Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Two-Fisted Gospel: A Manifesto for Kingdom Militancy

This post is an entry in the Prologue to Missional Discussion Synchroblog.

The question posed to the synchrobloggers this week is this: How does the missional church deal with the idea of salvation?

I confess I don't like the question already. :-) I don't know how the missional church deals with it currently, because there are lots of folks calling themselves a missional church, and for some of them this means personal salvation is something you think to sneak in with a Trojan horse made of recycled paper and organic glue and for some this means they do "community service" by picking up trash on the church grounds. (That second one isn't made up.) For many of us, of course, missional means neither "social gospel" nor posturing. It means the sort of thing this conversation is supposed to be highlighting. So way to go, us!, I guess. :-)

So if I can re-write the question, I would put it this way: How should the missional church deal with the idea of salvation?

For the answer, I track with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 as best I can. The gospel of first importance is the historical announcement of what Christ has done. And this has eternally transformative ramifications and implications for not just our personal selves but the world itself. The urging from Paul -- who elsewhere tells us we are ambassadors now for the King and that we are now ministers of the reconciliation we have experienced -- is not to put too much stock in the "natural." When Paul talks this way, he is not going gnostic, of course, but is usually talking about worldliness. I believe he is drawing from Jesus' words about not laying up treasures where rust and moth destroy.

These are good and needful words. But they are often decontextualized and misunderstood. Ever hear the phrase "Too heavenly minded to be any earthly good?" It happens, and sometimes it happens because people don't understand this whole "Christians as aliens" business. If we are reading Jesus (and Paul) correctly -- which is to say, in the context of the texts and in the context of what we see in all the text that God is doing with the world -- we would know that all of this adds up to being so heavenly minded it does the best earthly good.

What I mean is, if the kingdom is inaugurated -- and it is -- it means that we who are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to God's glory alone are citizens of heaven now (which is also something Paul calls us). And this means that "laying up treasures in heaven" isn't about thinking of clouds and harp-playing babies but participating in the ongoing inauguration of the kingdom even as its consummation rushes to us. It means "rehearsing heaven" now, because heaven is now.

The answer to the question is this: The missional church's scope of salvation will determine the scope of its mission. Is Jesus saving souls but damning creation? Or is he saving souls not just for their escape from hell but to be the princes under his kingship over a coming new heavens and earth, the restoration of the brokenness of all things?

He is making all things new. And this starts with hearts that by the power of the gospel trust Christ and extends to the creation he gives these hearts to steward.

When we err, as we often do, it is in the swing of the pendulum. The two great failures of the evangelical church today are failures of the highest magnitude: neglected proclamation of the gospel and refused embodiment of the gospel.

We have settled for wowing both sheep and goats and wind up ministering to neither.

We do not preach the gospel with conviction and regularity.
And we do not give ourselves away.

We are legalists (for that is what you call someone who does not preach the gospel but insists on Christian behaviorism, even if it's framed as ending poverty and healing the sick), and we are self-idolaters (for that is what you call someone who cares more about having their own needs met than about meeting the needs of others).

Settling for either/or is not kingdom work either.
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
-- James 2:15-17

We must embrace both gospel-driven proclamation and gospel-driven servanthood, for both are vital to the ministry of reconciliation. Too many of us are opting for one or the other, and far too many are actually doing neither.

Our world is at war. There is no square inch of this world which isn't claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.
The gospel is good news to those who are perishing, but it is foolishness to them too, so we must not lose heart or lose hope or lose our nerve.

Jesus is King, now and forever. The work of the kingdom will lay waste to the gates of hell, but if you are neither speaking Jesus nor being Jesus, you will be part of the detritus left behind.

The situation is too dire to think a cool video and a rockin' praise band will suffice. Our good intentions are worthless if we are not intentional about them.

I like to think that the missional church's proclamation ought to be a two-fisted gospel. One fist to take out the prince of the power of the air with the revolutionary news that the risen Christ is Lord, and one fist to bring justice to the captives with the embodied news that God is love.

Our mission will look like our gospel.
So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere
-- Luke 9:6


Others participating in the conversation:

Ed Stetzer
Rick Meigs: The Blind Beggar
Bill Kinnon:
Brother Maynard: Subversive Influence
David Fitch: Reclaiming the Mission
Tiffany Smith: Missional Mayhem
Jared Wilson: The Gospel-Driven Church
Jonathan Dodson: Creation Project

Feel free to explore and read their takes on the question. So for the sake of conversation, leave a comment with your own answer to the question "How does the missional church deal with the idea of salvation?”

In the weeks to come, the synchrobloggers will continue to address certain points or issues in the missional conversation that need consideration and perhaps clarity.


zach hoag said...

Jared, this is GOOD. Will you be at MissionShift?

Jared said...

Nope. I wish.

zach hoag said...

Indeed. I think the wife and I are gonna go down, call it "vacation." Get at me next time you are in Burlington, would be good to meet.

Jared said...

I actually haven't been up yet, but I'm anxious to, specifically to meet you and also to hang with a Campus Crusade missionary our church supports who's at the University.

Jeremy said...

This is especially interesting from a Pentecostal hermeneutic. Inauguration of the kingdom includes wholistic care. Salvation, healing and deliverance. Body, soul and spirit; through the transformative power of Christ's salvation and His constantly active Spirit. Good stuff, thanks for the thought provoking dialogue.

Unknown said...

Great post brother. So much of the missional conversation seems to bi-pass a sound proclamation of the data points of the gospel. Thanks for insisting that this is critical to the call of the savior. (You got a little bit a ahead of yourself with the "heaven is now" comment. Hyperbole?

I'm going to put up a link on my blog to your post.


Will Marks said...

Hi Jared,
I spent much of my early 'christian' life in a fairly legalistic and strict denomination. I was never taught that the kingdom was already inaugurated.

I like the idea and have encountered it more and more over the past couple of years. Can you point me either to where this is shown in the bible, or to some book that explains where this idea comes from.

Please not that I do not disagree. It's just a paradigm shift for me.


Jared said...


You got a little bit a ahead of yourself with the "heaven is now" comment. Hyperbole?

No, not at all. The kingdom of heaven is inaugurated -- Jesus declared it was "at hand" -- so I do believe in a real sense heaven is now, because Jesus is risen.

Of course, heaven is "not yet" too.

But I look at it this way: the light from the dawn isn't not sunlight just because you can't see the sun yet.

Jared said...


Can you point me either to where this is shown in the bible, or to some book that explains where this idea comes from.

Yep. Aside from Jesus and John the Baptizer before him announcing that "the kingdom is at hand," there is the matter of Jesus ascribing all the messianic/kingly prophecies to himself, being welcomed as the king into Jerusalem, Jesus telling people that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to proclaim good news to the poor, his exorcising of demons and performance of miracles, and Peter proclaiming at Pentecost that the prophecies of Joel were coming true.

The Sermon on the Mount presupposes the kingdom was "in play" in a real sense.

Paul says we are citizens of heaven, meaning "on the earth."

The best book I could recommend on the subject is George Eldon Ladd's The Gospel of the Kingdom, or even his The Presence of the Future.

If I may engage in a bit of self-promotion :-), you could check out my book Your Jesus is Too Safe. The chapter titled "Jesus the King" synthesizes these ideas/concepts on the kingdom of heaven being both "already" and "not yet."

Unknown said...

okay. Understand. Great post. I like the imagery of a "two fisted gospel."