Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


The Problem is the Problem

posted by Scot McKnight

To say that we Christians have the “gospel” is to say we have “good
news that resolves the bad news.” So, we ask, What is the problem to
which the gospel speaks this good news? What is it that Christianity “fixes”? The most significant problem
many presentations of the gospel face is that the problem the gospel is trying to fix is not robust
enough. In other words, the problem has become the problem.

What is the need humans have that the gospel satisfies? I’d be interested in your response to this question.



Which is to say: until we define the problem aright, we aren’t offering a robust gospel. In my book Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us I try to define that problem. So what is it?

A
casting glance both at Genesis 1–3 and at how the Bible’s big Story
works, reveals there are four major problems and that means that the
“gospel” speaks to each of those four problems, and I believe these problems are deeply important to all of us — Christian or not:

1. A problem with God: fear.
2. A problem with Self: shame.
3. A problem with Others: enmity.
4. A problem with the World: exploitation/irresponsibility.

These
problems emerge from Genesis 3 when the Eikon, humans made in God’s
image, cracks — we crack in four directions: with God, with self, with
others, and with the world.

The fundamental reminder that every
Israelite reminded herself or himself with daily was to love God with
heart, soul, and strength (the Shema: Deut 6:4-5). On top of this,
Jesus clarified that loving God meant learning to love others as
yourself (this comes from Lev 19:18). These are what Eikons who work right do daily … they love God and they love others. I have to believe the gospel is designed to fix this kind of problem, the problem that humans don’t love God and don’t love others.

And any serious reading of
the Bible’s Story reveals that God cares deeply about how God’s people,
Israel and the Church, lives in this world. Page after page in the
Bible we find stories and episodes in the life of the nation, in the
life of the Church, and the focus is how that people conforms to the
fundamental obligations to love God and to love others. Community is
God’s design.

So, the human problem is loving God, loving self,
loving others, and loving the world enough to be God’s good stewards.
The gospel — the act of God to restore cracked Eikons in the life,
death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the powerful gift of the
Holy Spirit — is designed to restore our

1. alienating, hiding fear of
God,
2. our discord with ourselves with shame,
3. our enmity with others, and

4. our irresponsiblity toward and exploitation of the world.

Any gospel that does not address each of these problem is not big enough because it has not defined the problem big enough.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(51)
post a comment
T.D. Miekley

posted November 6, 2008 at 12:41 am


When you asked that question, my mind returns to the woman at the well. She was so thirsty and in need of a drink of water. What she didn’t realize is that Jesus – the Jewish guy she wasn’t supposed to talk to – had living water for her to drink and that she would never be thirsty again. She wanted that water. Jesus is Lord is the Gospel of the New Testament. It is good news. Like a drink of water, confessing that Jesus is Lord is like taking a glass of living water. The more we come to trust and believe in Him, the more our thirst for “another gospel” withers and the satisfaction of being filled with Jesus remains. We are given enough for today – like the Israelites who ate the manna from the wilderness. They were satisfied after they ate. Jesus gives us that satisfaction each day as we live out the Gospel and confess it to others.



report abuse
 

Jeremiah Daniels

posted November 6, 2008 at 1:26 am


Your post struck a few chords with me. I find those points _useful_ and _tangible_.
I meet a lot of Christian teachers who I feel neglect almost all of the points you mention in favor of saving the soul from Hell.
What do we do with that presentation of the Gospel?



report abuse
 

Darren King

posted November 6, 2008 at 2:05 am


Scot wrote:
“These problems emerge from Genesis 3 when the Eikon, humans made in God’s image, cracks — we crack in four directions: with God, with self, with others, and with the world.”
I agree with Scot’s assessment of the problem. However, I think we need to back up a step. What exactly is it that happened in Genesis 3? Was the initial “cracking” something to be taken literally? Figuratively? Or was it a pre-scientific way of describing something that evolution would later understand as the base brain, working on an instinctual, and thus, less than noble, moral level?
I have not come to a firm conclusion on this and would be very interested in people’s thoughts. And Scot, it’d be great if you would weight in too. It seems to me that we have to answer this question if we are to adequately address the question(s) you raise.
Thanks for the conversation.



report abuse
 

Jeremiah Daniels

posted November 6, 2008 at 3:00 am


Darren,
I’ve played around with the idea that it describes the higher level cognitive abilities of our minds.
In a real way, we’re not exactly ‘broken’ so as much as we have this frightening capability to use these higher level abilities to hurt others and ourselves.
If you don’t deal with that part of you or if you deny its there, you are in for big trouble.
I wouldn’t want to attempt to recast our whole theology on what I just wrote though. Mainly because we hardly understand our own brains — our understanding will change as science does.
Hehe .. I’m not sure this is where Scot wants us to go, but I thought I’d throw my 0.02 in on your angle.



