How Good Is the Good News?

Kenneth W. Brewer

I’ve been in evangelical churches and circles for over forty years. I’ve taught theology for over twenty years in evangelical institutions. My experience and those of the majority of my students is that the gospel message preached in many evangelical churches, conferences, concerts, summer camps, and the like is a truncated version of the gospel. I believe that the truncation of the gospel message is linked to a truncated view of the nature, scope, and consequences of sin and a truncated view of God’s redemption. The good news of the gospel is much greater than is commonly promulgated in many evangelical circles.

A terse summary of much contemporary evangelical renditions of the gospel runs as follows. Contemporary evangelicals largely begin with some version of “You are a sinner deserving of eternal hell!” Next, Jesus is heralded as the Savior who died for our sins. If we want salvation (= go to heaven when we die), then we must accept Jesus as our personal Savior. A prayer format is usually offered (i.e., the “sinner’s prayer”), whereby we receive forgiveness. One gets the impression that this is the goal, climax, and conclusion of Christian redemption. The person is now “saved.” The newly “converted” are encourage to go to church and bring a friend. It is sometimes stressed that one should read their Bible, pray, and try to be good. In addition, evangelicals are told to vote Republican so we can take America back for God. The primary focus of this version of the gospel is on personal sin, being forgiven, recapturing America for God, and going to heaven when we die. This is a severely truncated and distorted version of the good news. In fact, the bad news/good news of the gospel is both worse than and better than that expressed by many contemporary evangelicals.

Scripture begins not with original sin but with original righteousness. In Gen 1, the world is ordered out of chaos, formlessness, and darkness. Humans are made in the image and likeness of God (1:27). Genesis 2 situates Adam in a lush garden, where he is to “work it and take care of it” (2:15). After wildlife is created, God forms a woman from the man. Man and woman become “one flesh” and they knew no shame. This picture is one of harmony, balance, order, and beauty. Later, humans are said to be created “a little lower than God” and “crowned” with “glory and honor” (Ps 8:5). Humanity is tasked with stewarding God’s good creation and the Creator walks with humanity in the garden.

Genesis 3 portrays Adam and Eve as being tricked and seduced by a talking serpent much like a child molester would trick and seduce innocent children playing in a park. They disobey God’s command, the consequences of which infect, permeate, and disorder every dimension of creation, every aspect of the human person, and all social relationships and structures (Gen 3-11). The nature of sin is that it has a disruptive effect on community, relationships, and God’s shalom, causing disharmony, disorder, and chaos in six dimensions. First, the spiritual God-human relationship is disrupted and disordered as depicted in the banishment from the garden. Humans are alienated from their Creator (Gen 3:23-24). Second, the social, human-to-human relationship is disrupted as the man and woman blame-shift and finger-point, making excuses for themselves. This disharmony escalates in Gen 4-11 as murder, aggression, and wickedness reach a boiling point. Third, the physical dimension is also affect in that humans will now get sick and die. Fourth, the psychological, self-to-self relationship is now characterized by guilt, shame, and self-conscious awareness (anxiety). Fifth, the ecological human-to-nature relationship is strained, and nature is cursed and subject to decay (Rom 8:19-23). Sixth, the cosmic dimension is marked as one of enmity (spiritual warfare) with Eve’s offspring (Gen 3:15). The biblical diagnosis of the human problem is far more extensive than personal guilt in need of forgiveness.

The biblical remedy, likewise, is much broader in scope than forgiveness of personal sin. The biblical view of the scope of redemption extends to all of creation, the entire human person (body, spirit, mind, will, and emotion), society, and the cosmic realm. God’s aim in redemption is to restored and re-order all creation, the whole human person, society, and the cosmos. Indeed, Peter says that God intends to “restore everything” (Acts 3:21). To use N. T. Wright’s oft-repeated phrase, God intends “to set the world to rights.” The six dimensions affected by sin are now six dimensions that God intends to redeem by restoring and re-ordering creation and humans to God’s original design. First, God seeks to reestablish the spiritual dimension by giving us new birth and by renewing us into God’s image and likeness. Second, social relationships are spoken of in terms of peace, reconciliation, justice, and healing of nations. Third, the physical dimension is included in the healing of bodies and by bodily resurrection. We are not simply souls trapped in a body! Fourth, the psychological dimension is affected as our minds are renewed, our wills liberated, and our emotions are balanced. Fifth, the natural dimension is restored and re-ordered in a new heaven and a new earth (Rom 8; Rev 21–22). Sixth, the cosmic dimension is re-ordered and stabilized as God’s spiritual adversaries are defeated and destroyed.

Each of these six dimensions of redemption can be illustrated in Jesus’s holistic ministry found in the Gospels. If evangelicals want to preach the gospel, then evangelical churches would do well to broaden the gospel message by enlarging the nature, scope, and consequence of sin and by expanding the nature and scope of God’s redemption in these six dimensions.

Posted Nov 19, 2018

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