The Gospel as a Cup of Hot Tea

I just read a review of a book by Jim Wallis called On God’s Side. I couldn’t help myself. I just had to leave a comment in response.
Then I realized that, in the course of writing my comment, I had finally found an analogy for what I have been trying to say for some time now about the essence of the gospel. It is not necessary to read the review to understand what I’m saying here, so I’ll just copy my comment. Here it is:

I appreciate your even-handed review. I have not read the book, nor do I intend to, at this point. But I have paid some attention to Wallis over the past several years, including the ongoing war between him and Glenn Beck. Personally, I am not much of a fan of either one. In my mind, they represent two sides of the same misguided coin. One thinks God is a Republican; the other thinks He is a Democrat.

What I want to say here, though, is this: The problem is not that Wallis (and many others like him, e.g. Shane Claiborne or Brian McLaren) “conflates the implications of the gospel with the gospel itself.” The problem is that, having recovered a lost aspect of the gospel, he then jettisons the parts which have rightly been guarded by evangelical Christianity all along. The social justice stuff is not an additive or even an “implication” of the gospel. It is the REST of the gospel.
Insofar as evangelicals have dropped the ball on social justice, we have preached an incomplete gospel. We have four books in our Bible which we call “gospels,” but what we evangelicals call “THE gospel” is really only the last couple of chapters of each. Nevertheless, the gospel–the WHOLE gospel–is the whole story of the King, including the “social justice” stuff which leads up to the climax of the story where the powers kill Him, not just so He can atone for sin, but also so He can conquer them through His death and resurrection and give birth to a crucified and resurrected people who will live in and live out His kingdom.

Wallis’ (et al) mistake, then, is not a “conflation” but a trading of one key piece for another.
To have a hot cup of tea, you need both hot water and tea leaves. It is no good to have one without the other. They are both needed. But when they are both present, the result is not two things together, but one cup of tea. So it is with the gospel. We must have the hot water of redemption from sin AND the leaves of social justice; when we do, we’ll have the actual cup of tea that the gospel truly is.


One thought on “The Gospel as a Cup of Hot Tea

  1. I understand the context in which you say that the “gospel” is the entire message, or as you said the entire story of the King. I believe pretty much all of us have segued into this understanding, but recently I took the time to look up the etymology of the word ‘gospel’ and found that it goes all the way back to the Anglo-Saxons and the derivation is “godspell” which can mean ‘a good story’ or ‘a story about God.’ When harmonized with the Greek word for gospel, “evangellion,” it means ‘good news’ which in turn meant ‘a good report on an important event,’ and I believe this is the crux of the matter. I’m not saying that it is something more we should argue about, but that we should consider the reason this directive was given. Jesus “good news” is not that He was good to all people, but the fact that salvation is now available because He paid the price for the forgiveness of sin, having lived and died and was resurrected, in order that we may follow that example. That message is the only one that will cause people to rejoice and accept Him as Savior. Where we fail is to pick up from that POINT and teach about the “gift” of baptism, the indwelling of the Spirit and the role He fulfills as guide, teacher, comforter and many other. I am afraid that too many of us cease to grow after baptism and responsibility for that lies on the shoulders of teachers and preachers. I understand that all people have not as yet received the saving grace of accepting the Lord, and that most certainly must be preached. However, when and how do we begin to teach spirituality which covers all of the rest of the story?

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