Western Christianity’s predominant concern with guilt/innocence and the law had early roots. The foundation of the Roman Republic established that no-one was above the law – not even the ruler. Prior to this the ruler WAS the law. This elevation of the law can be found in the thinking of early church theologians such as Tertullian who was steeped in Roman law and an outstanding apologist of the Western church and the first known author of a Christian systematic theology. Augustine used rhetoric for debates in Roman law. Even during the Reformation this thinking is traced in the work of Calvin – a lawyer as well as a theologian. Concerned with establishing guilt and innocence in law, each of them brought this thinking into their theology which was absorbed by a developing western civilisation. The New World and ultimately the US was built on these principles that were foundational to their thinking.
In the East, meanwhile, Christianity centred on the shame/honour relationship. Historically, Eastern Orthodox theology majored on being able to stand in the presence of God and was not primarily concerned with sin, guilt and redemption. From this tradition, Chrysostom wrote 680 sermons/homilies – not one on justification - and was banished for speaking against western theological views.
Muller maintains that the book of Romans has become the centre of our biblical explanation of the gospel because of our guilt-based culture and because Paul contextualised his message to them as he had done to the Greeks at Mars Hill. Muller observes that
‘Most western believers have a hard time finding the Gospel in the Gospels’ (p33)
and concludes that we must put aside our Roman, guilt-based understanding of the gospel, strive to understand other world views and discover a way to communicate the Gospel to a mindset not pre-occupied with right and wrong and guilt and innocence.
To be continued...