Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What is the good news of Jesus Christ?

When I first began to follow Jesus, I understood it in terms of believing and stating certain things. I prayed a sinner's prayer which was explained to me as marking my transfer from being 'lost' to being 'saved'. The sinner's prayer follows from a way of thinking about Christianity and salvation that some people call the Roman Road of Salvation. I Googled that phrase and here is one of the descriptions that came up:
Romans 1:20-21 – God reveals himself to humanity

Romans 3:32 – We are all sinners; we all fail to meet God's perfect standards

Romans 3:10 – We cannot cancel out or undo our own sin

Romans 6:23 – Our sin must be punished, because God is a god of justice

Romans 5:8 – But God loves us and so became human (in the form of Jesus Christ) to take the punishment that we deserve

Romans 6:23 – God gives us eternal life through the death of Jesus

Romans 10:9-10 – We must believe in Jesus and put our trust in him alone to make us right with God

Romans 10:13 – There is no complicated formula; everyone who trusts in Jesus will be saved

I do think there's plenty of good in this kind of outline; for example it makes the vital point that being a Christian is not simply about the culture you live in or the family you were born into. Something personal is required.

But are we required to just say 'yes' to a series of statements? Formulas like the one above say very little (sometimes nothing at all) about our behaviour; they just seem to be about getting us to a point where we can state certain things like 'I believe Jesus died for my sins'. Are you not a Christian until you say those words? Can we take isolated verses of the Bible out of their context and knit them together in a new sequence like this?

I've recently been reading and thinking about more narrative ways of communicating the good news of Jesus (which is bad, in a way, because I'm no good at telling stories!). Donald Miller writes about this, in his book Searching for God Knows What. He says that all the various self-help, formula-based books he'd read hadn't made much difference to his life; and he mentions a friend of his who 'believes the qualities that improve a person's life are relational, relational to God and to the folks around us'. Jesus taught his disciples in a relational way, Miller says, not through a set of formulas, so maybe 'God didn't know about the formulas, or the formulas weren't able to change a person's heart'. I like this comment (from pages 13-14):
So if the difference between Christian faith and all other forms of spirituality is that Christian faith offers a relational dynamic with God, why are we cloaking this relational dynamic in formulas?... Are modern forms of Christian spirituality producing better Christians than days long ago, when people didn't use formulas and understood, intrinsically, that God is a Being with a personality and a will of His own?... I started reading the Bible very differently. I stopped looking for the formulas and tried to understand what God was trying to say. When I did that, I realized the gospel of Jesus, I mean the essence of God's message to mankind, wasn't a bunch of hoops we needed to jump through to get saved, and it wasn't a series of ideas we had to agree with either; rather, it was an invitation, an invitation to know God.

So maybe that's how I would explain what the message of Christianity, now that I'm losing faith in the formulaic Roman Road-type methods. Christianity is an invitation to know God, to become an apprentice of the maker and sustainer of the universe. And God is supremely revealed through Jesus.

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