Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Friday, January 11, 2013

Emergent, Postmodern Theology's Resurrection of Christian Orthodoxy

How a Lutheran Pastor Envisions Emergent Christianity

A New Reformation? Emerging Theology is shaking Christianity, says Pastor Paul Nuechterlein of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Portage

Published: Saturday, March 27, 2010, 7:00 PM Updated: Tuesday, March 30, 2010, 4:29 PM

Rev. Paul Nuechterlein
Studying the gospel: The Rev. Paul Nuechterlein, senior pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Portage, conducts a Bible study on the Gospel of John at his church on a recent Sunday morning.

On ‘emerging’ theology
  • “John for Everyone,” Parts 1 and 2, by N.T. Wright (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002)
  • “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church,” by N.T. Wright (Harper One, 2008)
  • “Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross,” by S. Mark Heim (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006)
  • “The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul,” by Douglas A. Campbell (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009)
  • “A Generous Orthodoxy,” by Brian McLaren (Emergent/YS/Zondervan, 2004)
  • “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Christian Faith,” by Brian D. McLaren (Harper One, Feb. 1, 2010)


In response
“Goodbye Emergent: Why I’m Taking The Theology of the Emerging Church to Task,” Grand Rapids pastor and author Jerry Bouma’s response to “emergent” theology: tinyurl.com/jerrybouma
KALAMAZOO — Nearly 500 years ago Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in Wittenberg, Germany — a move that set off a shakeup in the Christian Church that became known as the Protestant Reformation.

Now there’s another movement brewing that could change Christianity just as dramatically, says a local pastor whose denomination takes its name from Luther.

“It’s 8.8 on the Richter scale,” says Pastor Paul Nuechterlein, of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Portage. “If the last huge change in Christianity was at the time of the Reformation, it looks like we’re going through that kind of change again.”

If you’re a biblical scholar, this change probably isn’t news to you — “I think it’s been under way for 50 to 100 years,” says Nuechterlein — but if you’re a Christian sitting in a pew of your local church, it might be.

The change Nuechterlein is talking about is a change in how some Christians view the meaning of an event at the heart of Christianity — Jesus’ crucifixion.

While Christian theology is, of course, a complex subject that takes way more than a newspaper article to address, here’s an attempt to summarize traditional thinking on the crucifixion: Jesus died on the cross to save human beings from their sins. God is a just God who would have had to punish us for our sins unless he sent Jesus. But God is also a gracious God, and Jesus stepped in and took the punishment for us, sacrificing himself and thereby atoning for our sins. If we believe in Jesus, we’ll be spared eternal damnation and go to heaven when we die to be with him.

Nuechterlein (pronounced NECK-ter-line) has a shorthand phrase for this interpretation — he calls it the “turn or burn” message. And he says it can be traced historically to the atonement theology of Saint Anselm, who lived in the 11th and early 12th centuries.

Nuechterlein and others in the world of emerging or emergent theology hold a different view that “flips atonement upside down,” Nuechterlein says.

“Christ came to end that sacrificial logic (that God required a sacrifice for our sins),” Nuechterlein says. “It’s not God but we who are wrathful and punishing. God offers a lamb so we might see (our) sin and accept God’s alternative, which is goodness and grace and mercy.”

Jesus, as the lamb of God, intentionally walks into “what are essentially our engines of punishment” and shows us that “God is love, that God is not about violence at all,” Nuechterlein says.

“When John says God is love, he doesn’t say, ‘And sometimes wrath and anger.’ Love — that’s the power that sustains the universe.”

Nuechterlein’s view is echoed in a piece by Abbot Andrew Marr in this year’s Easter newsletter of St. Gregory’s Abbey, a Benedictine near Three Rivers affiliated with the Episcopal Church. “The Gospel record and the apostolic preaching in Acts suggest that Jesus’ death says a lot more about human beings than it does about God,” writes Marr. “ ... Jesus did not come to die; he came to give life and to give it abundantly.”

