Redefining the Gospel: The Gospel and Surrender

Before we even broach the topic, we should note the influence the individualism and narcissism of our culture has on our thinking about surrender. Not only that, no one surrenders their lives with ease. We are too precious about our lives – our dreams, our desires, our aspirations. And only naturally so…

The problem is, a reading of ‘the gospels’ and the epistles that takes it at face value would reveal no other way of walking out the Christian journey besides surrender. And in a sense, it is only natural for us to drift away from the right understanding of the Gospel as the surrender of your life. This is something the church does at large, but something which we all do on a daily level. Jesus call to ‘take up your cross daily and follow me’ is something pierces through our culture and its weaknesses, and it pierces through our humanity and its weaknesses. It is the perfect salve.

We have conceived the gospel as something that does not involve the constant giving of our ourselves. We have become a society of the saved, rather than following Jesus to the cross. And so far as we try to declare and live out a cheap and false grace Gospel, we lose the essence of the Gospel and it’s redemptive, unstoppable, freeing power.

I don’t think Jesus ever expects someone to surrender completely and fully the first time. It’s meant to be a beautiful life-long journey of discovery – about self and about a God who wants to be fully given to, and who wants to fully give himself. But several thoughts have helped me in my journey, and continue to help me:

1. We surrender our lives for the reward of Jesus’ own – and in that transaction – we give up so little to gain so much. This is the grace of the gospel. We give up brokenness and ashes to gain life and beauty.
2. We surrender a step at a time. There is room to bargain with God. He is not a tyrant who wants to take everything, but rather a father who is waiting for greater and great trust.
3. To surrender is freedom. To surrender is mercy.

May he give us the grace to give ourselves afresh to the only one who knows how best to lead our lives every day. May he gives us the grace to give more and more of ourselves every day. May he plumb the depths of our hearts, search every nook and cranny and find it surrendered to his good purposes. This is our only hope. This is our only life.

 

 

 

 

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Redefining the Gospel (An Introduction)

“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.

The Gospel and the Church/Men

Here’s the first of hopefully many posts to come. Been musing on a few things and here’s my attempt to articulate some of them. Open to feedback/pushback.

The church and it’s men inside are fighting a defensive battle. We are under assault from the world and from humanistic and individualistic thinking. Much of this has made it inside the church and so we are under assault even from within. We find ourselves today tossed about in the currents our own convolutions. On the backfoot, we are forced to counter, and cover-up, and respond, and manage the issues presented to us.

The church was not created to be on her backfoot. The “gates of hell will not prevail against it” is an ‘offensive’ statement.

The fundamental problem of the irrelevance of the church and the weakness of the men (in the west) is this: a failure to understand and apply the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel has been reduced: to an entity with no real power over sin, to one sinner’s prayer that we prayed once upon a time.  It has become a nice addition to a nice life, and essentially, it is now something that sits underneath us. It is something that sits inferior to the desires of the world. Instead of applying the gospel as something that truly redeems and restores to bring freedom, we band-aid our sin with management. We use the gospel as a band-aid for our skin cancer, when it should be the surgeon’s scalpel.

What’s the solution?

1. A perspective shift

In reality, the gospel sits above us all. It sits above the superficiality of the world. It sits above our brokenness. It sits above and conquers the powers and principalities of the world.  It sits above and conquers our sin and its consequences.

We need our eyes opened to the supremity of the gospel, for it is the power for salvation for all who believe, it is a story of love that conquers all other loves. The gospel is the story of our salvation by one man: the one man who will rule supreme throughout all eternity in righteousness, justice, and love.

2. An idol shift: surrender

When we lose the cost of the gospel, we lose the power of the gospel. 

Instead being a people that seek to use gospel to help us have a nice life, the thrust of the gospel is this: that we attempt to submit every aspect of our lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  And under his Lordship, there can be no competing masters, and so we find ourselves free, and we find ourselves having a purpose, because he created us.  He who wants to save his life must lose it. We live and conquer by submission and surrender. What a beautiful paradox.

Let us submit and give away our lives to the supreme and only good power. Let us take up our swords because we were made not to fight defensively. The kingdom does not advance by defense. And we’re going to take back all that the enemy has stolen.

Church: only as we submit and surrender afresh to Christ today, will we find the purpose and integrity and compassion that the world is so deeply needful and hungry for.

Men: only as we submit and surrender afresh to Christ today, will we find the freedom, and peace that our own broken and hearts need. And only as we surrender, will we find the leadership and vision and strength that our families and those we lead are looking for from us.