How Good Is the Good News?

I’ve been in evangelical churches and circles for over forty years. I’ve taught theology for over twenty years in evangelical institutions. My experience and those of the majority of my students is that the gospel message preached in many evangelical churches, conferences, concerts, summer camps, and the like is a truncated version of the gospel. I believe that the truncation of the gospel message is linked to a truncated view of the nature, scope, and consequences of sin and a truncated view of God’s redemption. The good news of the gospel is much greater than is commonly promulgated in many evangelical circles.

A terse summary of much contemporary evangelical renditions of the gospel runs as follows. Contemporary evangelicals largely begin with some version of “You are a sinner deserving of eternal hell!” Next, Jesus is heralded as the Savior who died for our sins. If we want salvation (= go to heaven when we die), then we must accept Jesus as our personal Savior. A prayer format is usually offered (i.e., the “sinner’s prayer”), whereby we receive forgiveness. One gets the impression that this is the goal, climax, and conclusion of Christian redemption. The person is now “saved.” The newly “converted” are encourage to go to church and bring a friend. It is sometimes stressed that one should read their Bible, pray, and try to be good. In addition, evangelicals are told to vote Republican so we can take America back for God. The primary focus of this version of the gospel is on personal sin, being forgiven, recapturing America for God, and going to heaven when we die. This is a severely truncated and distorted version of the good news. In fact, the bad news/good news of the gospel is both worse than and better than that expressed by many contemporary evangelicals.

Scripture begins not with original sin but with original righteousness. In Gen 1, the world is ordered out of chaos, formlessness, and darkness. Humans are made in the image and likeness of God (1:27). Genesis 2 situates Adam in a lush garden, where he is to “work it and take care of it” (2:15). After wildlife is created, God forms a woman from the man. Man and woman become “one flesh” and they knew no shame. This picture is one of harmony, balance, order, and beauty. Later, humans are said to be created “a little lower than God” and “crowned” with “glory and honor” (Ps 8:5). Humanity is tasked with stewarding God’s good creation and the Creator walks with humanity in the garden.

Genesis 3 portrays Adam and Eve as being tricked and seduced by a talking serpent much like a child molester would trick and seduce innocent children playing in a park. They disobey God’s command, the consequences of which infect, permeate, and disorder every dimension of creation, every aspect of the human person, and all social relationships and structures (Gen 3-11). The nature of sin is that it has a disruptive effect on community, relationships, and God’s shalom, causing disharmony, disorder, and chaos in six dimensions. First, the spiritual God-human relationship is disrupted and disordered as depicted in the banishment from the garden. Humans are alienated from their Creator (Gen 3:23-24). Second, the social, human-to-human relationship is disrupted as the man and woman blame-shift and finger-point, making excuses for themselves. This disharmony escalates in Gen 4-11 as murder, aggression, and wickedness reach a boiling point. Third, the physical dimension is also affect in that humans will now get sick and die. Fourth, the psychological, self-to-self relationship is now characterized by guilt, shame, and self-conscious awareness (anxiety). Fifth, the ecological human-to-nature relationship is strained, and nature is cursed and subject to decay (Rom 8:19-23). Sixth, the cosmic dimension is marked as one of enmity (spiritual warfare) with Eve’s offspring (Gen 3:15). The biblical diagnosis of the human problem is far more extensive than personal guilt in need of forgiveness.

The biblical remedy, likewise, is much broader in scope than forgiveness of personal sin. The biblical view of the scope of redemption extends to all of creation, the entire human person (body, spirit, mind, will, and emotion), society, and the cosmic realm. God’s aim in redemption is to restored and re-order all creation, the whole human person, society, and the cosmos. Indeed, Peter says that God intends to “restore everything” (Acts 3:21). To use N. T. Wright’s oft-repeated phrase, God intends “to set the world to rights.” The six dimensions affected by sin are now six dimensions that God intends to redeem by restoring and re-ordering creation and humans to God’s original design. First, God seeks to reestablish the spiritual dimension by giving us new birth and by renewing us into God’s image and likeness. Second, social relationships are spoken of in terms of peace, reconciliation, justice, and healing of nations. Third, the physical dimension is included in the healing of bodies and by bodily resurrection. We are not simply souls trapped in a body! Fourth, the psychological dimension is affected as our minds are renewed, our wills liberated, and our emotions are balanced. Fifth, the natural dimension is restored and re-ordered in a new heaven and a new earth (Rom 8; Rev 21–22). Sixth, the cosmic dimension is re-ordered and stabilized as God’s spiritual adversaries are defeated and destroyed.

