Friday, May 27, 2005

Gospel Perspective

Many times I've heard people, from Bishops and pastors, to professors and laypersons, touting a belief or theology, and upon evaluating it, I've learned to put it through a test - the 'All People, All Places' test. You see I believe in a God and a Gospel of truth and of power - one that makes sense and one that is effective. I do not desire to know truth yet not see that truth realised or effective in reality - a pointless Gospel. Nor do I want to hear of multitudinous promises that defy my understanding and offer wonders beyond belief. I also do not want to hear of a Gospel that basically boils down to a theology of 'nothing needs to change' just be yourself. I believe there needs to be change in this world, and primarily on a personal, individual level. Humanity is corrupt and I believe human history shows that. I believe the Gospel must have a power to change that humanity.

One problem I've found with theological debate is that it is too easy to lose a sense of greater perspective and get isolated within books and theory in the context of this prosperous and gluttonous Western society. In counter to this, I've found it very useful, when considering theology and truth, to apply such beliefs to the wider context of the world and humanity - poorer countries, tyrannies, closed states, addicts, all levels of intelligence and so on. It seems to me that whatever the truth of the Gospel it is truth which should apply to all people in all situations no matter their state.

So it is that health and wealth gospels offering some kind of guaranteed financial success or utopian existence find no credence with me. How do you preach that to the poorest tribes in the poorest nations? Such a gospel seems to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the ideal everyone should work towards but very few ever seem to reach. The gospel is not so shallow or so short-sighted.

Staunch believers that their denomination's way is the only have to ask themselves - so what of those places around the world where our church has never reached, and never will? Also how much of salvation depends upon theological or ecclesiastical accuracy? The gospel remains the gospel for the simple human who has not much intellect or ability to reason and understand just as it does the academic theologian. The gospel is wider.

On the other side of things, more liberal gospels that seem only to speak only of acceptance and feeling fine about how you are right now find their end for me in the reality of human depravity.
It is true that there is and has been too much poor treatment of others in some rooms of the Church, yet I believe the gospel is by its very nature a challenging things. It speaks challenging and confrontational truths to our very being because it is only from that place that it can then offer the amazing hope of freedom from those things that cause so much hurt and suffering in our lives and the lives of those around us. "You're fine how you are", "What you believe is fine as long as you're sincere", all seem to speak to the world to tell it that everything is okay and to be joyful and happy and not condemned. That things are getting better and better.

That, however, offers no hope to the person who knows everything isn't okay. Who struggles with addictions and habits and problems and knows something needs to change. Whose religion has not yielded what they wish for. Across the world lives have been changed and hope brought through the preaching of the gospel which brings hope with a challenge. The Christian gospel is unique because it holds the power in Christ to truly transform lives and bring freedom from sins and guilt - not by simply changing the perspective and validating the current state of things, but by changing reality and bring full and true freedom. In defense of acceptance I think that there are those who have suffered so much hurt from Christians who have tried to force change and handled them very poorly. They now seek rest from it all in a gospel which allows them rest. Such an aspect exists in the true gospel, bringing peace and rest through acceptance in Christ, and all of us need it. At the same time I expect that there are also those in the same camp who simply desire to remain unchanged. They don't want to be challenged, and so they choose a gospel in which they can find validation for all that they are, and avoid guilt. The Christian gospel is unique because it holds the power in Christ to truly transform lives and bring freedom from sins and guilt - not by simply changing the perspective and validating the current state of things, but by changing reality and bring full and true freedom. Doing it gently, lovingly, and in the time and wisdom of Christ is for many, the next challenge to be faced in proclaiming this gospel.

A final note. I find also that for many, their gospel is short-sighted in terms of heaven. The true gospel is one which places our hope in Jesus Christ and that which He is to bring to reality in heaven, not just on Earth. It is hard to focus on that which we do not see or know much about yet I cannot ignore how dominant a place the hope of heaven held in the hearts and minds of the New Testament writers. It was their aim and their goal and their hope. They were only able to suffer loss and live a life of service and sacrifice because they had decided to place all their investments in that which was to come. Their hope of heaven was inspirational to them and in ways, heaven was more real to them than their lives on Earth - for that which was now was temporary, it would end, but that which would come was eternal. Such is faith, it leads one to act upon truth unseen and to make decisions and investments based upon more than the immediate or visible. A gospel which focuses solely, or predominantly upon the things of this life is a dubious gospel. An earthly perspective in life and faith will, I believe, only frustrate a Christian because it will limit them in how they live - trapped in the games of Earth by fear of loss in this world. If you can take your eyes off the ground and keep your hopes fixed upon Christ and heaven then you will be able to live beyond those games and fears.

So then, to end. The gospel must be truth not only on paper but in reality. It must bring a challenge because there are things that need challenging in this world, and it must bring power to make changes. If the physically disabled or mentally challenged cannot attain to it, it is not the gospel. If it doesn't work in some countries or situations, it's not the gospel. The true gospel of Jesus Christ is truth, life and power, and it applies to all in all.