Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"The most relevant message in the history of mankind"

A few months ago, I was walking through the series of posts from my favorite Donald Miller book, Searching for God Knows What. Well, I got side tracked and was blogging about other things, but it is time to pick this up again. Here is a quote from chapter 3.

[I]f the gospel of Jesus is just some formula I obey in order to get taken off the naughty list and put on a nice list, then it doesn't meet the deep need of the human condition, it doesn't interact with the great desire of my soul, and it has nothing to do with the hidden (or rather, obvious) language we are all speaking. But if it is more, if it is a story about humanity falling away from the community that named it, and an attempt to bring humanity back to that community, and if it is more than a series of ideas, but rather speaks directly into the basic human need we are feeling, then the gospel of Jesus is the most relevant message in the history of mankind.

Amen, Donald. I think points like this are important. They are what I call mental forks in the road. You can choose to believe this or you can choose to believe that, but here are the implications. A more famous one is saying what C.S Lewis and Josh McDowell have said, where they demand that you can either believe that Jesus was who he said he was or you can believe he was not, but don't call him a great moral teacher if you think he wasn't who he said he was, because great moral teachers don't make the claims the Jesus did. The alternatives make him out to either be a liar or a madman.

What Donald does here is is say if you want to claim the entire Jesus message is merely a religion, a list of "do's and don'ts", and a formula by which to live, fine; just don;t expect anyone to be jumping on board. This is why I think that so many mainline denominational churches see so much fall out when students leave for college. If they have been given a formula that does not connect with their innermost needs, they have no need for it. If we have reduced Jesus to a formula and a lists of "do's and don'ts", we have sold him sadly short.

However, if you believe that the message and gospel of Jesus is something much more, an attempt by the god of the universe to bring his beloved creation back into covenant and relationship with him, then, as Don so eloquently puts it, "then the gospel of Jesus is the most relevant message in the history of mankind."

Donald simply paints the picture of the choices and the outcomes here and leaves the reader to decide, although it is clear in the rest of the book which way he has chosen. May we continue to present the message of Jesus for all it is and resist the temptation to reduce it to a formula.


Chip Burkitt said...

[You can choose to believe this or you can choose to believe that, but here are the implications.]

I'd like to point out that those who "choose" their beliefs are considered mad or at least out of touch with reality. Most people don't choose their beliefs; they believe what is inescapably true. Sometimes you come up against a hard bit of reality that won't fit what you believe. Then you have a choice. Will you run away from it or keep smacking into it until it changes you?

What happens to "christian" kids going to college is that they don't know Jesus. They only know the fairy tales about him. The first thing college does is make them face the fairy tales, and the belief they thought they had crumbles to dust. It doesn't help that the tempter is at their elbow telling them what a great time they can have if they no longer follow the rules.

Loomis said...

I have been reading your post for several months on the sly and have decided that I can't resist commenting on this post.

Last fall, Gary Liddle allowed me the opportunity to teach NT Lit. at Evangel. There I met Jason Bowman and we have had a similar conversation.

My point is that when I hear preachers, speakers, evangelists, etc. demanding a decision for Christ while naming "an escape from hell" as the primary reason for this decision, I get uneasy. In my research and study of the Scriptures, God's reasoning for sending Jesus was so that we could regain entrance into His presence thereby reclaiming a relationship with the Divine. Jason was so bold as to tell me that when he gives an invitation during his college ministry events he says, "Jesus did not sacrifice himself so that you could escape hell."

I know that this tactic can be convincing and that offering an abstract relationship with God as motivation for accepting Christ is somewhat more challenging. However, as you and Miller have put it, there's more to it. Seeing entrance to God's kingdom as relational instead of formulaic is what grafts souls into the True Vine. Fear is a powerful motivator, but when the emotion fades, what do people have to hold on to?

Nick said...

Maddix!!! That is awesome that you have been reading my blog!!! How are things? Glad to see you are in the blogosphere yourself. Thanks for the comment.

I agree with what you said. I think fear is a poor motivator, plain and simple. I don't think we should resist talking about Hell, but just that we should not use it to "close the deal." I would refer you to my former blog titled "Preaching Tips..." where in the comments section, I have a lengthy discussion with a blogger friend named jrazz about similar issues. I think it is interesting stuff.

Chip, I agree. Miller points out in BLJ that belief is both something that you choose and something that happens to you. I think there is a portion that you control and a portion you cannot control. valid point.

I think the one thing missing from this miller quote is the idea of relationship, although I think you could make the case that it is implied.

Loomis said...

Hey, I sent you an email, but I deleted your comment because you might receive stupid spam emails by putting your email in comments. Just being safe...


Tim said...

Nick, I'm currently reading a book called Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen that is is blowing me away in a similar way as you are seeing (and I saw) in Searching for God Knows What. The first part of Reaching Out is Nouwen calling us to return to a solitude of the heart, listening and using the innermost parts of our beings, which God created.

He wrote the book 30 years ago, but the needs he saw for which he wrote this book are the same today. College kids are falling away from the church because church doesn't encourage us to listen to our souls, to listen to our innermost parts. Instead, many churches encourages the formulas, the list of activities that make us "good" Christians. What is lost is that our souls were made to reflect the image of God, that our souls are spiritual that need to be in relationship with God in spirit within our souls, with God as community with others, and not just trained to follow a regiment like a dog in obedience school.

So I most certainly agree that the story of Jesus speaks to our basic human need and came to restore that able to be in relationship with God, not to save us from hell.