October 11, 2015

Sharing in Jesus' paracletic ministry

This post continues a series in The Shape of Practical Theology by Trinitarian theologian Ray S. Anderson. For other posts in the series, click on a number: 123456789, 10.

Anderson notes that Jesus' mission "was not entirely completed in his death and resurrection" (p. 189). He understands that Jesus' missional activity continues as he sends the Spirit to form and gift the church to participate with him in his ongoing paracletic ministry on earth.

He Who is Without Sin by Liz Lemon Swindle
(used with permission)

Back to the future

According to Anderson, this ongoing ministry has a decidedly "eschatological nature" in that it is bringing into the present, bit-by-bit, the future fullness of the kingdom. That is why Paul refers to the church as the "new creation" of God, who "reconciled us [the church] to himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:17-18 NASB). Anderson comments:
[Paul] argued that with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ a new age had broken into the old, so that these eras now overlapped. As David Ford puts it [in his essay in On Being the Church edited by Colin Gunton and Daniel Hardy], "The new is being realized now through the Holy Spirit, so the most urgent thing is to live according to the Spirit. It certainly involves present eschatological freedom, hope beyond death and the significance of the Church in history." 
...As regards contemporary ecclesiology there are two implications that seem most important. The first is that the determinisms of history are broken by the gift of the Spirit as the down-payment of what is to come. If God is free to open history from the future then the future need not mirror the past. In the Church this combines with the message of the cross to allow for discontinuities and innovations. The criterion for something is no longer whether that is how the Church has done it in the past or even whether Jesus said it (cf. Paul on his means of subsistence) but whether it embodies the new creation and its vision of love... For Paul the content of eschatology is christological and the final reality is face to face" (p. 191).

Following the Spirit forward

This being so, what unifies the church in Anderson's view is not historical precedence and institutions, but following after the Holy Spirit who opens the future to the church as it participates with Jesus in his present and ongoing mission to the world. Unfortunately, the church has tended to overemphasize the issue of an institutionalized apostolic succession and apostolic authority. This has often paralyzed the church, keeping it backward-looking rather than forward-moving in step with the Spirit. It is Jesus, not the apostles or other church leaders, now dead, who is the "apostolic source of the church's life and mission in the world through his power and presence as Holy Spirit" (p. 193).

Though we should look with respect to the past workings of the Spirit in the church, our primary question is not What did Jesus do?, but What is Jesus, through the Spirit, now doing? The general answer to that latter question is that the Spirit is at work shaping the church not into what it once was (at some supposed ideal time, such as the apostolic age) but into what it will be at the end of the age. Anderson comments:
The church itself should seek to become the church that Christ desires to find when he comes, where distinctions of race, religion, ethnicity, economic and political status, and gender identity will no longer be found in the church and its apostolic life (p. 194)
....The church does not "push" the kingdom into the world through its own institutional and pragmatic strategies. Rather it is "pulled" into the world as it follows the praxis of the Spirit. The church is thus constantly being "re-created" through the mission of the Spirit. At the same time, it has historical and ecclesial continuity and universality through its participation in the person and mission of Christ Jesus through the Spirit. 
The ministry of the church is apostolic when it recognizes the eschatological praxis of the Spirit in the present age and interprets this in accordance with Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The author of Hebrews reveals the priestly nature of Jesus when he argues that Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek and not Aaron (Hebrews 6-7). Melchizedek was "without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life" (Hebrews 7:3 NASB). Apostolic authority is [therefore] eschatological, not merely genealogical (p. 195).

The paracletic nature of Jesus' ministry

And so, by the Spirit, we look to Jesus, acknowledging his past activity in and through the church in its history, but with our eyes on the horizon---looking forward toward where Jesus, through the Spirit is leading. As we do, we always keep in mind that Jesus, the incarnate Son of God "is the advocate of all persons, not only those who are 'in Christ'" (p. 200). Through the Spirit, Jesus is present with all and as the Paraclete (the "Advocate" who "comes along side") he is ministering to all. Note Anderson's comment on this vital point concerning the paracletic ministry of Jesus:
Practical theology issues from the perspective of this paracletic ministry of the Spirit of Christ taking place in the world before it takes place in the church. This is to say, Christ is not first of all contained by the nature of the church, so that only when Christ is shared by the church does the world encounter him. Rather as Thomas Torrance has put it, "Christ clothed with His gospel meets with Christ clothed with the desperate needs of men... Christ is present as the advocate of the people who have not yet heard the good news" (p. 201, emphasis added). 
Thus we understand that the calling of the church is not to bring Jesus to the world, but to join with Jesus in what he now is doing in the world.  With this orientation, the church will both embrace what Jesus has done already, and walk forward in faith with him into the fullness of his kingdom.

