Probably operating under some kind of low-level panic control impulse, I am cleaning out the chaplain's office at the hospital. At least four generations of chaplains have left their books behind here. Most of it is sheer crap. Fatherhood of God, Brotherhood of Man kind of Protestant rationalism (=embarassed, petulant Deism) at its most boring. Plus, heaps and heaps of pastoral counselling pablum, for chaplains who are wanna be pipe-smoking psychotherapists.
It's all so drearily respectable. So Seventies, like, let's hug and do bong hits, man. So begging to be dismissed and forgotten forever.
I am gleeful at the prospect of exorcising the office of it all.
But here and there, among the tomes of twaddle, I find a book that seems of at least passing interest.
So, today, my eye was caught by a little book called "The Gospel of Victory." Ooh. What have we here?
If this were published in 2012, it would go straight into the round file. But this one was published in 1955, before the prosperity gospel and Word of Faith quasi-magical mumbo jumbo urging us all to live our best lives now by naming it and claiming it. What would a "Gospel of Victory" mean to people in the 1950s?
The subtitle reads: "A Study in the Relevance of the Epistle to the Galatians for the Christian Mission Today." Well, despite the fact that "today" is a half century ago and the fact that the subtitle contains the red-flag word "relevance," I decided to take a look. After all, at least the focus is on Scripture. One book of Scripture even, not a scatter shot of proof texts.
I was also intrigued by that little "the." "For the Christian Mission," implying, I think quite radically, that there is ONE mission entrusted to the Church by its one Lord Jesus Christ. I'd bet 1,000 yen that any publisher today would change that either to "for Christian Mission" or, more probably, "for Christian Missions." Because, you know, "mission" is something that various church groups just sit around and think up on their own for more or less imperialistic reasons.
The author is M.A.C. (Max) Warren, whom I don't know from Adam. On the inside flap, I read that Dr. Warren is (was) General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society. So I do the calculation. 1950s. Hmmm. At the time, people in charge of British missionary societies were probably still believing Christians, maybe even true evangelicals.
The publisher is SCM Press. I have a vaguely positive impression of that publishing house, not sure why. Unlike HarperSanFrancisco or Church House or Seabury.
So I open up the slim book to chapter 1, "Paul and Abraham." And there, on the first page, behold! Rhetorical and theological delight! Here's the opening salvo:
PAUL was a slave of Jesus Christ, 'bought with a price': and as such was a man under a divine constraint, filled with an overwhelming sense of obligation--'woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel."...We may seek to study [Paul] as a disciple, as a pioneer missionary, as a statesman; but our study will be in vain unless we recognize that the three men are one man, always to be seen in the context of devotion and obedience to a Redeemer who was no remote object of worship but his accompanying Lord.The first paragraph has me ready to raise a celebratory fist in the air. "Accompanying Lord." Wow. That will bear chewing on for a while. Max goes on:
Paul's "theology was a theology of experience, if ever there was one. It was hammered out in via and not in a study. It was never reduced to a system, indeed it could not be, for it was wholly involved with a Person. For Paul theology was the exploration of a friendship, and like that friendship the theology was something which grew."To be sure, these are somewhat risky words, because a liberal "Christian" could use these or similar words before launching into an attempt to deconstruct Paul into smithereens. But after that "accompanying Lord" phrase, I'm willing to give Max the benefit of the doubt. For now.
"The last word on Paul's theology written at the end of his life was the simple testimony of a man to his friend: 'I long to know Christ...I do not consider myself to have "arrived", spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me.' (Phil 3:8, 12 Phillips translation)""A man to his friend." Paul to Jesus. Already I have much to think about. Jesus Christ as Lord and proper object of devotion and obedience but also "accompanying Lord," implying the necessity of a journey and Christ's abiding presence with me on that journey. And then the idea of Paul, the ex-Pharisee lone wolf, driven and sustained his whole amazing life by a deep friendship with Christ.
And that's just page one!
I'm definitely reading on.