report abuse
 

steve taylor

posted November 6, 2008 at 3:36 am


Scott,
what happens when we start with a different founding story. for israel it was the exodus – my father was a wandering aramean – in deut 26. that was their experience of good news/bad news.
so the problem becomes being oppressed in cycles of death and dehumanisation and in relationships of oppression. that’s a different type of “fall” i know. but it’s one that does have coherence for much of the world’s population. sometimes i just wonder if western theology has made too much of genesis 3 as one chapter of the bible. thoughts?
steve taylor



report abuse
 

Brad Boydston

posted November 6, 2008 at 6:39 am


I’d like to interrupt this thread to say thank you to Beliefnet for fixing the problem with the RSS feed. We’re now getting the whole feed — not just a partial. Their responsiveness bodes well for the blog.
Bless you!
And now you can get back to “the problem” at hand.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 6, 2008 at 6:54 am


Darren,
This may not be where Scot expects this post to go – but I agree with you. We need to think about this original “cracking,” what it is and what it means.
Next week we will look at Blocher’s book again – as part of a continuing attempt to think this through.
But – I think that the cracking was a deliberate act of rebellion of mankind against God. That this rebellion resulted in a distortion of all relationships, with God of course, but also and especially with self and others.
One couple, one serpent, and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The story is poignant and “true” – but not recorded history. As history it fails on so many logical grounds (not just evolution) – it is internally inconsistent and incoherent as well. (Sorry Scot – this may take things in a skew direction.)



report abuse
 

Pastor Chad

posted November 6, 2008 at 7:46 am


I am not sure that it really matters where we ‘start’ to explicate the problem. If we start with Gen 3 we understand our problem in Scott’s broad outline. If we start with Abraham, we understand the problem still as separation from God if a world that has gone from bad to worse. The good news there is that God did not let it continue, but chose one man to begin his work of bringing the creation back to him. If we start with the Exodus, the problem ‘becomes being oppressed in cycles of death and dehumanisation and in relationships of oppression’, as Steve says above. Or if we start with the experience of the Israel under the Judges, we see the fall as a continued and stubborn movement away from God even when he continues to draw them to him. Or if we start with the kings we again see a movement away from God after he has given so many blessings (think Solomon). This eventually leads to exile from the promised land (much like the exile from the paradise of the garden of Eden). If we start with the people at the beginning of the New Testament, the people are in the land of the promise but do not experience the fullness that living in the promised land is meant to be. God seems to be absent (no prophets, still subjugated under foreign rulers).
When we look at all of these different ‘falls’ it seems like they are all different expressions of the same truth outlined in Genesis 3. Humanity has broken Shalom, making things not the way they were supposed to be. This is expressed in different ways throughout the scriptures, but it is an expression of the same core truth.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted November 6, 2008 at 8:08 am


As most of you know, I don’t respond back and forth throughout the comments because I don’t want this to be a question-answer thing. So, I try to set up a question and watch how it goes.
But … now that you ask:
Darren, I don’t know about the brain like this but the entire Story of the Bible presents the “cracking” problem as a moral one — the choice of humans to do what they are not designed to do, to turn from God, to turn against the self, to turn against others, and to turn against the world. Maybe “brain” stuff explains some of this, but I would want to emphasize the responsibility element.
Steve, sure the liberation theme is very important but it is a “framing” story of the Story – - a good one and a neglected one in some dimensions of Christianity and an overemphasized one in other parts. I am making much here of Gen 3 (as does Paul) because I framed the question as the “problem” — but I also emphasize Gen 1-2 often in my theology: we are made as Eikons. If my atonement (A Community called Atonement) emphasizes the need to play all the clubs (“atonement stories”), so I would say we also have to play all our “framing stories” of the Story. I call these “wiki-stories” in Blue Parakeet.
To me we need to fold Genesis 4-11 into Gen 3 so that we see the implications of the “fall” as they manifest themselves in all kinds of convoluted and systemic ways. To me, Gen 12 “fixes” more than sin against God in Gen 3 but all of the sins of Gen 3 and all of the problems of Gen 4-11.
Well, I’ve said too much.



