This was the world in which the first Christians found themselves. They were alternately persecuted, received, scattered, listened to, praised, and ridiculed. Whatever the case, people came to faith in Christ, churches were planted, and the church as a whole grew. In a predominantly pagan and hostile society, with intermittent (and later consistent) persecution, this small minority “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
The twenty-first century is similar in many ways, one being that the harvest is great once again, especially in America. The growing secularization of society, disappointment in modernity and the move to post-modernity, the great movements of people, the new “road system” called the internet, growing acceptance of world religions, and the almost assumed values of tolerance and pluralism make twenty-first America much like the first century world.
This provides both a great opportunity and a great challenge for the evangelical church: On the one hand, many people may be spiritually interested and hungry; on the other hand, they too easily follow the latest amateur celebrity guru, or simply practice cafeteria religion, picking and choosing what they want to create their “religion for one.” On the one hand more people may want to know about Jesus and what the Bible says; on the other hand, they do not automatically accept the authority of the Bible (much less that of the church), and add Jesus to other well-known gurus. On the one hand, the church has the answer: Jesus Christ, the only, eternal, crucified, and living Son of God; on the other hand, we are not always very good at communicated that reality in the American culture. We bemoan the changes and the deterioration of the culture at large, but are too blind to our own cultural captivity. The only conclusion is that America is a mission field. So, what must our message be about?Simply . . .
Our message must be about Jesus Christ. The great temptation of the last two thousand years has been to make Jesus into our image by fitting him, his teachings, and his work into cultural, ideological, personal, or religious categories that do not fully reflect Scripture. This is a temptation for all of us, which we sometimes succumb to intentionally in order to support a presupposition, but which more often we are unaware of as we assume Jesus fits into a personal or cultural mold or pattern. The challenge for the evangelical church in America is to strive to faithfully present the Jesus of the Bible. One flip of the television channel or one visit to the popular Christian book store reveals that careless Christology creates confusion within the church and scorn in the world. With a multiplicity of deficient Christologies clamoring for attention, we must continually return to the Scriptures for the historical facts, for explanation, for correction, and for instruction. We have to get Jesus “right!”
Our message must be about the totality of Jesus Christ. Avoiding the temptation of presenting our own personal Jesus also means we must strive to present all of Jesus Christ. A holistic, balanced Christology requires presenting him as the incarnate and only begotten Son of God, fully divine and fully human, and yet sinless. It also means we must present all of what he said and did, and what the inspired writers of the New Testament confirmed and explained about him and his work. Certainly, there are hard sayings of Jesus; yes, there are challenging passages by Paul. We can and should move forward confidently driven by a Christology based on the entire New Testament and not on some personal “canon within the canon,” whether liberal or conservative.
Our message must begin and end with Jesus Christ. By that I mean two things: One, Jesus Christ is the overarching, all-encompassing metanarrative. His "story" answers and covers all other stories. Therefore, our message cannot be compartmentalized to say that Jesus answers only spiritual needs, or only the needs of the individual, or only the Western person’s quest, and that there are other answers for other peoples or other aspects of life. Rather, all people and all of life are addressed by all of Jesus. Two, although there are specific personal, family, and social issues the church must address and respond to, these cannot be dealt with apart from the person and work of Jesus. Yes, poverty must be addressed, but the ultimate answer is Jesus Christ. Yes, the breakdown of the family must be addressed, but the ultimate answer is Jesus Christ. And so on. This is not to denigrate or minimize any particular passion, issue, or ministry, but to say that any passion, issue, or ministry devoid of a balanced and holistic Christology may be a good work, but ultimately spiritually unsatisfactory and eternally lacking.
Next week: Our message is about . . . ? Part 2