Tag Archive: Gospel


Is this the end of evil?

Is this a season of dancing?

At 5:00a this morning I woke up to 2 sounds: a crying baby and a text alert from the Associated Press.  My five-month-old daughter was hungry and Osama Bin Laden was dead.  As I settled into the rocker I cradled Eva in one hand, and scrolled through the news stories on my phone with my other hand.  My arms were full, my heart heavy, and my mind confused.

My initial thoughts focused on Eva.  She surely had no idea of the significance of the breaking news.  In her innocence, she knew and cared only that her belly was full and that her crib awaited her return.  Events like 9/11, words like “terrorism,” and names like Osama are (or will be) as personal to her as Pearl Harbor, Axis powers, and Mussolini are to me.  She will know only what parents, teachers, family, and history books tell her of the World Trade Centers and a field in Pennsylvania. (Which raises the question: How will I tell my daughter the story of Osama and NYC and Bush and war and terrorism?)

Sure, she’ll grow up with heighten airport security procedures and multifaceted words like “extremists” and “religion.”  She’ll never escape the implications and gravitas of Al-Qaeda, terrorist networks, and the war on terrorism.  But yet, the specifics of today’s news, of today’s names, will likely become folklore or legend.

Many people are trumpeting Osama’s death as a victory for good over evil, right over wrong.  And I suppose it is.  But is this the end of evil?  Of course not.  New regimes bent on killing people will come to power.  Brilliant masterminds with a penchant for using their brilliance in perverse ways will still operate in the shadows.  Individuals and networks of those seeking to do harm will continue to pursue their goals.  Evil and injustice at home and abroad will continue to permeate our lives and institutions.

As Christians we are rightly called to refuse, reject, and rise up in the face of injustices.  However, the celebratory mood and festivities surrounding the death of someone can (or should) only be troubling to Christians.  Our hope, trust, and joy comes not in tanks, weapons, and death, but in the grace and power of the words Christ taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come…deliver us from evil.”

My pre-dawn thoughts turned also to those Americans cheering in the streets as news of Bin Laden’s death spread.  Is this the proper response…to shout, pump fists, wave flags…?  We are a mere week removed from Easter.  Where were the celebrations and parades proclaiming God’s “yes” to life and “no” to death?  I always cringe, and become a bit uneasy, each time I see video footage from other countries where crowds of people shout in approval of an American soldier’s death.  So…I guess…I hoped…I prayed…we would be different.  I prayed that we might not payback hate with hate, shout with shout, death with death.  And yet…

So…

Celebrate the death of another sinner?  I won’t.  Revel in the demise of one of God’s children?  Not I.  Dance in the streets?  Not me.

I will continue to live in the tension between civil justice and the words from that radical that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are always talking about.  You know, those words about loving your enemies; praying for those who persecute you; turning the other cheek.

Offering a countercultural narrative

Many people would agree that context matters in most situations.  Whether we are talking about a politician’s statement or a family’s socioeconomic status, the context of the situation often plays a significant role in the discussion.  In chapter five Jones argues that the relationship between context and Christianity is no different.  Christianity has always relied upon the importance of context and culture in the transmission of the gospel.  Jones roots his view of the enculturated gospel in the Incarnation – the Second person of Trinity “became flesh and lived among us” (Jn. 1.14).  As a result, the “gospel can be put into other languages and cultural forms” (124).

Not only is the gospel all-compassing, God’s love is universal.  God seeks to love and to save all people; the gospel stretches into all parts of the world/cultures.  Consequently, Christians are required to love non-Christians’ cultures as well as non-Christians themselves (125).  Jones does point to a caveat, however.  Loving others and their cultures requires careful negotiation.  Christianity obviously cannot accept some cultural practices that are judged to be incompatible with Christian discipleship (i.e. ritual mutilation in Africa).

For Jones, understanding others’ contexts is vital to faithful evangelism.  Knowing as much about others as possible (language, assumptions, values, political and economic issues, tastes, employment) enables evangelizing Christians to form better relationships with others.  Also, exploring the person’s education and language patterns sheds light on how the gospel can be effectively presented.  Jones rhetorically asks, “If we want to love others well, shouldn’t we be better informed of those we seek to embrace?”

However, Christians are not to assume that learning of others’ cultures is for the sole benefit of “Christianizing” those cultures.  Learning about others begins with looking for ways in which God is already moving in others’ lives and cultures.

The deeply relational aspect of evangelism intensifies the focus on context and culture.  As Jones points out, different contexts necessitate different evangelistic approaches.  While door-to-door visitation may work in one place, it may not be adequate in another.  Similarly, a church website may connect non-Christians with a church in one area, but may not be effective in areas where technology is not prevalent.  Regardless of the different contexts, Jones notes that all forms of evangelism begin with an invitation by someone who loves God enough to love another person so that there is a genuine invitation to the other to love God also (132).

While Jones’s word about the enculturated gospel and the Church’s need to participate in a similar translatability are helpful, I wonder if he cedes too much to the prevailing cultures.  While it is true that the Christian faith survived by learning and moving into new places and cultures, that translation was accompanied by a critique and re-evaluation of the culture.  Christianity offered a counter to the prevailing culture.  Perhaps that is where the church (and evangelism) is failing today.  We fail to tell of the countercultural movement of Jesus.  We fail to profess in word and deed that Christ calls us to a life of discipleship that may be far different from the life we are expected or told to live by the prevailing culture.

Imagine a middle-class congregation with young families who love to spend their Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the soccer field.  According to one of Jones’s anecdotes, the pastor’s role is to attend the games, to love what the people love.

While I agree to an extent, I wonder if “loving what they love” is always appropriate?  Can we embrace the cultural norms too much?  Can we allow the culture to shape our personal, pastoral, and Christian priorities?  Is there a danger if the church and pastor become too enculturated, or if the gospel is co-opted by the culture?  What if our presentation of the gospel offers no counter-cultural claim upon the lives of the community?  Did not Jesus ask the fishermen to put down their nets (their way of living) and follow him?

This is the fifth review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

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