Objective and subjective aspects of the one gospel

The church walks forward with Jesus by proclaiming the gospel, which is not a message of What could be...if, but a message of What is already (that may be personally received). Anderson comments:
[The apostle Paul] knows that forgiveness has already been accomplished from God's side and that God "does not count trespasses" against persons who are sinners. But forgiveness has not yet been accomplished until there is reconciliation from the human side toward God and toward one another (p. 202 italics added).
Anderson is here noting the objective (universal) and subjective (personal) aspects of the gospel. Objectively, God's forgiveness has been extended already to everyone. Subjectively, that forgiveness is actualized (Anderson says "accomplished") when it is personally received.

It's important to note that both the objective and subjective aspects speak to God's work of grace by his Son, through his Spirit. This is the work the church is called to share in by making the gospel known and thus accessible. A principal way the church does that is by declaring that God has forgiven sinners already (the objective or universal aspect of the gospel), along with offering the call to personal acceptance, which leads to personal transformation (the subjective or personal aspect of the gospel). To declare one aspect without the other is to offer an incomplete gospel that is in danger of becoming a false gospel. Anderson elaborates:
To give assurance of pardon and forgiveness to persons based on God's reconciliation to the world through Christ is not wrong. But... the word of absolution from sin based on the work of Christ in salvation history is premature apart from the praxis of forgiveness as the work of Christ in the hearts and lives of people through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit .
Let me say it as clearly as I can, "a vision of forgiveness and freedom comes from the burning light of Pentecost before it can be seen in the sunless shadows of the cross. This has enormous theological significance both for the proclamation of the gospel of Christ as well as for the spiritual formation of Christ in the lives of people. 
A theology that is not continually enlightened by the praxis of Christ at work in the transformation of human lives can become toxic theology A theology that does not begin and end with grace both from God's side as well as from the human side is a theology that binds "heavy burdens" (Matthew 23:4 NASB) and sets a "yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1 NASB) on those who look for freedom and forgiveness. A theology that produces such a spiritual piety poisons rather than purifies...
The theology of Pentecost humanizes and heals, for it is a theology of resurrection and life, not of death and despair... Practical theology in the mode of paraclesis is a summons and invitation for humanity to become truly human; it is an exhortation to move out of the place of sorrow and humiliation into a community of reconciliation, peace and dignity. Christopraxis as a form of the real presence of Christ is a pledge of comfort and consolation to the oppressed and broken... For the church this means that actions involving advocacy for the full humanity of persons have a priority and authority grounded in the humanity and ministry of Christ himself (pp. 202-3).
For more on this topic from Ray Anderson, click here and here and here.

September 19, 2015

Where is the Church?

This post continues a series in The Shape of Practical Theology by Trinitarian theologian Ray S. Anderson. For other posts in the series, click on a number: 123456789. 11

Photograph by Steven Pavlov
used with permission granted via Wikimedia Commons
Having answered the question, What does it mean to be human?, Anderson next addresses a corollary question: Where is the church? His answer is grounded in a biblical ecclesiology that defines the church as the Body of Christ in the world. With that in mind, he goes on to note that the church, in order to truly be the Body of Christ, must be with Jesus, where he is---not tucked away in the protective cocoon of the sanctuary, but redemptively present in the community. Anderson comments:
The humanity of God in the person of Jesus Christ seeks incarnation in the soul of the city before taking up residence in the sanctuary of religion. The "soul of the city" has become a metaphor that speaks of the humanity of a people who share a common destiny and whose lives impinge on one another in a struggle for survival and sustenance (p178). 
Sadly, many churches have withdrawn from the city both literally (into the suburbs) and spiritually (into self-protective shells). Anderson notes that "the church's flight from the cities is a retreat from the struggle for the soul of a society" (p179). He responds with an impassioned plea for churches to "repent of being the church" (p180), in the self-protective sense.

