Thursday, November 22, 2007

Kingdom Questions

I tread no new ground as I seek to understand what it means to proclaim the Gospel and struggle through the questions that accompany this search. I think it is strange that as I am here in Rome for the sole purpose to tell others about Christ, I find myself asking, “What is the Gospel that Jesus is asking us to proclaim? Is that what I am telling people?” I think that the answer to the first question is I don’t fully understand and am ashamed to say that the answer to the second is often no.

The question of what is the Gospel is the essential question that we all need to ask and answer. I know the answer in part. I know that it is a story of the Creator and his love relationship with his creation (us). Of our fall into self indulgence and the story of the promise of redemption and the fulfillment of that promise. Of a renewed relationship, of following a risen Savior, of learning how much we need to trust and rely upon the One who knows us better than ourselves. This much I know about the Gospel.

But what I don’t know, what I think I am beginning to figure out, is what does that mean for those who call ourselves Christians. What does it really mean to be a Christian? I am reading a book called The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard right now and he says that, “the only thing made essential on the right wing of theology is forgiveness of the individual sins. On the left it is the removal of social or structural evils. The current gospel then becomes a gospel of ‘sin management.’ Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message.”

I know that ‘sin management’ is not the Gospel that Jesus talked about. Despite this, I am certain that I have fallen into one or both of these categories because they are simple, easy and not too difficult to accept. The Gospel, quite literally, that Jesus preached was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 5:17).” The reason I have been asking questions about the Gospel is because both parts of Jesus’s words throw me for a loop.

I am a coward. Telling people to repent is not in my comfort zone; the honest truth is that I would much rather tell people that God loves them and leave out the part about God calling them to change, to repent. The sad truth is that I often settle for this. I offer a gospel of ‘sin management’; “God loves you, sent his Son Jesus to take away your sins, and you just need to accept that and you are a Christian.” Yes, God does love us and yes, Jesus did come to take away our sins, but he calls us to repentance. God tells us to repent, to turn from our ways.

The part that I love and am just beginning to understand is that he tells us to repent (turn) FOR the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Once again, to steal from Dallas Willard, “the gospel is the good news of the presence and availability of life in the kingdom, now and forever, through reliance on Jesus the Anointed. This was Abraham’s faith too. As Jesus said, “Abraham saw my time and was delighted” (John 8:56).” God is calling us to repent because there is something better! Because he is calling us into a life that is real, that is better than the superficial life that we are living by ourselves.

I really don’t have a good handle on this; I feel like I am simply beginning to learn of the truth that God laid out for us in the Bible. But I have realized two things. One, God is calling us to repent/turn and if we are to present the Gospel in a way that is true to Jesus, we (specifically me) need to talk about this fact. The second thing I have realized is that God is calling us to more than sin management; He is calling us to true life, to something better than our meager self-supported existence. He calls us to something better.

This leaves me with hope. I know that there are cowards like me in the kingdom of heaven, because of the present reality that I can live as a child of The King (John 1:12-13). It means also that I have been charged with a responsibility to be an ambassador for The King, to accurately represent what he says (2 Corinthians 5:20). It means that the life that He is calling me to live is something better, is real life (John 17:3). And for that, on this Thanksgiving, I can be thankful.


Judy said...

Chris, you have great insights, a teachable spirit, humility. I know that pleases the Lord. After reading your post I was looking for direction from scripture on our responsibility when it comes to other people's sin. One thing I found was John 16:8-9. The Holy Spirit convinces the world of it's sin. The world's sin is unbelief in Jesus. I also feel really uncomfortable telling people they must repent. In fact, I don't think I could say it in a way that would bring anyone to repentance. So reading this scripture gives me courage to continue speaking of the Lord and knowing conviction will come via the Spirit. Satan's job is to keep me tongue-tied and all too often he does a good job of it.
Ok now, Chris. I've rambled enough for now and hope I am not intruding on your post. I am thankful this day that God has used your post to stimulate some Bible study on my part this Thanksgiving day. I am also thankful that Joel has such quality Christian men to live with this amazing year in Rome!

Borch said...

Long time no talk brother, but after reading your most recent post I had to say something. I've been wrestling through that same question of "what is the gospel?" A few conclusions I've reached: 1) The gospel, at it's bare minimum, and the central message of all Scripture is this: Jesus lived, died, was buried, and rose again. Jesus is central to everything--Scripture, history, life. And as we then preach the gospel we must preach Him (1 Cor 15).
2) The result of believing in the gospel is this: we receive a new nature. Remember, the old is gone, the new has come, and we no longer live, but Christ lives in us (2 Cor 5:17, Gal 2:20).
Now, the word "believing" needs defining. What I see in Scripture is that to believe is not merely intellectual but heartfelt. Our deeply held beliefs about anything--money, dating, work--drive what we do in those areas. Likewise with God. Our deeply held beliefs result in actions.
It's that new nature thing that I forgot for a while. It helped me to remember that recently, that we can't change ourselves, but that God must change us from the inside out. That's the gospel.

I've been praying for you whenever I think about you. Call me when you get back stateside. Much love,

Drew said...

Amazing, thanks a lot chris! You may not know it, but your reaching out over here to.

Kevin said...

Brother Rule,

What a well written post! It's so enjoyable to follow and track someone's growth and change over time. Your writing and reasoning and thinking and praying seem to mature and dive deeper with every post. It's encouraging to all of us, your brothers and sisters in Christ, to grow along with you while miles and miles away. Along the lines of the paradox of the Gospel though, we are far and near at the same time. Isn't it funny that you can be close in distance (living in Oxford) but far in relationship, but then close in relationship (blogs/emails) and far in distance (Rome is a little more than a wee little flight away...)

For me, this paradox of life, this undefinable reality, is the most comforting truth. For I am consistently confused and yearning to be in touch with the glorious Truth every waking day. I recently listened to a sermon by Rob Bell, and he walked through all the various way's Jesus responds when asked to explain the Gospel. What's so surprising is that he doesn't have a list with bullet points, or objectives, or even conclusive points. Rather he shares stories and experiences in answer to their questions. I can't really rearticulate what he was teaching with different scripture stories (I mean who can compare to Ron Bell's teaching ability...) but I encourage you to download his past couple podcasts. Especially, the last one that was published, that was actually given by Donald Miller (author of Blue Like Jazz.) It's titled Story - Donald Miller.

If there's been anything that's been moving my spirit the past couple months, moving it in ways to better understand this wild relationship we have with all of Creation and the Creator, it's been the concept of storytelling. What is story and what does it mean and how do our stories relate to the ultimate story, which is the Gospel? It's these things that I've been pondering on my own, which have been affirmed by Donald Miller in this podcast, and his upcoming book soon to be published.

Give it a listen. Share with me your thoughts. Keep the Faith.

And last, but not least, Be Joyful always.


kevin krease

Andrew said...

rule. dallas willard blew my mind.
love you and miss you.