It comes up all the time. The answer is always the same, like kids in Sunday school answering “Jesus” to every question. And we nod our heads like adult Sunday school teachers too concerned about the child’s esteem or dampening their enthusiasm even though we know the response is inadequate.
It’s Tuesday. I’m on vacation (which is why I’m ahead on blogging). And someone has sent me another note chastising me (mildly) for not concluding a post with “the gospel.”
It doesn’t matter what the topic is. Men and women struggling to get along in their marriages? ”The gospel.” Someone struggling to find work in this economy? ”Believe ‘the gospel’.” The mechanic just “fixed” your car–again–and charged you–again–for the same problem you noticed last week? Think of “the gospel.” The Russian high court sentencing a punk rock band to two years in prison for a flash mob performance in a Russian Orthodox cathedral? ”They need the gospel.” Want rock hard abs? Try “gospel” aerobics. I smashed my little toe against the dresser? All together now, “the gospel.”
It’s ubiquitous. And it’s becoming an inflexible law. We dare not face any issue without the requisite hat tip to “the gospel.” If we do, there’s bound to be someone to write us a ticket for our verbal violation, to insist we missed a “gospel” opportunity. Are Christians unable to have an intelligent conversation about some issue or confront some problem in life without using the phrase “the gospel” or pointing people to “the gospel”? Or, is it that our own grasp on Jesus’ life and ministry are so slippery that we’ve not yet learned to naturally turn any conversation to a legitimate discussion of the Lord’s redemptive work on our behalf?
Of course, I’m not tired of hearing the actual gospel. Let us all determine to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. But let us also learn that the apostle taught a lot of things about Jesus Christ, His crucifixion and resurrection without lackadaisically tossing out a few cliched references to “the gospel”. He meditated on and expanded the message of God’s redemption through His Son in many varied arguments, tropes, and statements. But that’s not what’s trotted out in today’s situations of human need. We’re not getting deep reflections on the Person of Christ–His offices, nature, and work. We’re not given robust explanations of the cosmic renewal of all things in Christ as the grounds of hope and joy no matter the circumstance. We’re not having very many conversations that explore the dynamics of repentance and faith when we’re tempted to blast our mechanic. Too many Christians lazily tell us we need “the gospel” the way little kids answer every spiritual question with a reflexive “Jesus.”
As blasphemous as it sounds, “the gospel” is not the answer to every question. It’s not enough. What about Jesus do I need to know that I’m unaware of when the medical report comes back? I’m sure there’s something I’m likely to miss, but “the gospel” doesn’t communicate it. What about joblessness is addressed by Jesus when I’ve sent out the 132nd resume with no response? What specific promises should I hold onto in order to persevere through life without income in a monied economy? Help me by telling me the actual message. Bury my nose in the text of Scripture if you can. My husband of 50 years just died? Can you not tell me at length something about the resurrection–Jesus’ and ours–and the adoption the entire creation awaits to be fulfilled? Can you not reduce the entire scope and swoop of Christ’s redemptive work to the mere facts of the gospel, but along with those facts sketch and paint something of the goodness of this news? I know I need Jesus. I know the news is good. I need reminders specifically enumerating the reasons why. That’s what plants, roots, and grows enduring faith. That’s how we actually get to know Jesus more personally–by finding out what He’s like in the crucible of life.
I wonder if the cliff notes references to “the gospel” doesn’t blunt our understanding, meditation, application, and enjoyment of the incredible realities accomplished for us through the Son of God. Are we inoculating people against the actual gospel with our frequent but unexplained references to “the gospel”?