What is the “Good News?” That was the question I posed to the class Sunday night. This was the fifth week of our course How to Grow in Faith. We’ve been quickly surveying the Seven Habits of Spiritual Formation, and this week we explored Sharing My Faith.
Another word for sharing my faith is evangelism. How does that word make you feel? It might send cold chills down your spine as you imagine various TV evangelists who seem more like snake oil salesmen than disciples of Jesus. Or, the cold chills might be the fear of having to admit to a friend that you are the “C” word…you know…a Christian.
Let’s be honest. Christianity doesn’t have a great track record or a good reputation in our emerging post-modern society. When Christianity became fused with Western European Imperialism (think Constantine and the Roman Empire), eventually white supremecy, the colonization of the global south, and the enslavement of Africans became synonymous with the “C” word. It doesn’t seem like “peace on Earth, good will toward all people” like the angels predicted that night as they proclaimed the Good News to the Shepherds near Bethlehem.
We started our conversation on Sunday night by going full word-nerd on the the term evangelism. It is a transliteration of the Greek term euangelion, which means “Good Message” or “Good News.” The Old English version of the tranliteration is Godspell. The “o” is pronounced as a long “o”, so it sounds like good spell. The evolution of English collapsed the word to Gospel (fact check here).
in Evangelism is the act of sharing the Good News, the Gospel.
This begs the question: What is the Good News?
I asked the class to form small groups and come up with an advertisement blurb to present the Good News to people who have no church context or speak church-ese language.
They confessed that this was a very difficult task.
I grew up learning that the Good News goes like this.
- God created you and loves you. YAY!
- Your ancestors sinned, therefore God is forced, by a Law that’s even bigger than Him, to send everybody to Hell, no questions asked. Bummer, dude, you’re going to Hell, because Adam and Eve blew it. YIKES!
- Admit it, you’re just as bad as them and you deserve to go to Hell forever, too. Come on, admit it. Confess that you’re a sinner and need to be saved from your horrible existence.
- God loves you so much that He offered up his only Son, Jesus, to take your penalty for you. Jesus, the only one who isn’t a horrible, rotten sinner, suffered all the pain that you deserve, you horrible, rotten sinner. You should be ashamed of yourself for forcing God to abuse his own Son just to save your sorry butt.
- Now that Jesus paid your penalty (by the way, he rose from the dead and overpowered the penalty of death, so that’s cool), God offers this package to you as a gift. Here, take it. There are only a couple conditions before you can receive this free gift:
- Admit that you’re a dirty rotten sinner. Say it.
- Confess that Jesus is the Lord of the Universe and paid for your sins in your place and you owe him everything.
- Ask Jesus to come into your heart and be your Lord and Savior and pledge total allegiance to Jesus (aka, follow our doctrinal statement or live forever in uncertain anxiety about whether or not you are truly saved from Hell).
- Rejoice at God’s love and forgiveness, spread the Good News to others, and follow our moral code…or else.
OK, I admit, that was snarky. But, perhaps you can read it and wonder with me, “Where is the Really Good News in that message?”
Part of my theological odyssey of the past 20 years has been built around this question. One of the many things that made me wonder about the Gospel is studying Jesus’ first sermon in the Gospel of Mark. He says,
“The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news (euangelion).” (Mark 1:15)
If Jesus had not yet died on the cross and rose from the dead, then how can he be presenting the Gospel in this verse? What is the Good News?
Aha! The Good News, according to Jesus (he’s a pretty good authority on the subject) is that the Kingdom of God is at hand. “Repent and believe it,” he says. A better translation is, “open up your mind and trust that it is actually here.”
The real question, then, is “what is the Kingdom of God?”
This morning I read Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, and what do you suppose it was about? The post title was The Reign of God as Community. Rohr says,
The world has suffered much from the various forms of Christian colonialism. Yet the Reign of God is an alternative to domination systems and all “isms.” Jesus teaches that right relationship (i.e., love) is the ultimate and daily criterion. If a social order allows and encourages strong connectedness between people and creation, people and each other, people and God, then you have a truly sacred culture: the Reign of God. It is not a world without pain or mystery, but simply a world where we are connected and in communion with all things.
The Kingdom is about union and communion, which means that it is also about mercy, forgiveness, nonviolence, letting go, solidarity, service, and lives of love, patience, and simplicity. Who can doubt that this is the sum and substance of Jesus’ teaching? In the Reign of God, the very motive for rivalry, greed, and violence has been destroyed. We know we are all part of God’s Beloved Community.
Evidence of the presence of the Kingdom of God is thick wherever and whenever people stand on the promise of God that there is more to this world—more to this life—than what we see. There is more than the getting over, getting by, or getting mine. There is more than the brokenness, the destruction, and the despair that threaten to wash over us like the waters of the deep. There is a vision of a world where God cuts through the chaos, where God speaks and there is light. There is a vision where there is protection and where love is binding every relationship together.
A few years ago I made this video as a way to explore my own journey with this question. I hope you will continue to explore the Good News and be able to live fully into the Peace (Shalom) of God that Jesus showed us.
Lord knows we need some good news.