Tell Young People about Judgement before you tell them about Love?

Tell Young People about Judgement before you tell them about Love?

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.

1. Insiders

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

2. Outsiders

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?

Recommended reads:

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


5 thoughts on “Tell Young People about Judgement before you tell them about Love?

  1. Nice work Krish, as usual.

    We’ve emphasised context for years in terms of biblical exegesis; funnily we’ve so often missed it audience in the passages you’ve discussed above – misunderstanding who Jesus is addressing and with what message. Context – both biblical and of our contemporary audience – really is key. Thanks for putting that forward in such a clear way.

  2. Paul says:

    I’ve recently being reading “Everyday Church” by Tim CHester & Steve Timmis, which I’d recommend. A very good chapter on evangelism, in which they describe a method by which we listen to a person’s story, and then map key points from their story to the grand story of the bible:
    1) Creation : What do they assume the world should be like? What kind of person would they like to be? Who are their heros? What would have to be in place for them to feel happy
    2) Fall: How do they describe their struggles/battles? What do they feel is their most pressing problem? What do they feel they lack? Who or what do they think is responsible?
    3) Redemption: What do they think will make their life better? What provides a sense of escape or release? Who or what will deliver their hopes? What are their functional saviours?
    4) Consummation: What are their hopes? What is the long-term project to which they are working? What are the dreams for which they make sacrifices? Have they given up so that their hope has now shrunk simply to getting through the day.

    This seems a brilliant way of presenting the gospel – adaptable to the individual, yet explaining the key concepts in a relevant way.

  3. Ali Campbell says:

    Excellent, as ever . . . we, unfortunately, live in a “reductionist” world – a world of 140 characters even, so four quick bullet points can seem ideal. How much we miss though . . . and, as you highlight, context makes a huge difference!

    There is though, a nuanced approach we should take to point #2. You Have Sinned. It makes it personal, yes, “you” have sinned . . . but somehow we need to convey that the primary driver for this is not just the “things we have done wrong”, but what underlies our wrong choices, thoughts, actions, our nature itself has been corrupted.

    Watchman Nee explores this in “The Spiritual Man”, he talks of the blood of Christ covering our sins (the things we have done wrong) and the cross of Christ dealing with our nature (which must be put to death) . . . what I think we struggle with, both in communicating the love of God and the judgement of God . . . this need to “put to death” the sinful nature, we repeatedly come back to God with our “sins” (even as Christians) . . . we somehow need to articulate that a full life in Christ can only come about through dying, that we might live. Paul asserts that this is something that we must “do” – sometimes, in our communication of the Gospel we talk a great deal about what God has done (AND, through his love and grace He has done everything, we cannot save ourselves!), and we talk about what God will do (the future, Judgement that is coming, and – I think often get this wrong because we seek to speak with authority about things which we do not know enough about, again as Paul says, “we see through a glass darkly.

    Yet with all that God has done, we are still left with our response to that – this requires more than acceptance, but action on our part . . . (which is daily, ongoing, repeated action), we are saved, being saved and will be saved . . . a daily “dying to self” needs to be illustrated and talked about with young people – it is essential to our understanding of how the Good News will be lived out in our lives.

  4. Liz says:

    Know Jesus and know the Scriptures. Then you don’t need a formula. All you need to do is listen to what the person is saying and see where they fit into the story.

    Easier said than done, maybe?

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