Good News

Forgetting to Remember

Jesus said that he came to testify to the truth (John 18). He also said that those who continue in his word are true disciples who know the truth (John 8). It sometimes is the case that Christians can get it in our minds that since Jesus testifies to the truth and followers of Jesus know the truth, that we have sole access to Truth.

Beyond making it difficult to be in relationship with us when we believe we have sole access to Truth, we Christians are not very good at admitting we are wrong. How can we be wrong if we have access to the truth? How can Christian beliefs be wrong if our leader testifies to the truth?

Gil Bailie points out that the Greek word lēthe means forgetful. He notes that when you put an “a” as a prefix you get alētheia, translated as truth (as it is in John 8 and 18). Literally speaking this word means to not be forgetful, or to stop forgetting.

This means that living in the truth does not mean to speak with absolute and ultimate unquestionable correctness. Living in the truth means that we do not forget.

Photo by  James Hammond  on  Unsplash

Photo by James Hammond on Unsplash

We can be wrong and still be living in the truth, because living in the truth means we admit that we do not have the whole truth. Even that which we do “know” to be True, we hold lightly because we admit there maybe things we are unintentionally forgetting.

Living in the truth is one of the distinctions of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. The kingdom of this world is more interested in forgetting than in remembering. As such, the kingdom of this world is not of the truth. The kingdom of God does not forget and thus is a kingdom of the truth. It may explain in part why the prophets emphasis remembering and why Jesus asks us to “do this in remembrance of me.”

The reality is living in the truth means that we admit we are wrong. We do not fear being wrong, in fact the Gospel proclaims that there is a joy in being wrong. As Bailie points out: “The joy of being wrong is that being wrong can be forgiven: it is insisting on being right that confirms our being bound in sin.”

And so on this week going into the beginning of a new year (Advent) consider the baptism vows which say:

We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.

We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

We confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

Let us not forget.

No, Jesus Does Not Pay Our Debt

The story is preached from the street corner to pulpits around the world: Humans are sinners all sin demands repayment (justice), but the "good news" is Jesus paid the debt. It is a fine story. But it is not Gospel. 

Photo by  Ruth Enyedi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ruth Enyedi on Unsplash

When framed this way, Christ does not forgive the debt of sin but only pays it off. Meaning that God is still a God who demands a tit-for-tat. Every sin requires a payment. Every debt is due. At the end of time, all accounts will balance. This sense of balance is often described as justice, which makes us feel good, but it is not Gospel. 

Rather than paying the debt, Jesus forgives the debt. To forgive a debt means that the debt that was owed is erased. To pay the debt means the debt is still there but now it is balanced. God who demands the debt to be paid is not the God of the radical grace and love that Jesus points us to. This pay-the-debt god is a false idol that we place our trust in because it "makes sense" that every debt is to be paid. 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is one that does not "make sense" in so many ways. The Gospel is one that proclaims that there is no debt to pay off. It is, and you are, forgiven. If you have to have a ledger page to show it, the debt line has been erased - as though it was never owed to begin with. 

It is a nice story, Jesus pays our debt, but this story maintains a social order built upon score keeping, grudge holding, and gracelessness. It is not Good News. 

Mad Men Having More Influence on Evangelism than Jesus

If you consume any sort of media these days you will find that advertising is more annoying than ever. Not long ago, we would sit through commercials because we did not have the ability to speed through them. (Who can forget the most famous introduction to commercial breaks: Chuck Woolery said the Love Connection will be back "2 and 2".) Today however, banner ads on websites are ignored, pop ups are blocked and pre-roll ads are universally deemed annoying. So when we do have to experience an ad we feel like we are being subjected to something that we did not sign up for. 

Essentially, advertisers are the uninvited guests to a dinner party.

The television show "Mad Men" glorified the advertising model of something you might call caught and taught. This was the time of no skipping or blocking ads. It was the time of limited media channels. It was a time when every ad was seen by a vast majority of Americans because no one had any choice - people were caught. The ad's job then was to capitalize on this caught audience. The viewer was "taught" about the product/service and saw the desired benefits. Today, the closet thing we may have to the "caught and taught" is each year with the Super Bowl. 

The "caught and taught" understanding of advertising is not only annoying it is now obsolete. Truth be told, I have never seen an episode of Mad Men! We all are consuming media in a dramatically different way than was previously possible and advertising is trying to figure out how to stay relevant. 

For many in the Church, "doing evangelism" is thought of in the same terms of the "caught and taught" method. It is thought that you go to a place where people are "caught" (street corners, subways, buses, parks, etc.) then proceed to teach the Gospel. More sophisticated versions of caught and taught evangelism include building a relationship with someone with the intent to teach them about Jesus. If we are going to use methods of "caught and taught" for evangelism, that is just fine we just need to remember one thing: Evangelists are the uninvited guest at the dinner party. 

No one appreciates a dinner guest who shows up and begins to comment how they are better cooks and select better wine than you do. No one appreciates a guest who talks only about topics she/he wants to talk about. No one appreciates a guest who stops does not listen but only waits for their turn to talk again. 

When we "do" evangelism it is important to remember that evangelism is sharing of Good News. This means that it is contextual. Good News to the addict is not the same Good News to the single mother of three. Evangelism influenced by Mad Men is more interrupting and agenda driven. Evangelism influenced by Jesus is more listening and following.