Today we look at signposts 5-6, as Geoff Holsclaw and Dave Fitch continue a conversation that opens space between retrenchment, and revision; between the old Hellfire and brimstone kind of gospel and “a new kind of Christianity.” The point is fresh engagement, theological and missional engagement with an ancient-future anchor: the old gospel contextualized in this generation, and with a clear understanding of the post-colonial, post-Christendom realities.
Geoff and Dave use the metaphor of signposts: signposts connote an authentic journey, a process of learning and discovery. They list ten signposts for us. “The first four signposts direct us into the life of the Triune God, the sending God, who sends the Son, the Spirit, and then the disciples into the world to fulfill the mission of redemption. These signposts deal with the basic questions of culture, God, Jesus, and witness.” Signpost one directs us into the cultures of post-Christendom. Signpost two, missio Dei, points us squarely into the middle of this world where God is, discerning where God is working. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV).
“Just as God came to us as one of us, filled by the Spirit, ushering in a new way of life, so we to must enter into our neighbourhoods and live the gospel as a way of life so that others can join in with us: see, touch and hear so as to reveal God’s kingdom…” (62)
Signpost 5 is Scripture. “LIVING OUR STORY: JOURNEYING BY THE BOOK THAT IS MORE THAN A BOOK.” The Bible is now largely a cultural artifact, no longer authoritative in post-Christian cultures, and sometimes disdained. Moreover, our post-modern location means that it is merely one story among many competing narratives. “The hermeneutical turn” has caught up with us. Where do we now turn for authority? The same place that we have turned ever since the Enlightenment: to reason and to science. The church carefully aligned herself with the Enlightenment world, and now that foundationalism is itself failing, where do we turn? On the one hand we have teachers like John Piper arguing for a renewed foundationalism, telling us that “Loving Christ includes loving true propositions about Christ.” (69)
For prodigal Christians, however, inerrancy may be too close to a liberal position. Fitch asks, “inerrant according to who?” We end up in this awkward position because we have made the Bible into a technical manual, an “answer book.” Is that how Scripture should function? Perhaps when the church becomes merely congregations, aggregations of individuals living their Cartesian lives, that’s the best hope some had. The Emergent church tried a different approach, and it was a creative solution as “the story we find ourselves in,” but not quite creative enough. (71-72) McLaren’s approach emphasized human experience over revelation. How do we let Scripture read us, and how do we approach Scripture communally?
Geoff and David anchor all Scripture in the bigger story of God’s work in the world, through the frame of the coming of God’s kingdom. From Adam to Abraham, then through Israel and David to Jesus the Messiah, God has been at work fulfilling his promises. There is a great summary paragraph here that is worth quoting because it gets at the heart of much of this book.
“God called an old man and his barren wife in Abraham and Sarah to birth this kingdom. God called Israel, the least of the nations (Deuteronomy 7.7), to be a blessing to the nations. God anointed the youngest and most overlooked of Jesse ’s sons to be king (1 Samuel 16:6–13). And God used a humble carpenter ’s family as the place for the Son of God to be born. God, the rightful king over all things, “not only inhabits the highest heaven, but comes among the humblest of . . . servants on earth” (Isaiah 57:15), even submitting to the cross. This is the prodigal God we have been talking about all along, who does not remain aloof, lingering among the eternal praise of the heavenly hosts. Rather, God forgoes the highest places and enters the lowly realms of the least of these: the elderly, the barren, the forgotten, and the despised.
“In the same way, scripture is not some great ideological document that seeks to dominate or control. Rather, it tells the story of the prodigal God who comes among “the least of these.” It is for this reason that Paul, a faithful servant of the kingdom of God, could remind the Corinthians that although, “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” (1 Corinthians 1: 26b-28 ESV) 77-78
For the authors, Scripture portrays the mission of God as the inbreaking kingdom of God. “Because of this, we must understand Scripture ’s authority as a principal component through which the kingdom comes. Therefore, it is not so important to find the kingdom of God in scripture but to submit to scripture in the kingdom of God.” What does this look like?
Geoff relates the story of Shannon, a lonely and abused woman he met at Starbucks. “The loudest voice in her head was that of her ex-husband telling her she was ugly, worthless, and a failure. In that moment I proclaimed the kingdom of God to Shannon again. I declared humbly the truth of God over all the lies coming from her ex-husband, coming from her childhood abuse. I proclaimed that she had a Father who loved her, who valued her, who knew what she was going through.” (79) God’s authority is always connected to God’s mission. We dig into Scripture so that we can come under God’s authority in God’s mission, submitting together to God’s kingdom. Jesus Lordship then becomes embodied in a people.
