Is our “gospel” too small?

Photo by stevendepolo

I’m marking assignments on Luke 9:1-6. (See the post below: Good news for the rich.) As well as spiritualising the passage into safety another common approach to taming it is common.

Jesus in hiding? (Photo by Carly & Art)

It reminds me of the story of the boy whose Sunday School teacher asked: “What is a small furry animal with a fluffy white tail?” Who, after an embarrassed silence said: “Well I know the answer is Jesus. But I sure can’t work out how!”

In Evangelical churches we have so stressed “the gospel” that whenever something is to be preached or proclaimed we know the answer is “gospel” even if we can’t work out how. In this passage what the twelve are charged to proclaim is not called “gospel” till verse six. At the start (before they go) they are commanded to “proclaim the kingdom of God”. This message, that God (really, truly) rules, is to be shown by healing the sick and casting out demons. That is the message really is about how the loving Creator rules, and not the powers of evil that stunt and spoil our world. As I said in the previous post, that really is good news, but all too often it is not the “gospel” we preach!

Good news for the rich

Church foyer come on in and hear the gospel (photo from Stevan Sheets)

The assignments I’m currently marking are all studies of Luke 9:1-6.1 The passage is pretty straightforward, for these are beginners:

Jesus calls the Twelve together, gives them authority to heal and to cast out demons. He then sends them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick, giving instructions on travelling light and suggested responses to different sorts of reception (they provide enough complexity to allow the best students to shine). They go, preaching the gospel, and healing every where.

It astonishes me how many students manage to miss the bit about demons and healing. As I read their studies of the passage, I wonder about the extent in seeking to ensure that the gospel (which was clearly from the start, as it is today, good news for the poor) can be good news for the rich we end up like some processed food, with all the goodness taken out. The gospel is no longer about a God who rules, and so who heals – if that was what the gospel was about it would not be good news, most of us (except extreme Charismatics ;) would rather visit a Doctor and swallow some pills. The gospel is most certainly not about a God who rules, and so who one day will put powerful oppressors in their place – if that was what the gospel was about it might be bad news for us! No, the gospel is safe and pleasant, good news for the rich, “still more pie in the sky when you die”.

Life is good now, you don’t want it to end, but don’t worry, it need not, you can have another and even better one later, so enjoy this one now, and make a few down-payments to ensure your place in heaven later…

No wonder the Bible read and preached in church is usually carefully censored! Jesus uncomfortable sayings are relegated to special series when the brave pastor explains them away. And anyway most of the really offensive stuff, like “blessed are the poor” and “how terrible for you who are rich now” can be “spiritualised” to hell and gone.

  1. Those of you who know Carey may wonder why the Old Testament specialist is marking Luke, the answer is simple workload equilibrium, few students choose to venture into the Two-Thirds Bible ;) []

Bible Abuse

For years now I’ve been getting more and more fed up with the way weird sects, and Christians who have become nearly as weird, get away with making the Bible mean whatever they like.  It is no wonder that less and less Christians (in the West) bother to read the Bible, if it means half the things that people have told me with a straight face that it says, then it is not worth reading.

So, many readers make the Bible out to teach oppression of one sort or another, women subservient to men, children to adults,  anyone who enjoys life to the killjoys and their dumb rules… And it is not just the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the raving loony fundamentalists,   or the nutty Neo-Athiests, sadly there are loads of people in ordinary churches who love the Bible, yet abuse it terribly.

Then I taught a course at Carey “Understanding and Interpreting the Bible”, which I mentioned in a post on the old blog. Nothing fancy, a beginner’s class, using a slim paperback as its textbook : Duvall, J Scott, and J Daniel Hays Journey into God’s word : your guide to understanding and applying the Bible. Grand Rapids Mich.: Zondervan, 2008. Yet several times during the semester students said things like “Why don’t they teach us this in church?”.

So I’m trying. A series of sermons at Blockhouse Bay that finbished a few weeks ago, and now a seminar at Easter camp. A screencast using the audio from that seminar is below, and below that a link to the audio of some of the question and answer session (sadly my recorder ran out before the end :(

Question Time from the Bible Abuse Session at Easter camp (MP3 file)

PS: I should note that this project began before I heard about Manfred Brauch’s book, and though I now have a copy I have not yet read it. For more on that book see  Karyn’s Using and Abusing Scripture and the post of the same title on Jesus Creed from the end of last year.