While it is true that the apostle Paul admonished the house churches in Rome to "not be conformed to the world," he also admonished them to be "transformed" in their thinking into the likeness of Christ himself (Romans 12:2). Paul made a similar plea to the Christians in Philippi, to whom he wrote: "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus"---a mind of humble self-sacrifice for the sake of others (Philippians 2:5-8).

What we see in Jesus is the mind of God that is for the world, not against it. We then learn from Jesus that he sends the Spirit into the world to form and call the church not to run from the world but to share in Jesus' ongoing ministry for the sake of the world. As Anderson notes, "the church exists in the world and for the world, though it does not 'belong to the world' (John 17:16)." Sadly, however, many churches focus more on the "not belonging" part and overlook the "existing for the world" part. That being so, Anderson insists that "the church must repent of being the church in order truly to be the church of Christ" (p181). He comments further:
Christopraxis begins by calling the church itself into a radical conformity with the Spirit of Christ as the formative reality of new humanity. Christopraxis becomes the hermeneutical criterion and spiritual conscience of the life and mission of the church (p182).  
Anderson refers to this radical change of mindset and strategy as repentance that is theological, social and Christological. The church needs this multi-dimensional repentance because it often has been "found opposing the mission of God for the sake of preserving its own institutional and traditional forms" (p182). He comments further:
Social repentance is demanded of the church when its institutional life demands a privileged space in the world for God's grace without expressed concern for those without benefit of food, shelter and justice. Christological repentance is demanded of the church when it binds Christ solely to its rituals at the altar, abandoning the naked and imprisoned Christ.... As the mediator who stands with humanity as advocate, healer and transformer, Jesus Christ is not primarily a principle by which ministry is defined but, as James Torrance has reminded us, is present with and among us as the ministering one (p183).
The "world," in this instance, is humanity at large. And it is healed not merely by Jesus, but in and through him---the eternal Son of God who, through the incarnation, is God with us as a human person. The church, which is to be Jesus' body in the world, is called to participate with Jesus, by the Spirit, in his "with us," incarnational ministry, standing with and not apart from the world. Anderson comments:
In becoming the church through repentance and renewal, the church makes visible its reality as the dwelling place of God's Spirit on earth.... The reality of Christ in the world is his body, the community of believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit (p185).
At the "practical" everyday level, this means that the church is called to make manifest in its practice the presence and reality of Christ in the world, making accessible the healing only Christ can provide. As Christians, we live out this calling to ministry with Jesus principally through relationships---ones with other believers, yes; but also with non-believers. Anderson concludes this discussion on the nature and calling of the church with this comment:
If the church is to be the redemptive presence and power in the world that God intends, it will be where the Spirit of Christ crosses the boundary and breaks through the wall that separates us from each other, and where the world and the church live separate lives. Even so, come Lord Jesus! (pp185-6).

September 4, 2015

What does it mean to be human?

This post continues a series in The Shape of Practical Theology by Trinitarian theologian Ray S. Anderson. For other posts in the series, click on a number: 1234567, 81011.

Lost and Found by Greg Olsen, used with permission
Each subculture has an implicit understanding of what it means to be human. While it's vital in Christian ministry and ethics to be aware of and sensitive to these subjective cultural understandings, our primary focus must be the objective reality of what it means to be human, revealed by God to us in the humanity of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. Anderson comments:
The core assertion of a Christian theology [and anthropology] is that the controlling social paradigm by which humanity is defined sets squarely within the objective relations that exist between God and humans, through the humanity of Jesus Christ as divine Son of God. This actuality of real humanity lies at the core of the witness of the Christian tradition concerning the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who was called the Christ, thus identifying him as the one who represented the fulfillment of the social reality of Israel as the people of God.... 
For Christian theology the event of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is understood as a social paradigm that defines and determines human nature and destiny. A Christian anthropology does not begin with the "humanity of man" in seeking to find relationship with God. Rather a Christian anthropology begins with the "humanity of God," as observed in the historical person, Jesus Christ, and with the social structure of the new human community within which he himself is known" (pp163-4, emphasis added).
This understanding has significant implications for Christian ministry and ethics in a time when various cultures are radically redefining what it means to be human. While we must be sensitive to what those cultures believe, we must also be reminded of the objective reality of human being as defined by Jesus. As we study the Bible's testimony to that reality, we see in Jesus that humans bear the image of God not as solitary individuals but as beings-in-community. In Jesus we find that "real humanity is fellow humanity" (p165).

