*The following is a guest article by Joe Boyd. Find his info at the bottom of the page.
I am reading the book unChristian with about ten of my friends. It’s a book primarily about why people outside of Christianity don’t like Christians much anymore. (I didn’t need a book to learn that one.) A certain paragraph really struck me. It angered me, actually. Here it is:
Most outsiders are familiar with the story of Christianity-that Jesus was God’s Son who came to die to take away our sins if we believe in him. As you will see later in this book, the premise of Christianity is not a mystery because the vast majority of outsiders have been to Christian churches and have heard the message of Christ. -David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters
What stung me was the authors’ unconditional assumption that the story of Christianity (I think we would both call that the “gospel”) is that, “Jesus was God’s Son who came to die and take away our sins if we believe in him.” And, they claim, that most “outsiders” (cringe) also believe that to be the gospel.
My blink thought was,
“Well, that’s not my gospel. I must be really UnChristian then.”
To be fair, it used to be my gospel. But not so much anymore.
I said this in our group discussion and one of my friends asked earnestly, “What is the gospel?” For some reason I stammered. I mean, I’m a pastor – the Teaching Pastor at a rather large and respected evangelical church. But I stammered over the question, “What is the gospel?”
You’d think that would be a hanging curve over the plate. But is wasn’t.
I spit out something like this: “I think it is the story of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and his message of the Kingdom, blah, blah, blah.” I was (mis)quoting Scot McKnight, the last author I read on the subject.
Nine months ago I would have quoted N.T. Wright and said something about the promise of Resurrection. Before that I would have regurgitated Dallas Willard or Stanley Hauerwas or whomever. Heck, if you traced my understanding of the gospel back far enough, you would eventually find the exact definition that angered me in the book.
In that moment I decided that what I think the gospel is doesn’t matter.
First, because I know that my definition changes every 6-18 months anyway. So why should I trust this current manifestation so much? Second, the gospel – any gospel – is supposed to be good news. That’s all the gospel is. Good news should flow easily from the heart, not methodically from a textbook.
The gospel is the good news you tell people.
So, that was my huge breakthrough. It seems simple, but it hit me like a right hook on the jaw this week.
My gospel is the good news I tell people.
Everyone who has ever tried to lift a friend out of mucky place has used their own gospel.
“Cheer up, man. There are more fish in the sea.” –The gospel of the next hot thing.
“It’s ok. Things happen for a reason.” – The gospel of magical destiny.
“Dude, let’s grab a beer. Don’t sweat it.” – The gospel of Sam Adams Winter Ale.
“Hey, we still got each other.” –The gospel of friendship.
So what is the gospel of Jesus?
Well, it seems to come in different forms. We should quit trying to pretend that it doesn’t.
Listen closely to these gospels of Jesus from some recognizable sources.
Do they all sound like the same gospel to you?
God knows who you are, He loves you, and He wants you to know and love Him. How do you do that? You must first admit that, like everyone else, you are a sinner. Being sinners means that we are imperfect and do wrong; we fall short of God’s perfect standard. It also means we are separated from Him and deserve His judgment. But He loves us! God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. He died for your sins. He was punished so you don’t have to be. Not only that; death did not defeat Him. After three days, Jesus rose from the dead, alive again! – Billy Graham
Jesus’ good news was God’s peace to all men of good will. That peace is something which is fundamental to the satisfaction of our most basic desires. It is a peace of the heart. -Mother Teresa
Good news! God is becoming King and he is doing it through Jesus! And therefore, phew! God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s world is going to be renewed. -NT Wright
Or, let’s just bite the potentially heretical bullet and go straight to the source(s):
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” – Isaiah
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” – Jesus in Mark
“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” -Jesus in Luke
“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name”. – Jesus in John
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.” – Paul in I Corinthians
And, let’s throw in one more version just to make most of us, including me, twitch a little:
“For many years, people have heard that God’s mad at them — they can’t live up to the standards. But our message is about the goodness of God, and it seems just that people come alive when they realize ‘God is for me. He’s got a plan for my life, and I can do something great. I can be who he wants me to be.” – Joel Olsteen
I hope you noticed at least one thing:
It is all good news.
It’s all gospel. And, if we are honest, it’s all a little different. Billy Graham’s gospel isn’t quite St. Mark’s gospel, which isn’t quite Paul’s gospel, which isn’t quite Joel Osteen’s gospel. And as much as I would love to bash Joel Osteen, his gospel isn’t that far from St. John’s, the author of my favorite book in the Bible. They both seem to want you to have “your best life now.”
Luke’s gospel smells a lot like Mother Teresa’s good news. And it seems to me that Billy Graham and the Apostle Paul would likely ride in the same golf cart in my dream foursome.
All of these are the gospel of Jesus Christ. So, they are all the same.
But, all of these are also a gospel of Jesus Christ. So, they are all different.
Historically, we as Christians have spent a lot of time, energy and money trying to prove that our gospel is the gospel. I’m tired of it. It’s exhausting. I quit.
But…I do have my gospel. It is influenced by all of the gospels above. (Even Brother Joel’s if I am forced to be embarrassingly candid.) My gospel is evolving. It changes. But when I look back over the last decade of my life and ask what “good news” I actually tell people, my gospel starts to become increasingly more legible.
I tell my friends (and myself) that there is hope. I often say that whatever Jesus meant by “God’s Kingdom” is worth seeking. I say that when we all look for this Kingdom together, we start to find it. I say that in those unique moments when God breaks in and love reigns, we begin to experience eternity in the present. So, I will often say, let’s spend our lives bonded together in hot pursuit of Kingdom come with the belief that one of these days it will actually happen. Fully. On our watch. That’s my gospel. It’s the good news I always tell everyone, including myself, whenever I get the chance.
So what is your gospel, really? Not how you define the gospel, but what good news do you actually tell people? What do you tell your friends on their dark days? What do you tell yourself to pull away from the ledge?
That’s your gospel…whether you believe it or not.
About Joe Boyd:
Joe Boyd has forged a unique career as a movie producer, author, actor and pastor.
Joe is the President of Rebel Pilgrim Productions and the producer of four feature films including A Strange Brand of Happy, where he plays the leading role along side Academy Award Winner Shirley Jones. The film expects a national theatrical release in late 2012. Joe is also the director of Hitting The Nuts, a poker-themed comedy farce that has won three film festivals including the 2011 Las Vegas Film Festival.
Joe is the author of the fantasy novel, Between Two Kingdoms (Standard), now in its second printing.
As a pastor, Joe teaches at Vineyard Cincinnati, a 6,000-member church in Cincinnati, Ohio where he lives with his wife and two sons.
A pioneer of the blogosphere, www.joeboydblog.com enters its tenth year in 2012.
Blog – www.joeboydblog.com
Company – www.rebelpilgrim.com
Book – www.betweentwokingdoms.com
Church – www.vineyardcincinnati.com
Twitter – @JoeBoyd