Gospel Recovery Through Subverting False Narratives
One of the most urgent tasks facing evangelicals today is the recovery of the gospel. The crisis is real since many of those local churches we would have once considered conservative or doctrinally sound have genericised the gospel and could now be likened to multi site Starbucks franchises, with full-service branding for whatever your taste. Many of us who have jumped on this bandwagon have witnessed churches who have made doctrine and theology almost invisible to the naked eye. Having, thus, come to a critical stage is history where Protestantism has indeed run amok we need to move our efforts toward engaging in the re-evangelization and reformation of the church itself. While never forgetting the ever-present task of reaching the lost through the love of Christ, we are faced with a crisis of great proportions where most evangelicals could hardly articulate the gospel, much less know what they really believe. To be effective to those outside, the Church must first, by God's grace, pull itself together and reflect on why it is so often seeking to incorporate the latest fads simply because they are new.
Postmodern Secularism has broken through our front lines and so we all can palpably feel the spiritual battle weigh heavily on our shoulders each day. Our local churches are absorbing the philosophies of the world like a sponge and Christians are embracing mutually contradictory assertions en masse. We thus find that not only do we need to use the truth of the gospel to subvert all the presuppositions that form the foundation of the pagan philosophies outside the church, but must also do so to correct the theological inconsistencies and outright heresies within. Either we believe the text of Scripture is our highest presupposition and the grand narrative that we understand all of reality or else we end up partially believing other stories or half-truths as we go along. When we truly connect ourselves with the true story of history, the biblical narrative, we realize that we have no choice but to reject as the whole truth all partial explanations. Marx, Freud and Nietzsche all ennobled half-truths to the status of whole truths that claimed to tell the whole story. Money, sex and power were their over-arching explanations of the nature of reality and it is true these things are important but certainly not all-important. They see part of the picture but not the full picture. Thus these philosophies all fall way short in answering mankind's basic dilemma, as do all partial truths. And as Christians we must decidedly reject all solutions to the humanity's problems that only provide half-answers. All of these man-generated worldviews breakdown at some point because they fail to see the whole picture, since only God can know the whole story. Jesus has given His church the task to undermine these worldviews by (1) taking captive every thought and making it obedient to Christ and (2) by using Scripture to 'destroy speculations which raise themselves against the knowledge of God' (2 Cor 10:5). The Biblical story subverts all other worldviews because it is the only coherent story. Ultimately, it is the only worldview that makes sense of the data ' all other narratives will at some point break down due to their internal inconsistencies. See my debate with a secularist for an example.
Many of you know that prior to the Lord opening my heart to believe the gospel, I sought for ultimate answers by suppressing the truth of the gospel. I did this by studying the occult and new age metaphysics. I avoided God by asserting and embracing the dogma that all religions were simply different parts of the puzzle which all led to God. When I read the Bible as a proponent of the new spirituality, for example where Christ said He was 'the way, the truth and the life and no one came to the Father but through him", I simply interpreted it to mean the Christ [the True Self in all of us] is the way and the truth, but I rejected any interpretation of this and other passages which understood them to assert an exclusive claim the of the historical Jesus Christ of Nazareth. My belief was pantheistic, that we ourselves were God by very nature, and I believed Jesus to simply be a man like each of us who is on a journey but that he had reached a higher spirituality through many lifetimes of working off bad karma. His resurrection and ascension was seen by me as the path each of us would eventually take no matter how many lifetimes it took to learn the lessons. But as I continued to read the Bible next to other religious writings I began to sense that my own worldview did not fit the data. The inconsistencies were too many. It became obvious that the Scripture was exclusively claiming that the Lord of the universe is the Lord of all and that God acted climactically in the Jesus of history. Many texts of Scripture undid my erroneous inconsistent worldview. It drew out my fundamental presuppositions and subverted them. What once seemed like a sheer absurdity, that is, the exclusive claims of Christianity now began to make sense. While new age presuppositions asserted that all religions we equal, the Scriptures undercut this notion by simply explaining that many of the practices I was engaged in was detestable to the God of the Bible (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). It also clearly explained that while clearly there was a God, I was not Him (Rom 9:15-16). In fact it was as I was reading Romans chapter 9 than the light of God's mercy pierced my soul. The Holy Spirit took the scales from my eyes and the stone out of my heart and witnessed to the truth of the Gospel. The Christ of history, unbeknownst to me before, was now clearly the only true God, supreme in heaven and earth and that all other ideas and gods that men mistakenly worship are not gods, but mere human inventions.
