“The emperor has no clothes”
To an extent we are operating with a powerless, irrelevant, and lofty Christianity that fails to have real impact and application. Christianity has retreated from culture in it’s failure to be relevant and engaging. It has lost power and become a part time activity and an addition to our egocentric lives. “The emperor has no clothes” and perhaps it’s time to call it as it is.
Western Evangelicalism today is a faith that is stuck in a heady rationalism that is rooted in modernism. Science moved on long ago – from a cause-effect, dualistic Newtonian model to quantum mechanics and the inter-relatedness of all things. Philosophy has moved on. Biology has moved on. And I believe the ‘salvation-oriented gospel of decisionism’* is too individualistic and mechanistic and no longer relevant to a world longing for greater unity and authenticity.
A new ‘wine-skin’
Each generation of believers is called to re-interpret and re-evaluate the message of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God as it relates to their lives. And I believe we live in a transition period in Christianity. There must be a new wine-skin. For we are all products of our time, and Christianity is in a sense no different. I’m not talking about the core realities of our faith (e.g. the man Jesus Christ and the event of the cross), but the way in which these realities are interpreted and theologized and lived out.
All this may sound shocking, but if you think about it for a moment, this perspective gives us a lens through which we can now understand and affirm God’s involvement in the last 2000 years of history, instead of a protestant-reformed lens that throws out everything before Martin Luther. And it moves us towards a humility that can affirm the faithfulness of God – that He is at work at every point of human history.
An unboxable and uncontainable Jesus
In part, I believe we are moving from a gospel defined largely by Pauline writings, to a gospel that is defined by the words of Jesus. And as we do so, may we return to an understanding and an embodiment that finds its expression in every nook and cranny of our lives. Every second of our existence, every thought of our minds, and every affection of our hearts**. In some ways it is a return to the faith of the ancient fathers. So we have, in a sense, come full circle. And as we do so, may we recover a Jesus Christ that cannot and will not be compartmentalised to a Sunday morning. May we find that he is the one through whom all things were created, who holds all things together, through whom all things are related (out of interest – see ‘superstring theory’). May we find a man who is concerned with every second of our working week, who is breathtakingly intimate, who is staggeringly hope-filled, who is mindblowingly beautiful, who is at every moment, redeeming and restoring and reconciling all things to himself.
We will perhaps find that the gospel is not a mere addition to our self-centred lives, but rather discover a magnificent tapestry which God himself is weaving right now. One which has been weaved throughout the whole of human history. One which will continue to be weaved until the end of time. One in which we are but a single strand, intricately woven in to perfection.
This is the first post in a series on ‘Redefining the Gospel’. More to come.
P.S. I must be clear and say that I am not not rejecting a ‘justification by faith gospel’. In fact I heartily affirm the truths of substitutionary atonement and justification by faith. Furthermore I also affirm the men who have preached such a message. I was brought into the faith through such a message. And today, I owe much of my spiritual nourishment from the Reformed, conservative evangelical church. I am merely presenting another perspective or facet of this beautiful diamond we call the gospel. These are perspectives and facets that have impacted me deeply as a postmodern Gen-Y that has always sought a God that goes deeper than propositional truth, a God who is bigger and more beautiful and more satisfying than what I was getting at church at the time. I want to be careful not to put down any denomination or any line of doctrinal teaching. More than likely these are sincere men in sincere organisations, with sincere motivations. In the end, it is ‘each to their own’, and I realise what didn’t and doesn’t work for me works for many others.
*The “salvation-oriented gospel of decisionism” needs defining:
– Scot McKnight’s thesis in ‘The King Jesus Gospel’ is that the Evangelical Christian faith has a culture that is shaped by a misunderstanding of the gospel that is deconstructing the church. Primarily this is a “salvation culture” as opposed to a proper “gospel culture”. Evangelicals do not have the full sense of the apostolic gospel, but instead are “soterians” – those whose gospel focuses on personal salvation. This culture is one that fails to take into account the whole story of the Bible, one that places Jesus in the story of Israel as its telos/completion/fulfilment point.
– ‘Decisionism’ is a gospel that places too much emphasis on a personal decision to believe and accept Jesus into your heart thus reducing salvation to a one-time event/decision. It is one that has little biblical backing.
**I’m not saying that Pauline writings don’t apply the same way as Jesus’ teachings do, but rather that our mechanistic interpretations of them has led to lofty and irrelevant applications.