Each of these six dimensions of redemption can be illustrated in Jesus’s holistic ministry found in the Gospels. If evangelicals want to preach the gospel, then evangelical churches would do well to broaden the gospel message by enlarging the nature, scope, and consequence of sin and by expanding the nature and scope of God’s redemption in these six dimensions.

Theo-Podcasts

There are thousands of podcasts available on just about every conceivable topic from cooking, finance, entertainment, news, and politics, to “Couples Therapy,” “Serial Klllers,” “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” and “Drinkin’ Bros.” You can also find lots of pastors, sermons, and inspirational podcasts. You might have wondered: Are there any podcasts out there that would be intellectually stimulating for those interested in the study of the Bible and theology?

The answer is, “Yes.” I have found the following six podcasts to be not only very informative but entertaining as well. One thing they all have in common is that they each approach the Bible and Christian faith from a progressive evangelical or a “post”-evangelical perspective. Podcasts are great because you can listen to them in the car, while you are doing chores, or falling asleep at night. As a university professor in theology, I have found that most of my students listen to podcasts regularly. Listening to podcasts is one way I stay in touch with them.

First, “ReKnew” is hosted by Dr. Greg Boyd, one of the most influential pastor/theologians in the country today. He is well known as an Open Theist and has recently published a massive two-volume work on The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. This podcast comes out three times a week and most are short, 3 to 7 minutes each. The format of “Reknew” is one in which Boyd answers questions from listeners on topics that range from perplexing theological and hermeneutical issues to everyday questions of morality and church practice. My biggest complaint about Boyd’s podcast is that it is too short. I want to hear more!

Second, “Homebrewed Christianity” is hosted by Dr. Tripp Fuller, a graduate from Claremont Graduate University, well known as the center for process philosophy and theology. Each episode focuses on a different thinker, theologian, or philosopher. The average episode lasts about an hour and is conversational in nature. Tripp’s approach is from a relational/process perspective influenced heavily by his mentor at Claremont, Phillip Clayton. If you’re looking for an academically challenging theological podcast, then this one’s for you.

Third, “Theology in the Raw” is hosted by Dr. Preston Sprinkle, who possesses a PhD in NT studies from St. Andrews University in Scotland. Sprinkle’s podcasts are usually 20 to 30 minutes long. He looks at a myriad of topics – homosexuality, sex, porn, drinking, immigration, race, violence, ISIS, President Trump, guns, patriotism, as well as numerous other topics. Sprinkle typically will address questions his listeners send to him. Since Sprinkle is trained in NT, most of his content is exegetical in nature. Another feature of “Theology in the Raw” is that it is the most traditionally evangelical of the six podcasts reviewed here.

Fourth, “The Bible for Normal People” is a weekly talk show hosted by Dr. Peter Enns. Enns has a PhD in Hebrew Bible from Harvard University and taught at Westminster Theological Seminary until he was fired because of his views on biblical inspiration. “The Bible for Normal People” focuses mostly on the biblical text and examines it by employing critical methods of interpretation. Enns often has scholarly guests who have a particular expertise in some area of biblical studies. Some of the topics he explores are: “Who Wrote the Pentateuch?,” “Disconverting from Certainty,” “Is the Bible True?,” “Reimagining the God of the Bible,” “Understanding Deuteronomy and the Story of Israel’s Kings,” and “Authority, Revelation, and Inspiration,” just to name a few.

Fifth, “The Liturgists” is hosted by the musician Michael Gungor and “Science Mike” McHargue and deals with some of the most important and intriguing contemporary topics through the lens of art, science, and faith. The Liturgists Podcast is highly conversational and nothing is off the table for discussion. They are noted for what they call a “progressive spirituality.” Some of the most recent topics discussed are: social media, mysticism, tongues, the ethics of f***ing, body image, embodiment, evangelicalism, and the Enneagram. Science Mike also hosts a weekly podcast dealing with specific issues related to science and faith.

Sixth, “The Bad Christian Podcast” is hosted by three southern millennials who grew up in highly conservative/fundamentalist Christian churches: Matt Carter, Toby Morrell, and Joey Svendsen. They are not trained scholars but take on academic issues regularly. This podcast is largely a public space for Matt, Joey, and Toby to bust on one another and work out what they call a “Post-Christian” perspective on faith. Actually, they are not post-Christian in any sense but rather are best described as post-evangelical. They like to think of the Bad Christian Podcast as a place to have honest conversations about sex, marriage, faith, politics, art, science, technology, culture, and anything that interests them. They joke around a lot, are irreverent, and frequently swear. So, if you have sensitive ears, be forewarned.

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