September 16, 2011


One thing that I don’t know what to do with concerning “the gospel” (the good news recorded in the scriptures) is that it seems to me that in order to accept the good news, we first have to agree with the bad news.  It's starting to bug me a little; we have to accept that our world is broken in order to accept that it needs fixing, but more than that, for those of us westerners/americans who subscribe to a general humanist-flavored worldview (and we all do, to some extent), the bad news is that not only is our world screwed up, but so are we.  Individually, we are messed up.

I am the problem.

And so are you.

And that doesn’t sit well with Americans.  All of us want to not be the one screwed up.  Nobody wants to be responsible.  “It’s not my fault” is a refrain you can hear EVERYWHERE.  I say it. You say it. Everybody says it. Nobody wants to be wrong about something. And yet the good news requires, it seems to me, that we accept that something about us is wrong.

All together.



We all participate in this broken world. I choose to buy products regularly that are assembled in impoverished developing nations where the people are paid so poorly for their lengthy labor that they can barely afford a decent meal for their family that day, thereby perpetuating a broken system that hurts people. I have hurt people emotionally. I’ve ignored people who needed recognition. I’ve recognized people who didn’t. I’ve bought into a culture - hook line and sinker - that says some people are more important than others, that some people get special treatment simply for having more money than me, for having a nicer smile than me or who simply are celebrity because they say they are. I’ve bought into that.

And so have you.

Now maybe we don’t think so. I know I don’t much think about it while I’m brushing my teeth or eating a hot dog. It’s like water to a fish; it’s just there, but the truth is that I live my life in such a way that validates those principles as reality. My behavior says it louder than my voice ever could.

And so does yours.

Bill Hybels presented the idea of getting from “here” to “there” a few years ago at a leadership summit. In order to start the journey, for him, you need to make “here” look really bad so that “there” looks more appealing.  I know it’s so cliche for evangelicals in particular to say things like “if you were to die today, would you go to heaven?” but I wonder sometimes if that’s really the right track, that starting with the problem and ending with the solution is how to go about this whole thing.  It would also make sense to me that anybody immersed in our culture like fish in water would have a hard time with that, pointing at them and saying things like “see the crazy fundamentalist?”  [side note: I know many evangelicals bring it on themselves by saying stupid things that don’t have anything to do with the gospel, like how you should divorce your Alzheimer’s wife, something totally un-Jesus, and by being “against culture” because it’s easier to dismiss the whole thing by demonizing the other than it is to be discerning and figure out where we ought to agree with our culture.]  But the fact of the matter is that just because it’s uncomfortable to be wrong, to be broken, to be in need of a savior … that doesn’t mean it’s untrue, and it doesn’t mean we should shut up about it.




Here’s the thing though: it’s not really good news to tell somebody that God’s here to redeem you if you don’t think you need redeeming.  It’s more of an annoyance.  Think of it, if you’re a Christian and a Hindu were to come up to you and tell you that you’re broken and that Ganesh has all the answers, what would you say?  You’d laugh at them, most likely, or you’d get really uncomfortable and try to avoid making eye contact.  Maybe you’d get mad and ask what right they have to tell you something about Ganesh, and who ever heard of THAT god anyway, it’s not real. … Sound familiar?

But I also know that many people already recognize a broken world when they see one.  Going up to somebody in the subway and telling them they’re going to hell isn’t really that helpful if the person doesn’t believe hell exists or - worse - if they already think they’re IN hell. You have to speak a language they understand, and to learn that language, you kind of have to know them first.  You don’t get to tell somebody they’re broken until you know who they are.  In today’s world, we have to belong before we’ll believe; we have to know that these people care about us and have our best interests at heart before we’ll trust them to suggest to us what’s what.  We need to know them, and they need to know us.

And so to me, it’s really good that Truth with a capital-T is a Person, not some abstract concept.  Truth is in a relationship, not a belief.  When we say we know Truth, it’s not a list of bullet-points we can memorize and put on a powerpoint, but rather it’s more like knowing my friend Mike.  I know that Mike really likes music and can play a mean lead electric, that he can speak some Japanese, that sushi and Chipotle are always on his menu.  But I also know he’s got my back; we’ve been through some stuff that’s built trust between us, and if he were to tell me that I messed up (and he has), I’d believe him far more readily than Bob the Televangelist. I can tell you all about Mike, but until you spend time with him (and you should), you can’t trust him the way I do.






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