breaking news. fake news. lots of bad news. we are bombarded with news so much that we’ve almost become desensitized to it and are unable to let it sink in. in the midst of all the news where is the good news? i mean, really good news that gives us hope and really lasts?
i believe there is good news for us that is eternal: good news of a King AND a Kingdom that does real good in our lives, even now…not just in some distant future.
this good news is the news that the God of all life saw our situation and stepped into our world as a human named Jesus Christ, not only to save us but to unite himself to us in order to show us how to truly live and transform the world around us.
but wait a minute, this sounds like christianity. aren’t these the hypocritical folks who are just like the world, sometimes worse? aren’t these the folks that are so “heavenly minded they aren’t any earthly good”?
first off, sadly, i confess, we deserve much of that scorn. i am sorry on behalf of the american christian church (of which i am a part). this is not people pleasing. i think christians (or at least those who call themselves such) have actually done some real bad (most recently in turning a blind eye or even supporting politicians and policies that take from the least, the last, and the lost in our society in order to privilege the prosperous, the powerful, and the prideful). i think there’s a reason why christians have gotten to this place of such a bad reputation. i think at least one reason is incomplete theology (literally the study of God).
let me explain.
our american theology has focused on Christ for our personal salvation and sexuality but at the expense of the effect Christ should have in and beyond our own lives. in other words, paraphrasing from james chong, a theology of the good news that is focused merely on decision, individuals, and an afterlife as opposed to transformation, community, and kingdom life. to put it most simply we’ve focused on the King (the identity of Jesus who saves individuals) at the expense of the Kingdom (the reign and impact of Jesus upon the world).
the american church (or at least in circles i’m connected to) loves the word “gospel” (good news). it’s good. it’s rich. but it has developed some blind spots.
namely, on how the Kingdom of God informs the good news. the Kingdom of God is not a term that some folks just happened to pick up as a fad. it is found all throughout scripture from OT (“Kingdom” and “God” are used together at least 27x) to NT (“Kingdom” and God are used together at least 67x….and yes, even in the epistles).
and there is an intimate relationship between the word gospel (euaggelion/euaggelizo in the original greek) and the Kingdom (basileia in the original greek). they are used together at least 9x in the NT.
- Jesus proclaimed the “gospel of the kingdom” or preached the “good news of the kingdom” throughout His ministry here on earth (Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, Mark 1:14, Luke 8:1, Luke 16:16). in fact Jesus says “I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43), and that the end will not come until “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Matthew 24:14).
- when Jesus, sends out his 12 disciples on their first mission trip guess what he sends them out to do? “[H]e sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:2). a couple verses later it says they obeyed Jesus and “they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.” (Luke 9:6). this is a particularly interesting passage because we see that the “kingdom of God” and the “gospel” are paralleled in v. 2 and v. 6, and used interchangeably.
- Acts 8:12 fleshes out the key components of the gospel most explicitly when it reports a disciple beyond the 12 disciples (read: beyond those holy gurus to everyday servants) reaching out to people beyond the jewish nation (read: beyond just american citizens of the dominant in-group): But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God AND* the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” (*emphasis added)
alright, so what’s your point?
my point is any scripturally honest discussion of the gospel or good news of Jesus CANNOT be separated from the Kingdom of God.
this is so significant because if we don’t hold both together there can be grave consequences.
- if we only hold onto the identity of Jesus but neglect the rule of Jesus on and through our lives, the faith of Christians can just become “easy believism” of mental assent to some truths but no actionable change in our lives or the world around us. in this kind of view it is easy for Jesus to just be about me and my own but not for my neighbor and “the other”. this leads to the deadly poison of tribalism and comfortable cultural christianity. this makes a person’s faith no better than demons, who know who Jesus is (often better than us), as they do not live lives of obedience to him and his work in the world. this is Jesus as Savior but not as Lord.
- on the other hand, if we only hold onto the teachings of Jesus (which we are notoriously near-sighted with) but do not continue to hold onto the person of Jesus, the faith of Christians becomes rather a faith in ourselves and setting ourselves up to be God, often putting ourselves in the place of arbiter of what teachings of Jesus we want to hold onto and which we will conveniently move aside. in this kind of view we more readily come to believe the ends justify the means (pursuing justice at the expense of the peace-making Jesus gave to us through the cross) and so what we think is our righteous indignation may end up just being indignation. this makes it easier for us to write people off as “ignorant bigots” or “coddled snowflakes” rather than as people made in the image of God. this leaves no room for the grace of Jesus that empowers our lives and enfolds others in, but is rather a recipe for legalism, judgmentalism, and burnout. we need Jesus just as much as anyone else. this is Jesus as Lord but not as Savior.
the result of these gaps in our theology is what i believe we are now seeing playing out in america amongst so many who claim to be christian.
and it’s a terrible witness to the world.
by no means am i exempting myself from this warning and so i need Jesus and all of you Jesus followers to help keep me in check that i don’t let go of either Jesus as Savior or Lord.
the good news is not just about the person of Jesus but what the reign of Jesus looks like breaking into our real world (for more on that stay tuned).