Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gospel and Cultures, 3

So, here's the proposal. Gospel has hermeneutical significance for the relationship between church and world. In other words, how does the church define its relationship with the larger world? Primarily around notions of gospel. Gospel frames a certain kind of engagement around the category of news. How does the church remain in the mode of gospel?

To answer that question, it is good to have a sense of what passes for gospel in the NT. I've blogged about this before, so won't go into great detail here, but I want to briefly notice three things. Whether in Jesus' announcement of the good news of the kingdom of God in Mark 1:15, or in Paul's summary of the gospel in 1 Cor 15, three things seem to characterize the use of this word. First, it is the announcement of an event. It is not first a theory of atonement or a set of explanatory images or metaphors. It is first the announcement of an event--something newsworthy. Second, this event has to do with the coming of God in the person of Jesus, and particularly the event of his death and resurrection. Third, this coming is a coming of the future. That is, what is being enacted is God's future. The gospel is fundamentally eschatological. The coming of Jesus marks a dramatic turn of the ages. The way of life ordered by the principalities and powers of this current age have been judged and found wanting in light of the coming future of God made manifest in Jesus. It is possible for humans to belong to, receive, and welcome this coming day of salvation.

These things all go together and are necessary for the the church to remain in the mode of news. The event, or story, nature of the gospel makes it news, as long as the event continues to unfold. If the event is a one and done, then it is yesterday's news. This is where the eschatological nature of the event becomes important. The Kingdom of God is near in Jesus, but it is still coming. The church always prays, "your kingdom come," expecting that God's future will continue to appear in the events of human history. The church is a community not looking backward to a golden past, but forward to God's coming future. It is a discerning community, constantly in search of the discovery of the inbreaking Kingdom. It always has news to report.

It is not always easy, however, to discern the work of God among other events. A good journalist knows where to look for news, and this is true of the church as well. Here, the particularity of the story of Jesus becomes important. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are not simply variables in a formula that results in forgiveness of sins. The death and resurrection of Jesus becomes a way of attending to the world, a story to enact through faith, hope, and love, whereby those things that will endure in the age to come become manifest, or observable. Paul calls this the "logic (logos) of the cross" (1 Cor 1:18) which, for those who are being saved, is the power of God. It is a mind (Phil 2), or a renewing of the mind, that allows us to prove what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect (Rom 12).

But the story of Jesus not only tells us how to look, it tells us where. Part of the eventfulness of the coming of God in Jesus is related to social location. It is not enough to know that God became flesh, it is important also to know where he did. The Jesus story is full of mangers, backwater villages, sick and suffering people, and crosses "outside the camp." The continuing eventfulness of the gospel is likely to be seen more at the margins than at the centers of human power. It is more likely to be found in a hospital room than a board room.

We've made some pretty big shifts here for most Christians. Most define gospel as a message, not an event, the death of Jesus as a theoretical transaction with limited ongoing significance, salvation as a private possession, and the future only related to reward or punishment. Not much in the way of news.

These fairly static understandings also tend to deliver a fairly static view of the world, and therefore of mission. In the next post, a view of cultures.

1 comment:

SteveA said...

"The Kingdom of God is near in Jesus, but it is still coming." I liked this pithy statement and the rest of your post. Our task is not Restoration of a static gospel but to play a part in something that continues to unfold and create more good news. Thanks!