Our message must be all about Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Taking the previous point even further, the scandal of the cross cannot be avoided. In fact, not only should we not avoid the scandal of the cross, we should rejoice in it. It was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks (1 Cor. 1:23), and it still is so for many today. To some world religions the cross still is foolishness. To others the cross is merely the unfortunate death of a good man. To us who believe, however, it is wisdom, power, salvation, love, and joy. Therefore, whatever our particular message may be to individuals and to American society, whatever particular aspect of life and culture we are addressing, whatever portion of Scripture we may be preaching and teaching, our message must at some point lead to the cross of Christ. Whether the cross is explicit or implicit in our message, whether it is our beginning point or our conclusion, or even when it may not be specifically mentioned, it must be the foundation, the core, and the driver of our message.
Our message must be about Jesus Christ and his Kingdom inaugurated. The crucified and resurrected Messiah is central to God’s Kingdom purposes. The work of Christ on the cross means that forgiven and justified sinners have been united to Christ, are members of the Kingdom, and are now, as saints, participating in God’s redemption and restoration of the creation. Because salvation and membership in the Kingdom includes all aspects of redemption – “spiritual, physical, bodily, social, relational, and political” – the church acts as the present, universal, and most importantly and effectively (albeit imperfectly) localized sign and agent of the Kingdom. As a community of the Spirit (and as local communities), the church lives, loves, and acts differently than the world, confronting not only personal sin, but also entrenched corporate and structural sin. This is because the loving and just God who dealt with the individual’s sin on the cross is the same loving and just God who deals with all sin in the fallen creation. He is the same God who is restoring the entire creation, partially now in the “already,” but ultimately, completely, and finally with the new heaven and the new earth. This means, once again, the story of the resurrected and living Lord Jesus Christ is the story, the overarching story, the metanarrative, that addresses personal sin, individual destiny, and the fallen-ness of the world. Whether poverty, war, economics, environmental stewardship, or any other societal ill, it matters in the Kingdom of Christ.
Our message must be about Jesus Christ and his attitude. Having the right theology, the correct Christology, the conviction and passion about America as a mission field, an understanding of proper methodologies, and an unswerving confidence in the Bible and the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is absolutely fundamental to the task. Yet, without the attitude of Jesus Christ, as expressed most profoundly in Phil. 2, we will have only sporadic and short-termed fruitfulness. Besides having a Biblical theology and Biblical methodologies, let me suggest that we ought also to practice certain Biblical attitudes:
a. Boldness tempered by humility. The American mission field needs to hear a consistent and constant word about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and his saving work on the cross. We must be confident and bold in that assertion. At the same time, the message must be communicated with an attitude of humility. That is, we must have the attitude of Paul, who was “not ashamed” (2 Tim. 1:12) of the gospel of salvation for sinners, but who was also well aware that he was the “worst of them” (1 Tim. 1:15-16). Although the gospel of Jesus Christ is absolute and true regardless of our behavior and attitudes as believers, sinful behaviors and wrong attitudes are unnecessary obstacles to preaching, hearing, and responding to the message. Consider that Jesus saved his harshest words for the religious establishment and not for the lost. His rebukes were strongest toward his disciples, who should have known better. Yes, he confronted the world, but when people rejected him it was because of the truth and not because of an attitude.
b. Truth telling tempered by love. Similarly, the message must always be the truth about the Truth – Jesus Christ. Yet we should not use expressing the truth as an excuse to lambaste someone we don’t like, agree with, or approve of. There are times to confront, to speak boldly, to not back down. Is our driving motivation, however, to win an argument or to show the love of God for the sinner?
c. Passion tempered by acceptance. Our passion for the gospel, to see individual lives change, and to see the transformation of communities and society should not blind us to several realities we must accept: One, lost people are usually going to act like lost people, and Jesus promised the world will hate us. Why, then, are we surprised in America when that is the case? Two, not everyone will believe. Results will be mixed. There will be both wheat and tares. Three, even when we agree as evangelicals on the central premises of the gospel and are unified on the primary purpose of the church, we will still not agree on the details and the applications. We will continue to have “family fights” until Jesus returns. Therefore, we need passion, but we must also accept that we are still imperfect people who belong to an imperfect church ministering in a fallen world.
For American evangelical churches to impact our ever changing culture, the first question to be answered is: “What are we going to do about Jesus?” That is, who do we say that He is? What are we saying about Him in our preaching, our teaching, our lifestyles, our churches, and our attitudes? On the one hand we must confront the false and deficient Christologies found in world religions. On the other hand, there are times when the evangelical world has to examine the Jesus it proclaims. Have we misrepresented Him? Manipulated Him? Preached a deficient, incomplete, and wimpy Jesus? Have we allowed Him to be captive to our ideology, our culture, and our personal experiences? Who do we say that He is and what are we going to do about it?