Here is the First Spiritual Law of Bill Bright’s famous Four Spiritual Laws tract, just in case you haven’t used it or heard it:
Just as there are physical laws that govern the physical universe, so are there spiritual laws which govern your relationship with God.
Law One: God LOVES you, and offers a wonderful PLAN for your life.
God’s Love: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 see notes)
God’s Plan: Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly” (that it might be full and meaningful)
(John 10:10 see notes)
Why is it that most people are not experiencing the abundant life?
Because… [next Law]
Premise: the “laws” introduction is modernist, to be sure, but it is (in my assessment) mostly rhetorical: it is a way of connecting the “real” world to the “spiritual” world. It is a bridge, a touchstone, a way of connecting to modernists who think of the world in terms of laws. I’m no scientist, but I do know that scientists today don’t like this idea of “laws” (it gets its classical orientation among the Deists). Today they are talking about “string theory” and “braneworlds” and “Higgs field,” and the like, and are much less certain of laws of science that describe the real world. I leave it to the scientists to come to terms with these things. But, if they are nervous about scientific laws, then perhaps the correlation in the spiritual world has undergone as much of a revolution.
Now, because the correlation thing is mine (the law statement is a rhetorical move to connect the real world with the spiritual world) and I may not be as accurate about this as someone else might be, what I say now is of less weight: if it is the case that this “law” premise is an attempt to connect the “real” world to the “spiritual” world, then I would disagree right here: the distinction between the physical world and the spiritual world doesn’t obtain for me. We are wholes — heart, soul, mind, body, community, world — and the whole thing comes unravelled into analytical bits when we begin to break this wholeness apart.
The two points are this: God loves “you” and offers a “plan” for your life.
That God is love and that therefore he loves the world and that therefore he loves us and that therefore he loves “me” (or “you”) is clear enough, but there is a lot left out in going from “world” to “you.” And furthermore, it is highly individualistic and (Western and all that) to begin with the Individual as the Object of God’s own special love.
But, I do believe that God’s love for individuals was shown dramatically in Jesus, so my point is less what is said and more what is not said.Which leads me to my first serious disagreement with The Four Spiritual Laws: humans are treated as Individuals and God’s love is treated as an abstraction. The fundamental reality of gospeling is not based on that Individual-God abstraction of God’s love and plan, but on the reality of experiencing and seeing and knowing love in the face of an Other. This is quite a claim so let me explain briefly: humans are not logical machines who wake up one morning and conclude “I am special” and “God must love me” and therefore “God does love me” and therefore “I must respond.” The foundation for evangelism is relationship and not mere abstract thinking. Nearly everyone comes to faith through the face of an Other: parents, siblings, close friends, etc.. Is this an accident? Or is this part of the gospel itself? Is community part of the gospel or not?
Perhaps the users of The Four Spiritual Laws will tell me, which they have told me, that it is the personal relationship between the “user” of The Four Spiritual Laws and the “potential convert” that makes the whole thing work. I tend to believe them, but the relational part is not part of The Four Spiritual Laws and I think it ought to be.
That God loves “you” is incontestable to me; God is love; God created out of an overflow of that love; love is at the foundation of everything. Jesus “taught” this love because first of all he “wrought” this love: in other words, those around Jesus learned God’s love by being loved by Jesus and by being invited to sit at his table and by being challenged by his words and by being overwhelmed by his entire life (birth to ascension and intercession). At the heart of the Western Church gospel is this problem with Individualism and it starts right here when we shape the gospel apart from its ecclesial shape in the Bible.
Now about the plan for “your life.”
When Bill Bright tells us that God’s plan is “abundant life,” which he does tell us because that is the verse he quotes from John 10, I’m indeed curious to see what he will do with it. There are two senses to what he means by this, and the three remaining laws will bring this to the surface as will the final conclusion/invitation: first, it could mean “eternal life” in the sense of “forever living with God” or “going to heaven.” And second it could mean a new birth and a Christ-directed life.
If he means “only” the first, then I disagree: but I’m certain he does not mean that, and that he means both the first and second.
Which means I have only one serious squabble with this direction of the “abundant life.” Namely, again, it is purely Individualistic. It will be defined in Law #4 as Christ on the throne, Self yielding to Christ, and one’s interests being directed by Christ, resulting in harmony with God’s plan.