Monday, November 12, 2007

Pretty Good News

Been doing some reading lately. Well, I actually read quite a lot… just haven’t posted about it much. Okay, I haven’t posted much about anything lately – so this seemed like a good thing to appease the blog-gods. I’ll give you fair warning… this could be a long post.

I should also preface this post by saying that while on the outside I may have the appearance of a well behaved evangelical, on the inside I’m often troubled by the too neat, too “we have all the answers about God” approach that shaped my Christian upbringing. There are times that I find myself caught between a modern and post-modern world; relating to and understanding parts of both, while also rejecting some aspects of both. (some of you might think I’m suffering from a bad case of spiritual bi-polar disorder and need to get help… quick!)

Anyway, one of the things that has bothered me over the years is that the gospel we preach is too small, and perhaps not very relevant. For example, we say that Jesus died for our sins so we can go to heaven. For many, that may be gospel (really good news.) But for many others, we have to first convince them that there is a heaven (and a hell to be avoided) before we explain the gospel, which might end up being just "pretty good news". Surely, a gospel from God would have to be really, really good news. So good, in fact, that it would be hard to resist. And yet, time and time again, my experience tells me that the gospel we preach is pretty resistible by a lot of the people we share it with.

Now, before some of you go crying “Heretic!” or “Blasphemer!” let me try to assure you that I do believe with all my heart that I am a sinner, and my sin caused a separation (death) from God (my source of life), and that Jesus’ work on the cross somehow paid my debt and restored my relationship to God. In fact, part of my frustration has been, how can I believe the above statement – while at the same time, reject that it is not the whole answer? Asking these questions out loud causes really odd looks from some, and real frustration and hurt from others.

There are, you probably realize, several other ways of explaining the gospel. Different theologians over the years have focused on different statements in Scripture to explain the gospel. But each of those explanations seems to leave out aspects of one of the other explanations, and results in a “too small” gospel.

Lately, when discussing the gospel, I’ve sort of landed on this really broad definition that says “the gospel is that the kingdom of God is breaking in, changing everything, and Jesus invites us to be a part of that.” This, of course is way too loose for many – like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.

I recently read Scot McKnight’s “Embracing Grace” (remember, this post was about reading?). In it, McKnight says that the gospel is too big for just one story to be able to tell it. One metaphor (penal substitution, for example) cannot tell the whole story. In order to tell it, we will need Irenaes’ story of Recapitulation, Anselm’s story of Satisfaction, the early theologian’s story of Ransom, the reformer’s story of Penal Substitution, Abelard’s story of Moral Example, and even more contemporary stories –being written today– like the Christus Victor story. This may make your head spin (it does mine), but at the same time it begins to form a story of Gospel that is VERY BIG and VERY GOOD NEWS.

In the end, McKnight lands on a definition of gospel that says that “the gospel is the work of the triune, interpersonal, relational God to form a community in which cracked Eikons (that’s us – cracked “image of God” people) are restored through the Cross and Resurrection and Pentecost to union with God and communion with others for the good of the world.

I rather like that. And as I talk to people, they seem to think that if such a thing were true, that’d be really good news. Trouble is, they don’t always see us promoting that gospel. But that’s another post.


Brad said...


I like that approach.
It helps me visualize a flow.

I am interested in the 'for the good of the world" statement. It seems so - terrestrial and concrete. What about 'for the Glory of God?' What about 'for the Kingdom of God?'

Maybe John 3:16 takes trump here - "for God so loved the world (not as in earth or the planet...).

Is 'heart' what HE redeems? The heart is the prize of grace. The Kingdom of Heaven is the realm of The Spirit of Christ. The heart is the world where God would rule - if we would only call Him Lord.

Hmm. Maybe I'm just 'cracked.'

Lov'n U

Nathan said...


You, and others, keep talking about Scot McKnight--sounds like I need to pick up one of his books.

I like what you have to say here. I also don't want to forget how important it is that we give our personal stories as we also recite the stories of others. And how wonderful to be talking about stories rather than apologetics. I'm not opposed to having an intellectual defense for my faith, but I've not found it to be particularly useful in discussions with friends.

I see that you've had a storm of posts recently ;-) ...looking forward to reading more.