The good news, without the blame

Let’s play a memory association game. If I say sunny, what word comes to mind? A sunny day? A sunny beach? If I say dark, what word springs to your mind? A dark night? A dark feeling? If I say the word sin, what comes to mind? Oh, you don’t want to play anymore?

Followers of Jesus associate sin with feelings of failure and fear. It brings to mind that accusatory list of my misdemeanours and crimes. That’s a totally inadequate way to think about sin — as if it’s all about me.

The world was already in trouble long before you were born and added your bit. If you think of sin as the need for some personal forgiveness for yourself, you haven’t begun to grasp what the problem is. Continue reading “The good news, without the blame”

Guilt, or good news?

What gospel did Jesus proclaim? Individual guilt, or global good news?

Over the centuries we’ve rerouted Jesus’ message. His core message was the gospel of the kingdom, and it was good news from beginning to end.

Instead of global good news, we often hear churches today proclaiming a message of individual guilt. A well-known evangelist was asked to explain the good news. He began, “Well, first I have to tell you the bad news. You’re a sinner …” Seriously? When did Jesus do that?

Can you even imagine Jesus bowling up to someone and saying, “First the bad news. You’re a sinner. But I’m here to save you. So get down on your knees and pray the Sinner’s Prayer. If you do that I’ll forgive you.” If you’ve read the Gospels, you know that’s wrong.

How did we ever get side-tracked from Jesus’ good news of the kingdom to a message of guilt? There’s quite a history behind that.

As followers of Jesus, we’re aware of our own shortcomings. As early as the second century, people worried what it might mean if they sinned after their baptism. Some even recommended delaying baptism until you were close to death, to ensure you didn’t die with sin in your life.

By the fifth century, the church recommended the exact opposite: babies should to be baptized as soon as they were born. Augustine formulated the doctrine of original sin. He said that all people are sinful — even babies — because parents pass on their sinful nature to their children. Augustine also taught that this original sin can be removed by baptism. That meant it was absolutely crucial for parents to get the church to baptize their baby: otherwise it would die in sin and be eternally damned.

Did you notice what Augustine did? He placed the salvation of the child and the forgiveness of sins in the hands of the church. Only if the parents asked the church for baptism was the child’s original sin removed. The church claimed it had power to remit sins.

For the next 1000 years, the church’s message revolved around guilt. To be forgiven, you must go to a priest and confess your sins. He assigned your penance, and offered you absolution. Then you attended mass where the priest sacrificed Jesus again and offered you Jesus’ body. The church told you it had “the keys to the kingdom,” so it could let you in or lock you out. The church’s power rested on guilt.

You can imagine how liberating it was when a priest named Martin Luther rediscovered from Scripture that it is God who forgives sins, not the pope or the priests or the church. It is God who justifies us, by faith. God forgives because of his grace, not because we merit it through works such as confession, penance, or indulgences.

Luther caused such uproar precisely because he challenged the authority of the church and placed power back in God’s hands. John Calvin systematically reframed the Christian message around this theme: the sovereignty of God was the liberating message that power lies with God, not the church or the sinful humans that run it.

Perhaps it’s unfair to critique Luther for not going far enough. Living in the era when the church’s power rested on guilt, Luther himself was deeply troubled by feelings of guilt. Justification by God’s grace through faith was the re-dawning of gospel truth, but Luther never questioned why the church had been trading in guilt in the first place. The troubled conscience remained central to his writings. For example, the word conscience doesn’t appear in the Book of Galatians, but Luther’s Commentary on Galatians uses the word more than 200 times.

Luther and Calvin did so much to declare that power belongs in the hands of our heavenly sovereign, but the reformation is not over. We still need to regain Jesus’ message — the good news of the kingdom of God.

How do we tell the gospel the way Jesus did, without using individual guilt to manipulate people? How do we present the good news of God’s kingship instead?

We live in an age where people are disillusioned with stories of power and cynical of the power of the church. Jesus called us to live under God’s kingship. In his world, it’s the powerless who inherit the earth.

Jesus’ kingship is not proclaimed through guilt. The restoration of God’s reign is the best news this world could hear.

Earth as God’s kingdom

When God is king, earth is his kingdom.

As I write, I’m looking into a green forest, with an ocean in the distance. I’m on holidays, enjoying my children and grandchildren. It feels like the kind of wild natural extravagance and intimate communal joy God always intended for his earthly realm.

Continue reading “Earth as God’s kingdom”

God is king

Your relationship with God changes when you see God as king.

Theology might be the most difficult discipline: the subject is truly infinite. There are so many things you could say about God that it’s hard to know where to start.

Jesus said many things about God, but his Father’s kingship was at the heart of his message. His sketched stories of life under God’s kingship, the kingdom of God. He healed people to bring God’s kingship close. He gave his life to break the power of evil and restore earth to God’s reign. The heavenly sovereign raised him up from death to the throne — all authority in heaven and on earth.

With laser precision, everything Jesus said and did was focused on a singular truth: God is king. Continue reading “God is king”

What difference does the kingdom make?

Ever notice how the answers you receive in life depend on the questions you ask? On this blog, the questions we’re asking are not the typical ones you find in systematic theology. We’re asking why the kingdom of God was the centre of Jesus’ thought and practice. We’re asking what difference it would make if we made the kingdom of God the centre of our thought and practice too.

This year, I want to start addressing the “So what?” question. What difference does this perspective make? The difference is huge: the kingdom reframes everything!

God, humanity, Christ, sin and evil, atonement, the world, the church, salvation and restoration, evangelism, partnering with Holy Spirit, and the ultimate goal (end times) — everything looks different when viewed through the lens of the kingdom of God.

Worth exploring? Buckle up and hang on: this is where it gets interesting!

Continue reading “What difference does the kingdom make?”

Riverview College is accepting students for 2019

Could you spend 2019 developing the knowledge and skills you need for Christian ministry?

Riverview College is offering an accredited Diploma of Ministry (10574NAT), with leadership classes and internship opportunities giving you a hands-on experience of practical ministry in one of the church’s departments.

We’d love to meet you, share all the details and answer your questions at the information night: 7pm 5 December 2018. It’s free, but please register.

If you can’t wait, the Riverview College website has information about the courses, college life, and things you might want to know, so you can apply.