Christian Judgment

Christian Judgment February 16, 2012

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.

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