Saturday, January 26, 2019

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Evolution of the Gospel(s)

 Rudy Barnes, Jr.

There have been several gospels since the original gospel of Jesus was proclaimed in 1st century Palestine.  Gospel means good news, and the original one can be found in the New Testament accounts of Mark, Matthew and Luke.  John’s fourth gospel is unique. It’s more a mystical gospel of the Logos, or the Word of God, than it is of the life and teachings of Jesus.    

Jesus was a maverick Jewish rabbi whose gospel of love over law is summed up in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  It’s a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims today, but it offended ancient Jewish leaders who taught that Mosaic Law was God’s holy law.

Jewish religious leaders conspired with the Romans to crucify Jesus, and he would have died an obscure sage had it not been for the Resurrection.  Paul’s atonement doctrine made the crucifixion the heart of the the gospel of the church as God’s blood sacrifice of his only Son, and Paul asserted that belief in the divinity of Jesus was the only way to salvation and eternal life.         

It could be said that the gospel of the church is the gospel of Paul, since Paul’s letters get more pulpit time than the teachings of Jesus.  Jesus taught his disciples to follow him, not to worship him, but Paul’s letters laid the foundation for exclusivist church doctrines that have taken precedence over the moral teachings of Jesus for more than 2,000 years.

The third gospel of worldly power, or empire, was born in the 4th century, when Emperor Constantine co-opted the Christian religion to sanctify the Roman Empire.  From then on the church sought worldly power, conducting Crusades and Inquisitions and promoting the divine right to rule.  Other worldly powers, including Great Britain, followed Constantine’s precedent.

In the 16th century Martin Luther’s Reformation doctrine of sola fide (faith alone) further denigrated moral works in the gospel of the church.  That made it easier for Protestants to ignore the moral teachings of Jesus and support the unholy mix of faith and political violence that racked Europe with 100 years of “Christian” wars until the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

But the moral teachings of Jesus were not completely lost to Christianity.  In the 19th century evangelicals opposed slavery in America, but then in the 20th century they promoted an American gospel of power with the same white supremacists who they had earlier opposed.  And in the 1980s, Jerry Falwell made the Moral Majority a potent political force for Republicans.  

Today Jerry Falwell, Jr. is the heir to his father’s religious regime at Liberty University.  He and his evangelical cohorts elected Trump as president in 2016 and have since supported the gospel of Trump as the American gospel.  Trump’s evangelical supporters consider him chosen by God, even though he personifies evil in the gospel of Jesus (see Mark 7:20-23).

Trump’s evangelical supporters have sacrificed Jesus on the altar of partisan politics--a politics based more on race than religion.  Most blacks vote Democratic and most whites vote Republican. Jesus taught that God’s will is to reconcile and redeem humanity, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer.  But Satan has done a convincing imitation of God in the church and in politics, and his false gospels are now more popular that the gospel of Jesus.

Christianity has an identity crisis with its competing gospels.  That’s dangerous to American democracy. But since Christians represent over 70% of Americans, they can restore the moral imperatives taught by Jesus to their faith and politics.  They can save both Christianity and democracy from demise by promoting the common good with a politics of reconciliation.


Elizabeth Bruenig has described the theology of Jerry Falwell, Jr. that led him to find his MAGA religion: “Falwell claimed, among other things, that Christianity offers no guidance on how states ought to operate (“Jesus never told Caesar how to run Rome,” Falwell says); that only theocrats believe Christians ought to govern according to Christian principles; that poor people are less spiritually capable than rich people; and that God has ordained “two kingdoms” for humankind, one of which is bound only by the rules of national self-interest, and one of bound by the law of God. ...Falwell’s entire view of Christianity and politics...stems from a mistaken reading of Augustine, the fourth-century African saint who wrote “The City of God,” a massive treatise on history, philosophy and the Christian religion. In “The City of God,” Augustine develops a theory of two cities: ...According to this theory, there is little that isn’t permissible here in the earthly city, at least when it comes to the worldly affairs of politics and public life.”  
Bruenig concludes, “It’s important to distinguish between abdicating Christian values to get ahead in business and politics, and the erroneous view that God sanctions some amount of immorality as natural or appropriate to life on Earth. There is no zone in Christian theology where malignant selfishness is permitted. The heavenly city is here right now, if you want to dwell there. See  For more on the evangelicals’ infallible new faith: the gospel of Trump, see Christine Emba’s commentary at     
Michael Gerson is a traditional evangelical deeply offended by evangelicals like Jerry Falwell, Jr., who continue to support Donald Trump and corrupt Christian morality and politics.  Gerson has noted that, “By all indications, the reluctant support by white evangelical Christians for Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton in 2016 has solidified into something like devotion.  When asked recently if there was anything — anything at all — that Trump could do to forfeit evangelical allegiance, Jerry Falwell Jr. replied: “No.”

For Abraham Lincoln’s house divided speech, see

Related Commentary:

(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(3/8/15): Wealth, Politics, Religion and Economic Justice
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(4/19/15): Jesus: A Prophet, God’s Only Son, or the Logos?
(5/24/15): De Oppresso Liber: Where Religion and Politics Intersect
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(8/30/15): What Is Truth?
(9/20/15): Politics and Religious Polarization
(11/22/15): Dualism: Satan’s Evil Versus God’s Goodness
(12/26/15): Resettling Refugees: Multiculturalism versus Assimilation
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/7/16): Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(3/12/16): Religion, Race and the Deterioration of Democracy in America
(3/19/16): Religion, Democracy and Human Depravity
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(5/14/16): The Arrogance of Power, Humility and a Politics of Reconciliation
(7/9/16): Back to the Future: Race, Religion, Rights and a Politics of Reconciliation
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(9/24/16): The Evolution of Religion and Politics from Oppression to Freedom
(10/22/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in a Polarized Democracy
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/11/17): Accountability and the Stewardship of Democracy
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(6/17/17): Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter?
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism  
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion  
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(1/20/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Morality and Religion in Politics
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(2/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Freedom and Legitimacy
(3/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christian Morality as a Standard of Legitimacy
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(6/15/18): The Prosperity Gospel: Where Culture Trumps Religion in Legitimacy and Politics
(7/7/18): Whose America Is This? Musings on Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy in Religion and Politics
(7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs
(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(11/3/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist: Has God Blessed Us or Damned Us?
(11/17/18): Christianity and Clashing Identities in Politics and Religion
(11/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and the Legitimacy of Democracy
(12/1/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Mystical Logos
(12/8/18): Trump and the Apostles’ Creed: Is It a Prayer or a Profession of Faith?
(12/15/18): Musings on the Great Commission and Religious and Political Tribalism
(12/22/18): Musings on Faith and Works: The Unity of All Believers and The Last Judgment
(12/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Justice in Religion and Politics
(1/5/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Building Political Walls or Bridges
(1/12/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Authenticity and Political Legitimacy
(1/19/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Discomfort of Discipleship

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