Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Is God our Gospel?
While in the touristy West End district of Dallas, I encountered a team of “missionaries.” These men were engaged in various jobs, some doing a faux magic show, one on a chair preaching and others handing out tracts (an experience I recounted in an earlier post). I took a tract from a man who seemed a little unsure of what he was doing, allowing the printed word to interact with this sea of people rather than the spoken word.
When I returned home, I read the tract. It began interesting enough: Are you a good person? Seems that nothing I do is good enough (I wonder how many people suffered mother-in-law flash backs while reading the tract). The proof for this given by a lengthy discussion about how we all violate the 10 commandments. Then at the end, on two three-inch by two-inch pages it gave the good news! A man named Jesus died and if you believe that, you get to go to heaven. Now, boiling down the gospel into a short presentation is a difficult task, and an admirable project. Yet, the focus of the gospel in this tract was clear: There’s a problem with what you do, some vague event happened with a man named Jesus and now things are better and you get to live forever. This tract exposes some huge blindspots in the way evangelicals present the gospel and even makes me wonder about a decision made on such facts for three reasons:.
1) The focus was on what you do (sin) and not who you are (a sinner)
2) There was no mention about why one would want to be in heaven, namely that God is there to be enjoyed.
3) Most importantly, the tract only gives a few lines to who Jesus is, and never mentions that Jesus was God!
When I married my wife, I wanted to have some sort of “take away” that shared our faith with our guests beyond the homily. I looked through some tracts, but all seemed to have this problem. So, I decided to give the guests a small version of the Gospel of John. The reason? John’s gospel is different from the gospel of most tracts.
A recent fad in Evangelical circles has been looking at John for techniques of how to do evangelism according to Jesus. Best scenario to look at? The woman at the well, where Jesus offers her the bread of life. Principles are drawn out such as meeting someone where they are, or getting into their lives. Yet, we may have missed the message: “seek the bread of life.” Those doing their reading of John 4 as part of their daily devotion might miss the tension of discovering what this bread of life is. The reader must wait until John 6 until this is revealed.
In John 6, after Christ fed a crowd of thousands, the people follow him across the lake to Capernaum (John 6:24). Jesus, perceiving their intentions, pointed to the bread he had given them and told them they should not follow him for food, but Himself. (John 6:26-27) When the crowd again asked for food and another sign in addition to the food already given, Christ knew they did not follow Him for His own sake, but for earthly reward. He was using the bread as an analogy for Himself, declaring: “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)
Instead of trying to perceive the truth Christ was pointing to, the crowd asks “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (John 6:52) Christ, instead of explaining further to the crowd that is now mocking Him, presses the metaphor without explaining it to the level of the ridiculous and ludicrous, insisting that unless they eat his flesh and drink His blood, they will die. (John 6:53) Most of the crowd leaves, and so this becomes a technique I have not heard imitated much in Evangelical seminars…
In John 6:53, Jesus uses language that sounds very Eucharistic, speaking of blood and flesh. The concept being communicated, however, is not the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation, but the necessity of Christ for salvation. Bread is a common metaphor for sustenance. In Psalm 104:14, the Psalmist specifically says God gave “bread [that] sustains the heart of man.” Both the Eucharist and this teaching point to the sustaining aspect of Christ as gained by belief. By Christ all things have their very existence (1 Cor 8:6). On one level all have their very existence in Christ, but those who believe are fed eternally with a manna that does not rot like that of Moses in the desert. (Ex 16) As John Calvin puts it: “Christ is the bread on which we must feed.”
If Christ is our center, the object of our worship and affections, He should be more than a gear, a link, a bridge or a means in our conception of the gospel. Christ certainly provides the way. Did not Christ say he was the Way? The question then is not “Is Christ the means to salvation.” He certainly is. But is Christ also the end of our quest, the prize of our salvation? God tells us He is our reward (Gen 15:1) and the image of our salvation is partaking of God Himself (2 Pet 1:4). Indeed, if we are Reformed, why do we not communicate that our end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever? (WC Q1)