Monday, November 25, 2013

A What Kind of Imperative?

There is a theological (I want to write pseudo-theological) phrase that just really annoys me.  And that phrase is "Gospel Imperative".


If you don't know what the logic or reasoning of a "Gospel Imperative" is, well, it's the idea that as Christians we are instructed by God to do things, things that flow out of who we are.


We have a term for instructions from God.  Several, actually.  Law.  Commands.  Instructions itself works. We hear calls for obedience. 

But those can all sound... mean.  We don't want to be "Law preachers"... so I know, we'll throw the term Gospel in front of all our instructions and guilt trips and think that makes things so much better.  It's nothing but tomfoolery, it's nothing but the Law in shepherd's clothing.  It terrible.

The phrase is not "Gospel Imperative".  The phrase is Moral Imperative.  One has a moral imperative to act.

If you think you can substitute "Gospel" for "Moral"... that's a problem.  A bad, theological problem.

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Now note - I've got nothing against imperatives.  Thus sayeth the Lord - that's fine.  But let the Law be the Law... let it be the Law in its full sternness.  Let it be the Law that holds up a standard that sinful man ain't going to get, ain't going to obtain.

Of course, that's the problem, really, isn't it?  You, O preacher of lawlessness, want a Law you can obtain.  So you'll give yourself a little synergistic Gospel push -- here, now it's a Gospel Imperative, here, Jesus "says you can".

It's a lie.

The Law Always accuses, no matter how hard you try to pretend it doesn't. 

You haven't made the Law any better... you've just made the Gospel worse... you've just destroyed it.  You have turned it from the action of Christ Jesus for you and turned it into Jesus at you... Jesus yelling at you, Jesus shaking a finger at you, Jesus firing threats at you.

At least Moses was giving Law -- you have turned Jesus not into a new and better Moses, but a crappier and dishonest one.

Preach Law - full, hard, demanding Law.  Preach Gospel - sweet, rich, forgiving Gospel.

Don't blend the two.


aletheist said...

The philosophical problem here is the maxim that "ought implies can"; i.e., the obligation to do something entails the ability to do it. That works with human commands, but not divine ones.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rev. Brown,

I heard your blog featured on Issues Etc. a while back and have been enjoying and appreciating your posts.

I have a question about this one though. I thought "Gospel imperative" was a phrase to describe something you GET to do because of what Christ did. For example, asking Jesus for things "as dear children ask their dear father" (praying).

Like if a king was going to reward a beggar (not because of anything he did) and said, "tell me what you want as a reward," that would be a command but it's not law. Right?

-Not looking for a do-able law in Austin

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Austin fellow,

If you have only heard of Gospel imperative used to describe the access or invitation to the gifts and benefits of Christ - then blessed are you!

In all seriousness, that's a way that one could use the term -- think of in Revelation where the Lamb and the Bride say, "come".

But even then, we need to be wary of suddenly making the shift where any command for a good thing becomes a "Gospel Imperative"... think of Elisha telling Naaman to wash himself in the river to be healed. Do we deem this a "Gospel imperative"? It's something that is good... but it is most definitely a command, and one that he is going to ignore.

And then here's the rub... the Law itself is Good. So if I tell you to honor your father and your mother that it may be well with you and that you may live long in the land...

Or what if I tell you to love your neighbor, because that brings joy and peace... and as a Christian you "get" to love you neighbor, because your neighbor is a gift...

Do you see how suddenly you can turn any commandment into a... Gospel-lite sort of substitute. That's what I'm speaking against here.

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Of course, let me ask this. We get to pray. So... if we refuse to pray, isn't that a sin? If we have been given access to God, and forgo that... isn't that sinful?

Ahaz is told he can ask for a sign, and he refuses... isn't that a sin?

The Law is MASSIVE. Ain't no getting around it.