Tag Archives: gospel

What Is The Gospel? Part IV: Theological Worlds

One of best books out there for thinking through various aspects of the gospel is W. Paul Jones’ book Theological Worlds: Understanding the Alternative Rhythms of Christian Belief. In it, Jones discusses five different “theological worlds” that people inhabit.  Understood simply, these are five different frameworks for thinking about the faith, each of which has its own narrative trajectory.   Any given person will “live in” one of these worlds more than the others.  They are:

  1. Separation and Reunion.  Inhabitants of this world feel a sense on loneliness or abandonment.   They long to feel connected, and to be part of a community.  Salvation is perceived as being or going home.
  2. Conflict and Vindication.  People in this world are angry because of experienced chaos or normlessness.  They are keenly aware of political and economic forces that pit people against one another, creating winners and losers.  They salvation they long for is a new orderly kingdom where things are set right.
  3. Emptiness and Fulfillment.  In this world, the great struggle is purposelessness.  There is an ache because of lost potential and an inability to determine one’s place in the world.  Salvation is viewed as wholeness and being a integral part of a purposeful system.
  4. Condemnation and Forgiveness.  In this world, inhabitants feel guilt because of falling short or idolatry.  The are deeply aware of their own failings, and desire to be accepted in spite of all the ways they have fallen short. Salvation is percieved as removal of guilt, reprieve, adoption.
  5. Suffering and Endurance.  People who live here feel overwhelmed by meaningless pain.  It seems that whatever can go wrong will.  One is tempted to fall into cynical despair.  Salvation is understood as the perceiving God’s presence and concern as we continue to endure and survive.

Each of these worlds has strong Biblical backing, and the New Testament addresses all of these interests when speaking of salvation.  But the contemporary protestant world spends the vast majority of our time in world four, which I strongly suspect is the least-inhabited world in secular America.  It’s no wonder that the skeptics who listen to us sometimes say “these Christians aren’t even in the same world I’m living in.”  They’re right; we aren’t.

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What Is The Gospel?, Part III: It’s Bigger Than You Probably Thought

There’s a passage in Acts 3 that I’ve come to love, and I think it is scandalously underpreached.  Even by me.  

The setting is that Peter and John have just healed a lame beggar at the Temple gate.  (This is where Peter says his famous line,  “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”)  Afterward, a crowd gathers, astonished at the miracle.  Peter turns to them and says:

“Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.

 17“Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.21He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.

Peter goes on a bit more, but that’s enough for right now.  There’s a lot to notice already:

  • The healing of the crippled man is part of the ongoing glorification of Jesus by God the Father.  It’s truly a remarkable (wonderful!) thing that when his son was shamed by crucifixion, God chose to bring him renewed glory not through vengence, but through acts of mercy and healing.  Yeah, we all know that on one level, but reading this stuff again just bowls me over.  “Why are you guys suprised that this cripple is jumping around?  It’s not us–it’s God glorifying Jesus again.  When beggars with bedsores become healthy joyous high jumpers, more honor goes to the one you falsely shamed.  This is just God’s weird way of undoing what you did.”  That’s lesson one.  God is really into glorifying Jesus, and he does that by healing broken people.  It might not be the most obvious way to bring Jesus honor, but it’s apparently the most fitting one.  In essence, Jesus is honored when his ministry continues through his disciples, empowered by the Spirit.  Hold onto that one.
  • Notice the three-fold purpose of repentance here.  
    • So that your sins might be wiped out
    • that times of refreshing might come from the Lord
    • that he might send the Christ 
  • What is Jesus doing right now?  “He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”  This is the kind of thing I was thinking about when I said that “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?” is a question that completely misses the point.  The great promise about heaven isn’t that we will go there, it is that Jesus is waiting there until he comes back and fixes everything.  The end of the story is that the prophetic vision will come to pass.  You know all that stuff about the desert bursting into vegetation, lions lying down with lambs, swords beaten into plowshares, justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream?  That wasn’t just idle talk.  God hasn’t ever given up on that vision.  Jesus Christ himself is going to come back and make it happen.  In the meantime, the good works that Jesus’ disciples do are continuing what he began, but also anticipating the way he will conclude.  It’s part of a chain that links the Old Jerusalem to the New.
  • There’s a lot that could be said about “repentance,” but I’ll sum it up with this: it’s not so much about feeling sorry as about thinking differently.  It’s gaining new eyes and catching on to this vision.  It’s about coming to understand that when you restore that which is broken, you glorify Jesus and take part in the work he is doing.  And even though you can’t restore anything perfectly, and maybe some things you can only polish a little, that’s okay, because every little step honors Christ, and when he comes back, he’ll finish it all.  In this case (Acts 3) Peter acknowledges that they acted in ignorance.  That’s what he’s trying to fix.  He’s cluing them into what God is doing.  And when they repent “times of refreshing will come from the Lord.”  How does that happen?  The same way the beggar just got healed, I imagine.  Disciples who want to honor Christ offer what they can.  When you start offering what you can, times of refreshing come.  You are refreshed by God’s spirit working through you, and you also bring refreshing to others.
  • This is good news!  We can learn to see things the way God sees them, change our worldview and work to advance what God is doing, all in anticipation of the ultimate restoration of the cosmos by Christ.  “Your sins can be forgiven and you can go to heaven when you die” is nothing close to an adequate summary of this vision.  But since that has been widely hawked as “the gospel,” millions of Christians have missed the big picture.  And that’s tragic.  Because when you don’t really see where God is taking things, you don’t understand what he’s calling you to do in the meantime.  Way too many people have settled for belief, baptism, and their backsides on the back bench.  Because we didn’t tell them that the good news was that God was recruiting a massive team to join him in honoring Christ by restoring the world, one step at a time.  We told them that the good news was if they assented to the intellectual proposition that Jesus was the Son of God, their soul would rise to heaven upon their death.  They assented, and having fulfilled their part of the narrow vision they were given, they are now kicking back, contented, fire insurance in place.

