I never seem to blog here anymore...
To fix that I'd like to introduce my first guestblogger - the metawife and I have been reading an interesting book lately by Trevin Wax entitled Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope and would like to blog our way through it. Our current idea for format is that we will take turns describing the chapter and our reactions with the other partner writing a response. I admit to some trepidation about starting a series (especially since "Part 1 of 5!" has become a punchline for those in the know) but hope this will inspire me to more faithful writing.
Stephanie will be leading off with her take on the first chapter. I guess this means that I'm on the clock!
Counterfeit Gospels Chapter 1 (stephanie's take)
Imagine, for a moment, that you had set out to join a book club. Professing a desire to read good literature you join a group that boasts a book a week (if you can keep up). A little daunted you go to a local bookstore and pick up Gone with the Wind, which is the selection of the week. Throughout the next week Gone with the Wind is your constant companion. Arriving at the book club meeting a few minutes early you quickly finish the last few pages. As you walk into the room your attention is immediately drawn to your fellow members' matching yellow and black book covers. Your book cover is white with a picture of Scarlett O'Hara on the cover. You are puzzled and begin to suspect you missed something important. The meeting begins. The discussion is lively and the book club members are friendly and funny. At a lull in the conversation you bring up how Scarlett's obsession with Ashley Wilkes really shaped and drove the most important decisions in her life from her marriage to Charles Hamilton, her decision to purchase the sawmills and her dislike of Rhett Butler. The silence following your comment is long and uncomfortable. Finally someone speaks up, “But I thought she married Rhett Butler, how could she dislike him?” Profoundly shocked, you grab the book of the lady sitting next to you and see a prominent “Cliff Notes” printed across the front of her book.
The shock and confusion experienced in the above situation mirrors the feeling I've had listening to the presentation of the gospel by Evangelicals (I will use the term evangelical to denote non-mainline, born again Christians). A conventional example of the gospel statement will begin, “God created the world and Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve then sinned and had to leave the Garden of Eden, and because Adam sinned we are all born with a sin nature now. So we are all guilty and deserving of death in God's eyes. Then God sent Jesus who died on the cross and then he rose from the dead and if you believe in Jesus then you won't have to go to hell and can spend eternity in heaven with God.” And in its worst characterization “If you died tonight would you go to heaven?”
There are many problems with this widespread “Cliff Notes” presentation, but I will mention two that resonate with me. First, it shortchanges the cosmic scope of God's intervention and salvation of humankind and focus' solely on the act of atonement itself. Secondly, it encourages a tendency to think much of the Bible is superfluous in this day and age. The confusion about the Old Testament is widespread as evidenced by the quotations from Leviticus in the recent gay marriage debates and Christian’s lack of understanding how to respond to the charges. Currently the #2, #3 and #5 spots for the Google search “is the old testament...” yields: Is the Old Testament still valid, is the Old Testament true and is the Old Testament relevant, respectively.
Enter Counterfeit Gospels by Trevin Wax. In the first chapter he argues that the gospel needs to be understood and thought about as a three-legged stool. First leg is a gospel story, the second leg is gospel announcement and third leg is gospel community. Wax believes that our gospel presentation needs to be firmly rooted within the context of Scripture. He writes “So the gospel needs the story in order to make sense. The announcement may be glorious and true, but without the surrounding story, it can be misunderstood. It's important that we get the story right; otherwise, we will lose something integral to the plotline and wind up with a counterfeit.” (p.29)
Trevin Wax describes the four movements in the gospel message (think classical music): Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. It is in this section that the beauty and power of the full gospel message begins to shine through the lines of this book. I have a quote from each section, which I believe gives a good overview of each part.
The gospel story begins with God's love in action – a creation of the world in all of its magnificence and placed within that creation, man.
“One Hebrew world sums up the picture of Genesis 1 and 2: shalom. Peace. Earth was full of God's shalom, the kind of peace in which everything works according to God's intention. The world was made for human flourishing, where we could live in joy in the presence of our Maker, worshiping God by loving Him and one another forever. Looking past all the galaxies and planets, looking through space and time, over and above the exotic creatures that filled the earth, God set His affections on us – His human image-bearers-whom he created to share in the joy of His love forever.” (P.31)
Representing humanity, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God – rejecting His rule over their lives. Because of their sin – sin and death entered this perfect world, marring God's beautiful and perfect creation.
“Sin is personal. We are guilty of cosmic treason, asserting our own lordship over the lordship of God. We seek worth and value in something other than the Source of all worth....Make no mistake. Sin is ugly. And until you get a grip on just how ugly our sin is, you will never fully comprehend the gospel story....At the time of creation, the earth is shalom-filled. After the fall, the earth is shalom-shattered. God's intent to have humans rule the world rightly has been, temporarily put on hold. Now work is toilsome. Childbirth is painful. Natural disasters sweep over our lands. Nations rise against nation. Death snatches away our loved ones, and we sense its unrelenting approach hot upon our own necks as well. Even the created order groans under the weight of our sin.” (P.34-35)
“...the narrative of redemption doesn't begin in the New Testament. God reveals His rescue plan just after He exiles Adam and Eve from the garden. He promises that one of Eve's descendants will make right what she and Adam have done wrong.” (p.35)
Wax then goes into detail of God choosing Abraham, and through Abraham, the nation of Israel and finally the exile of Israel.
“The Old Testament is a story in search of an ending....Enter Jesus...This Messiah-King takes upon Himself the punishment for human sin. His atoning sacrifice reconciles us to God, inaugurates His kingdom, and becomes the means by which we are remade into God's image.” (P.37)
“The story doesn't end with redemption. God has promised to renew the whole world, and the Bible gives us a peek into this glorious future....In a far greater way, Christians are to live in the present by anticipating what God has promised in the future. We can smell the fragrance of new creation. The restoration of the world as already begun, but has not yet fully taken place. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the life of heaven has invaded earth. The kingdom of God has begun to advance.” (p.38)
As I have read the 9 ½ pages it takes for Trevin Wax to get through his gospel story, I am intrigued and inspired by the implications of God creating and attempting relationship with mankind. For each of his sections I have briefly outlined my thoughts.
Creation. It can be tempting, I think, to confuse man's sinful tendencies with man himself. God created us in all of our human-ness with our emotions, our brains and our abilities and they are all good. Sin has wrecked havoc on mankind, which is displayed by our emotions, brains and abilities, but let our complaints and anger be directed towards the problem of sin and not at creation.
Fall. Modern day presentations of the gospel message tend to undercut the full impact of the fall on God’s creation. Adam and Eve’s sin is an important point to make, but we seem to jump from their sin to the fact that we are all now born with a sin nature. I tend to think “why do I have to be born with a sin nature just because Adam and Eve sinned?” The picture Trevin Wax draws gives a fuller view - we are born into sin because the entire world is now mired in sin – there is not one thing in God’s creation not affected.
Redemption. I love the fact that God has always had a plan to get man into a relationship with Him. The whole Bible – Old Testament and New Testament - is the story of God’s attempts to establish and re-establish communion with His creation.
Restoration. In this section I hear echoes of N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. I am intrigued by the idea that I may not go to heaven when I die – at least not in the popular understanding of it. In fact I may come right back to this earth, it will be a new heaven and a new earth to be sure. Frankly, I’m more than a little relieved by the idea that heaven might not be an endless concert of praise music…perhaps I’ll be a farmer.
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