Inner~View #58: Rethink the Gospel


Phil Miglioratti interviewed Todd Hunter, author of Christianity Beyond Belief

 
book cover

===>Click headline to access information or to purchase the book
 

Phil ~ Todd, let's get right to it ... This book is your attempt to help Western Christians rethink how they think about the Gospel. You are not advocating any change to the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ but you are challenging us to communicate it differently. Agree or disagree? ...and if so, why is it so important that we rethink the gospel?

Todd ~ That all depends Phil—if someone thinks the Gospel has only to do with forgiveness of sins so that they can go to heaven when they die, then yes—I am challenging that notion of the Gospel. That reductionistic version of the Gospel is only a part of the Gospel according to Jesus—The Gospel of the Kingdom. The Good News of LIFE in the Kingdom through the grace of God in Jesus is what the Gospel is all about. Forgiveness and heaven need to be seen in that context. They are included in the Gospel, but the Gospel cannot be reduced to mere forgiveness and be expected to produce disciples as well. We only have to look back over the last couple of generations in America to see that this is obviously true.
 

We need to re-think the Gospel so that it primarily has to do with our life—of which death is just a part. Eternal life is not spatial—out there beyond the stars somewhere; neither is it chronological—out there somewhere in time. It is not about mere existence—even dead things continue to exist—just look out the window and see a dead weed, plant, etc. Eternal life is a qualitative term. It is about the kind of life described in John 17:3—“knowing” God and his Son. Eternal life describes an experiential knowing of God—a relationship with begins in this life and extends to eternity.


Phil ~ Several who endorse your book have made significant statements. Please comment:
 

Todd ~ It is a little hard for me to say for sure, but I think what most of them have in mind is the vision for what it means to be a Christian based on an understanding of the Gospel of the Kingdom. Here is the problem: the Gospel of going to heaven when die routinely ignores life in the Kingdom. On the hand the Gospel of the Kingdom includes everything about Jesus: virgin birth, life, teachings, works, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and present day ministry…which naturally then brings our whole life into play.
 


Phil ~ Richard Foster believes your book will "stir your heart, engage your mind, enlarge your soul and reshape your imagination" ...
 

Todd ~ I am trying to give people a new imagination for what it means to be a Christian in this life based upon the Gospel according to Jesus…not just the Gospel about Jesus. We need both in order to make discipleship more natural and routine.

Phil ~ Brian McLaren speaks of your "radical commitment to digging deep to truly 'get' the good news of the kingdom of God" ...
 

Todd ~ This is an easy one Phil—but people seldom pause to think about it. The Kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God. It is the expression of his being, his will. It is the realm in which what he wants done is actually done. This is why Jesus taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done…”
 

Thus the Kingdom is preeminent. The church is secondary; it is created by the ruling and reigning of God. The church is the instrument or the means through which God does his work on earth. So maybe a good way to think of it is: Kingdom first, church second, denominations a distant third! J

Phil~ Dallas Willard claims you "rethink the central concepts of Christian life in terms of contemporary experience" ...
 

Todd~ ~ Radical simply means to get to the root of something. I am trying to get to the root of Christianity: to be the cooperative friends of Jesus, seeking to live constant lived s of creative goodness, for the sake of others, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Phil ~ John Ortberg tells us you "are part of a movement to rediscover the true meaning of Jesus and how we are to respond to it" ...
 

Todd ~ Yes, I think there is a movement. It includes pastors, scholars, campus workers—anyone who preaches the Gospel and works in discipleship. The “movement”, in my view is a reaction—a positively motivated reaction aimed at two things. 1) Have we been preaching, under the demands of marketing sound bites, a truncated version of the Gospel? 2) How can we understand and preach the Gospel so that those who hear it, naturally, as a consequence of it, become followers of Jesus.


Phil ~ You offer a new set of Four Spiritual Laws - Why is a new set/approach necessary? How are they different than the classic Four Spiritual Law first written in the early 1950's?
 

Todd ~ As I said above, we need a new way of thinking about the Gospel that leads to the holism inherent in the Kingdom Of God. What I offer is not really a replacement for the Four Spiritual Laws. Rather, I hope it is a new way to explain what it means to be a Christian. To do this I put Christians and Christianity back into its larger story. I show that God’s intention with humanity (Adam and Eve), Israel and the church are the same: to be his cooperative people, living constant lives of creative goodness, for the sake of others, through the power of the Holy Spirit.


Phil ~ Your initial engagement changes from "God loves you and has a plan for your life" to " Become a cooperative friend of Jesus." What is the difference and why it is important?

Todd ~ Some how the part about “God having a wonderful plan for your LIFE…” has gotten lost in the pursuit of what happens when we die. I am trying to bring “life” back into the picture. “Cooperative friends…” is simply a way to explain, in an easy and straightforward manner, what the plan of God for humanity might look like.
 


Phil ~ One chapter subtitle immediately caught my attention: Maybe Jesus Didn't Intend To Start a World Religion. What does that mean and what are the implications for the typical or traditional church?
 

Todd ~ It is startling to say, but Jesus was not a “Christian”. That word was only first used in Acts 11.26: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Even then the word did not refer to a world religion as we think of it. It was actually a very specific term used to describe a very specific group of people: disciples of Jesus—learners and apprentices of Jesus.
 

It is easy to see that Christianity as a world religion had slipped very far from being followers of Jesus. There are many followers of Jesus within Christianity, but not the majority by a long way. I only mean to point out that was calling people to follow HIM, not what hundreds of years later became “a religion”.
 

Implications for the church: we are not trying to create adherents to a religion; we are trying to make disciples in the manner of the Great Commission. I love the way Peterson gets The Great Commission in The Message:
 

“Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of lifeinstruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you…”
 

This is a way of life…it is not the picking of a religion from among the various choices of world religions.

 

Phil ~ Just because we speak our message does not mean the culture hears the authentic, biblical gospel. How long / what will it take for the Church to change the way we present the gospel so the current culture can truly hear the message?

Todd ~ Because of the outstanding work of people like Tom Wright, Dallas Willard and others we are getting there. Those two men along with books like Missional Church are giving thousands of young leaders a new imagination of what it means to be the church.
 

I think we present the Gospel as a huge gift for LIFE! Yes; death is the last and greatest enemy. Yes—it is unspeakably important that our sins are forgiven through Jesus. But forgiveness is not the finish line—it is the starting line—the starting line of a new life. In receiving forgiveness and beginning to follow Jesus as his cooperative friends, we are given a brand new life—with more of the same life coming to us in the ages to come, a life which will never end.
 

But that life starts now. As we follow Jesus, which is the greatest invitation ever given to humanity, we become humanity as God intended. This message has much more potential on our current social climate. The vast majority of people out side the church cannot any longer abide the notion that you can say a sinners prayer, live like hell and then go to heaven when you die. Seekers instinctually know that to follow God has to include more than that reductionism.
 

I do not doubt that God in his love may accept millions of people who only say the sinner’s prayer—in fact I hope he does! But that is beside our point here. Here we are talking about how to have Christian LIFE.

 

Phil ~ Todd, please write a prayer you hope each reader will pray along with you ...

Todd ~ May Jesus’ announcement of the Gospel of the in-breaking of the Kingdom come true in our lives. May the rule and reign of God capture our hearts, minds and imaginations. May the Holy Spirit lead us to live our present lives as the cooperative friends of Jesus, in constant creative goodness for the sake of others.

===>Click here to read why Todd wrote Christianity Beyond Belief. . .
 
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