The Relational Gospel

photo-1516589091380-5d8e87df6999Over the summer, the mission council at my church read a book called, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself. In it, the authors argue that many of our attempts to help the poor fail because we are merely treating the symptoms and not the root causes of issues. They argue that the true problem that humanity faces is a relational one. Alienation is a result of sin: alienation from your true self, alienation from God, alienation from others, and alienation from creation. As a result of this, the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ is one of reconciliation. Jesus has come to reconcile us with our true selves, to reconcile us with a loving God, to reconcile us into community with one another, and to reconcile us to creation.

As I sit here this Monday afternoon, only 24 hours removed from a powerful service act my church where we retold the gospel message in word and ritual, I can’t help but reflect on the relational nature of this faith. In our efforts to make the communication of the Gospel as easy as possible, I fear that we have reduced a beautiful story down to a few propositional truths that one must assent to in order to be “saved.” This seems so foreign to the descriptions of the community that formed around the historical Jesus. It got me to thinking about a book I read 14-15 years ago. Here is a particularly poignant section:

“Perhaps the reason Scripture includes so much poetry in and outside the narrative, so many parables and stories, so many visions and emotional letters, is because it is attempting to describe a relational break man tragically experienced with God and a disturbed relational history man has had since then, and furthermore, a relational dynamic man must embrace in order to have a relational intimacy with God once again, thus healing himself of all the crap he gets into while looking for a relationship that makes him feel whole. Maybe the gospel of Jesus, in other words, is all about relationship with Jesus rather than about ideas. And perhaps our lists and formulas and bullet points are nice in the sense that they help us memorize different truths, but harmful in the sense that they blind us to the necessary relationship that must begin between ourselves and God for us to become His followers. And worse, perhaps our formulas and bullet points and steps steal the sincerity with which we might engage God.

“Becoming a Christian might look more like falling in love than baking cookies. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that in order for a person to know Jesus they must get a kind of crush on Him. But what I am suggesting is that, not unlike any other relationship, a person might need to understand that Jesus is alive, that He exists, that He is God, that He is in authority, that we need to submit to Him, that He has the power to save, and so on and so on, all of which are ideas, but ideas entangled in a kind of relational dynamic. this seems more logical to me because if God made us, wants to know us, then this would require a more mysterious interaction than what would be required by a recipe.

“I realize that is all sounds terribly sentimental, but imagine the other ideas popular today that we sometimes hold up as credible: We believe a person will gain access to heaven because he is knowledgeable about theology, because he can win at a game of religious trivia. And we believe a person will find heaven because she is very spiritual and lights incense and candles and takes bubble baths and reads books that speak of centering her inner self; and some of us believe a person is a Christian because he believes five ideas that Jesus communicated here and there in Scripture, though never completely at one time and in one place; and some people believe they are Christians because they do good things and associate themselves with some kind of  Christian morality; and some people believe they are Christians because they are Americans. If any of these models are true, people who read the Bible before we systematically broke it down, and, for that matter, people who believed in Jesus before the printing press or before the birth of Western civilization, are at an extreme disadvantage. It makes you wonder if we have fashioned a gospel around our culture and technology and social economy rather than around the person of Christ.”

Donald Miller, Searching fo God Knows What

“I passed on to you, what I received,” the Apostle Paul said. I pray that we may have the courage to do the same. I pray that we might be overwhelmed by the un fathomable love of God made manifest in Christ Jesus. I pray that we may pass on that Gospel message – that message of love – in our proclamation, but more importantly through our relationships. I pray that we might love ourselves into the Kingdom of God, and love others there along with us.