When Christians Don’t Know What They Believe (Part 1)
We are going back to the basics. We are reminding ourselves of the gospel — the “good news” at the heart of the Christianity.
If you are a Christian, and somebody asked you to tell them the gospel in less than a minute, what would you say? How would you feel? Imagine that scenario right now. Do you feel excited, with the words ready to roll off your tongue? Or do you feel anxious because you have no idea where to start? Or perhaps embarrassed that you will come across as just plain weird?
It is one thing having others know that you call yourself a Christian, but quite another having to explain what that means. How can you clearly articulate the gospel to the ordinary everyday person? This person may hold misconceptions about Christianity, or have had bad experiences. Maybe they know nothing at all.
I am currently studying academic theology in Durham. It is likely that I think about God more than the average person. My course involves spending a long time learning and ruminating over complex theological concepts and ideas that will never enter into the heads of the majority of people. I am also involved with volunteer work with Christian organisations that love and serve vulnerable adults. These people may come from difficult backgrounds, have served time in prison, be addicted to drugs or alcohol, or sleep rough on the streets. As a Christian, I believe that hope can be offered to these hopeless people. I have confidence that the gospel — the good news about Jesus — can bring about holistic transformation in these people’s lives.
Sometimes, however, there is a tension between these two parts of my life; between academic theology and loving the poor. Often, I do not feel as though my studies best equip me for offering Jesus to the last, lost and least as the way of having “life to the full” (John 10:10). The lines become blurred. What is essential to the Christian faith, and what is only secondary?
One risk of studying academic theology can be to lose perspective. It is far too easy to lose sight of the big picture — the essence of Christianity — amidst deep study of complex and peculiar ideas. This is something I have observed in myself, and which I know needs to be remedied. I wonder if you feel the same way?
I recently decided to read The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler. It is a fantastic book. Chandler’s sole aim is to make the gospel explicit where it is so often assumed, “outlining what it is and what it is not”. He goes back to the basics. That is, that upon which all else is based.
“I want to spend my time with you trying to make sure that when we use the word gospel, we are talking about the same thing…I want to make sure to make sure that we are all on the same page here — which is to say, God’s page — and talking about what he is talking about when the gospel is mentioned in the Scriptures.” (p.15)
I find the book very helpful, and will spend some time summarising his core ideas in a series of blog posts. This first post serves as an introduction, and I anticipate three more to follow over the coming weeks. It will be a helpful exercise for myself, but my hope is that it can benefit you too. The four posts will be as follows: (1) An introduction — this post; (2) “The Gospel on the Ground” — the gospel at the personal, micro-level, focussing on how the gospel relates to each individual; (3) “The Gospel in the Air” — the gospel at the cosmic, macro-level, focussing on how the gospel relates to the entire universe, including humanity and the whole of creation. (4) A conclusion — wrapping it all up.
The “ground” and “air” vantage points both refer to the same one gospel. Paul himself highlights these two vantage points in relation to the gospel.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22–23, italics mine)
Chandler offers an anecdote of New York City. Walking down amidst the bustling streets and experiencing the city is different from flying 30,000 feet overhead to see it. Yet both see and experience the city. Both can correctly say, “This is New York”. It is the same with the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air. Both are equally valid and true. In fact, as we will see, they mutually enhance each other and work together. “Both are necessary to begin to glimpse the size and the weight of the good news, the eternity-spanning wonderment of the finished work of Christ”, says Chandler (p.17).
This writing series will be part of my journey this Summer of focussing on the basics of Christianity. You are welcome to join me as I try to more fully appreciate and understand the essence of the Christian faith, the good news of Jesus Christ.
Reference: Chandler, Matthew, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, USA: Crossway Books, 2012).