Christian Judgment

Was Jesus inclusive and Paul exclusive? Does Jesus’ practice of welcoming sinners to table stand in bold contrast to Paul’s practice?

Daniel Kirk contends in his book, Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?, that the theme of judgment, even exclusion, won’t go away even if we wish it away. He sketches Jesus before he gets to Paul, and he develops an interesting idea:

Namely, that Jesus invited an intimate family business kind of judgment, a “dangerous business of loving, self-critical judgment,” but that such a posture toward non-family folk was not right. He works through Matthew 7:1′s famous “do not judge” passage, ending up with 7:6, the famous dogs and swine passage, as the indicator they were not to judge outsiders. (This one wasn’t as clear to me as he wanted it to be, but I get his gist.)

Do you see justification as an “ecumenical” doctrine?

But with Jesus final judgment is rooted in whether or not a person is a follower of Jesus, so that Jesus was the decisive factor in participating in God’s family. Kirk also contends that Jesus was not a universalist but that his embrace of others was universal: that is, the family of God was beginning to extend beyond normal boundaries. Surprises are at hand: insiders will be out and outsiders will be in.

Here he enters into Paul’s theology. Jesus is the universal Lord, that means Gentiles can be included, and that means the issue of how they are included: the one thing that is clear to Paul is that Gentiles don’t have to become Jews, they don’t have to go under the blade. They are welcomed by faith.

Which means justification now gets its meaning and clarity. It is Paul’s (he’s using NT Wright) “ecumenical doctrine.” Justification “is God’s own judgment that a person is rightly related to God, a member of God’s covenant people, God’s family.” Which means life flows from that: “the basis on which God justifies … is the same measure that God’s people should apply in judging others to be part of our Christian family” (106).

Justification, which ironically is the source of division in the church, was the source of unity in Paul’s theology! Oneness in the church is the essence of justification; Gal 3:28 is a justification theme.

Again with Paul, as we see in 1 Cor 5, judgment is part of how the family operates — with those in the family.

Paul’s inclusiveness in his doctrine of justification justifies — or establishes — diversity in the church, acceptance of dimensions that stress traditions, and challenges patterns of exclusion. It means embodying the gospel in each culture, in that culture’s way.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Taylor

    Does he differentiate between judging those outside the family and raising awareness of the judgement to come?

  • scotmcknight

    Taylor, not really the issue here.

  • TSG

    I wrote a three paragraph response and got a java script error message. This is a test to see if I should re-write or fix my computer.

  • Susan N.

    “Justification “is God’s own judgment that a person is rightly related to God, a member of God’s covenant people, God’s family.” Which means life flows from that: “the basis on which God justifies … is the same measure that God’s people should apply in judging others to be part of our Christian family” (106).”

    Oh Scot. Or I should probably more respectfully address you as Dr. McKnight; I am aware that you know much more than I about the Bible and what it means.

    But…I will risk betraying my own ignorance in saying this.

    Technically, in a spiritual sense, we may be brothers and sisters in Christ and, therefore, qualified to speak judgment into another family member’s “situation.” That is, to point out errors and exhort to more “righteous” ways.

    Practically speaking, to be brothers and sisters in Christ isn’t necessarily synonymous with “knowing” others that well, which is a pretty good starting point for speaking any kind of intentional words of judgment “at” them.

    Once, my former pastor said something in a sermon that I recall at this moment. (He said many things, in fact, which I remember and treasure as valuable kernels of truth.) The gist of his statement was, it is always easiest and our natural inclination to see very clearly the faults of others and admonish them to overcome them when *we* have already been there, done that in overcoming *that* particular “sin.” Do we “remember when” in our own struggle(s) it seemed an impossible weakness to overcome, and consequently have compassion on others still struggling?

    That word “grace” has almost lost any meaning, and in fact has so many alternate meanings, that I’m loathe to use that word in this context. But, maybe the word “mercy” is better?

    The million dollar question becomes, what is the desired outcome of pronouncing judgment? Retribution or restoration? To harm or to help?

