Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Impersonal Gospel

In the midst of a stressful day at work, I had a sobering revelation about the way the gospel is presented in so much of evangelical Christianity. Let's look at the Knowing God Personally (KGP) booklet, a common evangelism tool used by Cru. (I'm not singling out Cru, I just happen to still have a bunch of KGPs in my Bible from being a part of it) The KGP breaks the gospel down into four main points (paraphrased):

1. God, who created you, loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, for you to know Him personally.
2. Sin separates us from God, keeping us from knowing Him and His love personally.
3. God made a way for us to know Him personally through Jesus Christ alone.
4. We must individually accept Christ as our Lord and Savior to know God personally.

The phrase "know God personally" appears in some form in the title of the booklet and in each of the points. As it (and much of evangelical Christianity) portrays the gospel, the point of the gospel, of Jesus coming and dying, was so that you could be reconciled to God, know Him personally, and enter into a wonderful, life-changing relationship with him. As the viral video goes, Jesus was thinking of you when He was on the cross.

Is it any wonder we have such a problem with self-centered, individualistic faith?

For starters, this classically American, individualistic take on the gospel almost makes it sound like this offer is "specially for you" instead of for absolutely everyone. This fact is largely used in evangelicalism as a reason to share your faith, but have we really stopped to think about what it means that everyone who is in Christ is going to be remade in His image? As C.S. Lewis puts it in The Weight of Glory, "the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it today, you would be strongly tempted to worship." In the same way that He transforms us individually, He will transform the church corporately. God isn't just going to make us holy in our private, spiritual lives; the gospel is a blueprint for the total overturning of art, science, business, government--society itself.

And that's not even the half of it. An article I read recently made an interesting point: that although Christians tend to think of the universe in the three categories of God, humanity, and creation. But God sees things a bit differently: there is God, and not-God, i.e. creation. Yes, the Bible is God's testament to humanity, but then we are the only ones on Earth who could understand or receive it, and we shouldn't take it to be encompassing of the scope of the gospel. God created "all things" by Him and for Him (Colosisans 1:16) and will reconcile to Himself all things in heaven and earth (1:20) The gospel is not even exclusive to humanity. Several Old Testament prophecies refer to God changing the natural order--herbivores and carnivores will somehow live in peace, and the earth will be "full of the knowledge of the Lord". (Isaiah 11:6-9) He even says He will create a "new heavens and a new earth" (65:17), which is seen more clearly in Revelation. The implications of this fact are considerable.

The gospel is shorthand for God's ongoing transformation and redemption of all creation, restoring it to be even better than it was before we went and screwed it up. It certainly isn't confined to us, and it may not even exclusively begin in us. It matters to every part of our lives and the world around us. The gospel, when fully understood, will make us feel precious and beloved, but at the same time very small and insignificant--it is a personal offer, but also a sweeping, unimaginably vast, impersonal (not uncaring, transcending us as individuals) hope. The verse that best expresses this hope might not be in John, Romans, or Ephesians, but Revelation 21:1-5 (which happens to be one of my all-time favorite verses):
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
This is the hope we as Christians carry and want to spread as the gospel--that God is not just making transformed, joyful, more fulfilled people who will live forever, but a whole new creation.

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