Is That the Gospel?

Last week I couldn’t sleep and started writing the following to express the doubts and frustrations I was feeling. I’m not sure if any of it makes sense or if it’s accurately communicating what I’m thinking, but I wanted to get it out. Sometimes these kinds of doubts and frustrations do best when they come to the light, as opposed to just keeping them to myself. So here they are. Please read them with a little grace. Thanks.

I remember a late night during my freshman year of college when I sat on the floor outside my dorm room and poured my heart into a little notebook. I still have that notebook around here somewhere. I remember being so frustrated with life and so eager to do something but having no idea what to do. I felt like the day to day things I was doing had no relation to my faith.

Not long after I started this blog and those thoughts would continue in a stream of consciousness mishmash that nobody really understood (thankfully this blog has morphed into something a little more pragmatic).

But it’s been 10+ years and I think those thoughts are still rattling around inside my head. I find myself wondering what the point of all this is. My head is consumed with things like finding a babysitter for a conference call tomorrow night, figuring out when I can catch that new sci-fi flick District 9 I’ve heard so much about, and wondering when I’m going to get around to trimming that giant lilac bush in the back. None of that matters. What does matter are the stories I catch glimpses of, Mark Horvath traveling the country and meeting homeless people, the stories of the struggling unemployed, the people in Africa that will likely live half as long as I will.

These are the things that matter. If my faith means anything, it compels me to focus on them. Yet here I sit, watching some TV, taking out the trash, putting in my hours to earn a paycheck. Part of me wants to dive into these life-changing, world-altering causes, but I also have bills to pay and kids to watch and a lawn to mow. As inane as some of those things sound, somebody has to pay the bills. We all can’t run off on some cause tour. I don’t entirely understand it, but I do think there is some kind of theology of work. That’s why all Christians don’t become missionaries or join the ministry or whatever.

I know the answer is supposed to be that we change things in how we live. You still pay the bills and mow the lawn, but it’s how you do those things that matter. I get that, but mowing the lawn for the glory of God sounds like the stupidest pile of B.S. to a human trafficking victim in Asia. If the horrors of this world are truly an emergency, then how are we to respond? And is it even possible to live all of your life like an emergency?

I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. Meanwhile my church’s new slogan is come watch us argue over gay people. I read a book to Lexi this morning that taught the lesson of how we’re supposed to be quiet and respectful in church. I never realized behaving in church was such an important lesson to impart to my kids (one of the hazards of owning so many books—no idea where half of them come from). The climactic scene in the book (spoiler alert) was when the church mouse that had fallen asleep in the collection plate wakes up and the parishioners notice the mouse and everyone starts freaking out. The mouse was later punished by its parents for disrupting church.

If that’s what Christianity is about, then I aim to misbehave (to quote Mal Reynolds). What about justice and mercy and grace and all the messy stuff of real life?

The constant critique about liberal denominations is that they’re so focused on the social gospel that it’s all social and no gospel. But I think the opposite critique holds for conservative denominations: that it’s all gospel and no social. It seems to me that Christianity has slid too far from meeting the basic social needs of the world (and if that’s not what Christianity is about, why does the Bible talk so much about poverty and the oppressed, why did Jesus spend so much time healing and feeding people?). We’d rather tell you about Jesus than love you, and that’s crap. If I had to choose, I’d rather a church focused on social needs and left off the gospel than a church told the gospel but ignored the social issues. Because in the end one feels hollow, but the other is undergirded with a solid foundation. The gospel without action is hollow. Social justice without the gospel is also hollow, but that gospel can still be there under the surface. What I mean is this: If I can share the gospel with a homeless man or give him a place to stay for the night, which should I do? It seems to me sharing the gospel does little for him. He’ll have no reason to believe my words, no reason to actually believe in the gospel. I’ll be wasting my time on the off-chance that he’ll take me at my word. But if I give him a place to stay for the night, then I’ve met his needs for one night. He may inquire himself about why I’m doing it, and then suddenly, when I tell him about the gospel, it’s not just words.

I’m not sure I believe in evangelism any more. People don’t need to hear about Jesus, they need to see Jesus. We need to stop telling people about Jesus and instead show them Jesus.

And I guess what I’m getting at is I don’t know how to do that without going off and becoming a monk or a missionary or whatever. Is it really as simple as talking to a guy at the park, calling a friend and leaving messages, inquiring about medical malpractice lawyers for another friend, rocking my kid to sleep? Is that the gospel?

It’s all late night rambling. I’m not even sure what I’m saying, if I’m properly expressing these doubts and frustrations I feel.

4 thoughts on “Is That the Gospel?”

  1. loved the rant! You should read this: Darrell Cosden, ‘The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work’, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers 2006

    At least, this will get at your first half of rant questions and musings.

    You’re onto something!

  2. I agree that social action and truth are gutted when they’re by themselves. They need to go together at all times. Why pick or focus on only one?

    I would challenge part of the idea that conservative denominations are all gospel and no social. I know you’re not saying it’s true everywhere, but the tricky part of judging that aspect of Christianity is that, in many cases, the ones who are “doing it right” are doing so silently, without advertising that fact to anyone. True Christian “heroes” are so humble that no one’s ever heard their name.

    I think I’m working at this same problem, headed in a similar end point to you, but from the opposite direction. ;-)

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