I find that I sometimes have issues with what Michael Spencer has to say over at internetmonk.com, but I do appreciate his willingness to think outside of his particular box. He comes from a Southern Baptist background, I believe, although he considers himself “post-evangelical.” As with all of us, it’s very difficult to completely shake off the grid we were raised in, so I think we would see the same thing still from very different viewpoints. But then, sometimes I find him very much right on. In his post from yesterday, he makes some very good points concerning how many evangelicals approach evangelism, contrasted with how Jesus approached it:
I think it’s telling that the two most prolific evangelism programs in evangelicalism both approach their audience with questions that Jesus never used.
“Do you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?”
“If you were to die tonight, and God were to asked you, why should I let you into my heaven, what would be your answer?”
He points out that Jesus merely proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven, which had very different connotations than our dangling Heaven on a stick (my terminology). Spencer continues:
Evangelicalism is a religion of decisions and transactions. Jesus proclaims the arrival of the reign of God. There are decisions to be made, but reducing the Gospel to a decision to accept “God’s plan for my life” or giving the right answer to the question of how to go to heaven seems to have moved well past what Jesus was doing in his earthly ministry.
He’s been reading NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope, which I think probably prompted the post, although the thinking is obviously his own. I don’t think what he says is necessarily new, but it bears repeating.
My own take
My own background, as my faithful readers know, is Lutheran. After being “evangelized” away from the Lutheran church in my early 20s, I have lived among the evangelicals for about 30 years, however I never really became one of them. I’ve adopted the term “Lutheran expatriate” for lack of any better description.
When I first found myself in college (actually, I didn’t really find myself until a few years later), I hung with various campus groups, including InterVarsity and Campus Crusade. I was terribly turned off by the CC bunch, who were bound and determined to get me to say their little prayer; no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince them that I was “saved.” I stopped going there after a couple of weeks, and did my best to avoid them after that. So, from that time on, the line “Did you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?” became somewhat of a joke for me.
While I appreciate the point Michael Spencer is making, I now have to say that I think the question is valid; not only that, but years later it became one of my basic messages. I think that it is absolutely true that God loves you and does indeed have a wonderful plan for your life. The problem is not in the question, it’s in the application.
God’s plan is not just to get you into Heaven (or saved from hell). Have you ever noticed that while Jesus definitely emphasized the spiritual kingdom rather than Earthly interpretations (as the Jews did), his plan was to get people into Life, not into Heaven. “The Kingdom of Heaven is within reach.” That didn’t mean that they’d all be dead soon, it meant that you could reach out and touch it; it was here, it was now, it was happening.
With Jesus’ death and resurrection, he didn’t just buy us tickets to Heaven; he began the re-creation of the world. Everything changed. The reality of the resurrection (for everyone) was one thing that became reality. The second was the “pouring out” of the Holy Spirit “upon all flesh.” It’s a brave new world. We don’t even realize it, but we can’t comprehend a world without the Holy Spirit (and I believe that applies to non-Christians as well). God’s plan is for us to step into the ongoing re-creation of everything, where “with God, all things are possible.”
Live the resurrection! God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
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“Dangling heaven on a stick.” I like it. I’m going to use it.
Reading your last full paragraph, I look forward to your thoughts on Schmemann when you have the chance to reread him.