I was raised in a Christian family and heard the gospel story, gospel message, the Roman’s road, substitutionary atonement, and just about every other evangelical summary of what Jesus did more times than I can count. However, what I heard honestly never really sounded like good news and it was hard to share it with others. Since college, and especially over the last few years, I’ve been on a journey of deconstruction, attempting to understand what Jesus was actually about and what of the beliefs I had learned as a child were true.
The Gospel I Learned
The gospel I learned, went something like this:
- God is holy…really, really holy and hates sin. In fact, as sinners, we can’t even be in His presence because His holiness cannot coexist with sin.
- We are sinners. Even when we try to do what’s right, we still goof up and sin.
- The only way that we could have a relationship with a holy God is if a blood sacrifice was offered to pay for our sin. This blood sacrifice should be each of us going to hell.
- However, God sent his son Jesus to be the blood sacrifice for all of us so that we could go to heaven and have a relationship with God. He bore the wrath of God for all of our sins.
- God is able to look at us and love us, because, when he looks at us, he’s actually seeing perfect Jesus rather than sinful us.
This is certainly a slight simplification and I’ve heard many different permutations on this that emphasize one aspect over another, but this was the general gist of it. Some versions even said that as people we’d attempted to reach God using religion, etc. but this was always unsuccessful because of the chasm of sin between God and people.
As I mentioned, this never seemed like particularly good news. In spite of the Father heart of God movement and other similar teachings, it always seemed like the core message was that God’s holiness somehow had to be appeased. God almost comes across as having a split personality disorder. The one part demanding perfection and holiness and the other part wanting to figure out a solution to have relationship in spite of his demand for perfection and holiness. Jesus then is the (rather strange) solution whereby God’s personality disorder can be reconciled.
A New Gospel
What if I learned it all wrong though? What if this is actually the gospel:
- God really, really loves us A LOT! He wants us to love him, love living on the earth he created, and love being in relationship with each other.
- He’s been trying since the Garden of Eden to show us how much he loves us. He’s kind of like the boy that has a crazy crush on a girl and just wants to be in relationship with her.
- Our human slogan has been “I did it my way.” So, each time God tries to have relationship with us, we screw it up and demand that God give us a list of rules to follow instead of engaging with Him in relationship. We also screw up our relationships with each other because we are each demanding our own way.
- Since we asked for a list of rules, God in his justice had to provide consequences when we broke the rules that we asked Him to give us. However, this was never His heart or goal.
- After trying various other ways to show us how much He loves us and wants relationship with us, God sent His son Jesus to show and tell us in person how much he loved us. However, this so offended the religious leaders that instead of changing their understanding of God, they decided to kill His son.
- However, because God is all about life, and because Jesus is God, God raised Him back from the dead. This encounter with the crucifixion and resurrection proved that God was:
- More powerful than anything
- So in love with humanity that he was willing to endure the absolute worst that humanity could inflict if it would convince some of us that He loved us
- Offering the only path to cheat death.
As I’ve started to understand this new gospel from Tom Cotter, Brian McLaren, Paul Swearengin, Bob Prater, and others, I’m starting to understand why Jesus and the first disciples thought this was good news…really, really, really good news! They had grown up with essentially the first three bullets of the first gospel. Relationship with God was all about trying to appease a holy God that was really difficult to please. Jesus wasn’t the ultimate appeasement. The Good News was that God didn’t actually need appeasing at all. God (in Jesus) was wanting to hang out with the worst sinners, be in relationship with them, even eat with them! God, in Jesus, just wanted to be their friend. Not only that, but when the religious leaders killed Jesus for doing such things, he was so powerful that he was able to cheat death and come back from the dead. For anyone who’s lived in fear of the wrath of a holy and vengeful God, this is GREAT NEWS!