    Is judgment a means of “curing” a person of their demons? Or is it intended and deeply-rooted in a heartfelt commitment to “caring?”

    Where does one draw the line between “caring” and becoming an invasive, overbearing “big brother” (I can’t help think of Mark Driscoll and his church discipline policies.) In my reading of Exodus 32, one of those horrifying OT passages occurs when Moses invokes God’s wrath, “Thus saith the Lord,” in commanding the Levites to take up their swords and “smite” their family members and companions. Three thousand died that day, as recorded in the Exodus story. My devotional study cautioned to be careful about invoking God’s name to underwrite one’s own agenda. Horrible.

    I also think about the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They erected so many “fence laws” to maintain their purity that more people than ever were kept at a distance from restored relationship with God, and were condemned to the margins of society. That makes me weep. I’m glad that it broke Jesus’ heart, too, and He did something to make it right. That’s my kind of Messiah-King.

    All that said, I have a very hard time tolerating intolerance in my Christian family. I have a hard time reconciling meanness and indifference to Christians “rightly” administering judgment upon one another and on the world “outside.” Sometimes from that place of disgust, I know that I must look/sound like a shadowy doppleganger of the very thing that I hate.

    So this is getting long. I am sorry for that. Two final thoughts. Recently, I have encountered a few very powerful hands-on lessons about judgment and mercy.

    One was an incident with my son and his friend. (It happened the same day that I got “weirded out” on the Weekly Meanderings…so my heart was really soft that day.) In helping the boys to resolve a conflict with a neighbor boy, instead of condemning them for their wrongdoing, I spoke to them both quietly and in a “teachable moment” manner, and watched how they responded. We talked about the other boy’s feelings, and the need to “care.” It was frankly one of my best parenting moments, when I could starkly see the positive outcome of peaceful, restorative “justice” in practice.

    Another incident was at the nursing home. A resident with whom I had only just become acquainted was struggling with an aide who was becoming more frustrated and rough with the resident to restrain her in her wheelchair (so that she wouldn’t fall out and get hurt.) “Annie” was moaning and crying out and resisting the aide, and the more she did, the rougher the aide handled her. It was so disturbing to me. Not knowing what else to do, I knelt down at eye level with “Annie”, touched her hand gently and spoke soothingly to calm her, and, miraculously, she began to settle down. Even more remarkably, the aide began to respond similarly to “Annie” — gentle, caring words and tone, gentle touch. Probably it was purely by the grace of God that the situation was diffused! But, the real point is, I could have spoken authoritatively to the aide to stop her rough behavior, and she probably would have been brought up short to be made aware that an outside volunteer had observed her actions. What was more powerful in “peacemaking” was *demonstrating* how it is done, without condemning.

    Incidentally, did you or anyone reading catch the Frontline episode on Tuesday night titled, ‘The Interrupters?’ It told the story of Ameena Matthews and her involvement with the Chicago outfit ‘Cease-Fire.’ Are you familiar with its work, Scot? I was extremely impressed. Of course, Ameena is a Muslim. I tend to be of the mind that when restorative, peacemaking, healing social action is being done out of one’s faith in God, I *judge* that in an ecumenical sense as beautiful and praiseworthy.

    Thanks for allowing me to “spill” on your dime here at Jesus Creed. I, chief among sinners. The blog, its topical conversations, and discussions have encouraged me to press on toward the high calling of my identity in Christ. ~Peace~

  • TSG

    Re-write it is. I can’t pass on inclusivism.

    The Hebrew people looked upon the law as God’s grace. In His grace, God gave the Hebrews His law, so that by keeping the law they could earn acceptance with God. To simply say they were “justified by grace” or “the promise comes by grace” would be understood by them to mean they were “justified by keeping the law”. It would have the very opposite meaning of what Paul intended. This magnifies that the gospel must be embodied to each culture in that cultures way.