Looking to the humanity of Jesus, we also find an essential and complimentary relationship between human genders---what Anderson refers to as "cohumanity," which "integrates biological sexual differentiation into the essential differentiation of the meeting and communion of persons" (p166). These are key concepts in a Christ-centered understanding of human sexuality (including gender distinctions), marriage and family---all "hot topics" being widely debated in our day.

As cultures define and redefine human being and human sexuality, our challenge as Christians is to look to the humanity of Jesus for direction, for in his humanity we find the objective reality of what it means to be truly human. In Jesus we see that real humanity is "a particular form of humanity." Jesus was a male Jew, not a nebulous "everyman." In his humanity, "racial, sexual and cultural distinctives are not obliterated. Instead real humanity is experienced in and through these distinctives" (p168).

This real humanity is exemplified in the earthly ministry of Jesus---in the way he interacted in love with other humans as individual, valued persons often quite different from him:
In drawing persons around him, Jesus re-created humanity in the form of a community of shared life and common identity. Even [his] narrower circle, defined by the specific calling of the twelve, was structurally open to the unclean leper, the tormented demoniac, the self-righteous Pharisee, and the women of ambiguous reputation. In contact with Jesus, humanity is liberated from the blind and capricious powers of nature and disease, as well as from the cruel and inhuman practices of the social and religious tyranny of the strong over the weak. In the real humanity of Jesus we see the humanization as well as the socialization of humanity. 
In his person and his actions Jesus embodied both grace and truth (John 1:17). His moral presence was both convicting and empowering. He drew to his side the fugitive from the law as well as the furtive Pharisee, without shaming either.... He let people be like who they were and offered to help them become who they could be... He did not ask for conformity but for commitment. His style was love, his pattern devotion (pp168-9). 
As seen in Jesus, true humanity is not an individualized humanity standing alone and aloof apart from others, but a shared humanity (co-humanity) grounded in a commitment to love others. By the power of the Spirit, which has been poured out on "all flesh" (Acts 2:17 KJV), that love leads people to authentic repentance that seeks the restoration of their humanity, which means the restoration of right relationships both with other humans and with God. For Jesus, the love that transforms is not a romanticized, individualistic concept, but a way of being and acting in community with others. Love for Jesus is about social humanity, not individual humanity.

In our day, as we embrace and live into this Christ-centered perspective on humanity, we often will find ourselves up against cultural forces that stress an individual (autonomous) humanity that places great value on "doing my own thing," pursuing a self-defined identity apart from any common identity which emphasizes social good. In contrast, a theological anthropology tells us that "the norm for determining what is the good is consistent with the 'humanization of humanity' through Christ (p173, and see Ephesians 2:14-15). What is good and bad, right and wrong, is determined by looking to what "upholds the dignity, integrity and essential value of the other person in the concreteness of every social relation (Eph 4-5)" (p173). It is this ethical criterion that Paul refers to as the obligation and thus the command of love (Romans 13:8, 10). Anderson comments further:
The kingdom of God values love as the core of discipleship... In his letter to the Ephesian Christians, Paul drew out the implications of the gospel of Christ in such a way that the basic structures of that society were to be "humanized" through the activation of the Spirit and law of Christ (p175).
As we seek to join Jesus in his ongoing ministry in our world, let us keep these concepts clearly in mind so that we, with Jesus, connect with and love all kinds of people in all kinds of cultural settings.

August 29, 2015

God's commands: threats or promises?

How are we to understand the commands of God recorded in the Bible? Some view them as threats ("Do this or else!"), others as promises ("In me, you shall do this"). Here we find a key distinction between a legalistic and a grace-based view of obedience to God. While legalists view obedience as what must be done to avoid condemnation (or to earn rewards), those living by grace view obedience as the outflow of the relationship they have been given with God in Christ through the Spirit. While legalists obey God out of obligation, those living by grace obey God because they are part of his family.

