The Theologian. Or, the Gospel

Theologian-Gospel-640x195A Reformation theologian recounts an interaction he had with a well-meaning street evangelist a few years ago:

Evangelist: “Brother, are you saved?”

Theologian: “Yes.”

(Not satisfied) Evangelist: “When were you saved?”

(Exasperated) Theologian: “About two thousand years ago after a short walk from Jerusalem to Golgotha.”

Do you see what happened there? A very important interchange took place. It was an interchange between two people who both agree on many things and are miles apart on other profoundly substantial things. I would like to contrast the two men’s emphases and take the next two weeks doing so.

Part 2: The Theologian. Or, the Gospel.

A couple of weeks ago, I discussed the subjective orientation of an Evangelist in an interchange (that actually happened) between him and a Theologian — the story above. The Evangelist’s emphasis was on the self, the choice, and the personal events that led up to that choice. Certainly, the movement was from the unconverted self to the converted self, but the locus was still the self.

With the Theologian, we are still within Christianity but the locus is worlds apart. “When was I saved?” he asked. “I was saved when Jesus Christ walked down that lonely road, dragging a cross beside Him. I was saved when He was nailed to that cross in fulfillment of all of God’s promises in the Old Testament. I was saved when He burst forth from the tomb, defeating death, sin, the flesh, and the devil. I was saved when He ascended to the right hand of the Father to take His place as the Son of Man who was given all authority. I am saved because That Person is my advocate, Savior, and Lord by grace through faith.” (I embellished a little bit on the Theologian’s answer. You must forgive me but this is something that evokes my passion!)

The substance of the Gospel has little to do with me. The substance of the Gospel happened 2,000 years before my time and without my permission. The substance of the Gospel is not dependent on me but it is meant for my ears. Yours, too. The Gospel is Good News about something that happened for me. Rejoicing in the Good News and clinging to it in trust of that substance–that walk, death, resurrection, ascension, and advocacy. This is a vital distinction. This means Christianity–the Gospel–is for you even when you are not for it.

There are periods in our lives when life is too much. We are so fragile; the objects of our love are, too. So many here have lost their jobs during this downturn in the price of oil. There are many with so much stress during the day; they are almost numb in the evenings. It comes from all sides: an unreasonable boss, angry clients, marital tension, wayward or perfectionistic children, and all the guilt that we could not do it everything better. High and low rhythms of this in unrelenting constancy can squeeze the joy and life out of anything–not to mention the consistent zeal for God we sometimes believe we are expected to show.

It is here–where the rubber hits the road of a real life–that it comes as a great comfort that the Gospel is an objective Word from elsewhere spoken to us. We don’t have to create it in our wills and hearts. We don’t have to generate an avatar or façade of forced emotion or joy while enduring the dark valleys of life. The Gospel speaks the same sweet message to us when we are devoid of any energy or positive feelings as it does during the best moments of our lives. We can be grateful to God or angry/flummoxed with Him (as the psalmist often is) and the substance of the Gospel does not alter an iota. The sweet news of Christ’s victory for us is as freely given to us as it ever was.

The emphasis on the subjective, like that of the Evangelist in my story, is deadly. It sounds good at first but it strongly lends itself to a merely spiritualized focus on the self. That never ends well. The Gospel takes the focus and emphasis off the self and places it in Good Hands. Good Hands that bear the marks of love for us, wherever we are in life.