Thursday, September 07, 2006

Will the real gospel please stand up?

We've been doing this unique study of scripture lately where we study the bible without any chapter or verse divisions, just the text as written. The idea is to try to approach scripture in a new light and merely observe what is written rather than jump straight to application, which is what we usually do. We've been studying the book of Mark, and it's beeen pretty amazing, I can't believe how much stuff I've missed just because I've spent my whole life reading my pre-determined applications into the text. Anyway, a few weeks ago we were studying the passage in Mark where Jesus starts talking about all sorts of crazy and wierd things that never made any sense to me. You know, stuff like the moon turning into blood and that we better pray it doesn't happen in winter. Certainly we've had plenty of explanations thrown our way of what these things mean, that they're literal events that will happen right before "the rapture", but I've always struggled with them becuase Jesus said to the disciples that "this generation will not pass away" until these things happen. Before I go on, I should say that the passage in Mark I'm referring to is in chapter 13.

So, we were studying this passage a few weeks ago and we had a fascinating discussion surrounding one statement in the passage, when Jesus says that the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. We talked about how the traditional sunday school understanding of this passage is that there is some hidden tribe somewhere in the world and as soon as they pray "the sinner's prayer" the end of the world will happen, whatever that is. But, as we continued to explore, we started asking the question "What is the gospel?" Our traditional understanding of the gospel is that Jesus is God and if we invite him into our hearts we are saved, but perhaps we're not getting the whole picture. In the beginning of Mark, we are told that Jesus went about "proclaiming the gospel". So, we started looking through to see exactly what it was that Jesus was preaching. As far as I can tell, the message Jesus was proclaiming had relatively little to do with his identity as the son of God. Certainly he had conversations with people, such as his disciples, about his identity but even this was generally just to ask questions such as "Who do people say that I am?" The message he was preaching was a way of life that could perhaps be described as the Kingdom of God. The message he was preaching was completely subversive and contradictory to the present way of life and culture. The message he was preaching was one of love in spite of hate, generosity in spite of selfishness, caring for those who don't deserve it. He preached a way of life that, if lived according to his instruction, would literally turn the world upside down. It would challenge power structures, it would challenge perceptions, it would cause chaos.

As I read this passage in Mark, where Jesus is describing all of these crazy things that don't make any sense, the theme that stands out above all else is chaos. Jesus seems to be painting a picture of the world in absolute chaos, the type of chaos that would ensue if people began to truly live in the way that he preached.

What if we're missing the boat? What if, in attempting to spread the gospel and thereby bring about the return of Jesus, we've been preaching the wrong gospel? It seems as though in our attempts to win converts and make things understandable we have turned the gospel into a tiny, easily digestible morsel of Jesus as God and savior of our lives. In reality, the true gospel is mysterious, complex, confusing, hard to digest at times and difficult to understand. While Jesus as Lord is certainly part of this, the real message of the gospel is so much more. It's this kingdom way of living in the present that is not some destination we can escape to at the end of the world but something that can and should become a present reality. The real gospel, when spread to all nations, will cause the chaos that is described in Mark 13. The real gospel is message that challenges our current power and societal structures and would therefore cause nation to rise against nation, king to rise against king, and a young man to rise against his father. What if we're not supposed to stand idly by while the world destroys itself and hang on for the hope of the rapture? What if instead of preaching a message of empty morality, we are supposed to be living in such a way that the world is turned upside down by the love of Christ?

I feel that this is more a jumble of incoherent thoughts than anything else, but it is beginning to make so much more sense to me than what I've believed for most of my life. I want to live in the way Jesus described, the way that doesn't make sense to the world. I want to live a life that challenges the status quo and turns the world upside down through the love of Christ. I want live the life of the Kingdom of God as a present reality.


Anonymous said...

I too want to live out the Kingdom ....because when He said THE KINGDOM is at hand, he was also indicating that we could embrace it because HE IS THE KING. I met some people recently who thought they can live out the kingdom and bring back peace....but they will discover that this is impossible without the empowerment of the KING as the total Lord of their lives.

Sarah L-K said...

I came to similar conclusions a fair while back (though far more cynically than you seem to!) and began to see an awful amount of injustice done on behalf of "the gospel". I also began to realize an incredible amount of abuse that is heaped on people who pray that sinners prayer and start to be taught a gospel that doesn't include the hungry, the widowed or the spiritually void. I think i was already in the midst of understanding this when I knew you better and I'm really excited to see you realizing it as well. Even though I'm not part of a church and whethor or not I believe in god is a pretty constant dichotomy in my head, I feel a greater hope when the people i know who are inherently teachers and pastors see the revolutionary words jesus spoke and that they had more to do with understanding the corrupt-ness of the social and societal systems around us and less with constantly leading ourselves and others to that tearfilled altar. I'm hoping that we actually discover what jesus was like and what he desired as we do life more justly and with wide-opened eyes. Right on.

by the way, it'll be great to meet Jordana and see you again when you come to visit Erin and Danny.