We then bridge to the next signpost: What exactly is the story of God? And how do we participate in it? How is sin ’s curse lifted exactly? And what is it about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that accomplishes so many wondrous things?
Related: 8 issues that are NOT make or break (including inerrancy)
Signpost Six: Gospel – Making all things right
“Dustin stood up and told us about his job at Starbucks. He had been working there for two years cultivating relationships… This past week, a woman he ’d known for two years asked him if they could talk. Sarah sounded serious and downcast. She told Dustin that her boyfriend, a heroin addict, had left her. Her parents had split up. She had been denied admission to a graduate program. Everything in her life, she told Dustin, was imploding [and] she was having thoughts about killing herself.
“His conservative Protestant upbringing told him that he should present the Gospel, which for him meant “the four spiritual laws: “God has a wonderful plan for your life. . . . But we are sinful and separated from God… And if you will just receive Jesus as Savior and Lord you can know his love and plan for your life.” But he didn’t share this because he didn’t see how the four spiritual laws were going to connect with this friend in her crisis. She needed hope.” 84
“Was our understanding of the gospel too small? Does it address only one problem (moral guilt) without dealing with others (relational devastation or cosmic rebellion)?
“The sixth signpost leads us into the center of what God is doing in the world by leading us into the radical gospel that “Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is Lord.” But how we unpack this makes all the difference in determining whether we will fully enter into the mission of God or merely circle it within our tidy cul-de-sacs.” 84
“Like many others, Martin Luther labored under the heavy burden of guilt. For him, God was to be feared, not loved. During a prolonged reading of Romans, he made a critical discovery: that God is not only just (condemning the sinner as unrighteous) but also the justifier (making the sinner righteous)
Today this great truth of the gospel is as true as ever before. But in a post-Christendom culture no longer dominated by guilt, can we assume that justification by faith answers all the problems of sin as effectively as it did five centuries ago? Dustin ran into a wall because he was thinking of the gospel within a fifteenth-century mind-set. Dustin was equipped with a (personal) “plan of salvation” when what he really needed was a robust (communal) “story of salvation.”
They write that the personal plan is only part of the story. “Sin is also the destruction of community, between God and humanity and within humanity. It results in both personal and social brokenness. Sin brings darkness, isolation, and death. The gospel proclaims good news over all these ills.” 86
When the gospel is narrowed to a personal solution, we disconnect salvation from life with others. Then the altar call (an individual response of faith to receive pardon from personal sin) is the one response to the gospel we know. “Faith in Jesus becomes disconnected from community with others. And when we are faced with those suffering in alienated and abusive relationships,
speaking of personal sin before an angry God is not good news.” 86
Brian McLaren perceived these shortcomings clearly, and proclaimed the good news of God’s kingdom. But the tendency in McLaren’s proclamation was to make justice the single issue, and to turn mission into an activity of the church. The focus tended to drift to a social agenda. (87) Fitch and Holsclaw describe this problem as the separation of the Cross and the kingdom (yes, following NT Wright’s book “How God Became King” — or see this video from Fuller Sem.)
The author’s propose what we need: “a radical encounter with God ’s kingdom breaking into our lives.” We need to experience relationships being rearranged, brokenness being healed, and evil structures being brought down in and around us. The justification-by-faith gospel has focused entirely on the cross as handling our personal sin. The “kingdom of God” gospel has focused on our role as workers in establishing the kingdom. “On the cross, God has definitively dealt with sin in such a way that not only are our sins forgiven but the power of sin and death has been overcome. The gospel holds together both the cross and the kingdom.” 88
On page 89 they summarize Scot McKnight’s work (The King Jesus Gospel) in 1 Cor. 15:1-5. This is not our “four spiritual laws” but places the resurrection and Jesus rule at the center. it is not the “plan” of salvation but rather the story of salvation. “A king (Messiah) like David, only greater, has come to reign over the people of God and bless the nations.” Sin and death have their own kingdoms, but those kingdoms have been conquered by Jesus in his death and resurrection.
What do we do with the “old” gospel – the one we have been using for the past 150 years or so? We need different “on-ramps” into the kingdom, into a gospel with cosmic implications. The authors offer four.
On-Ramp 1: God is reconciling you in all your relationships.
On-Ramp 2: God is at work renewing all things.
On-Ramp 3: God has put the power of sin to death and is calling you into life.
On-Ramp 4: God is calling you into mission.
There is still more. We could still send individual disciples out to proclaim something that they cannot individually demonstrate: reconciliation, a new social reality in the world. “Every journey into the Gospel is a journey in and through communities of the kingdom.” (95). The next signpost is Church: the journey as the Body of Christ in the world.
Signpost 7 – The Church