As noted in the helpful sermon below from Peter Heitt (lead pastor at The Sanctuary in Denver), this difference of viewpoint is seen clearly in how people interpret Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount.

August 15, 2015

Christian ethics: it's about being neighbor

This post continues a series in The Shape of Practical Theology by Trinitarian theologian Ray S. Anderson. For other posts in the series, click on a number: 123456, 7, 91011

In a chapter on ethics grounded in Trinitarian, Christ-centered practical theology (Christopraxis), Anderson offers this summary statement:
The criterion by which we measure... the "ethical event" between humans is the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ by which humanity is liberated from the inhumanity of sin and restored and morally empowered through grace. Christopraxis is a form of moral empowerment rather than merely moral judgment. (p160)
The Good Samaritan (Modern) by Liz Lemon Swindle
(used with permission)
Following the teaching of Karl Barth, Anderson asserts that Christian ethics is not about impersonal rules and ideals, but about true humanity found in Jesus. As our representative and on our behalf, the Son of God united all people to himself by assuming our fallen humanity, and then through his life, death, resurrection and ascension judging and recreating it. Now, via his continuing incarnation, Jesus, through the Spirit, shares with us that true humanity, which as Anderson notes is fundamentally co-humanity, represented by the biblical ethical concept of neighbor:
[Christian ethics] has to do with real humanity, not pseudohumanity, or even ideal humanity. There can only be one real form of humanity... and Jesus Christ has revealed that... as it was originally and finally determined to be.... If we have discerned the true form of humanity... then we will have discovered the criterion for theological ethics. This is so because the form of humanity... called into being originally by the determination of the Lord God... through the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, establishes the ethical response of hearing and obedience. God becomes the neighbor to humans as creature and summons persons to become the neighbor to God and to fellow humanity. (pp134-5, emphasis added).

The concept of neighbor at the core of Christian ethics

Anderson places the biblical concept of neighbor at the heart and core of Christian ethics. This move is not merely conceptual, for Christ is not a concept---he is alive and active; he has thoughts and takes action in the world, bidding his followers join him in a way of being in the world governed not by abstract principles, or a static list of do's and don'ts, but by life lived in solidarity with him, and through him with other humans. Key to this approach to ethics is knowing that God's decision concerning humanity in creation, incarnation and redemption is "the common factor of the divine upholding of humanity in the form of fellow humanity" (p137). Anderson's incarnational Trinitarian approach to ethics is thus fundamentally relational---seeing humans as "fellow-humans" (neighbors), not isolated, independent beings. Humanity, in Christ, is fundamentally people-in-relation with other people and with God.

Of course, within this fellow humanity are points of structural differentiation (eg: race, gender, ethnicity), but none of these overshadow the greater reality that we humans share together the one, perfect humanity of Jesus who, alone, as "true human" is "true neighbor." Anderson comments:
In Jesus Christ, God himself has become the "neighbor" of Adam through his own humanity. The incarnation is the embodiment of God as the true form of humanity, not the embodiment of an ethical ideal. Real humanity, then, is humanity as a determination of human being by God himself; it is humanity in the form of a being of one with the other, and it is humanity as the covenant partner with God and the other. 
The incarnation does not produce another form of humanity but can be understood as the "humanization" of humanity. The ethical content of love as a criterion for theological ethics is not just "Christian love," as distinct from non-Christian love, but it is "human love," as distinct from inhuman love.... It is, after all, says Barth, "not ethics, but an ethical event that takes place between two persons."
The love that constitutes the ethical event in cohumanity is common to all forms of humanity. When divine love becomes the content of the event of cohumanity created through incarnation, what results is the "humanization" of humanity.... The true form of humanity made manifest through the humanity of Jesus serves to ground moral responsibility not in moral reason alone as an abstraction but in cohumanity as determined by God and as experienced in the concrete, historical existence of persons... In the humanity of Jesus Christ the actual humanity of every person has been taken up, judged, put to death and justified. Jesus Christ is not only the Son of the Father, he is at the same time the brother of every brother and sister (pp138-9, emphasis added). 
The inescapable and unavoidable conclusion of this reality is that we, as Jesus' followers, have the "ethical responsibility of living freely for and with" those who God decrees to be our neighbor, namely all humanity (p139). This decree "unites love of God and love of neighbor in a single ethical movement." That being the case, the great question of Christian ethics is this: "How do I... stand each moment of my life in relation to my neighbor?" (p143).

