Derek Olsen: “Christianity: The Elevator Pitch”


Derek, a regular commentator on this blog and (I think now) a newly minted PhD, has picked up on a post I made last week that I styled the “elevator version” of the Gospel.

My point was to see if I could put down in writing a short, distilled version of what I believe the Gospel to be. Obviously that comes with caveats – it’s what I believe the Gospel to be right now for instance. I was read, learn, pray and am (hopefully) transformed, my understanding of the Gospel deepens.

I shared my post with some of my more theologically adept friends. I was sort of hoping that they’d either critique mine or see if they could distill and then share theirs. It worked for a few. But mostly, as so often happens with Anglican clergy, it became an exercise in challenging the need to be able to distill, or as is more common, a contest to see how few words one could use. There were some friends who pointed to Paul’s distillation, and one who reminded me of the earliest distillation, “Jesus is Lord”.

Derek, bless him, sort of got what I was getting at. He’s posted his version over at his blog:

“Christianity is ‘about’ participating in the very life of God through incorporation into the Body of Christ—mystically, sacramentally, and communally—which is evermore being transformed into the likeness and mind of Christ in thought, word, and deed.”

Read the full article here. And do follow the link, in true academic fashion, Derek unpacks the sentence with a series of bullet points, and some scriptural references.

He’s been reading Ephesians lately and says that St. Paul’s thinking has influenced his own thought.

Which reminds me. I promised to lead a three week Bible study class next month on the Letter to the Ephesians. Anyone have a favorite commentary or treatment of Paul’s work?

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Christopher says

    I highly recommend the work of A.M. Allchin on the matter. Derek gets it precisely right. Or from my dissertation:
    “The Scottish Book of 1637 and the early “Wee Bookies” did not restore the historic oblation to the anamnesis, but they did restore an anamnesis and print the self-oblation of the prayer immediately after it, prior to the ministration of the Sacrament. Some English Non-Jurors considered the lack of an oblation a serious deficieny; their liturgy of 1718 contained the oblation from the Apostolic Constitutions, “we Offer to Thee, our King and our God, according to his holy Institution, this Bread and this Cup.” The influence of the English Non-Jurors may have caused the phrase “which we now offer unto thee” to be inserted into the Wee Bookie of 1735. The American Book of 1789 retained the phrase in the revised form of the Scottish prayer which it adopted.” (Hatchett, Commentary, 368)
    We see this same oblation in Prayer I: “with these thy holy gifts, which we now offer unto thee, the memorial thy Son hath commanded us to make” (I:51-52). This not only reinterprets the inherited prayer, in as much as Andrewes could legally do in a state of Uniformity. This revises the prayer, as was possible outside of that state of Uniformity. As Hatchett reminds, “Each of the prayers of Rites One and Two contains an oblation.” That is, the American eucharistic prayers have not only been shaped by interpretation but have been revised and composed according to the inheritance of Caroline proclivities. Just as importantly, Anglo-Catholic and Patristic recovery especially in the Liturgical Movement works to incorporate Dix’s recognition that the “old concept of the oblation was that Christ offers His perfect oblation of Himself to the Father, and that the earthly church as His Body enters into His eternal priestly act by the eucharist.” A taking up again of our part occurs that is more than our praise or self-offering in holy living. Another way of saying this is that by insertion of an oblation in Patristic fashion we explicitly become a part of the narrative again: We find ourselves participants in God’s own life through Christ by the Spirit.
    As Shepherd and Buchanan suggest, this debate about what we offer, if anything, continues to this day. Though oblation can be seen as a response to God’s gifts of creation and redemption by tangible thanksgiving, depending on its wording, it can also be seen through the propitiatory lens of Sarum. That of Prayer 2, for example, runs this risk: “We offer to you our gifts” (2:69). [emphasis mine.] Playing on Shepherd’s wry remark about adoration, we “may suppose that had the oblation not been so obviously associated with the piety of the Roman Catholic Church, the feelings about it would have been far less bitter. The shadow of Medieval practices, resacrificial and propitiatory (on our part) interpretations of the Roman Canon, and salvation as our work always lurk nearby, ready to trip our historical consciousness. Our prayers reflect trying to move past our condition, and yet, our ongoing theological conversations remind us that we cannot do so except at the danger of trading our inheritance. As much as we might like, Episcopalians are inheritors of this Western complex. We cannot escape our history and what we have learned about God’s self-revelation in Christ through it—God saves. In other words, God’s initiative remains paramount in any praying of our participation in God’s own life by the Word and Spirit. That is to say, our participation in God’s own life, however expressed in word and deed, is something we receive as pure gift. All of this has implications not only for understanding of the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, but for understanding how it is we the Church are to be Christ’s Body.

  2. Thanks for the link!
    In terms of treatments of Paul, don’t miss the section on Paul in Luke Timothy Johnson’s Living Jesus. Where his Real Jesus took apart the 3rd Quest for the Historical Jesus, Living Jesus is the constructive side. His treatment of how Paul understands and presents Jesus is fantastic.
    As for commentaries, I’ve got the Ephesians volume from the Interpretation series on my shelf but haven’t looked at it recently enough to remember what I think of it…

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