Saturday, January 17, 2004

The Gospel for the Other

Interesting question Andy. I agree that in the most basic sense the understanding must be that the Gospel is universal, it applies to all in calling and also in working. In Romans 3 Paul says "For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Gospel is for everyone just because in Jesus everyone has been reconciled to God. "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men." (Rom. 5.18) A quality starting point, then, is the gracious understanding of the Gospel that says that everyone has been reconciled completely to God, while we were still sinners. The job of the followers of Jesus is not to 'convince' or 'make effective' this reconciliation because it has already been done, in full.

Once that difficult concept is grasped, the question can shift to what we're doing in sharing the Gospel. Here the role of the Christ follower is to point toward the crucified Christ, the image of this reconciliation. In so doing, others can become aware of their righteous standing before the Father as the brother of the Son and the life that comes through the Spirit can take shape.

If the image of the crucified Christ stands as the ultimate sign of our reconciliation with God, how do we best represent this image to the world? Here, the idea is the representation of God with the other. Indeed, this identification with the other is central to understanding the Gospel. In the broadest sense, it is God's identification with the other, the godless, us, that makes reconciliation. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5.8) Indeed, the indintification of God with the crucified Christ is an image of identification with the other. Jesus dies a blaspheming sinner (having claimed to be God and above the righteousness established by the religious order he identified in, Jesus was undoubtedly seen as a sinner in his handling of the law), rebel (rejecting the pagan rule of the Roman society as well as the nationalistic ideals), and he dies forsaken by God (Jesus calls him his Father and invokes him on his behalf, culminating in his cry of forsakenness). In the resurrection of Jesus, God identifies himself with the one who died as entirely other of God; weak, forsaken, godless, sinful.

If the cross is the symbol of the gospel for the unrighteous, weak, forgotten, and godless, so the church should be as well. In the cross God goes after everyone but he goes after everyone in their weakness and death, because in reality this is the only way to get everyone. It is in this weakness that the church must meet the world. By following Paul's advice to bear the attitude of Christ, "who though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Ph. 2.6-8) The church must follow Christ by taking on an attitude that says that even though it is identified in the glory of Christ, does not count equality with God to be grasped and thus rejects glory, perfection, and righteous comfort by emptying itself of everything that it finds its identity in other than the cross and literally becomes nothing for the sake of the world. Having rejected every rightful claim it has to authority and power it takes the form of a servant being born in the likeness of that which is lower then it, rejected humanity. The church must be obedient to the point of death, both socially and physically. Until the church is willing to empty itself of everything it will always be a tainted sign of the gospel.

Finally, a few notes on practical applications. I think we must turn to Jesus' activities as well as that of the early church for examples of this. Jesus' ultimate self-emptying is found in the cross but we see how Jesus lived a life identified with the other. Rejecting his rightful place as the head of his religion, he embraces those who were rejected by his religion, his society, and his 'God'. Those who are unrighteous sinners are pursued for fellowship alone in some instances. (Mt. 9.10-12) In addition, the sorts of people Jesus were with were all poor. There is, as we are aware, those who are simply 'poor in spirit', those who had things and were miserable enough to leave it all (Matthew). But following Jesus for them meant rejecting everything they had, Matthew just up and leaves his money job and hits the road. Indeed, Jesus and his disciples set an interesting example for presenting the Gospel in the world by being homeless and possessing nothing. Jesus clearly points out that this is part of following Jesus. (Mt. 8.18-22). So we have those who are poor in spirit (reference Magnolia for the truly poor in spirit) and we have Jesus fellowshiping with them, as well as those who are poor in everything, reference Jesus himself. Finally, we have those who are the totally rejected. First, those rejected by everyone because they are sick. These are the forgotten of a society for the sake of success. SO long as we remember the dying, sick, and 'handicapped' we can never embrace our progress. As a result they are left outside of everything seeking success, including the church often enough. Jesus is in the midst of these people. Also, those condemned as ultimately unrighteous. Jesus' identification here goes to the fullest extent as he does things deliberately that have him labeled as a sinner and unrighteous. Finally, those who are rejected on both grounds are the most forgotten. The unclean woman who touches Jesus' robe is rejected as unclean and thus unrighteous and is also suffering a sickness for 12 years of the worst kind. These, then, are who Jesus sees as the lynch-pin of the entire Gospel. The first word of the Gospel for those who have plenty is bad news. Those who have nothing and are 'dead' already have an upper hand. The rest of us have to die first, we must lose our lives, and this can't just be a metaphorical claim when Jesus specifically calls his disciples to walk away from the occupations, both lucrative and otherwise, and he calls the rich young ruler to get rid of everything he has. Indeed, whatever it takes for us to die, to find ourselves not as service to those who are 'dead' already but find ourselves as one amongst those who are dead already. In this way, The Gospel for the rich and plentiful is a message to die, just give up everything. Both in spirit and in practicality. The temple was overturned by Jesus because it was exploiting the poor and was focused on finances instead of on being a mediator between God and humanity. The Gospel, then, is identification with the other. What is the other in our lives? Who is our model of the Gospel? Once we begin identifying with those who are suffering, to the most extreme degrees ('handicapped', financially destroyed, or literally dying) we begin to have the power of our own death at work in our lives. It is a shame for all of us who will be reading this that our 'intimate fellowships' are shared with those primarily from our same tax-bracket, ethnic background, and physical health. We must begin pursuing the other, the rejected, because when we find ourselves in these we have found ourselves and the Gospel of hope and life we are 'taking to them' will be found already there.

Thursday, January 15, 2004


Well, I guess the easiest answer is everyone. I think, as I assume Jake will go with this, the Bible is quite vocal about a "special" passion for the poor. I think there are two particular ways to look at this: Everyone is poor and there is more than food that the "needy" need.

I think God does have a special concern for those that are victims of injustice and the poor, but his love for all is seen in the passion he has for all to see how extremely needy they are. I think for people like me who struggle with pride, find a sense of humility and connection to the world when they are connecting with people in real financial hardship. Unfortunately, when we are with people of poor spirit, we come out frustrated, disgusted, and exhausted. For me, it is the Freshmen in my hall who still live and breath as if popularity is worth anything. The ones who pick on the kid who is not as athletic or cool. I usually just want to hit them. Somehow, in those minutes, I think that I am really being called to do exactly what I am doing, which likely relates more to the second definition I gave...

I think God is in the business of seeing his people working towards changing structures that are inherently unjust. My passion is working with college students, challenging their beliefs, and stretching their intellect. I do this in the residence hall and I am starting to see how it works in the classroom as well. Perhaps, I won't be the one who goes into social work or takes a high political office, but maybe one of my students could. Maybe a student that goes with me on a short term mission experience to Boston and starts making connections between that experience and their sociology class work could lead to a follower of Jesus committing their life directly to social change. I don't think this takes me off the hook of direct ministry to those in poverty in my community or those who are poor in spirit, but it does give a vision and a strategy to how my deepest passions connect with the worlds deepest needs...


"Who's The Gospel REALLY For

Since we've generally ignored this site as of late, I thought I would try and get some conversation started again. The question I've decided to focus in on is "Who's the Gospel For?" Everyone who has contributed to the Midwest Mindset are spending their time living out the gospel in different places (or at least we have passions that are directing us that way). We're passionate about White Bread Midwestern Kids, College Students, Urban Kids, the Mentally Disabled and the Poor. Each one of us is passionate about the place we're at (or going). The question is, is there a "best" place for us to be living out the gospel? I'd like to hear responses from everyone on this one. Lay out all you've got. If you're passionate then you've got an argument, so shout shout, let it all out!