Note from CM: Back in 2015, I was reading the book mentioned below, and offered this post as part of my response to what I was absorbing from it. I’ve edited this in an update for today.
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And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
• Ephesians 1:22-23
The good news is that the one true God has now taken charge of the world, in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection.
• N.T. Wright
When I was in the midst of reading N.T. Wright’s book, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good, I found that my perception of the gospel became more grounded.
Wright’s big point is that the gospel is an announcement of a public event that has taken place, an event which has changed everything.
- It is not advice or instruction given to us, it is a proclamation that Jesus has become King, that God has taken charge of the world through the finished work of the Messiah.
- God has established his rule of justice and peace in the world. God’s enemies have been defeated and will not win the war.
- The resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Spirit means that the new era has begun. It’s a new day. The divine process of transforming the world has begun in earnest.
- The announcement of this gospel invites all who hear it to embrace the good news and become part of the transformation. “If anyone is in Christ — new creation!” (2Cor. 5:17, literal translation). The person herself becomes renewed, but even more than that, she becomes part of God’s new creation here and now, right in the midst of this present life. Through baptism she dies to the old creation and is “raised to walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
God has taken charge of the world. Everything has changed. The new world has begun in Christ, who has taken his throne.
That is heady language. And frankly, it causes me consternation.
Here we are, two millennia later, and my eyes don’t see a new world. I observe a world that has progressed in many ways, become more civilized, technologically advanced, literate, and prosperous. But I don’t need to tell you about the unthinkable evil and suffering that continues to plague the inhabitants of earth. Every day I have a multitude of reasons to doubt that “God has now taken charge of the world.”
This is my primary theodicy question.
If the gospel is true, why hasn’t the world been transformed in such a long period of time?
Perhaps our understanding of the gospel is not grounded enough.
- Perhaps we see the gospel as something spiritual, when in fact we should be thinking much more naturally — about becoming fully human in our lives and relationships.
- Perhaps we see the gospel as something individual, when in fact we should be thinking much more about building bonds with others in Christ.
- Perhaps we see the gospel as something which gains us life after death, when in fact we should be embracing life more fully right now.
- Perhaps we see the gospel as something which separates us from the world, when in fact it calls us to participate more in the life of our neighbors, our community, our world.
- Perhaps we see the gospel as something which is about faith alone, when in fact it is about faith working through love.
- Perhaps we see the gospel as something which enables us to escape the world, when in fact it is about enabling us to more fully embrace and enjoy the world.
- Perhaps we see the gospel as something which is primarily about forgiveness of the past, when in fact it is about making the present and future new.
- Perhaps we see the gospel as something which is about my personal relationship with Jesus, when in fact it is about God creating the new people of God.
- Perhaps we see the gospel as something which guarantees one’s enrichment and happiness, when in fact it plays out in all the varied seasons and circumstances of life.
- Perhaps we see the gospel as something which God alone will work out from beginning to end, when in fact God will work it out (at least in part) through his renewed people.
This last point led me to think about the final verses of Ephesians 1, two of which are quoted above. God’s divine power was displayed when he raised Christ from the dead and established him as Lord over all the powers. But then note this: “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things TO THE CHURCH . . .”
Perhaps a main reason we have not seen the kind of change in the world one might expect millennia after the announcement of God’s good news came to us is that we missed the memo: Christ has been exalted to rule the world through a church that is grounded in the gospel.
Perhaps the church herself has missed the message too many times throughout her history. We have not had an adequately grounded gospel, and even when we have, Christians and churches have not cooperated with God and walked in the newness of life into which God has brought us.
I don’t mean this to sound triumphalistic, as though the church is called to “take over the world” through power and might. Being grounded in the gospel will primarily mean that the church will produce change in the world in the same way God took control: through laying down our lives for others as Christ did.
Ephesians 2 goes on to say that God’s people have become God’s workmanship, created in Christ to walk in the good works he has planned beforehand for us. It may not be the whole reason for the world’s lack of transformation, but certainly the church has walked down alternate paths too often. Laying down our lives for the life of the world has not always been our priority — or even on our radar.
Not only do we need a fuller, more robust gospel. We need a more grounded one.
And then we need to let our feet hit the ground.