I thought Bryan Stone’s Evangelism after Christendom was one of the best books on the intersection of evangelism, theology, culture, and church that I’ve read. When I saw he’d recently come out with Evangelism after Pluralism, I thought I ought to read it too.
In the first chapter he says:
“The good news heralded by the church is that in Christ salvation is now possible in the form of a new way of life. This salvation is not an experience to be passively received or a set of propositions to be assented to. It is a way to be embarked upon, a way we forgive each other’s sins, a way we love and include those who are different from us, a way we welcome the poor, a way we love our enemies, a way we bind up those who are brokenhearted, or have suffered loss, a way we cancel debts, and a way the world’s hierarchies are turned upside down in Christlike patterns of fellowship.”
I have to think about this a bit.
My first thought is that he is exactly right. The gospel (good news) is not merely a set of propositions to which we assent. It’s also not merely an experience of God or the reception of a new destination for eternity.
My second thought is the recollection that too many definitions of “gospel” come down to news about us, about the recipients of the news. For some who talking about “sharing the gospel,” the “gospel” shared is a list of truths about how the recipient of the good news can achieve some good. This good is usually something like “eternal life,” “forgiveness of sins,” or “reconciliation with God.” Each of these phrases – and the notion that God intends them for us – is biblical. But is it the gospel?
Isn’t the gospel primarily about Jesus – about who Jesus is and what God has done in his life, death, and resurrection? Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and current lordship over creation are surely integral to those other things we associate with the gospel (on all accounts). But in our talk do we sufficiently guard against taking these fruits of the gospel as the gospel itself?
In his definition of the good news in this passage, Stone doesn’t directly mention the work of Christ; but he does mention it indirectly. When he claims that this salvation is “now” possible, we see the opening for taking salvation as having a temporal dimension. There was a time when this salvation was not possible. Now, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, this salvation has been accomplished for us.
The strength of Stone’s definition is the emphasis on the present reality of the salvation we have in Christ. Salvation is not just something that happens far off in the future, either when we die or in the Eschaton; nor is it just a private internal experience of God. Salvation in Christ is a way of life we enter into, a way we live in. Our living the way of Jesus is visible in the world and has real-world consequences.
I’d like to see greater explicitness on the work (and status) of Christ as the heart of the good news we experience, live, and proclaim. One way this could be done (and this is only p. 9, so Stone may very well take this up later in the book) would be to tie together the way we live in Christ with the Holy Spirit living within us. We’re not just acquiring and operating a spiritual technology, akin to a law or set of noble truths. Through the indwelling Spirit, we are living out the life of God within us.