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.