The Roman Road: More than you thought?

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.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Hannah

    Have you read “Jesus for President” by Shane Clairborne? Its goes into a lot more depth than what you just said. If not, you should, its a pretty quick read and worth it.

  • Kevin

    Taking the cooking metaphor somewhat further, it is interesting to note that a reduction is never meant to be directly consumed but is meant to be either mixed into a sauce or used as a glaze over another dish. While the reduction brings tremendous flavor and complexity to the dish, an entire bottle of red wine reduced down to 2 cups of wine syrup would blow your head off if you consumed it directly. Similarly, while these four truths may be essential they are intended to accompany and complement the requisite elements of grace, understanding, and context, without which the entire dish is incomplete and lacking the necessary savor.

  • Jared Jensen

    The beginning of your post reminded me of a church planting seminar I attended a few years ago entitled “ZeroOrientation” The speaker gave us a little booklet containing the “Reduced Calorie Gospel”

    1. Salvation is a gift you get when you: Pray the Prayer
    2. A Christian is someone who has: Prayed the Prayer
    3. A good Christian gets others to: Pray the Prayer
    4. A non-Christian is one who hasn’t: Prayed the Prayer
    5. Outreach and Evangelism is getting people to: Pray the Prayer
    6. Heaven is a place for those who have: Prayed the Prayer
    7. Hell is a place for those who haven’t: Prayed the Prayer
    8. Assurance of salvation comes from remembering that you:
    9. If you doubt you are saved: Pray the Prayer
    10. The end result and focus of the Christian life: PRAY THE PRAYER

    All right and good… just reduced calories. Tim Keller has done great work in helping us remember that the Gospel is also for Christians! We daily forget it, and daily need to be reminded of it.

    Thanks for the good post.


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