“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” – 1 Corinthians 15:3 (NIV)
Can you have a “balanced gospel”? One of the things that has saddened me as I’ve read Christian authors and pastors over the years is the emphasis on certain doctrines of the Christian faith to the exclusion of others. My general sense is that most who focus on “What Would Jesus DO?” leave off much of what He SAID. And vice versa! I’m guilty of this myself at times, probably more often that I realize. My question to others (and a reminder to myself) is – why the either/or? Why do we want to lose any of what is the complete picture of our Savior, who He was, what He did, and the reasons why He came?
In his book How God Became King, N.T. Wright leads off with a theme of an “empty cloak”, wondering if in our ancient creeds we have glossed over the vast amounts of material between Jesus’ birth and death on the cross. In chapter two of his book, Wright moves to what he calls ‘The Opposite Problem’ – that many have emphasized what’s “inside the cloak” and have left off the beginning and end. Wright explains that this emphasis leaves us with three alternatives: 1) Jesus was revolutionary who wanted to set up a Jewish state in place of Roman rule 2) Jesus was a “wild-eyed apocalyptic visionary” or 3) Jesus was simply a mild-mannered teacher. As Wright carefully explains, these alternatives leave out the supernatural components of what’s known as orthodox Christian faith. The “social gospel” is given a higher place than what is emphasized in the ancient creeds, which makes everything imbalanced.
It may be unwise to think that we can have a “balanced gospel”. But Wright explains the problems of setting up camp in one of the two extremes. What Wright feels we’re missing is “the devastating and challenging message I find in the four gospels: God really has become king – in and through Jesus!” Wright is quick to clarify that this is an “inaugurated eschatological” message – things in this world are not yet as we envision they should be, but will be. But he also feels that we need to be reminded that “the kingdom of God” which Jesus spoke of so often is not a future prospect only. It is here now – it may not be what we imagined it to be – yet – but none of us can be indifferent to it.
It seems to me that, based on the amount of time Wright spends in explaining the problems of the two extremes we are prone to, that he feels that the greater danger is the “empty cloak” problem. Those of us who tend to emphasize “personal salvation” and the cross as Jesus’ primary message can miss out on everything He spoke of, taught, and did in the time between His birth and death. However, I’m not sure I agree with his theme on the cloak just yet. I’ve seen churches and places where the things that Paul talks of as being “of first importance” are deemphasized in place of what Jesus taught, rather than who He was. The Gospel of John is the best evidence against that wrongly placed emphasis. And nevermind the Sunday TV shows with supposedly Christian preaching that sound as if they could have come out of a self-help seminar or something else. As Alistair Begg has said, the plain things are the main things, and these can get lost when the preaching reflects this imbalance. Having said all that, Wright has gotten me to think more about the effects of these two positions and where we can all get off course. This is a good thing. I look forward to where Wright takes this next.