Thursday, April 15, 2010

The gospel in three parts . . . times three

Before reading any further, answer this question: What is the gospel?

You didn’t do it, did you? You just kept reading. Bad reader. Return to line one.


Many Christians go into blushed silence when asked to articulate the good news of God’s reign. However, if we are to be cracked pots spilling out this glorious message, the gospel must be understood and lived. To that end, let’s look at three unique, yet interrelated biblical images of the gospel.

• First, Paul describes the gospel as rooted in the historical event of the three-part passion of Jesus: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

To begin, the gospel is about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is historically enacted and foretold. The gospel is deed and word. The good news is the culminating event of God’s declared commitment to transform the dust and grime of the world.

• Second, Paul describes three radical implications of this gospel event. He begins with our own resurrection: “[B]ecause of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

This results in our participation in God’s renovation of the world: “[W]e are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

And, further, the gospel event ushers in reconciliation: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two [Jew and gentile] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

The gospel event of Easter brings with it the implications of resurrection (new life for those dead in sin), renovation (our participation in God’s work in the world), and reconciliation (our becoming a new people defined not by our ethnicities or traditions, but by Jesus).

• Third, to the Corinthians seeking to understand how to function as a “good news people,” Paul erupts poetically in the “love chapter.” Sadly misused at most weddings, I Corinthians 13 is primarily about how the church lives out the good news. Paul declares: “[N]ow these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

The gospel, founded on the historical Easter event and implying the transforming implications of resurrection, renovation and reconciliation, is now brought to its climax. How do we live this out? In three parts:

• First, by clinging in faith to what happened according to the Scriptures and sharing that with our world unashamedly.

• Second, by offering the hope of God’s good works to our world to initiate now what will one day be fulfilled.

• Third, and most gloriously, by expressing this the same way God expressed himself to us: through love.

So, what is the gospel? It is the historical event of Easter in three parts: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is the radical implications that event entails in three parts: resurrection, renovation and reconciliation. And it is the way we live it out in three parts: faith and hope, all crowned, salted, expressed and sourced in love.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Convert ... or die

It’s quite unfashionable these days to think people should change their minds. This is a strange thought that, well, needs to change.

In some parts of the world—places some Canadians look at with disdain because of their backward “fundamentalism”—to change one’s mind is an act of high treason. Think of those strange bedfellows Iran and North Korea. One is a theistic state, the other atheistic, yet both systems are equally paranoid of people changing their minds.

What we Canadians are less aware of is that the secular-humanist mindset that dominates our culture is just as freaked out about the same possibility. It’s not that we prohibit individuals here from changing their minds about how they want to live; we tolerate pretty much every decision, even irrational ones.

No, what we seem to have lost our palate for is those who actively seek to change other people’s minds. Live like you want, change your mind as often as you change your underwear, but don’t try to convince anyone to convert to your private conviction: This is the tyrannical world of the self we have converted to.

Most of our leaders are now asked to simply manage life as we want it. So our leaders no longer paint vivid pictures of another world. They rarely challenge us to the conversion of our living or the renewal of our minds. Sadly enough, this cultural fundamentalism that denies change is epidemic among Christians and their local churches. This is tragic. Why? Because changing one’s mind is central to what we believe about being human.

It is ultimately what Adam and Eve did in the garden. It is what Saul did on the road to Damascus. There is always conversion going on around us and it is a peculiar thing that Christians have bought into the fundamentalist culture that says we should never ask another to do so. This has caused many congregations to sideline one of the central tenets of what the church has always been about—conversion.

In fact, many churches in the Great White North have almost completely ceased seeking to change other people’s minds. We have “pooh-poohed” evangelism. We are no longer about conversion, we are almost completely about retention. We do not go out to make disciples who will be challenged to change their minds because Christ has risen from the dead. Rather, we seek to maintain religious institutions that never change. Almost everything we do is geared for those who have forgotten they once needed to convert!

How is your church actively planning and praying for the conversion of your neighbourhood, town, sideroad or city? Does the thought scare you? Are you worried what people will think? Are you worried what it will cost? Have you forgotten that the gospel is good news? Are you worried about the comfort you might lose if the church as it should be is no longer the church as you want it? Are you afraid of having to change your mind?

We have abandoned a passion to see people choose the salvation of Jesus Christ into gatherings so “cultured” we have lost the plot. But the church only exists where people have changed their minds and converted, and have begun living out the reality of another kingdom. There really is no such thing as church retention; only conversion saves the church. And, even more sobering, churches that do not convert, die.