Observe closely what function the Bible had when used by the Spirit to undo my assumptions and bring me to Christ. YHWH, having made a covenant with His people, has given us the same job: to draw out the fundamental presuppositions of the world and subvert them with the truth of the gospel. Jesus is declared Lord over all, not Caesar, not my thoughts, not religious activity, not postmodernism and definitely not Jesus plus something else. His word alone holds ultimate authority and tells us that Jesus Christ is alone sufficient for us. We can, therefore, subvert all competing suppositions with confidence because all other constructions of reality will have to ultimately submit their worldview to the only true God. In questioning the first principles of those who oppose Christ, we can thereby show that they ultimately rest on nothing but unaided preferences. We do this when we proclaim the gospel of Christ through whom the Creator has acted decisively within His creation, that is, to eliminate evil to restore the order of creation and to establish justice on earth. We believe and assert that the Creator is acting through His church with the gospel to restore and heal His world. But most people in and out of the Church are willfully holding together two or more ideas that are mutually contradictory, even if it seems to be done at an unconscious level. When we hold ideas that are contrary to God we deny his Lordship over everything. The Lord would have us expose this, for it is the essence of human rebellion to think and act upon wrong thoughts about God. God has set the Church here to subvert all attractive but misleading alternative worldviews. This should especially concern us when those false worldviews have been mixed in the gospel in our local churches.
But we live in a so-called postmodern world where there is really almost a total lack of apprehension of God's grace. There is despair of purpose and meaning in life, (for which we can thank such "prophets" of our time as Friedrich Nietzsche). Even in our churches there is a profound sense of fragmentation and alienation from God and from one another. There are many historical reasons for this that we will not go into here but it must be acknowledged as very real. The world is desperately seeking to answer ultimate questions, yet never in history has the entire world embraced the nihilistic philosophy of despair to the degree we now embrace it, where it is believed that all such ultimate solutions to the world's evils are mere fictions. We are deeply influenced by the agendas and stories that the world presses upon us. Having continually been influenced by the bombardment of TV and pop-culture's fragmented messages, it has resulted in detaching ourselves from believing that we are part of something greater than ourselves, the grand narrative of history in Christ. Our culture has made such beliefs to appear absurd and so we have privatized and compartmentalized them. Absurd because the naturalist presuppositions common in the 20th century has so pervaded our way of thinking in our culture that supernatural explanations have the appearance of naivete'. Talk of Spiritual things has been removed from public discourse but has been replaced by another religion called postmodern secularism, which itself is no less dogmatic than any god-religion, but easily the most logically inconsistent worldview to date, but that does not seem to bother those who believe it.
We must remind ourselves daily, however, that Abraham's spiritual seed are to be the means God uses to undo primeval sin and its consequences. The kingdom of this world and God's Kingdom reign are in constant tension. The church must begin to recognize the bankruptcy of the primarily self-focused fragmentary faith that the twentieth century church has foisted upon us. Whenever our focus is on our own spirituality and not Christ then we have disconnected ourselves from the historic faith. The Gospel is about God and how He has acted (and is acting) redemptively in history to bring out a people for Himself, not simply a list of things we do to grow spiritually or feel better about ourselves. Those who truly grow spiritually are those who focus less on themselves, despairing of any hope from themselves, and instead look to Christ, who alone is our righteousness. We are neither the author nor finisher of our faith and we do not maintain our standing before God by our spirituality either. We are accepted in the beloved for one reason alone: Christ.
Furthermore our local churches have often taught that salvation is just an individual one-time transaction with God to escape damnation 'that we need to read the Bible more, pray more, and do evangelism to save souls, impose moralistic codes. Just as the liberal churches of the 19th century strove to be relevant to moderns by becoming like them, so the 21st century conservative church is doing the same with postmoderns. Os Guinness explains why this is troublesome: "By our uncritical pursuit of relevance we have actually courted irrelevance; by our breathless chase after relevance without faithfulness, we have become not only unfaithful but irrelevant; by our determined efforts to redefine ourselves in ways that are more compelling to the modern world than are faithful to Christ, we have lost not only our identity but our authority and our relevance. Our crying need is to be faithful as well as relevant." This is apparent when we look back to Jesus of Galilee, the focal point of history, and we see something different than what we have become. Jesus focused His service on the marginalized and oppressed (Matt. 5:3-6), he identified with outcasts, tax collectors, and 'sinners' like us (Matt. 9:10-12), taught that the last will be first (Matt. 19:30), and that to be a great person one must first be a servant of all (Mark 10:43). Jesus challenged his disciples to love their enemies (Matt. 5:43-48; Luke 6:32-34) and to resist evil nonviolently (Matt. 5:38-42). Jesus called out His people to honor one another above ourselves as one of our most notable marks. What has robbed us of this sense of community? Do we love those who are our political opponents? Do we pray for them or against them? Jesus never advocated for an isolated, monastic kingdom which attempted to undermine the world through brute political power. His kingdom is not geographically (or socially) separate from the physical world. The Gospel we are to herald with our life and words is the kingdom of God, the declaration that Jesus Christ is the True King, that through his death and resurrection He has inaugurated his kingdom reign since He has been given dominion and authority over all. The coming of Jesus' kingdom means He uses His Church to fight back the curse and proclaim redemption to all creation from its fallen state. But we live in an already not/yet time where all of our activities in the world have not yet been restructured to acknowledge and promote His reign. The gospel connects us with the great drama of history ' it attaches us to the grand story and purpose where Jesus, not moralistic schemes, is what rightly motivates us.
