I'm sorry, I haven't blogged for a long time. I hope to start again very soon, but until then, enjoy the archives!
You may like to read part 1, the introduction, first!
In Uganda, I was preaching at a church planting ‘crusade’ in a village called Senda. After my talk, people were invited to come and stand in front of the platform and be ‘born again’. I was asked to lead them in a prayer – the ‘sinner’s prayers’, the prayer of repentance, or whatever you’d like to call it – that prayer you pray when you go from being a non-Christian to a Christian.
However, clearly I didn’t say the ‘right’ words, because as I was walking off the platform, a Ugandan Pastor was invited to say ‘the’ prayer again! My first reaction was ‘eek’! I’ve prayed with many people over the years, what if I had said the ‘wrong’ words when I was praying with them, perhaps they hadn’t been ‘saved’? Had I made a mistake that would have eternal consequences on the lives of others? Did I need to send a few emails and make a few phone calls, to encourage people to make sure they knelt down and prayed the ‘right’ words?
It reminded me of President Obama’s inauguration, where there was some confusion over the words during the oath of office. After the event, he re-did it, just to be on the safe side!
Upon reflection, this incident highlighted one of my big concerns with some expressions of Ugandan Pentecostal Christianity. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s far more I love about it than I loath, and I’m more eager to celebrate it, rather than criticise. However, the common over emphasis on the ‘moment’ someone becomes ‘born-again’ concerns me. It strikes me to be a reductionist gospel; it strips away all the richness of gospel message, and reduces it to this one moment. If you say the right words you’re ‘in’, if you don’t, you remain ‘out’. I’m not saying that the ‘sinner’s prayer’ is not important. What I’m saying is that there is so much more to the gospel message and there’s so much more to being a Christian than just saying this prayer.
After all, Jesus didn’t even teach us the words of this prayer, so can I really be blamed for not saying the ‘right’ words?
My first question is this, is your gospel too small? So many people have a narrow-focused gospel rather than the full panoramic view. It’s like climbing to the top of a mountain and only looking at the view on one side.
A few years ago, you may have heard about this idyllic fisherman’s cottage that was on sale in Kent. (See photo.) As the Telegraph said, “It’s a property that has everything: a fisherman’s cottage a mere five minutes from the sea, with a private driveway, half and acre of garden and sweeping views across some of the most beautiful coastal landscape England has to offer.” You might be wondering why the sale of a fisherman’s cottage made the national news. (See second photo.) What the estate agents ‘forgot’ to mention was the two giant Nuclear Power stations within 100 metres of this cottage!
Seeing the whole picture is important. So, is your gospel too small? Are you only looking at one part of the picture?
There’s lots of debate as to what is the gospel. Different tribes within the Christian church, even different tribes within the evangelical Christian church focus on different parts.
Does Jesus save us from our personal sin, or does he save the world from systemic sin? Is it more about personal salvation or about social change? Is it more about transformation now or transformation later? Some focus entirely on the cross, forgetting the significance of the resurrection. Some focus entirely on how God wants a relationship with us, without acknowledging the problem of sin. Some focus so much on discipleship and following Jesus in order to become more like him, that his death and resurrection seem like a sub-plot rather than part of the main story line.
Most of these debates really frustrate me, because if you ask me nine times out of ten it’s not OR it should be AND. The gospel message is about ALL of these things. It’s about personal sin and systemic sin. It’s about personal salvation and social change. It’s about transformation now and in the future. It’s about Jesus’ death and his resurrection. It’s about a relationship with our creator and being saved from our pending encounter with the judge and about following Jesus in order to become more like him. It’s AND not OR.
That’s not to say that an individual has to know about, and understand, all these things before becoming a Christian. However, it means that as Christians we should be seeking to understand, and practice, the gospel in all its fullness. The gospel of Jesus is a big gospel, not a small one.
This is what it says in Colossians 2:2,3: “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
“The full riches of complete understanding….mystery of God…treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” In my mind, this doesn’t provide an image of a narrow gospel, but a panoramic gospel. It feels to me like standing on a top of a mountain on a summer day, where you know that you’ll never be able to take in everything that you see all around you.
The word ‘riches’ is used. Now richness is about value, but it’s also about fullness and depth. Then the imagery moves to treasure – a treasure hunt, a journey of discovery. Are you viewing the gospel in all its panoramic glory? Are you continually plunging to new depths and discovering new treasures as your understanding of the gospel grows? Is it time to increase the size of your gospel?
The bigger your gospel is, the more relevant it is to every area of not only your own live, but to the lives of those around you. And, consequently, the more confidence you’ll have in it.
If your gospel is just about the forgiveness of sin, it’s going to be difficult to communicate within a society where sin is not really a concept people understand. If your gospel is just about heaven, why does it matter now? If you gospel is just about living a transformed life, why is someone who ‘has it all’ going to be interested?
The bigger the gospel, the more relevant it is and the more confidence you’ll have in it.
If this resonates with you, I encourage you to read a book by Timothy Keller, called King’s Cross. Reading it helped me see the gospel in full-colour, in all its panoramic glory.