A Socially Engaged Gospel, part 1

A Socially Engaged Gospel, part 1 March 5, 2024


Our reading this fourth weekend of Lent. Our title is  A Socially Engaged Gospel and our reading is from the gospel of John:

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“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 3.14-21

Most New Testament scholars today recognize the proto-gnostic or gnostic tendencies of the Johannine community that produced the gospel of John. Later Gnostic Christians even only honored and read from the gospel of John (cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies). 

Some of the Gnostic elements we encounter in John’s gospel include glorifying the Moses’ snake (a symbol in early Jewish gnosticism); a dualistic way of dividing our experiences between the material, deemed evil, and the spiritual, deemed good; and defining salvation as when our souls are finally liberated from our bodies and this finite, material plane.

Although those who won the power in the early Christian church deemed Christian gnosticism a heresy, much of western protestant Christianity today ironically looks a lot like early gnosticism, at least relation to the elements we have mentioned here.

Today, John’s gospel is the favorite of the New Testament gospels for many who practice the kind of Christianity that is hyper-focused either on gaining heaven or attaining the inward, individual, privatized spiritual experience with a cosmic Jesus often referred to as having “a relationship with God.” If either of these kinds of Christianity happens to be your experience, I don’t want to degrade that experience in the slightest. I just want to push it further. Whether someone’s focus is getting to heaven or having a private relationship with their individual Lord and savor, we must be honest about how those two focuses can divert our attention from the focus of the Jesus in the synoptic gospels. That Jesus was a source of healing and liberation for folks, not from a private internal hell unattached to the society around them or a post mortem one but from the living hell they were suffering through concrete social realities.

In 1958, responding to a complaint that someone’s pastor was talking about the NAACP during their sermon. We’ll begin with his insightful response, next.

(Read Part 2)


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About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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