A merciful God

So what does Nuechterlein make of those Old Testament stories that refer to an angry God?
Essentially, those stories reflect a limited understanding of God and project human flaws onto God, he believes.

The Exodus story, for example, has God slaughtering the firstborn children in Egypt through a plague, he says. “You could compare that to Pat Robertson saying the earthquake in Haiti is punishment from God for the Haitian people selling their soul to the devil centuries ago,” Nuechterlein says. “Most people say, ‘That god is not my God.’ That interpretation in Exodus is a Pat Robertson sort of interpretation. ... Jesus is trying to help us unlearn that.”

In others cases, people misinterpret or miss the point of an Old Testament story, Nuechterlein says, as with the account of Abraham going up a mountain to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. “In Hebrew, the god who asks Abraham to do that is Elohim, and that’s the garden variety word for god,” Nuechterlein says. “The one who stops him is the angel of Yahweh. The true God is stopping us from following the old god who demands sacrifice.

“That is not what the true God is about. All of the prophets say God doesn’t want this. God wants justice and mercy.”

Valuing the Bible

Nuechterlein, who turned 54 earlier this month, grew up with “the standard kind of atonement theology,” he says. But “the best of Lutheran theology is uneasy with that,” he adds.

Nuechterlein credits, among others, French biblical scholar Rene Girard and British bishop and theologian N.T. Wright with helping him develop his newer way of thinking. He also noted that author and pastor Brian McLaren is bringing “emerging” thinking to a wide audience.

“He is helping us to understand that this is a big time of change,” Nuechterlein says.

Nuechterlein’s perspective — like that of other “emergent” thinkers — entails a view of the Bible that some would say is more sophisticated than seeing it as inerrant in every word. Others, though, would say he doesn’t take the Bible seriously enough, and Nuechterlein knows that. But he begs to differ.

“A different sort of faith would say I don’t value the Bible, but I value it very much. It’s the key and center to my faith,” says Nuechterlein, who has spent 25 years in the ministry.

“Here’s how I look at the Bible,” he says. “... If there is a true God, how would that true God ever get through to us? I think the Bible gives us the picture. God chooses Abraham and Sarah (and their descendants). He has a covenant relationship with that people over centuries. It will take centuries for the true God to get through to us so we will get it. ... Christians have just as famously missed the point [of God's revelation] as so many stories in the Old Testament did.
“The point of scripture is to take this journey where God helps us learn who God truly is.”

Judgment and hell

As opposed to traditional views of salvation and judgment, Nuechterlein has “more of a sense of universal salvation — that God came to save the whole creation.” But he acknowledges that “a lot of this is a mystery. We just don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.”

Nuechterlein says he has a problem with the Reformation concept of justification by faith — the idea that one gains salvation and eternal life by believing in Jesus rather than by doing good works. For Nuechterlein, it’s neither belief nor good works that bring salvation.

“One thing that happens with the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith is that believing becomes its own works righteousness,” Nuechterlein says. “(The apostle) Paul’s message is unconditional grace. It’s not about my belief, but about Jesus’ faithfulness. God in Jesus Christ has a rescue mission. God sends Jesus to unconditionally save us from the powers of sin and death. ...

“We’re already rescued, and it’s an unconditional rescue mission. Some of us would probably not want to be saved from the powers of sin and death, but God did it anyway.”

Biblical language about judgment and hell, in Nuechterlein’s view, is about the consequences of our sin. “When Jesus says, ‘Those who live by the sword die by the sword,’ he’s saying that violence and accusation and punishment bring their own kind of judgment,” Nuechterlein says.

“Someday violence will just kind of sink down into its own hellhole,” he adds. And “if I continue to live my life according to violence, I miss out on what life is all about.”
A gospel class

Nuechterlein is currently teaching a class at his church that incorporates some of these ideas about salvation and judgment. He says his ideas are received “fairly well” by his congregation.

“I’m not aware of any movement to oust me yet,” he jokes. Getting more serious, though, he adds, “When someone does have a negative reaction, that provides an opportunity to talk and learn together.”

