As people changed and shaped by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are commissioned (a fancy word for sent) to go and share that “Good News” with our neighbors, our community and the world. But who’s to say what’s truly good? And might our opinions on the topic shift from culture to culture? One only needs to spend a day in a foreign country (or in other corners of our own) to quickly realize that what you have held as “good” is a standard that may not be shared by the locals. Their taste buds are different. Their idea of entertainment is different. Their lifestyle, customs, and religious practices may all be vastly different. To presume upon these cultures in asserting our “good” may be like dressing up a well-intentioned gift with trappings that may be appalling and sometimes even disrespectful. But the Scriptures affirm that there is a story to be told and it is to be shared and accepted as “good”.
In the early 1990’s, I was a young person being discipled in the evangelical tradition. Wednesday nights included training sessions called “Evangelism Explosion”, or EE for those on the inside. Regular church programming also included crash courses on religions around the world, which were being presented as cults. For those of us who were “saved”, we were part of a club, bound together by a common mission (even if unspoken): “We have it and they need it.” We were “in” and everyone else was on the outside. That may be putting it mildly as this lack was a matter of eternal life and eternal death. What further fired our zeal was the ever-present mantra that Jesus Christ will not come again until everyone hears this Good News and has a chance to accept it, without a shadow of doubt. If I was being honest, it was energizing to be in the club but not for the right reasons. There was us, and then there was “them” — the saved and the lost, the sheep and the goats. Black and white categories helped to build a comfortably tall and solid wall around our club.
To be sure, this story is good at its core. Its prologue tells of the Divine that is for us and created the world as a way to be in loving relationship with us. This narrative crescendos at the cross where Jesus displayed the love of the Divine in an unconditional way. Its finale tells of a time eternal, which we call “heaven”, where death will be no more. To echo the first review of creation in Genesis, this story was indeed “very good”. But accepting it as such wasn’t as easy. Along with it came propositional statements that opened with “If you only…”, “You must…”, and “If you don’t…”, punctuated by words like “eternity”, “damnation”, and “fire”, and included a red, sharp-tailed antagonist named, the “Devil”.
My role as a proclaimer of the Gospel began to feel like my first job as a credit card insurance telemarketer in which my most successful selling points relied upon my ability to strike fear in the consumer: “You are in great danger unless you buy our insurance…” Over time, as I was able to approach the story from the listener’s perspective, the story no longer sounded “good”. “Churchy” words didn’t help but only muddied the message. I believe there was an era when fear alone was enough to “win converts”. But just as the scheme of making cold calls to peddle insurance for credit card theft eventually became taboo, sharing the Gospel story with this fear tactic only cheapens the Gospel, widely misconstrues its message, and possibly sours the story altogether for the listener.
There is a story to be told. And this story, from beginning to end, is truly good news. Perhaps this story has enough power of its own to change lives without our need to wield it like a weapon. The Gospel is news for the entire world, but if we are not careful, this Living Water can become embittered by our need to be right or to be on the inside. It is in this way that we cripple a message of deliverance and freedom by turning it into yet another system of rules and checklists. Perhaps faith itself isn’t a proposition to be accepted but rather a journey. Then sharing the Gospel becomes the conversation by which we invite others to journey with us. If we see through the lens of the other person we cannot so quickly toss them into rigid compartments, such as those who are “lost” or “saved”, which discounts the journey we are all walking together.
So yes, as Christians there is a story that has changed us. That is the story of God’s immense love through Jesus Christ. It is a story of grace and forgiveness. Now go and share that one – no more, no less.