As mentioned in yesterday's post, I see my new role as Associate Pastor for Media (TM) as proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in the digital world. I think this is a tremendously fun task to be called to, and has the added bonus of being so critically necessary in our cultural climate right now it's crazy.
"But J," I can hear you saying through the computer screen, "there are already so many people proclaiming the good news online. What makes what you're doing any different?" I'm glad you asked faithful reader. Because the truth of the matter is that for a whole lot of people, the good news of the gospel means many different things. So we would do well to take a look at what is, and isn't, meant by good news.
First of all, most people who proclaim good news tend to start here, the proclamation of human sin. The story goes that a lot of people who are preaching good news start with some horribly bad news, that the people around them are all pitiful miserable sinners. Sometimes they even have signs, bullhorns, and awful hair cuts. The message is subtle, but really unmistakable. The preacher is over there in the safe zone, somehow living a virtuous and holy lifestyle, while the rest of us losers are spending our time having fun and getting called names for it.
To be sure, sin is a TREMENDOUSLY important piece of the good news puzzle. But I'll quickly point out two ways the above approach gets it wrong: 1) They make it about an individual's sin only and 2) they are starting the story in the wrong place.
One of the best parts of the Christian story for me is how big the story itself is. We're talking about a God who created the entire cosmos, everything that is and was and will be. And we're talking about that same God loving each and every one of us. Suddenly life is more than just being about making money, paying taxes, and then choosing a gravestone. Suddenly life is about fitting in to the bigger narrative that God is calling us into. Life is about finding our place in the story of God.
Now to be sure, there are individual sins that individual people commit. If I were to club someone over the head because they disagreed with me, that would in fact be a sin. Truth be told, I've committed more than a few sins myself. Like, just today. In the last few minutes. Ok, seconds. And this is no small problem, as I am fairly certain that my individual sins are toxic to my soul. They break down the relationship between me and God, which makes it much harder to find my place in God's story.
But there's also the profound truth that all of creation is fallen. If you don't believe me on that, tune to any national news network right now. I'll wait. I'm pretty sure you can see the fallen state of creation within 30 to 40 seconds. Riots. Murder. Hatred. Greed. Poverty. It's all there. In fact, when you study that at it's deepest, the fallen creation is not just on top of our individual sins, it is the very cause of them. Think of it this way: there's a big difference between sin and sinning. Sin is the condition of all of creation. We don't work the way we are supposed to. Our natural inclination should be toward God, toward justice, toward love. But something is wrong with us, our natural inclination is off. The individual sins we commit are an outpouring of that natural truth of our fallenness. I am not a sinner because I've amassed a big huge debt of sins. I've amassed a big huge debt of sins because I'm a sinner. Read that sentence again, because the difference is critical.
So when we point to people's individual sins, we are trying to cure the disease by suppressing the symptoms. It would be like telling someone who has the stomach flu "Oh, you'd be fine if you just stopped puking!" Are we surprised then at the reaction we get from this line of attack? Are we surprised that people get angry at preachers who are constantly labeling them as sinners? Seriously, imagine yourself bowing down to the porcelain throne, puking up every meal you've ever eaten, only to have a complete stranger tell you that he was where you are, and all you need to do is stop puking to be better? Would you listen?
Wrong Starting Line
There's also this little theological issue with the story starting at our sin and brokenness: That's not where the story of God starts. Sin enters the story in Genesis Chapter 3, when Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I almost promise that some day we will have an entire post dedicated to that chapter of the scriptures, but for right now you're already tired of me, I can tell. Setting aside the complexity of that story, that means that it's a whole 2 chapters before things get rolling in a bad direction. When was the last time you picked up a book at your local library (Shout out to the local libraries!) and started at chapter 3?
No, the story starts in chapter one. And what do we get in chapter one? A good, perfect, pleasing, and peaceful world. The kind of world where God has ordered everything, and everything works. The kind of world where there is no murder. The kind of world where there is no sadness or despair. The kind of world where no one is on the top of the social ladder and no one is on the bottom, because there is no ladder. The kind of world where there is ALWAYS free wifi. That's the world God is trying to get us back to. That's the world that allows us to make sense of the broader story that God is telling.
Among the many problems you will find if you start in chapter three is that you are missing pieces of the story. Your story will seem small, insignificant, lacking, and sad for good reason: it is. And there is where trying to share this version of the good news falls short. I am convinced people are hungry for a bigger, better story. I am convinced that people want to see how they connect into the bigger story of God, EVEN AND ESPECIALLY IF they don't believe in God at all. Something inside us is drawing us in to the deeper story. Something inside of us wants to go back not to chapter three, but to chapter one.
How do we do that? Well that's a question for another day.