In answer to the question of how to communicate the gospel of the kingdom, I wrote yesterday that increasing familiarity with the biblical storyline is a necessity. I don’t mean that this is the first step in a process that leads to making “gospel presentations.” I’m referring to a long-term endeavor to continually orient our imaginations by the narrative shape of Scripture, to grapple with the overarching story and press it into all areas of life so that we intuitively grasp “how it works” in communities, relationships, family dynamics, and behavior in the marketplace.
The fact that this is a long-term and open-ended task of God’s people means that we might do well to look critically on the desire to package a tidy gospel presentation. It may be that formulating a gospel presentation that looks awfully like a sales pitch invites into conversations the sinister dynamics associated with sales pitches (suspicious listener, manipulative speaker, relational dynamics of coercion, etc.).
In thinking about communicating the gospel of the kingdom, consider that in Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus was with his “disciples” and gave them the commission to “make disciples” as they were going out into the world. “Disciples” are learners, those who are being trained.
According to the Great Commission, learners are to invite others to become learners.
Jesus’ words should affect how we think about communicating the gospel of the kingdom. From this perspective, Christians are people who are constantly learning and growing in familiarity with the Christian story. And the task of communicating the gospel of the kingdom to others is to invite them into the process of being learners.
If we are learners who are seeking increasing familiarity with the narrative logic of Scripture and the realities of the kingdom of God, then we may have much to say to others about it, based on our current understanding (more specifics on this to come).
But our posture as learners should affect how we approach others. We don’t need to manipulate others or engage in coercive conversations to bring about an intended result. We encounter fellow learners who are also on journeys of discovery. We can share what we know and we can appreciate questions as opportunities for us to probe the narrative more vigorously from new angles.
This sort of posture fosters patience in our own growth in understanding and in our relationships with others. It also fosters humility before the life-giving Word and in relation to others.
6 thoughts on “The Gospel of the Kingdom, Pt. 3”
I’m not sure whether the assumption is being made here or not. It usually is. When we start talking about evangelism, there is an assumption, often formulated into a doctrine, that every Christian has been commissioned to engage in gospel-proclaiming evangelism. I used to hold this assumption in doctrinal form.
However, at the risk of hurling a monkey wrench into this discussion, I would respectfully challenge this assumption or conclusion on historical, biblical and pragmatic grounds. I won’t hijack this thread by presenting my arguments at this time, but they come primarily from a narrative reading of the relevant texts. Which doesn’t mean my reading is correct, but Chris Wright and Rikk Watts seem to agree with my conclusions.
I mention this because it would seem to be relevant to the topic at hand. In a former life, I was a missionary to Chinese-speaking peoples and I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling with the whole question of evangelism, and especially since I’ve seen the narrative light.
Thanks, Greg, that’s huge!! I’m addressing these posts mainly to the question, “How can I communicate the gospel of the kingdom rather than the gospel as sales-pitch?” It’s another question as to who is to evangelize, whether churches ought to evangelize, etc. I’ve hit that question elsewhere a few times and I think I’d agree with you.
Gottit. Because of the common assumption, I must have read too much into your statement, “According to the Great Commission, learners are to invite others to become learners.”
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It seems true enough that Gospel of the Kingdom is a larger reality. (I personally wouldn’t say best understood within the biblically-shaped set of expectations in the first century Jewish culture since I personally doubt people (even academics) understand this culture.)
It also seems reasonable that the Gospel message falls out of the subtext of this larger, broader, more robust and holstic gospel of the kingdom.
The question I would ask is – for what purpose is the Gospel being discussed in the first place?
If it is being discussed for the purpose of evangelizing to the unsaved the pithy summary you provided is sufficient to expose unbelievers to the fundamental dilemma Christianity addresses. For this purpose the Gospel itself as subtext to a larger conversation is likely sufficient.
I like the street evangelist approach where the unbeliever is exposed to a dilemma (or incrementally to a series of them) which causes them realize their own suppositions about reality and exposes the kinks in their beliefs.
Do you believe there’s a God? If so, do you know anyone who lives a perfect life?
Where do we go when we die?
Science suggests the universe began to exist. Do you believe it came from nothing?
Why is there so much pain and cruelty in the world?
Street evangelism is bred out of true gritty experience in the real world so tends to be efficient and effective in facilitating discussion that matters. The halls of academia challenge in other ways.
On the other hand, if the purpose is to help a believer mature in their faith, discussions about the greater conversation (I would argue) is absolutely appropriate whether or not the shepherds attempting to do the shepherding have mis-conceived notions about 1st century Judaism.
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