Christ’s earliest followers sensed a fresh wind blowing. They sensed that, as the resurrection-story poured forth, they were experiencing and living in the new-kind-of-Kingdom vision that Jesus often proclaimed.
No, they didn’t fully realize what was going on at the moment.
But that didn’t matter.
The earliest followers of Christ stumbled, bumbled, and tumbled their way into this new-kind-of-Kingdom promise of the Gospel. As they did, they experienced power, proclaimed hope, and dispensed love – gratuitously, I might add.
They began, in short, a journey as a new-kind-of-people within a new-kind-of-community.
It must have been exhilarating.
Can you imagine walking into one of the earliest temples, synagogues, or homes where this new message was the new way?
**This article is one I’ve posted before. I am re-posting it because I am going to circle back around to how a Transforming Pastoral Ministry frames and embodies the Gospel. Our understanding of and experience with the Gospel is vital if our mission is (as I contend) Spiritual Formation and Soul-Care. I cannot think of any other conversations as important as this one. Please let me know your thoughts**
Several years ago I attended a funeral for a dear friend who lived and ministered in our community for decades.
And, though this saint had a full life, he still – for so many – died at too young an age. As such, his death was untimely, tragic, and a terrible reality to face for dozens, even hundreds, of family and friends.
As is often the case for funerals such as this, the church was packed.
Well into the service, a pastor took the pulpit and gave a moving message on the love of God and the hope we have in Him.
He told heart-tugging stories, one after the other, of people of faith who have gone before us and whom we are certainly hoping to see again.
He strung together soul-stirring phrase after phrase until the crescendo of the entire service, when he convincingly said, “Don’t you want to know this Jesus?” Followed by a pulsating, “If you want to see this person again, then make a decision today! Right here, right where you are, repent of your sins and believe in Jesus as your personal savior.”
Every Head Bowed and Every Eye Closed . . . Come Again?
Then, in the closing, he asked that withevery head bowed, and eye closed, those who made a decision for Christ, to raise their hands.
I, of course, peeked and saw that dozens of hands went up.
Twenty years ago, I would have been encouraged by such a scene. And, in fact, I’ve preached a similar message all too often. On this occasion, just a few years ago, I felt dismayed.
I left the funeral knowing that the preacher had presented a truncated and abstract version of the Gospel!
I’ve come to refer to this truncated version of the Gospel as a two-chapter, transactional Gospel. I knew as I drove home that day, that if that’s the only gospel those folks ever heard, then they simply never heard the Gospel.
At least not the whole Gospel!
Unintended but Catastrophic Consequences
The reason that I believe this two-chapter, transactional Gospel is not a picture of the whole Gospel is because of the outcomes that follow from our commitment to it.
A specific outcome to which I am referring is one where the person(s) who made a decision for Christ then leaves the service and effectively puts Jesus on the shelf until they die.
Because they know – at last – where they will go when they death finally comes knocking.
This place is heaven, of course.
One might argue that such a response isn’t always the case. To that, I’d say, “Yes, you are right.” But, I’d also respond that, though it’s not always the case, often – very often – it is the case!
Honestly, this type of shelving Jesus until the afterlife response is normative because it’s exactly the type of response the question expects!
The preacher asks:
“Want to see your friend again one day?”
“The one that you’re mourning right now? This dear friend whom you’re not even sure you are going to be able to live without?”
“Then, you better say yes to Jesus – right now – so that you can see him/her when you die.”
If the only thing that matters is where I will go when I die, then the life I live until then is of little consequence.
As such, the Gospel asserts no real authority or influence over or in my life.Such a Gospel not only fails to speak to the realities of my life today, but it’s a Gospel that I can intentionally refuse to listen to even when or if it does.
Sacred Versus Secular?
Further, such presentations lend themselves to an “I’m in/You’re out” way of living. This divides us into opposing factions and breaks the world into different categories of what’s “sacred” versus that which is “secular.”
The Bible makes no such distinctions. That’s right. You’ve been taught it does, but it doesn’t divide creation and creature into neat categories of the “haves and have-nots.”
The Bible does, however, speak to the reality of an enemy. The enemy is the one who rails against the human soul at every turn.
It’s this reality to which the Four-Chapter, Relational Gospel so forcefully and invitingly speaks. It’s this space – the space between what’s now and not-yet – that the Four-Chapter, Relational Gospel inhabits.
Putting an End to the Old by Proclaiming the Original Good News
In my last post, I began exploring four areas of life that remain untouched by the Two-Chapter, Transactional Gospel.
These four areas the very reason why the Gospel was first announced. And, what Jesus announced was called Good News!
I am going to rewrite them and then propose we explore them together, over the course of the next few weeks.
These four are:
The Good News Gospel Revitalizes the Cultural Mandate.
The Good News Gospel Reframes the Great Commandment.
The Good News Gospel Reinvigorates the Great Commission
The Good News Gospel Reveals the Kingdom of God, present in and among us, through Christ.
The order may need to be reversed, but we will stay with it for now.
Doing so will help us come to terms with the fact the Good News Gospel begins before my sin and goes beyond my redemption.
Last week, I began exploring several pervasive assumptions regarding how we perceive or experience God. Each one prevents us from experiencing Him the way the Bible consistently portrays Him to the world.
These assumptions are:
God is Distant from us. We don’t often think of God as one who reveals Himself.
God is Disgusted with us. When we do reflect on His presence in our midst, we rarely think of Him as one who reveals Himself as Divine, self-giving love. Many, in fact, perceive Him as a God who is disgusted with us.
God is Determined to get us to behave. We don’t think of Him as someone who wants us to enjoy His presence as much as one who wants us to get fixed before we can enter His presence.
I’ll grant you, these assumptions are never stated so crassly, yet they remain the unspoken way we perceive God in our hearts, as well as portray Him to the world.
It’s such a shame since each one is fundamentally wrong!
In fact, I would say that God is – fundamentally speaking at least – NOT a God who is Distant, Disgusted, or Determined, but rather a God of Divine self-giving love and beauty.