    Jesus tasted “death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9)
    God’s grace “has appeared for the salvation of all men” (Titus 2:11)
    God “is the Savior of all men” (1Tim 4:10)
    Through His Son, God has reconciled “all things” to Himself” (Col. 1:20)
    All “are justified freely by His grace” (Rom 3:23,24)
    “One died for all, and therefore all died” (2Cor 5:14)

    When Paul makes a universal statement the scope of its reference is not unclear. His writing may be cumbersome at times, but is not as fuzzy as some of his interpreters. And Paul knew that some resist the light they have been given and are lost- not a unversalist. Totally inclusive like Jesus.

    Do we realize that justification has been turned into a law(or 4)by some? Or worse yet, into bad news with a good suggestion? The ideas that Jesus’ embrace of others is universal, that the boundaries have been extended, and that surprises are at hand are welcomed.

    Inclusivism deserves more attention for its implications in soteriology and ecclessiology.

  • TSG

    And I can’t help but add that being inclusive or exclusive comes across in body language, attitude, Bible interpretation, and many other ways that often aren’t realized.

  • Chris Criminger

    Hi Scot,
    Essentially I agree with Wright about justification fuctioning at an ecumenical doctrine (unfortunately, it does not in most people’s minds on this issue).

    I always find it strange if some wants to say for example that Paul was for exclusion and Jesus was for inclusion? really? The truth of the matter it seems to me is one finds inclusion and exclusion in both Jesus and Paul. Or as Lesslie Newbigin said so long ago in all these debates about exclusion, inclusion, and universalism that there are each of these dimensions within the scripture. To take any one of them and down play the rest is simply not to take the Bible canonically.

  • Susan N.

    TSG – I have no doubt exceeded my comment limit for today, but couldn’t help appreciating your remarks at #5 and #6. They remind me of a wonderful book that speaks to this matter of cultural pluralism, inclusivism, universality, and particularity of Christ. The book title is, ‘Who Do You Say That I Am? Christians Encounter Other Religions’ by Calvin E. Shenk. I have read and re-read this book once more, and could probably benefit from reading it again. *So* rich with good and valuable information. I was given a “language” with which to articulate many areas of faith that I had previously puzzled over without knowing how to express the issues in question form, even!

    Chapters 12 and 13 have particular relevance to this discussion, I think?! The subject matter includes: Rationale for Wider Hope, Explicit and Implicit Faith, Sin and Judgment, Sin and Grace, Priority of Relationships, Critique and Judgment in Witness, and Attitudes in Witness.

    I am wondering, what if a person has heard the Gospel (Story vs. Soterian model), and either fails to apprehend the truth of it (justifying faith) sufficiently, or fails to live his/her faith adequately? What are the measures of “justification” that others in the “family” (presumably church) will use to judge? Some of us say that conversion is not a “moment of decision” (soterian) but rather a process of beginning and continuing (sanctification) in a life of faith, more like a journey than a destination. Needless to say, the process will have its kinks to work out for anyone. Meaning, imperfect. So where does this “Christian judgment” come in?

    In the course of debating disciplines of faith, or evidence of fruit, and properly exhorting and rebuking one another as any good family member is expected to do for another, the perception, at least, is often a questioning or denial of others’ justification / justifying faith. I don’t know, maybe that is the unfortunate byproduct of the Soterian Gospel that Scot has written about in KJG and here at the JC blog recently. Too often bad news with a good suggestion; or bad news and more bad news!

  • Jeffrey Gordon

    People are included by faith (and excluded for the lack thereof). Faith itself is “not of yourself”, but a direct immediate gift of God. Whether one has faith –and is then necessarily either included in, or excluded from, the people of God — is itself a sovereign choice of God. This is a bottom line for both Jesus (John 6:44-47) and Paul (Romans 9:6-16, Eph. 2:8-9). Faith represents the “dividing line” between the included and excluded (and it is a great uncrossable gulf apart from faith, even for close family members — Luke 16:26, Matt 10:34-39). However, faith is the only dividing line that remains. Other possible points of division — such as race/bloodline/ethnicity, sex, economic status, past behavior, or proper adherence to religious (or other) systems — are all cast aside (and such never really stood before God anyway). For both Paul (Gal 3:28) and Jesus (Matt 21:31-32, Luke 13:28-30), all who believe will be included, and all those who do not will be excluded.

