Fix your eyes on the afterlife . . . (Or, “What are evangelicals aiming for?”)
“Anyone who believes in me will do what I’ve been doing.”
“Every student who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”
“You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing.”
I want to offer the observation (which I’ve made from time to time before), before giving some tidbits from another very interesting post from i-Monk, that much of what i-Monk observes is due to the fact that evangelicalism as a movement is still recovering from a narrow view of the good news (despite the content of the actual “gospel” accounts) which has shaped everything they do. In a nutshell, the evangelical gospel and its perception of what God is doing focuses too much on escaping the judgment of God through giving assent to historical truths (namely Jesus’ death and resurrection), and not enough on the rest of the good news of “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Everything God has done and is doing through Christ is good news, hence his appearing, his life, his teaching, his deeds, his death and resurrection all being part of “the gospel” according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Many wise folks have observed that people are often shaped as much or more by the questions they ask and keep on asking than by the answers they obtain and build upon. I think prayers would qualify as this kind of formative question (which is why it’s a good idea to not just pray regularly for what you want, but also what Jesus tells us to pray for). Unfortunately, though, the question that has shaped evangelicals more than any other, for a couple of generations at least, is “If you died tonight, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” And the chief prayer of evangelicalism has been the one asking God for forgiveness prompted by that question about the after-life. Therefore, the evangelical gospel–the answer to the above question–has not really been about God changing life on earth as much as God changing our after-life. I have said it before and I say again, announcing forgiveness alone as “gospel” or even “God’s salvation” would come off as a bit odd, incomplete, to Jesus, to the apostles and their first followers because their gospel (and their central prayer) was about the healing leadership, character and power of heaven coming to earth, through the costly redemption and transformation of earth and its rebels by it’s rightful leader, Jesus.
But, as a commenter said here not to long ago, “we [reformed evangelicals] are disciples of the gospel”–meaning the evangelical/Lutheran/reformed gospel of God’s forgiveness, and not disciples of Jesus–of all he did and taught. And we are fully trained in the way of our scaled down master. We accept God’s forgivness–and keep accepting it, and keep accepting it and keep accepting it amidst a life that remains shaped by us and for us, because the availability and intention of God’s grace and power to re-shape and re-direct our lives isn’t part of our gospel. It’s something else for us, something less important. And often we are glad the good news of God’s reign coming to earth stops with forgiveness and avoided judgment. The sinner’s prayer we know and we repeat–it comforts us as we continue to live our lives for our desires. The Lord’s prayer, meanwhile, always seems a little askew within our thoughts, within our gospel, within our lives (maybe it needs reforming).
We are called out of darkness not just to avoid the coming wrath on those who do dark deeds, but to become people who live in the light as part of light, learning to “do good and heal” as he did and as he is still doing through his Spirit and his Body, in the world he loves. Until we evangelicals see and embrace this larger vocation, this larger invitation as gospel–the gospel that God’s government has come to reclaim and reshape and renew life on earth in the character and the power of Christ, we will remain too theoretical, too heavenly minded to be earthly good (yet simultaneously too in need of conversion to Christ), and increasingly dismissed, and rightfully so. That change has begun, but it is slow, dangerous and will take a lot of dismantling then rebuilding, just like any change to a building’s foundation.
And now, i-Monk:
“But I don’t believe the new atheists are making converts because they have a better argument. I think they are making converts because the fruit is ripe to fall from the tree, and we have little or no idea it’s happening. We’re setting up for the great ideological debate and the kids have found that it’s just more fun to have a drink with the non-religious crew.
Keller is still great. C.S.Lewis is still helpful. Craig is still impressive. But I’m not sure their arguments are on the right channel. Vast numbers of people aren’t asking for philosophy. They are asking what will let them live a life uncomplicated by lies, manipulation (etc.) . . .
What we’ve said and written is fine. What we’ve lived in our homes, private lives, churches, workplaces and friendships has spoken louder.
We are the ones who appear to not believe in the God we say is real. We are the ones who seem to be forcing ourselves to believe with bigger shows, bigger celebrities and bigger methods of manipulation.”