Tuesday, June 28, 2005

To Tract and not deTract

That is the question that pervades us at this point in time. The Four Spiritual Laws have been a welcome help to spreading the message about Jesus, but in the postmodern world, what function do they serve? In dialogue with Scot McKnight, professor of biblical studies at North Park University, here are some meanderings for you to ponder...
First, the problem is disruption of the Eikon of God in its union with God, in its communion with others, with manifold implications spilling over in all directions, including its relationship with the rest of the created order. It's not about breaking some arbitrary "law". It's about offence in a relationship. What humanity has done in its rejection of GOD has broken a relationship and offended an almighty loving Father. To reach the postmodern mind, one must show that a concrete relationship has been damaged and that this is the problem, not the breaking of some abstract law. Abstract is almost tantamount to superficial in the postmodern mind. Whereas relationships are central. Begin with the fact that we were created for/with/in relationships, and now something has gone horribly wrong and we need to realise that, and the postmodern will have been captured to attentiveness.
Second, the solution is reconciliation: with God, with others, and with the rest of creation. A good word for this is "Shalom", and it needs to be understood eschatologically or teleologically: to know what the gospel is all about we have to know what God wants to do with the world he has created and where the world is going. Let me put this differently: the solution is the Kingdom of God as Jesus envisions it and as Jesus embodies it and as Jesus teaches it. [This is explained by McKnight in "The Jesus Creed" chps. 13-18], that kingdom is a society in which the Jesus Creed/Will of God is done. That was the goal of Jesus' ministry: the Kingdom of God. As my friend Eddie notes: The aim of the gospel is “freedom from the power of sin into the sphere of God's restorative love, where we experience the completion and repair of our being in fellowship with each other and God.
That this is a corporate event is an intricate aspect, God is repairing human as well as the divine relationship. This aspect, unfortunately, tracts miss out.”The gospel [the announcement that Jesus is the crucified and risen Messiah who is LORD] aims to restore relationships. Why was Jesus crucified? To restore and heal relationships. Why was Jesus raised? To give us an eternal relationship that will not be affected by death (sin), why is it important to know Jesus the MESSIAH, because that shows our relationship to him as royal subjects of the one true KING. Who is the LORD [the creator of all]? Only YHWH! Which shows our relationship to GOD as his pinnacle creatures whom GOD has created to enjoy, love and cherish. Reconciliation is about relationships, not the appeasement of laws or abstract rationales.
The problem with modern preaching of the gospel [I use the word “modern” intentionally as opposed to postmodern] is that it is still “law” based. Unfortunately, according to scripture the “law” was given to the people of GOD who were ALREADY in relationship with him. The “law” was meant to be a sheep dog guiding and defining the boundaries for the people of GOD. It was never meant to save or to be used as a stick to point fingers at the pagans. The law was there to help mature the people of GOD so that they could love the world [neighbours] and love GOD. Because that’s why humanity exists!
Third, the means of that solution, as the 4SL [Four Spiritual Laws] has it, is Jesus Christ. But, Jesus the Christ must be seen as a person within the Trinity: so the solution is the Father/Son/Spirit's work in restoring us, through three "acts of God," none of which can be minimized without damaging the gospel: Cross, Resurrection, and Pentecost. The means, in other words, is a Person (triune one) and to know that resolution means to come to know God personally.Too many times we compartmentalise people into material or social beings. Or we try and reduce the gospel’s purpose to ethics or rules.
We must realise the powerful truth that we are holistic beings who need a [w]holistic gospel. The gospel’s aim is not a product but a healthy, vibrant relational encountering with the LIVING and POWERFUL GOD of the HEAVENS & the Earth that transforms us to be more like Jesus, so that we have more in common and can relate more fruitfully and intimately!
Fourth, the context of that resolution is the people of God: anticipated in Israel and finding its Christian completion in the Church. The Church embodies the gospel, and the Church does so through Word, sacrament, and performance of that gospel in trust and obedience. Which means this: the gospel is encountered through an advocate (if you want to read up on conversion theory, read “Turning to Jesus: The Sociology of Conversion in the Gospels” by Scot McKnight). The most potent advocate is the Church itself, but the Church finds individual embodiment in the individual Christian who is the typical form of an advocate. (Others could be mentioned: the Bible, TV, Christian art, etc.).
Which means this: the gospel cannot be separated from the Church, and the goal of the gospel is to restore Eikons so they live in union with God, in communion with others, in the context of the Church, for the good of the world. Again Eddie laments that with “tracts the method is problematic as well. Not only is it impersonal, but it belittles the message and its world creating power by placing it on a small thin sheet of glossy paper. Further, the attitude that often accompanies the practice is that once the tract is handed over, our job is done. This is lazy, and it hardly represents the extent of God's love for his creation and how far and how long he perseveres to save them.”
But notice it is OUR vocation. It is OUR mission. This is for the CHURCH. Not just for random individuals standing on a street corner. No, this is for all of us to be engaged in proclamation together!The old dichotomy between evangelicals and those who preach a “social” gospel is a false dichotomy. We must as St. Francis propagated, “preach the gospel all the time and if necessary use words.” We must with our whole lives tell the story of God’s gracious intervention and supplication.
We must live out this story with artistic expression and every fibre of our being. We must authenticate the axiom, in the words of Isaiah 26:8 “YOUR NAME AND YOUR RENOWN IS THE DESIRE OF OUR LIVES” Renown is fame that will never fade or wear out. It’s the tale of God’s unending glory. The church must be the biggest publishing agent, news agent, broadcast specialist for the GLORY OF GOD. Because God’s fame in this world is important, not only to GOD but also to us. It’s important because if we don’t worship Jesus, we worship other things that amount to nothing more than worthless idols and these things harm us incessantly.
When we put another as our Lord and King, we get hurt and this hurts God. Because remember, it’s all about good, helpful and solid relationships. And if we fail to have our relational selves in sync with Jesus as our true Lord, we end up dead in our selves and our lives. We miss the opportunity to know and serve GOD the Father. We miss out on the greatest adventure ever, following Jesus. We lose the chance to be and become all the Holy Spirit can enable us to be and become. We forsake everything, for nothing…This is the track, the story, the image projection that the world must hear. This is important because humanity is important. Important enough for Jesus to come and give his life so that we can have a restored friendship of care and commitment to GOD, to others, to self and to the created order.
This is the aim of the gospel.
Not for people to be turned off by a pamphlet. . .

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