This was the title I was given by the organisers of the youth workers summit in Manchester, in October 2011. What follows is the outline of my presentation:
I am grateful for youth ministry as I became a Christian through the combination of the Salvation Army, John Wimber, Agape’s school ministry and a brave spotty faced 15 year old who shared his faith with me.
I became a Christian through a gospel presentation that had 4 simple points – the same four points you can get on a t-shirt, wrist band, rap song, Franklin Graham festival
- God loves you
- You have sinned
- Jesus died for you
- You need to make a decision
This presentation tells young people about God’s love before it tells them about God’s judgment – but its still not the whole story and not the right story to tell every young person you meet. It works on the principle of what John Stott used to call “ the irreducible minimum gospel” – you tell the least amount of truth to the most amount of people but in the process of reducing the gospel down to its constituent components you actually lose something – sometimes trying to be simple we become simplistic – that is called reductionism. The process we tell atheistic scientific materialists off for – for trying to tell us that a human being is simply a “DNA replicating machine” or that a kiss is “the meeting of two mouths with the mutual exchange of saliva and microbes.” The gospel is not just four bullet points – and the debate is not whether you present bullet point 1 “God loves you” first or bullet point 2 “you have sinned” first.
To be honest these kind of gospel outlines have a place – they are like stabilizers without them my kids would probably have never learned to ride a bicycle – but they have some major problems – it is very difficult to steer when you have them on – they actually restrict you from proper cycling. And if my son grows up and qualifies for the tour de France and he is still using stabilizers then something is wrong. The same is true for these gospel outlines, if you have been in youth ministry for any length of time you should not need them anymore – the gospel should be so much apart of who we are that we can identify how to present the facet of Christ and his story that best connects with the person right in front of you.
To précis Scott McKnight (and tweak a little bit) The gospel is the “story of Jesus told as the fulfillment not just of Israel’s story but of God’s purposes for the whole universe.” It’s a story that is more than a bullet point skeleton and knowing how to adapt the story to connect with the audience you are serving is part of what it means to be in gospel ministry. Even if we restrict our observation of how to explain the gospel to the way that Luke tells the story of Jesus – you see that he has an interesting way of sometimes emphasizing the justice and judgment of God.
There are normally two different types of audiences that Luke has in mind when he is writing.
Pharisees, scribes and levites and in his engagement with them Jesus does seem to emphasize judgment. Luke 11 is full of his denunciation of the shallowness of their religiousiosity. He criticizes them for their micro-ethics :
“woe to you Pharisees you give a tenth of mint, rue and other kinds of garden herbs but you neglect justice and the love of God” 11:42
He tells parables such as the tenants in the vineyard (Luke 20) the Rich Man and Lazarus in Hell (Luke 16) Jesus the prince of peace, the king of love speaks very clearly about judgement but his audience are those that consider themselves insiders – those that would assume they are part of the kingdom of god because of their birth, ancestry or religious observance but to them he says the judgement of God is coming – is it because God hates them ?–(interestingly the passages that Driscoll has been quoting recently are aimed at these same people – people who consider themselves insiders to the covenant but show none of its moral and social characteristics) No, these are warnings from a loving God to call people to faith and repentance while the opportunity is there. Jesus calls out to Jerusalem
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” Luke 13:34
To people who knew they were outsiders, excluded from the spiritual life of Israel. Tax Collectors, prostitutes, the sick, the poor and the gentiles – Jesus doesn’t lead with judgement he leads with love and grace.
So to Zacchaeus – a vertically and socially challenged corrupt public official- Jesus leads with grace – inviting himself to his house to share a meal, to experience hospitality at Zacchaeus’s home. This was a way of Jesus saying that Zacchaeus is acceptable to God – despite his sin. Transformation comes not after a sermon on judgement but an offer of grace. At the end of the encounter Jesus says “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”
Some of Jesus parables speak to both audiences –
luke 15 the parables of lost things: Sheep, Coin and Sons.
luke 18:9-14 parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector
Its why when you use the off-the-shelf courses like Alpha and Christianity Explored – both can be helpful, but both can be dangerous because they can deliver the right message but to the wrong audience. If you tell the excluded and the marginalized that they are sinners in need of judgement as the entry point then you can push them further away from the kingdom. If you tell religiously self confident and judgemental people a gospel only of grace and acceptance you risk confirming them in their delusion that they are part of the kingdom.
The key is that context determines content. Just as Jesus doesn’t preach a fake scripted gospel message to everyone but rather finds takes time to understand the person standing in front of him and then explain to them the aspect of the gospel that connects with them. We need to triangulate between a sensitivity to the Spirit, a deep knowledge of the Bible and a listening and compassionate spirit to the people we are seeking to communicate with.
In 10 minutes there’s lots that can’t be said – what would you have added?
Lifeswap, Krish Kandiah, Monarch
– my attempt to track through John’s gospel in a way that can engage people exploring the Christian faith and young disciples.
King Jesus Gospel, Scott McKnight
– provocative book on recovering the gospel according to the gospels.
Destiny, Krish Kandiah, Monarch
– an explanation of the universe with Jesus as the key to it all