“If you were to do die tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?”
You may have been asked that question before.
It’s the question that the half-story version of the gospel asks.
It’s a question that matters and gives pause for thought, but it’s also a question that can be dangerous and misleading.
As discussed in the last post, Half Story, Fuller’s research has found that somewhere around or above 50% of youth group participants walk away from their faith. Part of this, according to their research, is that these students do not have a clear understanding of the gospel. For many, I’m guessing they’ve believed a half story. (If you haven’t checked out the previous post, I encourage you to take a quick look at it, to help our conversation here.)
THE PROBLEM WITH PUNCHING A TICKET
Students today are in a world that is increasingly diverse and post-christian. Students today are flooded with a variety of ideas about what is true and what is the best way to live. If we only are telling the half-story, I’m afraid it’s not going to hold up. It’s not going to compel them to live full lives for Jesus. They may just punch their ticket and put faith on cruise control. Put it on when they need it. Take it off when it doesn’t make sense with the world.
As students enter high school and begin looking for autonomy and exploring what life has to offer, the nature of the gospel story we share has significant ramifications. If we condense the gospel to only the fall and redemption then we might leave them with a story that feels rather boring. As Gabe Lyon’s points out, “By truncating the full narrative, it reduces the power of God’s redeeming work on the cross to just a proverbial ticket to a good afterlife.” Students might be left asking:
“Is this all there is to Christianity? Did Jesus die only so we could get out of this place and go somewhere else? What if I like it here?”
IS THERE MORE TO THE STORY?
I’m continuing to borrow from Gabe’s work here, but this is something that I’ve felt in my own life for quite sometime. It always struck me as odd that so much of the church and message of the church I grew up around had to do with the afterlife and not the here and now. As a student, I was often confused about why the best answers to the toughest questions I had, seemed more like scare tactics than a substantive answer.
(i.e. – “Sex is to be avoided at all costs and will cause you terrible pain!” This scare tactic was a half story at best. In reality, sex was God’s idea and it is good when we understand God’s larger story and how sex fits in. I needed a whole story answer and was getting a fear-based plea that showed no understanding of the larger story.)
As I began to study the scriptures, I noticed Jesus spent a lot more time focusing on how we should live in the here and now than he did describing the life to come or inviting us to find a way out of this world. I think my feelings above echo some of what Fuller found in their research. If we are not careful, we can easily be passing along a gospel that is like handing someone a novel with the first and last chapters missing.
Gabe reminds us in his work,The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World, that the gospel story consists of 4 parts:
Creation. Fall. Redemption. Restoration.
As we pointed out last time, most presentations center on the middle two. Again, the middle two are central to the story and more important than I can even portray, but we can’t leave out the beginning and the ending. We all know the beginning and the ending, but may need to learn them anew.
Creation: As God created, he looked at his creation and proclaimed, “this is good.” Creation shows us how God intended the world to be. Creation shows us the good world God created and designed and the way humanity interacted with this world – as stewards and caretakers of this good gift. Adam heard God walking and there was no distortion in the relationship between God and the first humans nor between Adam and Eve as they were both “naked and felt no shame.”
Fall happens and distortion enters. This is not how it was intended to be. God enters the story through Jesus and brings redemption. But the story doesn’t end there…
Restoration: Jesus’ death and resurrection invites us into eternal life- an eternal life that actually begins right now and not just in the future. The effects of Jesus work in our life brings us back to a taste of what it was in the beginning and foreshadows what is to come in the afterlife. It invites to not just be saved from something (death or a way to escape this world) but to something – namely, “participation in God’s work of restoration in our lives and in the world.”
“Like a capstone to the story of God, Christians are called to partner in the restorative work so that the torch of hope is carried until Christ returns.”
“YOUR KINGDOM COME, YOUR WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN”
Can you see the difference? Can you feel the weight of your call as a follower of Christ? This isn’t about an escape! This is about a rescue mission!
You and I are to lives our lives in such a way that reflects the kingdom of God that was and is to come. By following Jesus, we can give people a foretaste of what is to come and a reminder of the world that God wired in our hearts when he created us in His image and placed us in the garden.
Many people look around at their lives and don’t think “this is good. In fact, this is the opposite of good”, but we have the opportunity as followers of Christ to be the hope bearers that step into the the “not good” of this world and change it so that folks get a taste of the “very good” world that God described in the beginning!
A GOSPEL YOU CAN’T TAKE OFF
As I shared in the previous post,
For many students, faith isn’t relevant out in the “marketplace” of high school or within the social structures (peer groups, media, culture) that they are immersed in. With this in mind, Christianity or living as a follower of Jesus is something you put on when you need it and take off when you don’t.
The half story understanding allows students to disregard the gospel when it doesn’t make sense with the world.
The whole story doesn’t allow that. This gospel has weight in the marketplace of high school and the social structures that students swim in. It invites them to see the world as it ought to be and work towards making that a reality. It invites them to be known by Jesus and let his love transform them and propel them into loving others.
As a follower of Jesus, our life in this world isn’t something to escape – it’s an adventure, it’s a mission, it’s something to enjoy, it’s something to sacrifice for, and it’s something worth giving our whole lives to.
What do you think? Does this understanding change how you view the gospel or your life in light of the gospel?
Do you think students and/or your kids can grasp this understanding and it carry weight in the midst of their busy teenage lives?
How do we get this message through?
(This last question is one that I’m asking myself and don’t have a great answer…if you have one, I’d love to hear it!)