report abuse
 

Kevin Chez

posted November 6, 2008 at 8:28 am


What comes to my mind is that we (the world, humanity, etc.) are “cursed”. I think each of us can feel the weight of this, if we allow ourselves, on a daily basis. I picture heavy heads, hung in shame, walking away, backs toward Eden. I can feel separation
The beauty is the reversal of the curse. Here I picture and even hear the sound of the vail in the temple being torn apart. What an unbelievable noise, whether audible or not, I can see the sound waves traveling out from that place to every corner of the earth.
I do like your idea that the problem isn’t big enough. We are (I should say “I am”) too comfortable.
The gospel fulfills a need for peace and stability (hope is the anchor for our soul). The gospel gives us value without having to earn it which we can reciprocate to others.



report abuse
 

Samuel

posted November 6, 2008 at 8:34 am


RJS,
I was wondering if you could further elaborate on your comment on the narrative of Gen 3: “One couple, one serpent, and a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The story is poignant and “true” – but not recorded history. As history it fails on so many logical grounds (not just evolution) – it is internally inconsistent and incoherent as well.” What do you mean by it not being historical (if I’m understanding correctly) but being “true”?



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 6, 2008 at 8:47 am


Samuel,
I don’t think that Genesis 1-3 is a creation myth – but I don’t think that it is intended as historical account either.
So – an interpretation of Genesis 3 with Adam as “every man” or “cosmic man” or some such designation seems to be taking the wrong tack. The point of Genesis 3 is rebellion against God – and the consequence of Rebellion is curse – broken relationships with God (spiritual death), with the earth, with each other. The rebellion must be real, not simply a natural consequence of evolving the capacity for abstract thought or being given the gift of free will. Mankind, created in the image of God, rebelled against God.



report abuse
 

John W Frye

posted November 6, 2008 at 9:55 am


While liberation is a permeating biblical theme, we have to imagine Moses writing to a newly liberated people. God’s “son” (the nation) was called out of Egypt. But what are their true origins? In effect Moses is declaring, “We are not just liberated slaves, we are Eikons with a mission.” Genesis is the story behind the Exodus story.
I don’t think that it’s wise to start with “we are cursed.” The curse is a result of the break in the Eikons. I agree with Scot and RJS that it is a *moral reality* (no matter how the evolutionary evidence correlates). We must begin with creational Eikon status of human beings and work from there or we will automatically and perhaps unwittingly reduce the Gospel.



report abuse
 

ChrisB

posted November 6, 2008 at 10:32 am


I think we have to be more specific than “fear.”
The problem is that people don’t have enough fear. Adam and Eve, just like Satan, said, “I think I’d like to be God now.” And we all do it countless times every day, and that is the source of all the other problems Scot lists.
Our society, especially, has lost any notion that they should fear God. We’ve developed this notion that we’re just so great that God’s going to overlook whatever minor flaws we have and eagerly welcome us into heaven.
The idea that we’ve sinned against a holy and just God who expects nothing less than absolute moral perfection is missing in our society, and it’s necessary before you can understand or appreciate what the gospel of Jesus Christ offers.



report abuse
 

T

posted November 6, 2008 at 10:51 am


So, looking at the 4 ways we’re “cracked” or functionally broken as people, is the chief reason–the chief aim–for becoming Jesus’ apprentice, both initially and ongoingly, to become a better person (in relation to those 4 unavoidable aspects of reality)? And is this process of becoming functional in these ways what is often called ‘sanctification’?
I know the phrase ‘becoming a better, more functional person’ sounds and feels a little heretical to me as the goal of the gospel, who grew up in the kind of church where the gospel was all about eternal destiny. But isn’t the logical implication of Scot’s point that becoming truly functional in those 4 ways is the heart of the gospel (the thing God hopes to accomplish through it)? It also happens to be the thing many non-Christians are actually searching for in the world, at least more often than heaven after death.
This is the kind evangelism that I was already just about to dive into before reading this post, so if anyone thinks about about to spread some heresy, I’d love to hear from you.



report abuse
 

John W Frye

posted November 6, 2008 at 10:58 am


ChrisB,
I respectfully disagree that fear is the controlling issue to motivate redemption. In the creation Story, Adam and Eve were cringing in fear behind the tree, hiding from God. They were terrified. They were undoubtedly were thinking, “When God comes, the hammer will fall.” But God did come and he asked, not shouted or yelled or acted angry. He called out, “Where are you?” How you think God asked that question? Your answer will reveal a lot. God in the flesh, Jesus, was a magnet to sinful people. He didn’t scare the crap out of them.
Your comments sound so noble. You are exalting the holiness and moral perfection of God. But those realities, while true, do not control the movements of God in redemption.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 6, 2008 at 11:03 am


