Reproclaiming the Everlasting Gospel
Lewis Benson's The Antipathy Between Prophecy and Religion is rich, too rich to be properly summarized in a short blog post. In the following distillation, much of value has been passed over. I can't gather the essence of this work into a few short, concise paragraphs. It cries out to be read, reread, thought about, and perhaps even argued with.
This is not the stuff of "normal" religious writing. This work calls us out of religion, regardless of the name attached to it, to find our place among the people of God who live, not by bread alone, "but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."
Benson defines prophecy in the following terms:
In his 1964 Shrewsbury Lecture, The Religionless Christianity of George Fox, Benson writes:
What relation then, does this revelation of God to men in history bear to the human quest for God which we understand by the term religion? The Bible does not have much to say in favour of religion in general. Religion is not commended to us as something which is good in itself. Edmund Perry says that from the viewpoint of Biblical faith religion is `the generic term comprehending the universal phenomenon of men individually and collectively being led away from God in manifold ways by divers claims and systems.''
(Lewis Benson, The Truth Is Christ, New Foundation Publications #5, 1981, p. 33)
In these two statements, the lines of the antipathy are clearly drawn. Benson traces the tension between prophecy and religion through the Old Testament scriptures and shows how they point to a new way. The section on The New Covenant and Religion shows how the coming of Christ brings this new way and new life into being, which is the way and the life that was in the beginning. We are not to come into a new religion; the presence of religion in Christianity is a not-to-be-tollerated pollution of God's purpose in and through history.
Benson included a section dealing with The Question of Typology. He deals with the distinctions between typological and allegorical understanding of Scripture.
The final section is The New Covenant and History. Benson has contended throughout this work that God acts in and through history. We do not follow the stream of God's action in history and arrive at the Gnostic ideal of a system of timeless truth.
Benson ends the work with the following:
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I like to say anybody can become a Christian. All that's required is to believe in Jesus and the one who sent him (John 5:24). So it seems adequate to say there's no religion, though there's more to be said about it. Union in Jesus Christ makes us a community and members of his church. In his church there can be no pretenders.
I will read Lewis Benson's entire treatise, but I don't see anything thing so far I'd disagree with. I appreciate you bringing to our attention, Ellis.
Thanks, Rhonda, for bringing this up. Many people would agree with your statement, "All that's required is to believe in Jesus and the one who sent him." But just to be clear, I will point any and all to George Fox's To All That Would Know the Way to the Kingdom. (Follow the link to the pdf document on our site.) It has a lot to say about becoming a Christian. There were any number of people in Fox's day (as in ours) whose claim to "believe in Jesus and the one who sent him," made no difference in their behavior. You do not need me to say that this is not being Christian.
Profession of belief is very much a part of religion. Possession of the life of Christ is something else entirely. Life only comes by entering that dialogic relationship Lewis Benson described in the quoted paragraph above. Look again at John 5:24 (quoted below). There is more there than "believe." First comes the hearing of the voice of Christ. Then we know what to believe; we know what to obey. That word begins within us as judgment against all those things wherein we have acted and are acting contrary to the purpose and direction of God. It is the love of God to lead us through this time of judgment that we may be made pure and holy before him. This is the distinction John draws in chapter 3 between those who hate the light and those who love the light. Those who love the light pass from death to life. By turning away from the voice of Christ, we passed from life to death. By returning to that voice we are made alive again.
I have a question for you but no other way to ask it. On page 419 of the Nickall's edition of Fox's journal, Fox writes regarding the Fifth-Monarchy Men, "And they looked for Christ's coming outwardly, to set up his kingdom, and their looking was like unto the Pharisees 'Lo here' and 'Lo there'; but Christ was come and had set up his kingdom above sixteen hundred years since, according to Nebuchadnezzar's dream and Daniel's prophecy, and he had dashed to pieces the four monarchies and the great image with its head of gold, and silver breast, and belly of brass, and iron legs, and feed part iron and part clay."
Then he goes on to say on page 420, "And when Christ was come he said his kingdom was not of this world; it it was, his servants should fight, but it was not and therefore his servants did not fight.
"Christ saith, 'All power in heaven and in earth is given to me', so then his kingdom was set up and he reigns. 'And we see Jesus reign', said the Apostle; and he shall reign till all things be put under his feet, though all things are not yet put under his feet, nor subdued."
Do you know whether Fox gave greater detail about his claim "Christ is come"? Do you know whether he means to say there is no other second coming? Is there a source where he does talk more about this idea?
Rhonda, I will answer you in a separate blog post.