Micah among the Baptists

Micah among the Baptists August 10, 2015

The theme of yesterday’s service at my church was Micah 6:6-8, well-known words as well as their immediate context.


The immediate context is something typical of the 8th century prophets: a condemnation of those whose view of religion is that it means to practice injustice throughout the week, and then come seek forgiveness of the LORD through the offering of sacrifices, before starting the process over again.

Here’s a question that doesn’t get asked often enough: If you believe that God sent the prophets, and that God sent Jesus, then do you think that God sent Jesus to make the problem Micah addressed worse?

If not (and “no” seems like the only possible answer that isn’t ridiculous), then some very common views of the cross and of the Christian Gospel need to be rethought. For the essence of Christianity in the minds of many is that one is forgiven, and what one has done or does plays no role. Whether it is couched in terms of “salvation by grace apart from works” or “once saved, always saved,” it seems a far cry from the message of Micah – indeed, it seems like the problem Micah and others like him addressed, but this time on steroids. It sounds, in the preaching of many, that the sacrifice of Jesus gives Micah’s audience what they wanted, except better, as there is no need for them to offer their own money, animals, or children.

It sounds like the reverse of what Hosea said: God desired a sacrifice, and mercy is at best optional.

Of course, it is possible to insist that this is a misunderstanding of the Christian message. But the usual approach – especially in Protestantism, and most of all in Evangelicalism – has found it impossible to genuinely say that grace is free, unmerited, and eternal, and then explain why it is not only appropriate but in some sense necessary to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

Surely the problem is not finding more creative ways of tagging on the things that the prophets emphasized to a theology that resembles the one they condemned, but to figure out how the Christian message is supposed to be a solution to the problem that the prophets sought to address.

Since there are lots of ways of doing that, I won’t spend time trying to focus on just one of the several possible alternatives to popular Evangelical views of the atonement. But I will ask which views you think are the biggest problems, most at odds with the focus on justice, and more generally on practice, that runs through the entire Bible.

Since my song “Creed” (which I’ve shared here previously, together with sheet music) incorporates a reference to Micah 6:8, we included it in the service. I don’t have a recording from the service, but here’s a recording I made at a rehearsal:

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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Since you asked, I think one of the larger wedges between faith and practice isn’t so much a faulty doctrine of the atonement, but the reduction of the gospel/mission to personal salvation, which basically equates to what happens to me when I die. The “good news” Jesus basically proclaims, in this scheme, is that you are sinner, but if you accept him (???), you’ll go to Heaven instead of Hell. This is the default story of modern Evangelicalism. The penal substitution view is just a prop to this story.

    Apart from the eight bajillion problems with that story, one thing you’ll notice is that the gospel is about me, my fate, my welfare, and the solution is my profession of faith. It involves no one else.

    If, however, the good news is that Jesus has come to make things right – restoring faithful Israel from her sad state of affairs and, wonder of wonders, including faithful Gentiles in this restoration – and God has raised him from the dead vindicating his message and identity and making him king – and by the pouring out of His Spirit, we are now a kingdom defined by love, forgiveness, restoration, goodness, mercy, and justice, now we are calling people into this story and into this kingdom. In this kingdom, we embody Jesus, and you can’t embody Jesus without doing. And it is exactly this kind of community that God will bring safely through all her eschatological stormy weather, just as He brought Jesus through.

    So, I’d say any view that focuses primarily on the fate of the individual after death is inherently problematic in this way. It’s an anemic story that, by definition, drives people into themselves and excludes the Other.

  • one4All

    Progressives like to be ‘Nice’ by Nature; but it is TIME to say OUT LOUD that when your values are the OPPOSITE of those Taught by Jesus; you are NOT a Christian – But a SATANIST

  • Darach Conneely

    Jesus tackles this question in the parable of the unforgiving servant. If you claim to have have been saved by grace, but refuse to show grace and mercy to others, you are demonstrating that the grace of God has no place in your life.
    John says the same thing: 1John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

  • Michael Wilson

    While the position has its issues, I don’t think free graces lack of necessary works is one. As I understood the concept the person that receives the forgiveness will have the spirit of God in them and this will impel them to good works. Not perfection, but a desire to be like Christ at heart. One that says they have this forgiveness but do not try to be more holy may be lying, and not really have received the spirit. But this cannot be judged from a human perspective, only God knows really. The christian should desire to act better and action should follow desire, but there is no test for us to know if anyone is doing enough. If you are glad you have received grace so you don’t have to worry about the sins you commit, then you should worry that you have not really received grace.

    The beauty of this idea, and why I don’t think it is to far from Micah’s thinking is that it’s presumption is the believer is never good enough to deserve the grace. Their is no room for the complacency of one that sins all week then pays with a sacrifice. You did not pay the sacrifice, or the fine for the sin. If there were a minimal amount of good to perform to expiate sin, then like the sacrifice one could say, well I fed the hungry and visited some prisoners, I’m ok, my sins are paid for. But in the free grace system your never really ok, your always an a-hole and God’s love for you unmerited, so you are always obligated to do more. I like that thinking. It is the intention that makes you good not the follow through. Many great saints have had evil hearts, and some great sinners have had terrible guity consciouses. Ted Kennady did a lot of good for the poor, but he did it do he could have the power to use bimbos, so what value his many good works for his soul?

  • Joe Wallack

    You’ve exorcised the middle part:

    “shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

    Micah is saying that thinking that the sacrifice of your first born atones for sin is Pagan superstition. You can think of it as your “brother of the lord”.

    • I’m glad that you picked up on the way Micah rejects human sacrifice, and how it contrasts with a dominant theme of Christian interpretation of the death of Jesus as providing what Micah’s audience was looking for. I was hoping that came through in my post, even though it wasn’t as explicit as perhaps it could have been.