Saturday, August 18, 2012

“What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?” Evangelism and the Gospel in 2012 (Part 2)

First, I’d like to say “thanks” for the kind and appreciative comments I’ve received for Part 1 of this post on sharing the gospel in 2012. This encourages me to continue exploring this direction.

In this post I want to extend the discussion with my “Naked Lady” friends. It might so something like this.

Thanks so much for hearing me out and letting me give you my take on what the biblical story is about. It’s different enough from what you may have heard that you may well have some questions, chief among them, “What does all this mean for me?” Would you be interested in hearing my take on that? I promise you it will be different from anything you might imagine.

Good. Let’s notice first that the Bible seems to place the emphasis in a different place than the church often has. The message you’ve probably gotten from the church, if you’ve listened to it at all, is that you’re a sinner and God is mad at you and unless you accept Jesus God will send you to hell. Right? That’s the Soterian Gospel.

And I think it’s out of sync with the Bible! It seems to focus more on who we are (those royal priests, I talked about last time) than who we have become (failed royal priests, or sinners). And God’s interest, indeed his passion, throughout is to restore us to who we are! Of course, that means he has to deal with our failure, reclaim us from the false ways and idols we have attached ourselves to. As important as that is, and it is absolutely important (don’t get me wrong), but that’s not what God is ultimately after. God wants to restore us to our primal dignity and vocation. He wants us to be the royal priests he created us to be! To the degree that the church’s message has gotten this emphasis wrong, it has shortchanged the good news the Bible’s message should be to us.

Have any of you ever seen a Billy Graham Crusade meeting on TV? No, well it would always end, after a sermon designed to persuade the listeners that they were sinners separated from God, with an old hymn called “Just As I Am.” Here are the words:

Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, tho tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fightings and fears within, without
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve
Because Thy promise I believe
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

This is the Soterian Gospel! We come to Jesus to “rid our souls of one dark blot” (actually I have a lot more than one!) and for him to “welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve.” This appears to be the sum and substance of the Gospel to which people are invited to respond.

The “King Jesus” gospel is rather different. IT does not deny, of course, the necessity of Jesus’ work on the cross to reclaim us from our bondage to sin. But its vision seems a bit larger. It builds on the reclaiming work of Jesus but focuses its attention on the ultimate consequences of that work: that God wants above all else to restore you and me to our original dignity as his royal priests and our proper calling as those who people-keep and creation-keep both to their full flourishing. This vision of the gospel is reflected in Tenth Avenue North’s recent hit song “You Are More.” Its words are:

There's a girl in the corner
With tear stains on her eyes
From the places she's wandered
And the shame she can't hide

She says, "How did I get here?
I'm not who I once was.
And I'm crippled by the fear
That I've fallen too far to love"

(refrain)
But don't you know who you are,
What's been done for you?
Yeah don't you know who you are?

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

Well she tries to believe it
That she's been given new life
But she can't shake the feeling
That it's not true tonight

She knows all the answers
And she's rehearsed all the lines
And so she'll try to do better
But then she's too weak to try

(refrain)
'Cause this is not about what you've done,
But what's been done for you.
This is not about where you've been,
But where your brokenness brings you to

This is not about what you feel,
But what He felt to forgive you,
And what He felt to make you loved.

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade. (repeat)

You've been remade (repeat three times)

“You’ve been remade”! It’s not about what we’ve done, but what God has done for us; it’s not about what we feel, but on the God who has loved us beyond measure and merit. It’s especially the “more than” in this song that captures the “King Jesus” gospel – we are “more than” the choices we’ve made, our past mistakes, the problems we’ve created – and we’ve been remade into who and what God always intended us to be! That’s the good news of the biblical story. God will not rest until we live and experience life together and with him as he always intended as his royal priests on a creation we care for and bring to its glorious and verdant abundance for all to share.

Well, I rambled on about that, didn’t I? Sorry, but I so much want you to hear how God desires and even in a sense “needs” us, all of us, to fulfill his dreams when he created all that is!

I haven’t exactly answered the question of what all that might mean for us today on the ground in daily life yet. Here’s what I’ve come to on this:

We live in world that has fallen away, or rebelled from its rightful ruler. That ruler has launched what we might call a counter-revolution to set right everything turned upside down and inside out by humanity’s sinful revolution. God wants to take his temple-palace back!

Thus he calls a people to be his own and through them he sets up a beachhead for his counter-revolution within his still rebellious creation. This people, Israel, is supposed to live like the royal priests of creation we were meant to be. That way those who have rejected being God’s priests can see right in front of their eyes the way life should be lived. And they will be attracted to this way of life and return to God and become his people again.

God’s people today are heirs of Israel’s calling to be this counter-revolutionary people. But their counter-revolution is subversive, from below, rather than imposed from above. We are to subvert by our attitudes, actions, and life as a people lived in love and service to others, especially the last, the least, and the lost, the attitudes, actions, and ways of life formed in rebellion against God. We saw last time that that didn’t work out so well for the people or the creation. But God’s subversive counter-revolutionary movement is his way to begin to reclaim and set right what has gone wrong. And it will do that non-violently, wooing to win people back to God and rejecting the imposition of it on anyone.

Israel didn’t so a very good job of being this subversive counter-revolutionary people. Someone else was needed. Someone who would offer God a life that in every respect demonstrated was true humanity as God’s royal priest actually looked like in real life. This one was Jesus, of course, God’s subversive counter-revolutionary par excellence!

He did the job of reflecting God’s will and way in his world that those who still weren’t ready to bend the knee in subjection and loyalty to the world’s true Lord just had to get rid of him. Or so they thought. They did the worst that humans can do to him, but the death they dealt him proved a losing hand. God played a Joker that wasn’t even in the deck the world was playing from – resurrection!

God trumped death and declared Jesus to be that one faithful counter-revolutionary through whom God could finally fulfill his purposes and retake his creation renegade humanity had hijacked. Resurrection means we carry on God’s counter-revolution with no fear of death. This fearless witness and way of life is the means by which God will extend and implement the victory of Jesus through the world.

And God will in the end have his heart’s delight – a world where the damage of the original revolution of sin has been corrected and expunged, banished forever. A world where humanity lives in gratitude and obedience to loving rule of the Creator; a world of abundance and generosity in which each interaction and each relationship on every level of life reflects the self-giving love of God himself. And in the living out of this self-giving love, we humans discover the very life the Creator has been trying to give us all along – the life of royal priests of the Great King!

That’s how I would try to flesh out and translate the biblical imagery into an idiom for today. I believe an attempt like this faithfully captures not only the “priest” imagery of the biblical story but the conflictual setting in which that story unfolds. The “subversive counter-revolutionary” imagery speaks, I think, to a largely complacent and self-satisfied North American church that has made far too easy a peace with its host culture and its ways of life. Thus it serves as a serious call to repentance and reflection on what being “Christian” means in our world.

This imagery, further, enables us to mount a “missional” critique and evaluation of the present shape of the church and its ministry as well as setting us on the path toward developing new and fresh ways of being a doing church appropriate to the biblical story and the world we live in. No small gifts in our day, think!

Finally, another benefit of reading the biblical story in terms of the “royal priest” is that it has the potential to rescue the book of Hebrews, “the” majesterial account of Jesus’ High Priesthood and our priesthood in and through him, from the margins of the New Testament to its very center.

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