Monday, January 21, 2013

The Main and the Plain

One of the things that I keep coming back to what John Wimber's encouragement that was focus on the main and the plain of the gospel. John thought it was very important that we got the gospel right, in Power Evangelism he said that "Proclamation of a faulty gospel will produce fautly or, at best, weak Christians." (opening sentence in chapter 4). There are a lot of things that can distract us from this sacred trust, lots of issues compete for our attention but I think we need to heed John's encouragement and keep the gospel central in everything we do.

Here is the problem though: what is the main and the plain of the gospel?

We tend to use gospel in funny ways. We call the four testimonies about Jesus in our Bible the gospels but at the same time we evangelicals tend to think that the gospel is reduced to the message of substitutionary atonement. The truth that Jesus' sacrifice is sufficient to restore our relationship with God is important but what of the rest of it? Is that all that matters? In the Vineyard we've followed a theological tradition that goes back at least as far as Albert Schwietzer, one that recognized that to Jesus the gospel has something to do with the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. This isn't incompatible with substitutionary atonement, but it certainly is much broader. And what about the Jesus stories we call gospels? Where does the proclamation of Jesus life, death, and resurrection fit into the main and the plain of the gospel?

There are two ways we can go about this, first we could greatly simplify things - this is the approach that a primacy on substitionary atonement takes (but there are many other simplifications). Second we can over complicate things - in fact many of us do that when we make the gospel about believing certain things in specific ways. This would be fine if we could have agreement on what things are essential - but that has never been the reality of the church in all of its 2000 years of existence. Besides there is a huge tendency to reduce God to a set of propositions rather than encountering the God that completely undoes all our presuppositions.

In the Vineyard we often look for a middle way, a third way - the radical middle.

So we do affirm with John that there is a main and a plain, that is a central core or heart of the gospel. But at the same time we recognize that there is little that is simple about it. The implications of such a gospel make complex demands on us as human beings, John called it a costly gospel because it cost God everything! The gospel of the Kingdom was John's main and plain simply because it wasn't a focus on our individual need but on what God was, is, and is going to do. It is the proclamation of what we experience and what we long for - the Kingdom of God breaking into the here and now.

The gospel includes God taking our sinful separation seriously. But this isn't simply a cross building a bridge for us to walk over - rather it is God breaking into our reality with an extension of love and grace that seeks to unravel the hold and effects of sin on our lives. The gospel is the promise of God that we encounter enacted in the presence of God who is near when we call, always at work transforming us and the world around us. The promise is more than just a guarantee for the future - although it is that too - but it is an action of God that meets us now as we long for that which will be when Christ returns in fullness and God is all in all.

So what is included in the main and the plain?

This is the challenge. I personally would include salvation, healing, God's promise and faithfulness, God's presence, and the call to participate in God's redemptive work in the world. But like any main and plain there are details that it is our responsibility to work out. And to work out with God. So what does it mean to participate in God's redemptive work in contemporary North American society? I can guarantee that just in the Vineyard we will get a wide range of answers to this question. May I suggest that the main and the plain is the call to participate - but complex side is the how. The gospel calls us to salvation, the complexity is what that means for how we live our lives as the redeemed. And I could go on.

The challenge is to not miss the central aspect of the gospel for all the different ways it is realized. When we do that we take our eyes off God and put them on ourselves (too often on our own fears and preferences). The gospel is the story of what God did, does and will do. It is the story of the Kingdom reality that is inaugurated by what Jesus has done, enacted in what God continues to do, and will be consummated in what God will do at the end. The main and the plain is that we are invited to be part of that story, even to have our lives caught up into that story in ways that we couldn't imagine.

So I'm interested in how you think about the gospel? What is main and plain for you?

Frank Emanuel, Ontario Region

1 comment:

  1. "The God breaking into our reality with an extension of love and grace that seeks to unravel the hold and effects of sin on our lives."

    I think this is the " “main and the plain” – as Peterson said, God moved into the neighborhood. And with that one simple truth, everything else changes as we are " “invited to be part of that story.” As David said long ago, " “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”