A Little Farther Down the Path: The Very Good Gospel

For most of my life I gladly identified with the subset of Christianity known as evangelicalism. That was the community in which I had come to faith in Christ, the context where I sensed a call to vocational ministry and began the years-long program of study by which I hoped to prepare myself to fulfill that call.

I liked the word evangelical. Basically it was the English transliteration of a Greek word, euangelion, which essentially meant “good news.” That Greek word is generally translated “gospel” in most English versions of the New Testament, and the word evangelical seemed to say that the people who claimed that designation must surely have a clear and comprehensive understanding of the Gospel. Continue reading

Are We On The Road To Ruin?

It happens after every major election, particularly when conservatives lose. Declarations of doom and despair accompany internecine recriminations and predictions that, as bad as things are now, they will, in all likelihood, get a whole lot worse.day-5

A few days after the presidential election in 2012, I opened the local newspaper to the editorial section where I read this headline spread across the entire op-ed page in large type: “Obama’s Leading This Country Down the Road to Ruin.” That was the title for a column written by a prominent conservative pundit who is also a well-known evangelical Christian. In the second paragraph of his column that day he wrote, President Barack Obama’s reelection mirrors the self-indulgent, greedy and envious nation we are rapidly becoming.

I know a lot of my conservative friends still embrace the sentiment conveyed by that headline despite concrete evidence to the contrary. And a red-meat sentence like that one surely rallies the troops. There’s just one problem. It was not true then, and it is not true now. Continue reading

I Don’t Want to Be a Prophet, I Just Want to Go Home

A friend once described my perception of Christian discipleship as eclectic, and he wasn’t paying me a compliment. He believed that I had drunk from too many different wells, had Rube Goldberg inventiondabbled in too many different traditions, and the result was a sort of “Rube Goldberg” contraption that made Christian life far more complicated than it needed to be.

In response, I suggested that his perception of Christian faith, arising as it did from the tradition into which he had been born, was far simpler than it ought to be. By that I meant that his restricted exposure to traditions outside his own and his limited experience with approaches to Christian faith and practice other than in the community of his birth left him with a myopic perspective. His view of Christianity, I believe, is not merely more simple than mine, it is simplistic. Continue reading

Why New Churches Will Always Be Needed

As I noted in my last post, Christianity took first century Europe, Asia Minor, and Palestine by storm. That is not the way I would describe the impact of Christianity on twenty-first century America. The Christian community has now been around for two thousand years, and its testimony hasn’t always been upright and noble. It has failed to emulate the character of its Lord, and familiarity with the history of the church has bred contempt for its message in many quarters.

The teachings of Jesus are still true and life-transforming, however, even if those who purport to follow Him have not always been faithful and consistent. The message of hope and forgiveness and a new kind of life made possible by the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is still the best news the world could hear, even if the messengers have not always borne it with grace and dignity. And yet the fact remains that, as long as Christians need to relate redemptively to a culture that may be apathetic or even hostile, there will be a need for churches where they can be equipped and encouraged, find healing and strength, share burdens, regain perspective, and renew their hope. Continue reading

Why Would Anybody Want to Plant a Church?

A lot of the rhetoric coming from proponents of church planting these days is ill-conceived and theologically inaccurate. For example, nobody is going to die and go out into a godless eternity just because a new church wasn’t planted in a particular neighborhood. Churches should not be planted out of the fear that, if we don’t raise up an institution of this sort, the work of God will not get done and the plan of God will somehow be thwarted.

Furthermore, it is inaccurate to compare the political, social, and religious culture of twenty-first century America to that of Asia Minor and Europe in the first century. The Roman Empire in the first century was characterized by a hodgepodge of belief systems ranging from mythological polytheism to philosophical agnosticism. While monotheistic Judaism existed, it was not an aggressively evangelistic movement. The number of Jews outside of Palestine was small, relative to the population at large, and the influence of Jewish faith and culture was limited. Continue reading

Salvation in the Here and Now

Well, Mr. Lough…

I am more than a little intrigued by the final paragraphs in your last letter, so if that was your intention, you succeeded admirably. As you know, a description of human salvation like the one you summarized there is at the very heart of evangelical Christianity. Aren’t you concerned that raising questions about something as basic as how to understand the idea of salvation and how to relate to Jesus as savior will further weaken your ties to the evangelical community? Continue reading

I Don’t Want to Die Alone

Dear Mr. Lough:

Thank you so much for your last two letters in which you shared a thoughtful and heartfelt response to my question about how you would define the gospel. The more I have thought about what you wrote, the more I appreciate not only what you shared but also the courage it takes to change your mind about such important matters at this point in your career.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that you are old or that your ministry is over. I only mean that it is unusual to observe such dramatic change in perception in anybody, much less someone who has spent a lifetime in pursuit of a very different vision. Continue reading

What Exactly Is The Gospel? (Part Two)

Dear Kathryn:

I’m sure that my last letter raised more questions than it answered with regard to the way I define the term “gospel” these days. For that reason, I wanted to get this follow-up letter off to you with dispatch.

I don’t mean to suggest that everybody gets to define the word for himself or herself. What I do mean is that it’s possible we have not fully understood the meaning of the word in its original context in the New Testament, specifically in those first four books that we call “the Gospels.” Continue reading

The Role of the Bible in the Church of the Future (On the Road to Easter, #7)

Dear Kathryn:

I know you are eager to explore some of the specific topics and issues where my current thinking shows marked change from the positions I held a few years ago. I am too. Before we go there, however, just a bit more about the change in my attitude toward the Bible.

The Bible, especially the New Testament, is really the church’s book. The church produced it, in the sense that real human beings, presumably active in the life of the early church, wrote the documents that have been compiled into the form we have today. They each wrote at a particular moment in history, and their thinking was shaped by the political, religious, and cultural influences of their day. Continue reading

Advent and the Church’s Mission

If the story of Jesus teaches us anything it is that God is on a mission. The gospel record of Jesus’ coming is simply a continuation of the Old Testament story of God at work, through his chosen instruments—Abraham and the nation that arose out of his descendants—to bring adventskranzredemption to the world and to set right the creation which has been damaged and corrupted by human sin.

After his baptism and temptation, which took place in the southern part of the Jewish homeland, the area known as Judea, Jesus chose to begin his formal and public ministry in the north, where he had grown up, in the region known as Galilee.

Here is the way Mark describes it in chapter one of his Gospel.

Now… Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ (Mark 1:14)

It’s interesting that Mark, who records very little of the teaching of Jesus, preferring to concentrate on his actions—his miracles and works of power—nevertheless begins his account of Jesus’ ministry, after briefly mentioning the baptism and temptation, with a reference to something Jesus said. Continue reading