In the course of the past few posts, which have been about how our church engages with an important issue without tearing itself apart, at least not unnecessarily, I have argued for the importance of our engagement being genuine theological discourse, not a recourse or threat of recourse to courts of law. Several important points have been made by commenters (thank you). One I want to tease out here, albeit very slightly relative to its great importance, concerns the seminal importance of Romans 12:1-2 which is a leitmotif of Bryden Black's:
"12:1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. 12:2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect." (NET Bible)
What is Romans 'all about'? Sin, judgment, gospel, the Jews, grace, freedom, God, election, justification, inclusion (of Gentiles in the people of God): there are many candidates. But yesterday's office reading from Romans 2:17-end is suggestive of another word to answer the question of what Romans is all about. This passage, you may recall, as part of a pivotal (and often overlooked) stage in Paul's great argument teases out the character of true Jewishness. Towards the end he writes,
"2:28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, 2:29 but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code. This person’s praise is not from people but from God." (NET)
Here Paul sets out some of the great themes in Romans: the inward state of the person, reality more important than symbol, the limitations of the law or 'written code', and the supreme importance of the judgement of God. But here two, these themes are constrained towards the one great theme of Romans. I suggest that theme, captured in Romans 12:1-2, is Transformation.
Paul's gospel, explicitly described as such when he writes 'my gospel' (2:16), boils down from the brilliant subtleties of fifteen chapters of sustained argument to a gospel of transformation. God changes lives. Gentiles (effectively) become (true) Jews. Unjustified are justified. Condemned people are no longer under condemnation. Those who do what they do not want to do, do what God wants them to do. The diseased vine of Israel is reinvigorated. How then are the transformed to live?
Romans 12-15 sets out Paul's answer (with Romans 16 being a pot pouri of greetings to transformed people in a transformational church). 12:1-2 is the perfect beginning and summary of the ethical essay of chapters 12-15. The big picture Paul urges us to grasp, the primary step we take as transformed people wanting to live rightly is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, to be and to go on being transformed by the renewing of our minds (which implicitly in Romans is an invocation of the Spirit: see both 2:29 above, and more generally, Romans 8). All with the purpose of discerning the will of God.
Paul then says something about the will of God which both encourages and challenges us. The will of God is that which is 'good and well-pleasing and perfect.' The encouragement is that we need not fear God's will. It is good. The challenge is that we look for that which is good, well-pleasing and perfect when we seek God's will. There is a sense here that harsh debate, political machinations, and generally getting lost in the details - features of current hermeneutical life - is being challenged. God's will is not wrested triumphantly from the maul of mental combat, like a ball emerging from a rugby ruck, all sorts of skulduggery hidden from the referee's gaze as the ruck ensued!
Transformation is the gospel. Not just Paul's gospel, but 'the gospel', the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ whether according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, or Paul. Romans is not another gospel, nor is it one way of expressing the gospel. It is a deep exploration of the one gospel, probing the universal implications and applications of the one action of God in Christ crucified, sweeping aside all barriers to fellowship between God and humanity, and in the process shattering all barriers between people. Christian theology is Romans for in Romans we find the gospel for all people clarified. It is transformation, for everyone, and for the whole person of each one.
This, if you like, is the true Roman theology. Even Anglicans should acknowledge that, and rejoice. The Pope's name is Paul, we could say, not Peter! (Pope here in the sense of 'Father' and Paul is the Father of theology).
Returning to our situations today, whether we are globally engaged in the future of the Communion, or regionally focused, say, in the life of ACANZP, or locally challenged to work out the gospel in mission to distraught people in a broken city and fragile society, as we are here in Christchurch, the theology which guides us should be a gospel theology, focused through the light of Romans, a Roman theology for the whole church.