I have just been asked to speak at a Perspectives for World Missions course at Auburn on the topic Unleashing the Gospel. This is a last minute invite as the class is on Monday night and I am not quite sure why I said yes because this is not one of my usual topics. However the title has been revolving in my mind since yesterday.
What does it mean to unleash the gospel and what makes it happen? Obviously a lot of books have been written about this especially as Christianity in the West continues to decline. As I thought about this I could not help but remember some of the statistics that I have read about Christianity (and these are off the top of my head) – from 25,000 to possibly 20 million in the first 3oo years. From 4 to 400 million in Africa through the 1900s, from 1 million to 100 million in China in recent times in spite of persecution. We have obviously gone wrong somewhere.
How do I think we unleash the gospel. Obviously to explain that would take a whole book, but here are a few simple thoughts.
- We need a clear vision of the gospel message. Jesus preached a radical message of reconciliation, forgiveness and love, a message that inspired early followers to give up homes, families and livelihoods to dedicate themselves to a new community that lived by principles of love and mutual care. Why? because they believed that in the resurrection of Jesus God’s new world of justice and shalom had broken into our world
- We need to rediscover radical discipleship. Jesus message does not ask us to affirm “Yes I believe” and then go about life as usual. It was intended to bring about a change in the direction of our whole lives where everything we do and everything we say is focused on bringing glimpses of God’s shalom world into being. Miraslov Volf tells us that the focus of our work is not meant to be putting bread on the table each day. That is something God encourages us to trust him for. The focus of our work is meant to be the restoration of God’s shalomic harmony.
- We need to incarnate gospel living whereever possible. Evidently for early Christians becoming a Christian initiated as radical a change in life direction as if the new convert had moved to a new culture half way around the world. The statement “neither Jew nor Greek” meant just that. To become a Christian meant entering a new culture – which NT Wright describes as the culture of love – love for God and love for neighbour.
I will never forget when I first worked in Ghana meeting with the minsiter of health for the nation. As we shared about the medical work that the Anastasis would do when it came into port he got really excited. “If more Christians were doing things like this maybe I would become a Christian too.” he said. What an indictement of the way we practice our faith. Christianity is at its most powerful when it stands against the prevailing cultures of power, privilege and individualism. It spreads most rapidly when it doesn’t just proclaim but when it acts out a message of radical living. It is most inspiring when it doesn’t just talk about the hope of freedom from oppression but when it feeds the hungry, heals the sick, stands against injustice and cares about the pollution and destruction of God’s creation.
What frustrates me is that for many Christians today this type of radical living which I believe would unleash the gospel in the same powerful way it has done in the past, is an optional rather than a necessary commitment. We have become so accommodated to the culture that we think we don’t need to change and have watered down the gospel message to be little more than a devotional add on to a way of life that is the antithesis of what Jesus preached and lived.
Thats my oppinion. What do you think?