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The Christian Church must change its Gospel message.
This is the seemingly radical conclusion I’ve come to after serving as a priest for over twenty years. In these posts on “Church and Gospel”, I shall start by explaining my concerns and then go on to outline my proposal.
In case you’re worried about my orthodoxy, though, I should state at the outset that I’m definitely not proposing that we discard traditional Christian doctrine. I continue to hold firmly to the teachings of the Church as they have been passed down the generations. My aim is, rather, to consider how and why these truths might be relevant to the world and her people today. In other words:
Why is Christian faith good news now?
How we might communicate that good news and live it out?
Why might anyone think that following Jesus might be a good idea?
I hope that even if you don’t agree with me, what I have to say will stimulate your own thinking.
So, what are my concerns? Well, I have several which I shall set out in due course. But, here is my first:
Back in my days as a student, I remember there were a number popular little booklets that set out the “good news” of the Christian faith. These told us that we were sinners and that, as a result, we were living under God’s judgement. Jesus, however, had died to take away our sin, so that we could have peace with God.
Now, there is nothing wrong with that message. It’s perfectly true. The trouble is that very few people today are concerned about sin, and about avoiding hell. If they believe in an afterlife, then they assume that of course they’ll go to heaven when they die. Our Gospel message, as presented in these popular booklets, is addressing issues that people don’t have. As a result, our preaching has to first persuade our listeners of the bad news – that they’re sinners – before it can present the good news – that they’re saved. This doesn’t seem to be what Jesus did. Nor is it helpful to people who really need some good news in their lives.
I think of a man I knew some years ago. We’d not seen each other for several months. I bumped into him one day and asked how he was. “Not good,” he said, and he went on to tell me of his troubles. He’d lost his job and, as a result, he’d got into financial difficulties. This had led, in turn, to his wife walking out on him, and he landlord threatening to evict him since he couldn’t pay the rent.
So, what “good news” did I have for him? Was I to tell him that he was a sinner for whom Jesus had died? It wouldn’t have been untrue. But was it helpful? No; not at all. It really wasn’t what he needed to hear at that moment. In fact, it would probably have made the situation not better, but worse. It could have turned him away from Christianity completely. He needed to know that he was still valued for who he was, that relationships could be restored, and that he had a future ahead of him.
For me, this raised all kinds of questions in my mind. Was telling him that he was valued and that he had a future just wishful thinking – a kind of jollying him along? Or might this good news be rooted in the purposes of God and in the life and work of Jesus Christ? And if it was, then was it possible to turn this into a systematic and theologically coherent message of good news? Furthermore, where would the cross and resurrection fit in, let alone the rest of the teaching of the Bible?
That was the task I as to embark upon. But before I could start, though, I needed to clarify my other concerns.
In my next posts, I shall outline some more of these concerns. And after that, I shall begin to outline my proposal.
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