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What Is The Gospel? Part II

In yesterday’s post, I said that traditional presentations of the gospel are failing because they are trying to answer a question that no one is asking.  What question do I mean?  This one:

How can you get forgiveness of your sins?

The centerpiece of virtually every evangelistic message is a presentation of the cross of Jesus as a pathway to forgiveness of sins.  That’s the point of the “Romans Road,” (a fundamentalist favorite) as well as the traditional “Five Step Plan” in Churches of Christ.  It’s also the point of all those illustrations you’ve seen that show how sin creates a gulf between you and God, but the cross can bridge that divide.  Like this one:

Sin Separates

 

Cross Bridges

Or all of these.  And if you click on any of the links that sends you to, you’ll see some variation of the same gospel presentation–the one about Jesus solving your guilt problem.

And it’s true.  The cross solves our sin problem.  Forgiveness is made available through the blood of Jesus.  If anyone wants to know “what can wash my sins away?” “Nothing but the blood of Jesus” is still the right answer.  I am fully convinced of that.

But very few of the people we are talking to want to know that.  They don’t think of themselves as sinners.  They don’t feel guilty.  It doesn’t seem intuitive to them that their sins separate them from anyone, because all their friends indulge in the same things they do.  Maybe occasionally they feel the some sorrow because of their choices, but they chalk it up to bad luck, or maybe a “dumb mistake”–but not sin.  They think of themselves as good people who don’t particularly have a problem.

Not only that, but there is evidence that shows that the life of the average church-goer and the average skeptic are pretty much alike.  Ron Sider covered that in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.  Worse, on the personal moral hierarchy of, say, a twenty-something semi-liberal thoroughly skeptical college grad, Christians are seen as the problem, not people who have a solution.  When those folks look at evangelicals, they see narrow-minded, ignorant and hateful people who seem to care a great deal about unborn babies, but vote against programs to provide food and insurance to the kids who are already here.  They see people who commit adultery and file for divorce at the same rates as the secular world, but who vote against same-sex marriage because gays will “undermine the institution of marriage.”  They see folks who claim to follow the prince of peace, but who gladly support optional wars and turn a blind eye to torture.  When they look at the church, they don’t see a reason to lend us any particular creedence on moral issues.  And when we, who are already fighting a reputation for hatred and hypocrisy attempt to spread the good news by saying, in essence: “Hey you–you need to realize that you have a sin problem….”  Ugh.  No wonder our churches are shrinking.  If we had a contest to figure out which approach would guarantee us the fewest converts, our traditional way would be a strong contender for first place.  It’s an unwelcome message that unintentionally reinforces everything our detractors are saying about us.  

Yes, it’s true.  All humans have a sin problem.  But it’s not the only truth there is.  And it’s not all there is to the gospel.  But more on that later.

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