions in the new year and are actually carrying through with your resolutions. You might do some good things without repenting. You might have been washing your face and listening to that Mylet guy. No decent Self-Help influencer would encourage you to keep a grudge.
No, the other element is hidden. It is the one only God can see. And it is, strangely enough, likened to circumcision:
For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem:
“Break up your fallow ground,
and sow not among thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord;
remove the foreskin of your hearts,
O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem;
lest my wrath go forth like fire,
and burn with none to quench it,
because of the evil of your deeds.”
What does that mean to “remove the foreskin of your hearts?” Given what ordinary circumcision is, I think we might safely reach for the English expression, to be cut to the heart. It’s the sort of thing all those wretched yard signs purport to be about—“love is love,” “kindness is everything,” blah blah blah—but don’t actually produce. It is the experience of deep lack, of discovering that something is so terribly wrong that it cannot be mended. It’s the experience of conviction, of understanding, plain as day, that by your own fault, you did the wrong thing and that you ought to bear the consequences. You are “cut to the heart.” But then, instead of looking around in despair, you go back to the beginning of the Psalm:
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
Redemption’ is just as crucial as repentance. If God doesn’t redeem you, buy you back, make you whole by, as Robertson said, being crucified, dying, being buried—how funny that he left off the best bit—rising again from the dead, vindicating everything he ever said, then we wouldn’t ever have even had a church for Robertson to lie to about what Jesus’ gospel even is.
So obviously, at least the psalmist and Jeremiah are saying the same thing. Let’s see if Paul and Jesus had different gospels. In the Corinthians text for this morning, Paul isn’t talking about the gospel directly, but the entire letter is shaped by what he says at the very end, that he delivered that which he had recieved: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” The implications of this astonishing good news reach into every corner of the heart, into every relationship, into every family, into every tongue and tribe and nation, for it is the means by which God established his Kingdom on earth. No longer is it outward circumcision that matters, no, it is this inward being cut to the heart. It is repentance and faith in the work of Jesus on the cross that brings about new creatures. This being so, Paul goes on, “neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.” You couldn’t do it before, but now that you are in the Kingdom of Heaven, you can begin to. In fact, you enjoy an immense amount of freedom—not from obligation, but to love others according to God’s call. You don’t have to be crushed under the weight of other people’s agenda for you, you have direct access to the Lord Jesus. When he gives you a task, you can follow after him and do it, just as Simon and Andrew and James and John. Your life, being saved, is now ordered and shaped by the one who saved you.
Just to riff off some Paul found elsewhere in the Bible, there are literally no contradictions in the text, no not one, for them that are actually in Christ Jesus and who are called according to his purpose. You have, not second-hand knowledge of the Lord Jesus, but direct access. You can read the text which is all about him, and also, through the power of the Holy Spirit, he lives in you. He is making you to walk in the way you should go. He is softening your heart. He is drawing you out of the darkness and into the light.
He is not giving some of his precious gifts to James and some to Peter and none to you. The whole repository of faith is right there in the Bible on your lap or in your phone or next to your bed. If you read it, you will see what a knave and a charlatan Brandon Robertson is, and you will be so happy that you don’t have to work on “making the world a better place” in order to be accepted by Jesus.
So anyway, have a nice day—in church I hope.
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