For his class, which is focused on the Gospel of John, he’s using a book by Wright, “John for Everyone.”

While Wright’s views have influenced Nuechterlein’s thinking, the two differ on some matters. Unlike Nuechterlein, Wright presents a view of Jesus as God’s agent of final judgment and rejects the idea of universal salvation.

“Judgment is necessary — unless we were to conclude, absurdly, that nothing much is wrong or, blasphemously, that God doesn’t mind very much,” Wright says in his book “Surprised by Hope.”

But Wright talks of the final judgment as a time to be longed for and celebrated, a time when “the creator God will set the world right once and for all,” bringing it back to a state of justice and truth through Jesus.

Wright is reluctant to consider whether some people won’t be part of God’s transformed creation. But he suggests that maybe those who persistently refuse God’s love and rescue will one day, after death, end up no longer bearing the divine image at all and will exist in “an ex-human state.” But he says he doesn’t want anyone to suppose he knows much about this subject or enjoys speculating about it.

In Wright’s view, as in Nuechterlein’s, God’s purposes are bigger than the issues Christians often focus on.

In thinking about God’s purposes, says Wright, our challenge is “to focus not on the question of which human beings God is going to take to heaven and how he is going to do it but on the question of how God is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all.”

For Nuechterlein, one of the implications of believing in a redeeming, nonviolent God is this: “It helps me orient my life around life, not violence and death. That I can live in that spirit today makes a huge difference in my life.”

James Grier Website, Audio Sermons & Lectures (updated)


by Dr. James Grier

Personal Reflections on
Conservative Evangelicalism

by R.E. Slater

The audiocasts here provided are testament to my past education in the Regular Baptist denomination first marked by it's dispensational fundamentalism, and later, by a conservative evangelicalism refined in the fires of Covenantal Reformed teachings rejecting the Baptist plank of Arminianism and replacing it with Calvinism as its pejorative systematic. Dr. Grier was an excellent speaker and capable communicator who reaffirmed this common approach by many my Christian tribe. To know where Christianity stood in the 1970s and 1990s is to listen again to its many reflections on God, Scripture, and Christ's Atonement.

However, I created Relevancy22 as further personal testament to Spirit-led divine inspiration  I received years ago urging me to expand my inherited discipleship in the Westernized Christian faith both i) progressively and, ii) as a way to find a biblical hermeneutic which might allow me to do this. After many years I have found that I cannot find a biblical interpretation any better than the "Love of God" as the central theme of Scriptures as shown to us in Jesus, as both divine Son of God and Lord of Lords Immanuel who has come to bring salvation to all.

I have sadly noticed over many years of observation that where the re-engaged biblical center of God's love runs astray is in those sincere or zealous Christians who follow God and translate His divine loving acts for divine wrath, judgment and hell if rejected - such as John Calvin had done in his Dogmatics (c.1536 - 1559). Similarly, when reading the biblical Gospels, Jesus spoke specifically to the religious Jewish leaders of his day as to their human perversion and idolatry of God which they were reinforcing through accumulated ungodly religious laws and sacraments over the centuries.

Hence, if I err as a follower of Jesus, it will be in speaking to God's love through-and-through-and-through all previously held Christian beliefs, dogmas, doctrines, creeds and confessions; and across as wide a range as I can ecologically, civilly, economically, politically, and socially. Like the many Venerable Bedes of our past common centuries who spoke to the Spirit-command of mercy, grace, forgiveness and Christian Humanism; or today, to that same subject of Christian Humanitarianism and Social Justice; so I urge all Jesus followers to speak God's love into all areas of life regardless of the abuses taught by the church into these same areas demanding grace.

And yes, James Grier does reiterate these same centuries-old pervasive church doctrines of sin and judgment as common to the fundamental and evangelic forms of Christianity I was raised in. He will argue these persuasively, regularly, and with vigor. All to which I will disavow, and in the same spirit of alacrity, speak persuasively, with vigor, and in regularity, as testament to God's enriching, infilling, healing love. Thus and thus, Relevancy22's shouts to a new message of God's love and against the sin that overcomes us in our self-righteous and sanctimonious Christian spirits.