    As far as being able to tell who is and is not included, that’s a different issue. I don’t think we’re promised the ability, nor given the command, to pronounce such judgments authoritatively (though evidence is seen in the works that flow from faith, it’s not sufficient to make ultimate univocal determination of the true heart). The bottom line (to me) is that we are not to “judge” people as to their standing, while we must in fact judge people’s words, teachings and actions as to their conformity to God’s law (and then only with humility, since we are subject to that same law and in no way “above” it). For example, not casting “pearls before swine” is not a matter of making a judgment about the secret heart or inner character of some potential hearer of the gospel, but a matter of such being outwardly and openly revealed in their reaction to actually hearing.

  • TSG

    Susan N.
    Are people all lost until saved or are people all saved until lost? There is compelling scriptural evidence for the second view, which is why Jesus and Paul have been called inclusive. Although it is definitely not taught today, thinking about it causes a profound shift in vision which magnifies God’s grace, encourages evangelicalism, helps bridge the gap between Calvinists ans Arminians, solves the question about children and challenged people who die being lost, and generates an authentic accepting spirit. It erases the questioning or denial of others, while strengthening a believer’s belief in repentance, faith, and works. Christianity is really not a whose in or whose out issue. As I learned from Dr. Roger Olson, who learned it somewhere else I believe,”Christianity is a centered set, not a bounded set”(Google the entire sentence).
    Your blog posts on Jesus Creed are always read and appreciated. I especially like to read about children, being a grandfather myself.

  • Susan N.

    TSG (#10) – Thanks so much for your response. Overnight, I spent some time wrestling with this topic. I questioned whether my beliefs are so far from the evangelical norm, at this point, that I’m inflicting my point of view on others here at JC blog to the extent that it is a hindrance rather than a help (to anyone). I certainly don’t want to exasperate the hospitality of the hosts.

    “Are people all lost until saved or are people all saved until lost? There is compelling scriptural evidence for the second view…” If it is really the redemptive work of Christ, and not our own faith and works that “saves” us, then I very much want to hope in that second view: “All people are saved until lost.”

    I am wondering if, in evangelizing, or “gospeling,” our witness is more appropriately shown in words and ways that articulate the truth of the good news that, “You are *in* through Jesus. Claim your identity as one who is loved and “saved.”

    TSG, you have no idea in my nursing home Bible fellowship lay ministry how many of my elderly friends who were raised in a Christian faith tradition, even evangelical, have told me that all their lives, they had never understood much of the teaching that they received in church or Bible studies. I’m no Bible scholar, but I have made it a central part of my “mission” to my dear friends in the nursing home to encourage them in their faith. A few have spoken explicitly of finally knowing and being at peace (confident) in their salvation. It is always a little heartbreaking for me to hear this, realizing that these lovely people have lived the better part of their lives feeling unsure of their status of being loved securely by God.

    Why do churches and other Christians do that to people? And that is *within* the faith, *in* the “family” treatment. So, SO sad to me.

    As for peoples of other cultures and faith traditions (Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, etc.), I would like in relationship with these “others” outside the “family” to understand their beliefs, and maybe be a bridge for them to claim the knowledge of the (common, prevenient) grace that they have received, which has been pointing to Jesus Christ all along?

    In reality, even those of us “in the family” have our “golden calf” reductionist-god moments of faith. Yes, we all see through a glass darkly to varying degrees.

    Thank God that our salvation does not depend on our end (right beliefs and/or practices). That God, in Jesus Christ, has guaranteed the fulfillment of the covenant between us and him. He being the stronger party in the contract. His love never fails.

    I guess all these thoughts have led me lately to a hope of universal reconciliation. At the very least, that fewer rather than more/most will reject God ultimately and be left out of his “family.” Heretical in many evangelical circles, I know. I find one inescapable benefit to this thinking: It allows me to be a much more loving person in relationship with others here and now, and to live more freely in my identity as one-in-Christ.

    Your words have been a blessing to me this morning, TSG. Thank you. I’m going to follow through on Googling the centered vs. bounded set information. ~Peace~


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