What is a good way to say it?

Just finished my final exam today for “The Shape of Messianic Jewish Theology,” a class I am taking online and through DVD from the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute (mjti.org). MJTI is associated with the UMJC (umjc.net). It was a tough course with sophisticated reading and a kicker of a final. Sixteen pages of theology-packed prose later, I am alive.

I thought of an interesting blog topic while feverishly finishing my final. Most of my final exam paper involves analysis and comparison of four rather heavy books. You would need a lot of context to understand most of what is being said. I’m not insulting your intelligence; just saying a concise blog would not do it justice.

But here is a simple topic derived from one part of my conclusion in the paper:
What is the best way to say the good message (the gospel)?

Is it . . .

1. You must be saved from your sins by faith apart from works?

2. Believe in Jesus so you can go to heaven?

3. God has a wonderful plan for your life; he sent his Son to die on the cross so you can have eternal life?

4. Believe in this set of doctrines (virgin birth, deity of Christ, depravity of man, atonement by blood) and you will live forever?

5. You are separated from God but Jesus made a way back to God, so receive him by faith now?

I think you get the idea. My answer would be that none of these is complete. And they focus on the wrong thing. They are sort of a consumer-driven way of explaining the good news for one thing. “I have some good news for you, something that is free which you will want to buy into right away. The benefits are outstanding…” Of these choices I like #5 the best.

But are any of these adequate in bringing someone to faith in the God of the Bible, the Messiah of the Bible? Is afterlife the main point of the good news or just the best selling point?

I want to advocate a holistic gospel, one that captures the essence of what God is doing in the whole Bible.

God is not merely some nice deity who just popped up recently to offer us an afterlife. He is the God of creation and the God of covenant who revealed himself to the world through Israel. He is the God who has a plan to bring this world to perfection in a world to come. That world to come centers around the people of Israel and the land of Israel. It is no wonder so few Christians know about Israel and the future when we omit it from our gospel.

I know, some of you right now are saying, how will you put that in a short message? How will that be biblical?

Well, sorry, but I saved the sucker punch for last. We should explain the gospel the way Jesus did: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” All the right elements are there:

Repent: Turn from the sin that separates you from God and, by the way, God provides only one way to be forgiven.

Kingdom of heaven: The world to come will be centered in Israel and reflect the paradise shown to us millennia ago by the Jewish prophets. Israel’s God is moving all things in this direction and you want to be on board before it comes.

Thoughts?

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About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Gospel, Messianic Jewish. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What is a good way to say it?

  1. Sean Morris says:

    Dear Derek,

    I’m really learning alot from reading your blog. For some time now I have been troubled by the question you are thinking about in this particular entry. What is the best way to speak about the good message of God? I’m no scholar. All I have are some books and my own impressions. I wonder if the forms you mentioned, the 5 options listed in the entry, as well as Jesus’ own approach (Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand) are forms which were on the mark at certain periods in history and with certain groups of people, but which today with many people are meaningless. I’m not at all proposing that we change the message, but that perhaps the formulas, and the emphases, are not relevant to many people who might otherwise listen with sincerity. The message of God should not be altered or watered down to please people or merely for the sake of relevance, but isn’t relevance a key aspect of that message? Of course, nothing could be more relevant than that we need a solution to what separates us from God, and that in the Messiah, Jesus, we have that solution. But I am reminded of something Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote at the beginning of his book, GOD IN SEARCH OF MAN:

    “It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rathern than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless. RELIGION IS AN ANSWER TO MAN’S ULTIMATE QUESTIONS. The moment we become oblivious to ultimate questions, religion becomes irrelevant, and its crisis sets in. The primary task of philosophy of religion is to rediscover the questions to which religion is an answer.”

    I know this quotation is a little off-target, but hear me out. The message of God is vast. Torah permeates all of life. You pointed out in another entry that God’s work in and with the world does not merely consist of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, or with the problem of sin. There is also the question of why we exist at all. And so much more. What happens in the pages of the New Testament is obviously a highlight in God’s work in the world, but perhaps when speaking to many people these days we need to enter through the back door, or a side door, at a weird angle, because so many people’s questions linger around those doors. I don’t know. By us saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” are we answering a question people aren’t asking? Maybe it was a direct and the most poignant answer to the questions of Jews in first century Palestine, (and it still is the truth), but maybe it’s not the most appropriate formulation at all times and with all people. In the early part of John’s gospel, Jesus asks two of his would-be discples, “What do you seek?” Maybe another way of presenting the good message is to speak about what people are really looking for in their lives? What are they seeking? Is that too human-centric? Maybe. I think Acts 17:22-31 might also be very useful in this question. I think it is interesting to note the progression in Paul’s words, how he begins by making known the God Who was to them unknown, how He created everything and is in charge of everything, and how He wants humanity to reach out for Him and find Him, and that He is actually not very far from us at all. It is only at the end that he introduces Jesus. Jesus own message, (“Repent, …) is all there, but Paul phrases the message of God in a way that perhaps is most applicable to those Athenian hearers. Maybe he said it to them in exactly the way they needed to hear it. And maybe this is a way of doing it today as well. Do you think we might be more on the money to begin to hold out the message of God from the vantage point of creation, not redemption? That we need to speak about the meaning behind our very existence, and the fact that there really is a God who is very real and who is in charge to this very day, even though that can often be hard to believe, and that our lives are important? That we need a greater sense of self-worth? That we are sacred creatures, with the breath of God in us, valuable to him. Not because of what we’ve done or not done, but because he made us and cares for us. Maybe it’s absurd to speak of salvation, when we aren’t capable of grasping our own innate worth. Why would God do the whole Jesus thing if we were worthless? Maybe the Jesus part of the story needs to come as a climax in a story, a punchline, somewhere near the end of the book, and the only way to get there is start with the basics, and the basics begin with answering people’s questions and needs in the here-and-now, which Jesus did by attending to people’s needs: physical healing, food, and a message of hope.

    I’m sorry for the long comment. I hope you will respond when you have time. I can tell from your blog that you are very busy. I’m not disagreeing with you at all. I’m just very curious and very concerned about this particular question and wonder what you might say in response.

  2. Sean:

    Brilliant question. Thanks for reading my blog.

    You asked: “By us saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” are we answering a question people aren’t asking? Maybe it was a direct and the most poignant answer to the questions of Jews in first century Palestine, (and it still is the truth), but maybe it’s not the most appropriate formulation at all times and with all people. In the early part of John’s gospel, Jesus asks two of his would-be discples, “What do you seek?” Maybe another way of presenting the good message is to speak about what people are really looking for in their lives? What are they seeking? Is that too human-centric?”

    My answer: Yes, most moderns would not understand the simple statement that Jesus made. We can word it in ways that make sense for modern man without changing its content. Here is a suggestion:

    1. Do you think this world is the way it is supposed to be? Wars, racism, death, poverty, disease, starvation?
    2. Do you think there is a God and if so is he doing anything about this messed-up world?
    3. Let me tell you what Jesus did and said. He lived his life in a way to show us a better world is coming. He healed diseases, reversed death, and taught love. He died to make a way for us to be accepted into the World to Come that God is making.
    4. You need to do something to be part of God’s World to Come. You need to admit that you’ve been part of the problem and ask God to forgive you through what Jesus did for you. Then you can be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

    Derek

  3. Pingback: Pt. 2: What is a good way to say it? « Messianic Jewish Musings

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