Personal experience and a half century of study convinces me that the good news of Yeshua can and does revolutionize one’s life in ways beyond prior imagining. Furthermore, I believe this good news has implications for restructuring reality as we have known it. It is much bigger and utterly other than providing a platform for boisterous religious zealots seeking slogans and pretexts for some sort of triumphalist campaign. It is not meant to be a basis for assigning to others categories of insider or outsider. In the deepest sense, the truths about Jesus of Nazareth that are alluded to in the gospel, the good news, are radically revolutionary, and will eventually reshape the cosmos itself. Yes, I really mean that.
So you can understand why I am determined to stand for the good news of Yeshua and against the hackneyed sloganeering to which it is often reduced in our day. Let’s get beyond bumperstickers and bullhorns.
Denounced By a Doctrinal Vigilante
Once upon a time I was denounced by a doctrinal vigilante over my discussion of the good news of Yeshua in a paper I wrote, now found in my book, Converging Destinies. Here is part of what my critic said of me:
What is the Good News? It is the simple message that the Seed of the Woman, the long-expected Redeemer, the One who is truly called Immanuel, who is fully God and fully man, came to save mankind which is dead in trespasses and sins! By means of His incarnation, sinless life, death, burial and resurrection, He has made salvation possible for Jews and Gentiles who hear this Good News and believe it. This is the simple Gospel. Every one of our children should know this before they become a Bar Mitzvah. When a rabbi no longer is able to articulate this, but instead minimizes it, confuses it, undermines it, or adds to it, something is seriously wrong.
In answer to this simple question Stuart presented a 48-page paper which revealed some of the reasons for the serious divisions within our movement. I would like to comment on Stuart’s paper and then make some recommendations.
Stuart refuses to give a clear simple definition of the Good News. In fact, he advises us against having a simple definition of the Gospel. He claims that most of us are confused about the Gospel, particularly the Evangelical Church and Jewish Missions. “Conditioned by evangelicalism and Post-Enlightenment conceits, we may at first think that defining the gospel is a straightforward matter, and simple, really … I advise against this approach! The gospel should not and cannot really be defined in the same manner as other terms” (p. 22). In fact, he claims that “it is and always will be more than we can grasp and define” (p. 23). When describing the Gospel, he says it is “fundamentally a report we have received and which we pass on, an authoritative, empowered, but always fragmentary report concerning God’s saving intervention in Jesus Christ.” (pp. 22-23; emphasis mine).
To evaluate this indictment stigmatizing my reluctance to corral the gospel into a brief transactional formula, I recommend we all consider the following questions:
- Is the gospel precisely as we see it and say it is? Or is it vastly bigger and in some ways other than what we think we can see? Consider, for example, Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 13:12 – “For the present we see things as if in a mirror, and are puzzled; but then we shall see them face to face. For the present the knowledge I gain is imperfect; but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (Weymouth Translation). Or in the Amplified Version – “For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God].”
- Can we give an adequate summation of such a gospel on a bumper sticker or in a brief formula?
- To what extent do we tend to see the gospel through cultural filters which alert us to some things and desensitize us to others?
- Have we been conditioned by our communities and contexts to see the gospel in certain ways so that our rendition of the gospel says more about our context than it does about the biblical context?
I will leave it to you to consider and discuss these questions. In this series of blogs, my responses to each of them will become readily apparent.
Bill Bright and the Bumper Sticker Gospel
In 1959, Bill Bright, an evangelist who had been a candy manufacturer, developed the Four Spiritual Laws as talking points for explaining the gospel, with a view toward getting someone to “pray to receive Jesus as their personal Savior.” They were so widely distributed and have become so familiar that many of us can recite them from memory:
- God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
- Man is sinful and separated from God, thus he cannot know and enjoy God’s plan for life.
- Jesus Christ is God’s provision for man’s sin through whom man can know God’s love and plan for his life.
- We must receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord by personal invitation.
These Four Spiritual Law presented a four-step “plan of salvation.” If we will step back to gain perspective, there are some questions that cry out to be answered.
- What fundamental question does the Four Spiritual Laws seek to answer?
- Who is the main character in these Four Spiritual Laws?
- What are we told here about Yeshua/Jesus?
- Do you need the Old Testament for this approach?
- Is the people Israel and God’s dealing with them part of the message, or a necessary part of the background of this plan?
- Is this the gospel? Or is it instead a method for us to use to get people into the category “saved?”
- Does this formula have anything to do with the kingship of Yeshua and the redemption of the cosmos he is brining to pass, or is it instead a narrow, selective, and individualistic, fragmentary at best?
- Finally, did Yeshua send his disciples into the world to get people “saved”, or was it to make disciples—obedient, worshipful followers?
These are dangerous questions. For some people, even asking such questions will stigmatize you. And coming up with answers contrary to the way people are accustomed to think will get you in trouble. That’s what happened to me.
Stay tuned for more blogs in this series. This is likely the most consequential topic we could consider. Let’s do it together. Look for another blog or two later this week.
And for a video peek at some of these thoughts and ideas, visit here, and watch some of our Red Door Diaries!