Growing up in the church, I learned that one of the best ways to share the gospel succintly would be take hearers (eager or not, no matter) through what came to be called the “Roman Road”. In essence, this declaration of the good news find in Christ was, to use a cooking term, a ‘reduction’. The idea was to boil away the unecassary ingerdients in order to leave the more powerful essence.
The essence includes about four truths: 1) you are a sinner, 2) the wages of sin is death, 3) God paid the wages through the death of Christ, 4) you can be reconciled to God by accepting this free gift of salvation.
All these things are true, and very good news indeed. Increasingly though, I’m convinced that the reductionist model is missing some things that are vital for the gospel, things that, to the extent that they’re missing, contribute to a vast misrepresentation of both the good news and our calling to live it in this time.
To begin with, Paul calls Jesus, “the Christ”, which is tantamount to calling him “the King”. This is not only vital news, it’s threatening news whenever any state declares itself to be the highest power. Caesar is King. Caesar is Lord. Right? Isn’t that inherent in declaring one’s allegiance to the state?
Further, Caesar declared himself to be “the son of God” and his birth was heralded as “good news” (gospel), throughout the empire. He demanded obedience in the annual event during which citizens of the empire would verbally declare that “Caesar is Lord”.
When people say the gospel isn’t political, I wonder what they’re smoking. Declaring allegiance to an ethic and authority other than the state is the ultimate subversive political act. Paul throws down the gauntlet in the first seven verses of his letter to, of all people, the Romans. It was a letter to the equivalent of Moscow, or Berlin, or Washington D.C. declaring, at the outset, that there’s a different kingdom underway, a different king.
Heads of state don’t generally look kindley on such declarations, and Rome was no exception. Within two decades, Christianity would become the focal point of Rome’s rage, and Christians would become torches for Nero’s parties.
There’s more. Paul declares that this higher allegiance isn’t theory or generic. Rather, he delcares that all followers of Jesus are called to the “obedience of faith”, meaning that they’r called to live differently.
It’s right here that I wonder about the split between the right and the left among people of faith. My sense is that all sides, (all of us, in fact, even we who like to think we have no side), are guilty of cherry picking our obedience. The right gets marital fidelity right, and the call to sexual purity, but somehow thinks hating our enemies and destroying them, and allowing market forces to “raise the living standards for the poor” is the gospel of Jesus.
The left believes (rightly in my opinion) that God calls us to care for the earth, and find ways to love and care for those who are our enemies, but utterly ignores the more personal calls to higher morality. Too often, they believe that changing systems will change the world, when the reality is that changes in the world only come about because of changes in the human heart.
In all of this, it’s also important to remember that Paul never, ever, envisioned the union of political power with the kingdom of God. Power structures will rise and fall, be allied with the gospel at some points, and run counter – it matters not. Our calling remains the same: embody the reign of the king in our communities of faith, and work to actively make that reign visible in our lives, our homes, our cities, and our world.
This is what I’ll be talking about tomorrow. I welcome your thoughts.