[The Surprised by Hope series will continue during my hiatus, because I have to get ready for class Sunday, no matter how I feel.]
The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the sense of being “left behind”), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, the Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun. … Of course, once the gospel announcement is made, in whatever way, it means instantly that all people everywhere are gladly invited to come in, to join the party, to discover forgiveness for the past, an astonishing destiny in God’s future, and a vocation in the present.
Now, this is different from what we usually preach — because it’s bigger! Some people will find forgiveness attractive. Others not so much. But others may find the call to Christian vocation appealing. Or be excited about the promise of a fully realized Kingdom.
By defining “salvation” as exclusively about going to heaven when we die, we preach a too-narrow gospel that fails to appeal to as many as it could. We are saved. Yes. But we are saved for a purpose, and for many, the purpose will be more exciting than the being forgiven!
And we’re saved into a community with a mission. We will, in accepting Jesus, for the first time truly belong and truly matter.
But how can the church announce that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil, corruption, and death itself have been defeated, and that God’s new world has begun? Doesn’t this seem laughable? Well, it would be if wasn’t happening. But if a church is working on the issues we’ve already looked at — if it’s actively involved in seeking justice in the world, both globally and locally, and if it’s cheerfully celebrating God’s good creation and its rescue from corruption in art and music, and if, in addition, its own internal life gives every sign that the new creation is indeed happening, generating a new type of community — the suddenly the announcement makes a lot of sense.
Ah, there’s the rub! We’d rather grow by hiring consultants, taking surveys, and starting up programs that meet felt needs. Wright suggests that we actually be the church. I like the plan.
Wright points out other advantages —
Second, to see evangelism in terms of the announcement of God’s kingdom, of Jesus’ lordship and of the consequent new creation, avoids from the start any suggestion that the main or central thing that has happened is that the new Christian has entered into a private relationship with God or with Jesus and that this relationship is the main or only thing that matters.
What’s so wrong with a “private relationship”? Well, of course, Jesus relates to us as individuals. But if we see that relationship as separate from our corporate relationship through the church — and quite sufficient — then we have little motivation to work as part of the Christian community. Rather, we set our own agenda and do our own things. These may be very good things indeed, but they will be small things.
The church is big. It’s timeless. It’s the body of Christ on earth. It’s Jesus presence here. And if we separate ourselves from the work of the church — the mission — then we weaken Christ.
And we can hardly invite people to become a part of the Kingdom if the Kingdom is a personal, private experience. And we just can’t do much to overcome the powers, to defeat poverty, or to bring justice as individuals — working as individuals. And we can’t push the church to be more like what the church is called to be.
In short, one of the most powerful attacks of any force is to divide and conquer. And when we work as individuals, not as part of Christ’s body, we are divided. Satan couldn’t be more pleased.
Notice also that “obedience” is broadened and redefined. Rather than being primarily about sexual purity and honest dealings, obedience is also about living a life of sacrificial service to build up the Kingdom and help the weak and vulnerable of society. It’s not either-or. But the emphasis changes. Rather than an emphasis on what not to do, we are told to be about our Father’s business. And having such a purpose as part of an ancient, worldwide, faith-community is much more appealing than being told not to sleep with your girlfriend or cheat on your taxes or else you’ll go to hell.