Pondering the Misunderstood Gospel
I just stepped out of a Christmas chapel service at the high school where I teach. I was struck, even frustrated, a few times by what some of the things that students and one teacher who was speaking implied about their understanding of the gospel and the life of Christ on Earth. I suppose I shouldn’t be. What they understand to be the gospel is what the overall Evangelical community understands the gospel to be, and it’s the same understanding that I had for twenty-some-odd years: the good news is that Jesus came to Earth and died for our sins so that we could be forgiven and go to heaven.
There’s nothing wrong with that idea of the gospel. It’s certainly a part of the gospel, and perhaps it’s the most important part. But it’s but one fragment. As I sat with my frustrations, I realized a number of things. First, I realized that, in a way, I had become defensive about a right understanding of the good news, which is a problem on my part. Defensiveness is pre-integration, if you recall an earlier post. I suppose this means that I need to trust that God has these people where they need and are capable of being, and that so long as He’s taking care of it, we’re all in good hands.
Second, I was thinking about what I have come to understand the gospel to be, and I found it appropriate that my conclusion fit aptly with the fact that we are a few weeks into Advent this year. If I had to replace “gospel” with another word, I think perhaps the most apt (now, granted, this is based on 30 seconds of pondering, so there may be far more appropriate words that I’m not thinking of at the moment) might be “Immanuel” – God with us. No matter how bad things get, surely God is with us. No matter where we screw up, surely God is with us. No matter how big the problem and how small we are, surely God is with us. Recall Rahab who helped the spies enter Jericho. She did it because she knew that God was with Israel. God with us is very good news.
Third, I began looking around at this collection of adolescent neurotics, screw-ups, sluggards, and do-gooders (there’s a description that could apply to pretty much any group if you pull out “adolescent”), and realized that there might not be a single person in this room who truly comprehends the gospel (including me). And yet the gospel is offered to and effective (when accepted) for every single person in the room. Maybe it would be better if we all understood the gospel in all its fullness and could therefore accept it in the depths of our being, but even if we don’t, it still applies to us. We still receive the love and presence and forgiveness of God.