I don’t know how many opinions I’ve heard about what the Church is doing wrong. “We need to center on mission.” “We need to center around worship.” “We need to meet in a café.” Fundays, vicars in jeans, sitting on the floor. Fair enough.
As a curate’s wife, I love all the diversity, experimentation and change that’s happening. But I’m starting to notice a pattern to all these ‘magic solutions’.
They often focus on dressing up church. They focus on periphery issues such as the service style or what things look like. They focus on adding more and changing more to allure innocent passersby. Good things to talk about, but maybe missing something core. Something’s been on my mind recently, and I’m pretty sure it’s the kind of thing you shouldn’t admit out loud to other Christians: I’m not sure we’re getting the gospel right.
Ask any Christian what the gospel is and they’ll probably come up with some version of Jesus dying for our sins, forgiveness, the cross, eternal life, atonement, etc. Great – right answer. Here’s the thing, though: our zooming in on the cross, atonement and penal substitution, while correct, has almost caused us to forget the rest of the gospel.
We have taken one way of explaining a very vast truth, and clung to it, regurgitating that same gospel we heard in Sunday school. The Christian message hasn’t always been explained from the angle of “Jesus died in my place”, even though that is true. In different generations throughout history, we’ve emphasised different elements of the gospel. From victory over the devil to Jesus the moral leader.
This makes sense to me. The gospel is this an amazing tapestry, woven together throughout the whole Bible and beyond – a truth so amazing that it encompasses so many different elements.
But does anyone else finding it difficult to explain the ‘Jesus died for my sins’ gospel to non-Christians? Sin language is almost non-existent in this culture, and the concept that we need to answer for our lives has disappeared as well. Good and bad are relative to people now, and there’s an increased sense of entitlement that has led to God being put in the dock, rather than ourselves. We question how he can allow suffering; blame him for the wrongs in the world; make accusations that historically would have been reserved for the Devil.
And it’s into this mindset that we need to speak a gospel that makes sense. Not changing any of our Biblical Christian beliefs, not taking away the penal substitution element, but shifting our emphasis slightly so that we can be understood. Zooming out, so to speak. We need to be asking what deep hungers and longings our generation has, and showing that the answers lie in Jesus. Jesus died to free us from our sins, but let’s make that list bigger.
He died to heal the world, to take away the pain caused by suffering, to start a new movement for justice, to see loved ones reconciled after death. He died to show that all can be loved and accepted, to create a new world where people actually get on. He died to reconcile humans to creation and to creator, to give us a new world that isn’t groaning in natural disasters, where basic human needs are met. He died to release us from the oppression of darkness and addiction. To show us our real purpose as humans. To show what God is like to us. To create a world without fear or worry, and perhaps more than anything, to glorify his Father.
I think we need to become less one-dimensional and start listening to the questions people are asking. I think in starting from this place, we can show people that the good news is actually good news.