On being true neighbor

For Anderson, the concrete reality of neighbor (fellow-person, both near and far) thus becomes a key criterion of ethical conduct---conduct that necessarily involves our active engagement, including our repentance, for "repentance toward God includes seeking reconciliation with my neighbor, costly though that may be" (p144). To love our neighbor demands more of us than merely ceasing to do them wrong---we are called to join Jesus in the healing of relationships. Doing that requires that we go to our neighbor in a repentant spirit of humility that seeks to do good to our neighbor.

This is why the church, as the body of Christ in the world, must have an approach to ethics that is not merely about retreating from the world to avoid its sin. Rather the church is called to be a "missionary community" that is open to the world, seeking opportunity to facilitate reconciliation that is both neighbor-to-neighbor and neighbor-to-God. In that way the church shares in Jesus' ongoing "ethical event." As Barth wrote, "If I refuse to meet [my] neighbor, even though he may appear to be ungodly to me... I may deny the Christ living in me" (p146). Along those lines, Anderson makes these observations:
Theological ethics are derived out of the concreteness of human life, and especially the concreteness of the neighbor, as a form of the command of God. (p150)
The incarnation can be viewed as the single ethical event that destroyed the "dividing wall of hostility" between persons (Eph 2:14). Moral goodness, as the material content of a life in union with Jesus Christ, demands that one is accountable not only for what is honorable in the sight of Christ but "also in the sight of others" (2 Cor 8:21; cf. Rom 12:17; 14:18). (p150)
No longer can there be both sacred and secular spheres that permit Christians to claim ethical exemption from the moral good of the neighbor. Rather, as Bonhoeffer put it, "Christ, reality and the good" comprise a single sphere of moral and spiritual unity. (pp150-1)

For the apostle to say that "we must obey God rather than any human authority" (Acts 5:29) does not mean that God's commands are arbitrary and totally subjective but that God's purposes for humankind already revealed through Jesus Christ take precedence over religious commitments and religious authority.... When the injured person lies beside the road on which the religious person travels, the question as to what constitutes the ethical action of a "neighbor" takes precedence over the more abstract fine points of theological difference (p153).
Authentic concern for neighbor carries with it an assessment of what might be better, when the best cannot be done without destroying the structure of fellow humanity itself. (p155)

A word of caution and clarification

Warning against taking the concept of neighbor as the key ethical criterion in a direction inconsistent with the mind of Christ, Anderson adds these words of caution and clarification:
It is Jesus Christ who commands the Christian conscience in its moral reflection and action, not merely the neighbor. This is because we cannot view the neighbor independently of Christ, nor Christ independently of neighbor. Ultimately, Christ is the true neighbor.... We are not suggesting that fellow humanity as expressed in the concept of neighbor becomes the single criterion of theological ethics.... But it is also fair to say that the concept of neighbor is a criterion of a theological ethic based on the theological foundation of God's election of persons to be covenant partners... (p155).
A natural theology [where conscience is a primary basis of ethics] that does not have at the center a cross sunk deep into human flesh will not find transforming love at the center of human moral action. It is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that the transformation of moral authority takes place.... The incarnation was not for the purpose of putting the humanity of God on the cross but for the purpose of sinking the cross deeply into human life....The Christian is called to exercise a role of responsible witness to the new and true humanity that has been obtained through Jesus Christ" (pp156-7, emphasis added).

The bottom line

With these thoughts about an incarnational Trinitarian perspective on ethics, let's close with two quotes. First from Holy Scripture:
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these." 
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:28-34)
And now from Anderson's meditation on Scripture:
Moral actions grounded in repentance, which seek the true reconciliation of neighbor with neighbor, can and must be a transformation of moral authority into a gospel of liberation from inhumanity and for humanity. This, finally, is the contribution that the gospel of Jesus Christ can make to human goodness as a source of ethical concern. (p160).
For an earlier Surprising God series on Christian ethics, click here.