Sunday, October 18, 2015

On The Gospel

This post is the first in a short series looking at the gospel and its relative simplicity.
On one hand, the gospel is rather simple. The gospel is simply that God loves you.
There it is; it is that simple.

God loves you.
There are a number of concepts and realities bound up in that phrase but that truth is the basic, life-validating truth we call the gospel. Those concepts and realities are characteristics of the context of the gospel events related in the Gospels of the New Testament.

The coming of Jesus as YHWH incarnated, to live among us and to die for us is surely the quintessential coming of God into the world, but it isn’t the only time God has come for His people. Christianity, rightly so, has focused on this coming and dying of Jesus as its central event. We are told that it is Jesus who has reconciled people to God; that it is His death that gives life.
Christianity though isn’t settled on all the specifics of this or actually how all those concepts and realities shape the gospel. Surprisingly, Christianity doesn’t agree on whether or not YHWH loves every person. In the United States, there are more than two hundred Christian denominations. This number though is suspect because the definition of denomination is a rather loose one and there is no official listing of denominations in the United States. There may be a few less; there may be considerably more. Some of these denominations are separated from their close cousins by both major and minor differences over salvation, sin, church structure and governance, and worship styles. Clearly, the gospel isn’t perceived as all that simple.

To study Christianity formally, one often studies a variety of systematic theologies that divide Christian theology into a series of topic areas. These topics traditionally include God, Man, Sin, Salvation, Jesus, Heaven, and End Times. These studies are often accompanied with arcane theological terms, studies in ancient language syntax and idiom, and often comparative ideas of other theological opinions. These works can be highly academic and seemingly irrelevant to real life. Not a few newly branded seminary graduates have entered the pastoral ranks intellectually separated from those on the pews. This has been common enough that Helmut Thielicke wrote a short little book entitled A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. The academic system suffers from the same divisions as does Christianity itself. The numerous denominations have their own preferred or even required seminaries; not any well established and credentialed seminary will do. Prospective clergy need to attend the right schools. This of course simply serves to continue denominational divisions and complicate understanding the gospel.
So much for all those systematic theologies.

The gospel isn't complicated enough to require so many theologies, seminaries, or denominations. Let's not forget that Jesus was speaking to ancient peasants for the most part; being rejected by the sophisticated political and religious leaders who had developed their own complex systems of living the righteous life.
No, the gospel isn't that hard to grasp.
God loves you. Come home.
Next time, The History of the Gospel

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