This is especially critical because we live in a time of spiritual despair. Many feel that they don't see anything in their life that is hopeful enough to attach their energies to it, that there is no big story to connect to. Inasmuch as God is there and we are supposed to related to Him many of us feel alienated and are not connecting to the big picture. This hopelessness means that there is not a great reason to push for any grand purpose. Young people growing up in the world today have been raised in an atmosphere that is 'without God and without hope'. We are subtly and sometimes not so subtly told that our temporary, accidental existence in this vast impersonal universe means that no matter what we do or leave behind it has no ultimate significance. All the grand narratives that our grandparents believed are myths that people have made up just to motivate you (or oppress you) so what is the point of it all Nihilism has basically won the day replacing old meta narratives with the spirituality of hopelessness. This spiritual despair is reflected in today's music, art and other popular culture. Perhaps one 'positive' thing that this kind of Nihilism has brought is a brutal honesty about life apart from God and recognition that there are no neutral assertions because everyone asserts opinions from their own a certain standpoint. To admit that there are no grand stories, purpose or truth and that our existence is simply an accident in a random universe could be said to be courageous, in that people don't pretend to have meaning (like all the pretended purpose through the busyness and activity of our parent's generation). But the newest generation is really quite detached from hope in the world or any sense of purpose of the bigger story of what is going on. And God has given the church the task to subvert the nihilistic story being told so He can rekindle hope that all is not merely chemical reactions in a lonely impersonal universe and that there is a grand purpose to it all.
This vague hopelessness is the sin of our age ' the story that there is simply no grand narrative that unifies them all. We are told now that all the stories our ancestors told were made up fables ' they believed that history was moving toward something truly meaningful and now we know such stories were a fiction. And there is a great deal of truth in this when we weigh most worldviews against this, but again, the new story of postmodern Nihilism elevates a half-truth to the status of whole truth. Our media and education repeats these messages over and over and it is rotting the very soul of our nation. It takes away any hope of the grace of God transforming our world and life having any meaning.
But of course no one can really live consistently this way, so we use smaller stories in our lives and make them issues of first level importance. We take up a cause, whether it is our physical health, a campaign against racism, making money, sports, not for the greater glory of God but for its own sake. We seek activity and money and pleasure for their own sakes, not connected to any purpose higher than that. There is no longer a filter that tells us what is really valuable and important and what is just meaningless. The Church needs to pray for strength to oppose this debilitating disease that is wasting away everything in its path. Like Paul we must pray the Holy Spirit give us boldness to believe and proclaim the real grand and only narrative of history: the redemptive purposes of Christ.
What will cure spiritual alienation except for the gospel? Religion/moralism will only tell you that you ought to live for God but ultimately only bring despair. But the message of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus is fully historical, fully theological, and fully sufficient to reverse the culture of despair. This hopeful and subversive message is the task given by God to the Church. Postmodernity has deconstructed the self that is merely a temporary and accidental meeting place of conflicting reactions and impulses. The average person now plays with different interchangeable stories as they come along. Goals, motives and identity have all been undermined by ever-changing landscape of postmodernity. What is the church supposed to do when faced with this huge whirlwind of cultural movements and tensions?
The answer to our alienation, fragmentation and rebellion against the creator must center upon God's action within history. God's elect are to be the means He uses through their prayer, preaching and love to undo primeval sin and its consequences. The problems of the world and the great evil perpetuated is real but it does not have the last word. He has called us to be a people through whom he will work to restore his creation. That is what we are doing when we pray for God's kingdom to come. God is advancing his reign in and through His people. It is us through whom He has chosen to act.
To conclude, the Church has become passive and largely impotent to change the world because instead of transforming the world with the Gospel we have ourselves become like it. The major prophet of the world of our time, Friedrich Nietzsche and his nihilism, has deeply influenced even the way we think in today's church. Let us pray diligently for STRENGTH to carry our God's purpose on earth so that we might first eradicate the despair which comes from these erroneous worldviews we have let in. Only then, with the grace of God, can we be begin to be qualified to make a lasting impact on the world. There is strength in many of you that I correspond with every day. I pray that God utilize you all and that He align you with the plan that was meant to be for your life. Each day we are entering into a whirlwind of confusion and disorder and as we stand side-by-side awaiting that Great Day in the Valley of Decision along we can uphold the banner of Christ as we assert His dominion over the hearts of men and women. Remember to pray for this ministry, that it be used to draw together the various branches of Christianity back to the center and that God continue to be gracious in illuminating the way of truth before us.