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Redefining the gospel

Journey continues its exploration of Brian McLaren’s 10 questions that he says are transforming the church. This month we look at the gospel question.

I RECENTLY came across a writer who suggested that we should be able to summarise the Christian gospel in 10 words or less.

“If you can’t summarise what you believe in 10 words, do you truly understand what you believe? Maybe you can believe without fully understanding,” they suggested.

“But hey, it doesn’t hurt to burn some mental bandwidth to clarify what you believe. So, consider this micro-theology; petite-worship; nano-sermons.”

So what’s with the reduction to 10 words?

My first reaction to this exercise was concern that the good news spoken and lived by Jesus and his people is being reduced to one sentence to meet the obsession with conciseness honed in an era of modernism.

I can imagine Jesus sighing and asking, “Why does this generation ask me for a 10 word sentence? I tell you the truth, not one 10 word sentence will be given to it.” He’d then get in the boat and head off somewhere to spend time with people listening to and telling stories, doing life and thinking of all the ways he might give some insight into the Kingdom of God.

So here are a few 10 word sentences and phrases I came up with.

Forgiveness by God invites all people to exercise forgiveness together.

Life given that we might live fully, with destiny beyond this age.

Strangers welcomed home by God to join an inclusive community.

Challenged by Jesus to change ways and transform the world.

The Spirit helps face hardship and inspire courage in others.

Loved unconditionally by God and called to love one another.

Created whole by God to guard the integrity of creation.

God giving capacity for insight and wisdom, exploring truth together.

Shame removed, new identity given, development of restoring community.

Reconciled with God and each other, becoming ambassadors of peace.

God’s strength and solidarity with the suffering expressed together.

Healing for broken bodies, emotions, relationships and communities.

Freedom for people trapped in addiction and oppression becoming liberators.

The Uniting Church’s Basis of Union encourages us to be people of the gospel in Paragraph Three, with a lot more than 10 words!

“Jesus of Nazareth announced the sovereign grace of God whereby the poor in spirit could receive God’s love.

“Jesus himself, in his life and death, made the response of humility, obedience and trust which God had long sought in vain. In raising him to live and reign, God confirmed and completed the witness which Jesus bore to God on earth, reasserted claim over the whole of creation, pardoned sinners, and made in Jesus a representative beginning of a new order of righteousness and love.”

There’s a lot of good news in there for us to put into practice: God’s love for the poor in spirit; Jesus showing us who God is, with humility, obedience and trust; God’s engagement with all creation; sinners pardoned; Jesus commissioning a new community of justice and compassion.

The gospel is simple and accessible but is deeper and more challenging than anything we could include in a 10 word sentence.