What is the point of examining our understanding and teaching of the gospel? Does it matter if we have focused our attentions on one, central part of the gospel? Aren’t we following Paul when we commit to knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified?
I don’t ask these questions just to set up a straw man to beat down in the remainder of the post, these questions are my own. Questions I have to answer before I can embrace the vision of how a full gospel could take hold of the church for the better. I believe we must continue to examine our understanding and teaching of the gospel to constantly ask, “How have we allowed our culture to shape our understanding of what God said and did in and through Jesus.” The world today is vastly different from the world of the 18th century or the 16th century or the 4th century or even the 1st century AD, and therefore the way the world shapes our approach to God’s work and teaching is vastly different. We must, as the church, continue to ask what forces are at work that might influence us to truncate the gospel.
Thankfully, God’s grace is sufficient, sufficient even to the point of using our own failings and our own misunderstandings and to turn them into works for his glory. He’s done this in every generation, and so while I believe we have focused our teaching of the gospel too narrowly, God is still able to take the work of a sincere heart that seeks his will and change people for his kingdom. This reality of God’s grace, however, should not compel us to continue on with a truncated, unexamined understanding of the gospel message.
Just like we ought not go on sinning so that grace may abound, we ought not go on teaching a narrowly focused gospel that neglects a true understanding of God’s work in creation, his promises to Abraham, Moses or the prophets, the resurrection – and all the glorious riches therein, the sending of the Holy Spirit, or the empowerment of the church to be God’s priestly/kingly people while we wait for his return. Paul most certainly spoke only of the crucifixion of Jesus when he visited the church in Corinth originally, but in the same letter where he reminds them of this fact, he will go on later to talk about the absolute importance of the resurrection for the core of the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15). Paul’s point to the Corinthians then is that the cross is of central importance to the gospel (and we need to always affirm this) but its climactic nature only hightens the need to understand the rest of the gospel story in order to understand the fullness of the power of the cross.
A call to a complete gospel means that we will have to do the hard work of examination, repentance, and reconstitution. We must examine how we have let the culture in which we live shape our own reading of the gospel. Where has our truncated gospel twisted our call by Christ to the degree that the culture in which we live has said, “You go on believing that, it doesn’t bother us one bit.” And when we examine that, we might find some real, deadly diseases in our understanding of scripture that must be rooted out. When we find those things we must repent and turn our face back to the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. We must be willing to let go of the ways we have understood things that might sound really holy, or really religious, but are instead keeping us from the fullness of the gospel. And then we must reconstitute ourselves around the new (or old) discoveries that we make and say, “This might be more difficult and it might certainly force me to live out of place within this culture, but it is what the gospel demands and I will not live in the lie that however I have truncated the gospel is still ok.” It’s not.
We must regain our sense of the whole of scripture. From the beauty of creation to the horror of the fall, to the grace of God shown throughout his movements in history with Abraham, Moses, David and the like, and ultimately all that it means to believe in who Jesus was when he lived, what he did when he died, what God did when he raised him from the dead and called him up to sit at his right hand thereby allowing for the Holy Spirit to be sent and set fire to the church to bear his witness and his word in the world – to decalre that Jesus is Lord, we must maintain the entirety of scripture. And when we do, and we align our lives and our churches around that story, I believe we will see God’s beauty, and glory and honor and power shine forth into all the world. Yes John 3:16 is true, but it’s not the whole story. As my friend Bruce likes to remind people, to understand verse 16, you have keep reading.