An "Eco, Civil, and Socio, Christ-filled Humanitarianism" is far better for the world than any Christian ideologies urging:

i) civilly-exclusionary-dominionism; or,

ii) religiously-reinforcing-kingdom-reconstruction dogmas; or,

iii) any forms of Christian-White-Supremacist-fascist crusades held against civil democracies wishing to expand the legal rights of their polyplural, multiracial, and multicultural communities.

Better, to replace these zealous, agitating, unloving, church beliefs with a Christ-filled, God-filled love, centered in people of all kinds, than to exclude, berate, chastise, and belittle those who live differently to the unChristian ideals none of us can live up to... nor should we. I know of no better Gospel (Good News) of God than love, welcome, embrace, and resistance to both human and religious evil. God is a God of love, not a God of evil.

R.E. Slater

* * * * * * *

Dr. James Murray Grier (1932-2013) joined the staff of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 1982, having earned degrees from Baptist Bible College and Seminary, Grace Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary.
Dr, Grier served as Executive Vice President and Academic Dean for 16 years. In addition, he also held the position of Distinguished Professor of Philosophical Theology until 2012.
As we recall his contributions and consider his legacy, we invite you to engage selected resources from his work and ministry.


Creation (MARBC 2009) 
Death, Dying & Euthanasia (Critical Session) 
Genetic & Stem Cell Research (Critical Session)
Reproductive Technologies (Critical Session) 




The site and links below may no longer be operative but are kept as an indication of some of the additional sermons and lectures Dr. James Grier had developed over a lifetime of speaking and engagement in evangelical thought.



~ the links below may no longer be operative ~

Reproductive Freedom Contrasted with a Biblical Theology of Family
The Dawn of the Age of the Spirit – Morning Service, West Cannon Baptist
Church: God’s Temple/Presence- Evening Service, West Cannon Baptist
A Legacy of Grace (at Grace Community Church 75th Anniversary)
The Triumph of the Servant – Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (at Metropolitan Tabernacle)
The Local Church as a Body of Believers in Christ – 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 (at Ridley Hall Evangelical Church)
The Gospel: A Funeral Homily for Dan Cummings
God’s Glory and Presence – Installation Service
The Corruption of Man - Genesis 3
Corruption of Society – Genesis 4
Triumph of Grace – Isaiah 6
Behold My Servant! – Isaiah 42:1-9
The Servant Triumphant – Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Jesus and the Spirit: Baptism & Temptation - Matthew 3 & 4
The Baptism of the Son of God – Matthew 3
The Testing of the Son of God – Matthew 4
Theology of Prayer: Part 1 – Matthew 6
Theology of Prayer: Part 2 – Matthew 6
Jesus’ Sermon on Missions – Matthew 10
Come Unto Me – Matthew 11
Mine Eyes Have Seen – Luke 2, Christmas Sermon
The Unspeakable Gift – Luke 2, Christmas Sermon
The Advent – Luke 2
Your Heavenly Father Will Give… – Luke 11:1-13
Gathering Riches for God – Luke 12:13-21
The Great Banquet – Luke 14
The Father of Two Lost Sons – Luke 15
Lost and Found – Luke 15
The Return of the Glory/Presence – Acts 2
The Impossible Possibility – Acts 2
From Glory to Glory – 2 Corinthians 3:18
I Timothy 4:6-16 – Ordination Sermon
The Word Above All Words – Hebrews 1:1-4
The Death of Death in the Death of Christ - Hebrews 2:1-18
What Have We Come To? Hebrews 12
The Church: God’s Temple/Presence pt. 1 – I Peter 2:4-10
The Church: God’s Temple/Presence pt. 2
The Investiture of the Lamb: Revelation 5
Hallelujah to the Triumphant Christ: Revelation 19
I Make All Things New – Rev. 21
We Shall See His Face – Revelation 22


