15 March 2006

Searching for the Gospel of Jesus

Here is an interesting article about how radical commitment to Jesus is at the heart of the gospel and should be at the heart of our evangelism. I think the point is well taken. A “four spiritual laws” type of Christianity tends to forget that while God does love you and have a wonderful plan for your life, the God-man Jesus calls you to lose your life for his sake. So Donald Miller is right: becoming a Christian is less like “sitting in a chair” and more like committing one’s life as “a bride to a bridegroom.”

But red flags go up when Miller says things like:

Maybe the Gospel of Jesus, in other words, is all about our relationship with Jesus rather than about ideas. And perhaps our lists and formulas and bullet points are nice in the sense they help us memorize different truths, but harmful in the sense they delude, or perhaps ignore, the necessary relationship that must begin between God and us for us to become His followers. And worse, perhaps our formulas and bullet points and steps steal the sincerity we might engage God with.

As I look at my red flag I find big bold letters: FALSE DICHOTOMY. You can't pit doctrine against relationship like that! Now, of course, Miller is on the ball and anticipates my response:

But I am suggesting that, not unlike any other relationship, a person might need to understand that Jesus is alive, that He is God, that we need to submit to Him, that He has the power to save, and so on—all of which are ideas, but ideas entangled in a kind of relational dynamic…. Biblically, you're hard-pressed to find theological ideas divorced from their relational context.

If he stayed there, I would be satisfied. It is true that ideas are not enough and that relational and personal submission to Christ is essential: so to this point I am happy. This is what Jesus and Paul and Augustine and Luther and Calvin (and even Wesley) all taught. But Miller says something none of them would:

In fact, I believe the Bible is screaming this idea [that a relationship with God requires more mysterious interaction than following a recipe] and is completely silent on any other [italics mine], including our formulas and bullet points. It seems, rather, that Christ's parables and His words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood were designed to bypass the memorization of ideas and cause us to wrestle with a certain need to cling to Him.

While he anticipates the argument, he does not allow the argument to thoroughly pervade his thinking. He still has “memorization of ideas” on one side and wrestling “with a certain need to cling to Him” on the other. He still pits proposition against person.

What seems to be overlooked is the relational context of a disciple to a master. Jesus clearly gave himself the role of teacher (Matt 26:18; John 13:13). The first disciples were given the mission to “teach everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20). That’s why the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42).

Granted we must relate to Christ as Shepherd and Christ as Bridegroom. But we must also relate to Christ as Teacher. We must use everything we can (“including our formulas and bullet points”) to aide us in the “memorization of [all of Jesus’] ideas” because “clinging” to the Teacher demands no less. Consequently we cannot present the gospel divorced from a call to submit one’s “ideas” to Christ’s Lordship (2 Cor 10:5).

Again, as a corrective, Donald Miller’s point may be helpful. But we need to be clear that the ideas of the gospel and the Person of the gospel come together as a package deal. We can never hint that one might come without the other or that they are in any way opposed to one another.

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