top of page

Catechesis by the letter #8

(It's been a long time since I intended to finish blogging thoughts in response to each chapter of Curtis Freeman's excellent book, Pilgrim Letters. Instruction in The Basic Teaching of Christ. I'm finally nudged from my lethargy by the equally welcome follow up volume that is recently published, Pilgrim Journey. Instruction in the Mystery of the Gospel. I'm eager to read it, but have resolved not to start it before finishing this series of responses to the first book. And re-reading my last post #7, I come across to myself a few years later as a tad defensive, which is a good prompt to reckon with reaction posts not being quite the carefully loving stewardship of truth that one might suppose when first writing - this is the danger of the lack of peer review on a website.)

So, a reminder, Freeman draws out 6 Principles from Hebrews 6:1-2: Repentance; Faith; Baptism; Laying on of Hands; Resurrection; and Eternal Judgment.

It's to this sixth principle that I must turn in the sequence of these long forsaken posts. Freeman's catechetical framing is as folllows:

Q: What is God's final judgment of those who are baptized and united with Christ?

A: I trust that in Jesus Christ, God has spoken both a life-giving yes and a death-dealing no to sin and evil, but I also trust that in his death on the cross, Jesus bore the no for all so that in his resurrection, all that remains is God's yes (2 Cor 1:19-20; John 3:17, 5:24). The Holy Spirit assures me that I am a child of God and an heir of God's promised salvation (Rom 8:16-17; 1 John 5:11-13). (xv)

The Interpreters in this letter notes the biblical emphasis on the day of the Lord and the task of judgment. Inevitably Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon 'Sinners in the hands of an angry God' comes up, but not to be simply dismissed. In fact the letter shows that this same intensity of conviction was expressed by black American preachers in the South (63). I am reminded of a textbook I use in class, Charles Octavius Boothe's Plain Theology for Plain People. A formerly enslaved black pastor and theologian, Boothe does not shy away from a zeal for God's holiness and justice expressed in his orthodox and conservative take on hell.

Interpreter, in his letter, reads judgment much as prophecy, that it's goal is not just to change minds about eternal destiny but to change lives now (64). Judgment is 'not only about things that come last. It is also about things that last.'(65). As in Jesus' words on the great throne of judgment in Matthew 25, readers are pointed to those actions undertaken 'when they thought no one was watching.' (66). Moral character and virtue is called for but not shareable.

Reading pictures of judgment, biblical or in The Pilgrim's Progress at the Interpreter's House, is not, in this letter, meant to lead to fear, but to evoke love. The love that is known in Jesus Christ that will last. 'When we say we believe in eternal judgment, it means that we keep this picture before us to that it will enable us to live into the love that not only comes last but also lasts.' (69)

The letter ends affirming that 'in Christ, love was condemned and judged by the world, and that in Christ, love was vindicated and elevated.' The focus of judgment should direct attention to God in Christ. In calling upon his young reader to embrace his baptism, Interpreter invites him to recognize that he is baptized into God's no to sin and raised into God's yes. (70)

There are questions that Interpreter here chooses to not focus on in directing his reader to participate in love according to his baptism. This is of practical import. Much like The Pilgrim's Progress and, indeed, the Bible itself, there are questions that confound or intrigue theologians. What is the meaning of those pronouns 'all'? But even if Bunyan does seem to say more in his dream allegory, it is not to be read as a fill in beyond Scripture, but it is best understood as commending of Jesus' welcome through the Wicket Gate onto the road of Salvation, in order that the City of Destruction be left behind.

Fleeing from the wrath to come is no bad motivation for seeking the joy of a celestial city where the creaturely goods to which God says yes in resurrection enfolds all to enjoy life in the grace of the saving Son.

Just the conclusion to come...

6 views0 comments


bottom of page