14 May 2012

Rock Climbing, The Kingdom-Gospel & the Angst It Creates

I remember the first time I went rock climbing for real; it was a nightmare.  I was 20 and totally amped going into that weekend of adventure.  For about a month, over multiple lunches, my instructor friend tried to break me in by teaching me all the climbing terminology; ascend, belay, friction knot, hauling, lead climbing, top roping etc.  He showed me how to use the rope as we sat in a parking lot outside our dorm.  He clarified the need for responding to communication while climbing.  We talked about climbing and rappelling a ton.  I really thought I had the hang of it until I actually did it.  It proved to be a stressful and humbling experience.  I couldn’t recall any of the terminology in the heat of the moment.  It was like I had test anxiety while hanging 150 feet up in the air.  My friend was frustrated with my lack of communication and slowness in responding to his.  All the talk in the world could not prep me for the actual immersion in climbing.  I learned quickly that I needed to learn quickly.

Being introduced to the Gospel of the Kingdom seems to have the same effect on those who start immersing in it, especially if you’ve been primarily nursed on the Gospel of Forgiveness.

The Gospel of Forgiveness
The Gospel of Forgiveness is primarily about dealing with our “sin issue.”  The pinnacle of the Forgiveness-Gospel is accepting God’s sacrifice, free gift and coming to terms with our sinful state.  It puts us in a very passive role of receiving. The high emphasis on the Forgiveness-Gospel is only as recent as the 1500's (The Reformation).  But please understand, I do believe we sin and that Jesus rescues us from the spiritual death our sins bring upon us but still this is not the heart of the Gospel.   When receiving forgiveness is the face of the Gospel, we end up inviting Jesus into our life instead of entering into His life.  This “gospel” that’s been predominantly preached in most pulpits is a truncated version of the Good News of the Kingdom that Jesus announced.  When the gospel is reduced to mental assent of some propositional truths about sin and atonement (as interesting and important as that is), there is simply no need to become an apprentice or disciple of Jesus.  Discipleship feels like an “add-on” activity for those more serious types really motivated by the fear of God.  Sure you hear preachers in "Forgiveness-Gospel" churches preaching messages on “lukewarm Christianity” or the need to be “sold out for God.”  This only exposes the fundamental problem.  This version of the Gospel is not naturally wired for living the eternal life now with others.  The leverage of condemning people for living a lukewarm faith riles up our flesh for a few weeks or months but it does not inherently lead to a new way of life.  

I think this cuts right to the heart of a problem I’ve seen with these popular teachings of the gospel.  Dallas Willard observes, “People who are taught that salvation is forgiveness do not make the natural connection to Jesus as teacher, and so they don’t become disciples… if you look at congregations that have been told that forgiveness is salvation, you do not see a natural development into discipleship.”  I’m convinced the Gospel is much more than a contract for receiving God’s righteousness.  It's more so an invitation to change direction and follow the leader in building for His Kingdom.

The Relearning
When someone has been soaked in the Forgiveness-Gospel there is a rude awakening and an emotional grinding that comes over people when they begin to immerse in the Gospel of the Kingdom.  The Gospel of the Kingdom requires us to exercise our free will to orient our life around a tethered community and the renewal of God’s broken world.  To paraphrase Stanley Grenz “Responding to the gospel of the kingdom naturally leads to discipleship, because we soon realize that we don’t know how to live with God and others in His Kingdom.”  In this new way of participating in the Gospel you learn quickly that you need to learn how to be a follower.  This learning is humbling.  To participate in the Gospel of the Kingdom a highly teachable spirit is mandatory. 

The Angst It Creates
Just like I when I learned to rock climb in a parking lot and realized very little of it prepared me to actually do it well with my friend, so it feels the same inside Kingdom-Community.  There is a learning curve that is intimidating.  Our acquired knowledge might have been highly esteemed before but now it does not translate well in helping us practically live and relate in the way of the Kingdom.   The Kingdom-Gospel confronts you with what inner holiness really looks like as explained by Jesus; the ability to press into the communal imperatives in the Beatitudes.  None of this comes naturally.  Friendship comes naturally but community does not... yes there is a difference.  You start to realize that the power of the Holy Spirit is not your personal teleprompter but is the fruit of working out your salvation in transparency with others.  You collide with the idealism of renewal when it smashes up against personal indulgences.  I’ve watched people twist and turn as they face their own emotional immaturity in doing life with others; being easily offended, reacting out of insecurity, name-dropping, distancing, anger and cynicism..  I’ve observed the angst and stubbornness that rises up inside us when humility is the only way forward.  I’ve seen the gears grind when we are challenged to relearn the Gospel as a way of life and less as a gift we only have to receive.  But there is grace for us to learn how to live the eternal Kingdom in the here and now.  Jesus is our teacher, He is a kind and patient instructor.  The Gospel of the Kingdom is a new way of  being human amongst and with others as a signpost of God’s glorious love.   Thank God, Jesus showed us the definitive template for what this new humanity looks like.

For more on the Kingdom check out my post "Reclaiming the Kingdom"

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