~ the links below may no longer be operative ~

The Trinity – Part 2: London Reformed Baptist Theological Seminary
The Trinity – Part 3: London Reformed Baptist Theological Seminary
Islam’s Global Challenge to the Gospel
Myths & Misconceptions Concerning Homosexual Behavior & Genetics
The Biblical Basis for Heterosexual Behavior: An Evaluation of Homosexuality
Growing Old in God - Biblical and Ethical Considerations
Growing Old in God – Practical and Personal Reflections
Spiritual Responses to Dementia
Ministry in a Postmodern Context: Our Times and Culture
Ministry in Postmodern Context: Alternative Responses
The Ground of Certainty: Part 1
The Ground of Certainty: Part 2
Bio-Ethics: Do the Ends Justify the Genes
Bio-Ethics: Reproductive Technologies
Bio-Ethics: Death, Dying & Euthanasia
Missional Ministry in a Postmodern Context
What Do You Know for Sure?
The God Who Is


Delivered at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary 
by James M. Grier

~ the links below may no longer be operative ~

Jonah Retold:
Adventures in Cross-cultural Listening

10 Words 

Biblical Theology of Prayer

The Reformation Cry 

Ancient Light for Modern Times 

Of Sons and Daughters Lost to the Fathers and Mothers of this World

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1662–1669 | Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

The Parable of the Prodigal Sons

Commentaries by Pete Enns & R.E. Slater
A Parable of the $20 Bill
Sermon by James Grier

“But While He was Still Far Off” (or, what if God actually loves us?)

by Pete Enns
January 6, 2013

The father, obviously, represents God in this parable, but this isn’t a “get saved and go to heaven after you die” story. The son is, well, a son–already part of the family.

In Jesus’ day, he was addressing his stubborn fellow Jewish countrymen, reminding them about the love of God and that it’s never too late to come home. When this and other stories were adapted for the Christian faith, that same point remained but with a broader [non-Jewish] audience.

The story isn’t about conversion to Christianity. It’s about God being on the look out for those in the family who have wandered off, and God simply can’t wait to welcome them home.

I read stories like this and I wonder, What if this is actually true? What if there is a God who is really like this? What if God can’t wait to have us around–even with the garbage we keep carrying around and our half hearted “I’m sorries?”

What if God is glad to see us?

And the much more threatening question, What difference would really believing all that make in how I look at, well, pretty much everything?

And, what would it look like if I loved the way God loved?

- Pete Enns

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

How Does One become "Family"?

R.E. Slater
January 11, 2012

I'd like to make one small addition and add the following observation....

The traditional church view here is that "the family" refers to believers of God who follow after Jesus. To a Spirit-baptized, confessing believer, who has left God and now wishes to come back, to whom God says to His child, "Eh, verily, even now, do I love thee! Thou art my child and ever will I love thee." Of course this doesn't answer the question of "faith and works" (James, Peter, etc) so much as state a profundity of church dogma which we must save for another day's examination.

But this isn't what Jesus was saying....

Certainly Jesus had this in mind when speaking to the Pharisees about belonging to God through the covenants made in Abraham, Moses and David. As Jews under covenant (esp. the unconditional covenant of Abraham) they were part of God's people. Even if, after having broken covenant with God (sic, the Mosaic Law, and Suzerainty-Lordship of God in the Abrahamic Covenant) they were welcomed back. It's what God does as One who Loves and Redeems.

But how can one come back when covenant has been broken?

In the OT sense of "remnant (theology)" those Jews who broke covenant were no longer part of God's blessings and fidelity. They stood in jeopardy of judgment and would be treated as a non-covenanted people God knew not. This is the sense you get when reading the prophets of the OT as they preached against the sins of the people of Israel who hardened their hearts against God and persisted in refusing to repent to the prophets message that they had broken covenant with God. That they were faithless, refusing His will and word in their lives. So too had the younger son in the parable acted by rejecting his father, collecting his inheritance, and leaving the community of his birthright.

