So, I’ll add another line to my “credo”;
I believe in an open Gospel.
I also believe in a total Gospel.
It was in my teens that I first heard that if I put my faith in Jesus Christ, he would save me. So I did.
As I got older (I’d like to say “matured”, but I’d be presuming), I began to wonder about what it meant to be “saved”. Looking back, I have been spared from major trauma in my personal life, but not all my Christian friends have been so fortunate. One of our closer friends died of cancer a couple of years ago, leaving a wife and two teenage kids. Many people with no Christian faith have been equally as fortunate as us. While I think it’s true that Christians are generally better at staying out of trouble than their unbelieving neighbors, it should be obvious that calling oneself a Christian does not immunize one against the trials of life and death.
I also found fairly quickly, that when the Bible talks of salvation it is a salvation from the disaster that’s about to come. The Israelites were saved from the imminent judgment on Egypt (by the blood of the Lamb, Exodus 12:12-13), the Prophets tried to save the Jews by warning them of the coming judgment around the 6th Century BC, and in the New Testament, we see the storm clouds gathering again in the lead-up to the destruction of the Temple in AD70 (see Acts 2:40). The picture that emerges for me is being saved from the coming wrath of God.
However, if this is all that the Christian Gospel has to offer, then it’s nothing more than an insurance policy against some future disaster. It’s not a total Gospel in the sense that it does not cover the whole of life.
The partial Gospel has other variations. For some (increasingly few, I believe) it’s something you “do” on Sunday, or at births, weddings and funerals (hatches, matches and dispatches, as they say in the trade). Church, for some, is nothing more than the "club" they subscribe to, and it is kept securely in the confines of the Sunday morning routine. For others, it affects one’s internal thought-life or perspective, but there is little connection to the “outside” world. The latter is a form of pietism and it’s prevalent amongst Pentecostals and Charismatics. I’m a post-charismatic myself (not an ex-charismatic), but I worry that such pietism retreats into an internal experience to such an extent that it has nothing meaningful to say to the world. The other extreme is to interpret the gospel purely in terms of a socio-political agenda, which ignores the moral and spiritual dimensions of the Christian Gospel. All of these are partial Gospels and if there was one word that summed up what they lack, it is integrity.
That lack of integrity grates against such passages as John 10:10b
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.Or Colossians 1:19-20
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.“All things”, “the fullness of life” – these phrases point to a fully integrated total Gospel.
Increasingly, I have been drawn to the writings of John (his Gospel, the three letters and Revelation). It's because he is concerned with a total Gospel – a Gospel that’s more than just an insurance policy against some future eventuality. It is something that encompasses my whole life; and not just my whole life, but the entire cosmos and my place in it. Put coarsely, John sees God as the origin, meaning and ultimate goal of life, as he writes Jesus' declaration in Revelation 22:13
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
This changes everything. When we see our lives, and every aspect of our lives played out within him, it changes everything. This is the start of the Total Gospel.
But where does it lead and what does it save us from? Put coarsely again, it saves us to God and it saves us from Hell. The difference is that we’re not just saved to God from Hell in the next life, we’re saved now (see Luke 19:9).
If we’re saved now, today, what does that salvation look like? There are, I believe, at least two dimensions to this that are equally important – we are reconciled to God and we are reconciled to each other. The acknowledgment of who Jesus is, and the worship of him is what unites “every tribe and nation” in John’s vision in Revelation 5. We are saved into community, and this is a message that the Evangelical Church, in particular, must rediscover if it is to embrace the Total Gospel of the New Testament. The Kingdom becomes apparent when we live out the values and characteristics of our King (see John 13:35). You could even say that it is the Church’s mandate to live out, or incarnate the Word of God (John 1:14 and Colossians 3:16).
There is a third dimension to it that is alluded to in Revelation 5. The reconciliation of Christ does not simply extend to God and humanity, it extends to the entire cosmos. It’s a restoration of the created order in which God, humanity and the “land” interact; the order that our sin broke apart (see Genesis 1-3).
So, the Total Gospel not only saves me from ultimate disaster. Nor does it just give me a mystical internal experience or the basis for a political agenda. It saves me to God, it saves me to my fellow human beings and it saves me to the cosmos. It gives me something of value to say to the world.
Now, that’s a Gospel worth preaching!