Under the Abrahamic Covenant there was a way back to God. But how?

In essence, God Himself would become the sacrifice for His people's sin, as the Lamb of God, pictured in Jesus (who was very God himself!). Hence, when God had Abraham bring a sacrifice for his, and his family's (and his future descendant's) ratification of the covenant (... a ratification that in essence was an atoning covenant for sin, a family covenant for membership, and a submittal covenant for duration of treaty, among other things... ). When this sacrifice was brought it was God Himself who cleaved the oxen in two, who functioned as both the priest and the mediating sacrifice, before Himself and Abraham (Abraham here is pictured as yet another typological figure like that of Adam for mankind).

Thus was God both the Suzerainty who treated with Abraham, and the undergirding foundation for the covenant itself, when it surely would be broken by Abraham in his doubts and faithless acts soon to come.

Even so did Jesus remind the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day of their faithlessness to God. Of their need to repent (sic, as such, Jesus was acting as God's prophet to His people Israel... ). Of their rightness of restoration based upon God's faithfulness and love as their Suzerainty who had become their surety as sacrifice upon creation of their treaty with YHWH. Which Jesus Himself would someday soon perform in His own body and spirit as Exemplar Magnifique, by way of re-establishing Israel's broken covenant with God through Himself, as God's perfect, and acceptable sacrifice.

To whom does this apply? To Israel alone?

Hence, under Paul and NT theology, God's covenant has been expanded to all men - both Jews and Gentiles alike - in and through Jesus. Jesus is mankind's surety of covenant in/under/before/beside/by God. Through Jesus is our sin removed. Through Jesus may we become adopted into God's covenant as His people. And through Jesus has Israel's covenant with God has become enlarged to all men everywhere. And if - and when - broken, as it surely will be, it will ever remain in force because it is based upon the eternal God Himself, and through His Son, and not upon our own selves. So that even in our sin, we are God's "family". By right of creation (Genesis). By right of concession (Abraham). By right of redemption (Jesus).  By right of sustenance (the Holy Spirit). We are God's lost and straying remnant. We are God's faithless people to whom He seeks day and night.

And it is to this idea that God says to us today - to those standing outside His covenant, as well as to those standing inside His covenant - that all may come. And when we fail that He will be our surety. Our sacrifice. Our Oxen and Lamb. Our High Priest and Mediator. Our Savior and Redeemer. That His covenantal love restores, as well as makes, covenant with us. That He understands our brokenness and fallibility. Our sins, selfishness, pride, ego, faults, and small-mindedness. Our hesitancies, doubts, misgivings, hurts, shames, and failures. And yet, reaches out to all who wish to enter in to His grace and mercy, peace and forgiveness, healing and strength.

Then what is our answer this day? Shall we continue to despise the Father or return home?

Regardless if you have left "the covenanted family" or not. Regardless if you were not part of that family (like Abram first was before God had ever established covenant with him). It is to you that God has made covenant. A covenant that will stand the test of time through God Himself and through His work on Calvary's cross for all Jews and non-Jews alike. He is our Redeemer. Our surety. Our Promise-Keeper. Our faithful Lord and Sovereign who seeks all who are lost, and weary, and filled with the pain of this world.

Where money and riches and fast friends never brought satisfaction. Where the pigstys and self-imposed poverties of this world would grind upon our souls in our lostness and inability to find safe haven and rest. Yet God is there. He waits for you to leave yourself behind and to come to Him. Willingly. In hope and desire. Bearing ruin and destruction in your bones through the mangle of sin in our lives. Even as He searches for you. And is pained by your absence. And when seeing you come, will run to you. Embrace you. Hold you. And never let you go. Inviting all who will come to a feast held in your honor, reveling with God's broken heart of joy that yet another sinner has come home from the pigstys of the human heart and lost dens of this world. Wherever they be. For all are sought, and longed for by God, our Creator-Redeemer, with a broken and heavy heart, until "found" on the road leading back to "home". Come. And wait no longer.

R.E. Slater