T,
It seems to me that the chief aim is not to become a better person in these four directions – the chief aim is to restore proper relationship with God – this break is what started the whole mess in the first place.
The restoration of the other three directions flow from the restoration of the first. And if we are truly following Jesus we will be pursuing a path that restores those relationships. Certainly there is no way to avoid the fact that the gospel includes restored relationship with others; love, peace, patience…



report abuse
 

T.D. Miekley

posted November 6, 2008 at 11:13 am


RJS,
I agree with you. The most important aspect you have mentioned above is restoring our relationship with God from which flows the possibilities and result of being in right relationship with ourselves, others, and the world respectively.
I think one of the biggest problems we face is being patient through the process. We don’t like waiting at all. We want “quick fixes” with very little “hiccups” along the way. Restoration with God is not a drive through service like McDonalds. It is a slow process – like waiting for a Polaroid picture to develop. The longer we wait, the clearer the picture gets.



report abuse
 

Erik Leafblad

posted November 6, 2008 at 11:15 am


I agree that the problem is huge in that it is the brokenness of our true humanity in proper relationship to God. However, the tendency of how to resolve this problem based on the comments so far is to look back to Genesis. Its as if we’re saying, “If we could just get back to that.” But, that isn’t the arch of the biblical narrative. The arch of the biblical narrative is one that looks forward, while remembering what is back there, so to speak, because the one who will give us back our true humanity is the one to come, the who has come, and the one who is coming. I don’t think we can fully appreciate the full scope of the problem unless we have this forward looking trajectory, that is unless we begin with Jesus Christ. That’s probably my Barthian side coming out, but isn’t the gospel the good news because of Jesus, which sheds light on the bad news, the problem?



report abuse
 

Erik Leafblad

posted November 6, 2008 at 11:25 am


I think should have been more clear and added this: I think the profound good news of the gospel is that we can’t make this right on our own. In other words, we can’t fix ourselves. That, it seems to me, sheds light on the bad news: we humans desperately want to take credit for the fix. We want so bad to think we are capable of putting things back together, fixing our crackedness, instead of simply allowing ourselves to remade, reshaped, reformed — recreated! The problem is indeed a moral one, but also an ontological one, an epistemological one. That problem is its all-encompassing! And, the good news, is that in Christ we are not given back Eden, but we are recreated into our new humanity, our true covenanted humanity.



report abuse
 

ChrisB

posted November 6, 2008 at 11:34 am


“Adam and Eve were cringing in fear behind the tree, hiding from God.”
After the fact. Lots of people are fear getting caugth and punished after they do wrong.
You don’t have to look at “fear” as being terrified of God. Yes, God didn’t shout or send fireballs; instead he called them gently. He mercifully clothed them and promised to fix all of this one day. And pronounced judgement on them.
You cannot deny that many people in our society think God owes them something.
I’m not entirely sure what you mean about the “movements of God;” the question at hand is what problem the gospel is meant to solve, and that problem is that humans live in constant rebellion against their creator. All other problems have their root in that one issue.
Yes, sinners loved to be with Jesus, but the question is, did they sin with Jesus? Did He tell them not to fear God or to fear God and not men? Did He tell them not to worry about sin or to repent and go and sin no more?
I’m not trying to deny the other facets to the problem or to the gospel, but your reaction in a clear example of why more conservative Christians oppose a lot that comes out of the emerging camp — it appears to ignore sin. If you want to fix our “relationships,” that’s fine, so long as you realize why they’re broken in the first place.



report abuse
 

Darren King

posted November 6, 2008 at 11:54 am


So, here’s a thought:
If we say the Fall was our conscious choice to break from our proper relationship with God, which came after we gained consciousness (via evolution, or when God breathed that kind of knowledge into us, or however you want to phrase that), there is still the question of how “the fix” arrived on the scene.
For the sake of argument, let me ask this:
Was Jesus’ sacrifice necessary – under some clause of divine legality? Or was Jesus’ death a plain consequence of the actions of fallen humanity? Which leaves us with Jesus’ redemptive way of living (and dying) as the example, the pathway, the bridge – if you will – that leads us back into right relationship with God, each other, the cosmos, etc?
I know people might very well want to pull a “both/and” here, but, if so, I think it’s really important that we be clear – and not just say “both are true” in order to vaguely escape a difficult conundrum.
Thoughts?



report abuse
 

John W Frye

posted November 6, 2008 at 12:19 pm


ChrisB,
While some in the “emerging camp” may want to ignore sin, I am not one of them. I agree with Scot McKnight and many others who contend that sin is essentially relational. “To fix relationships” *is* to deal with sin. Too many in the evangelicalism are fixated on sin as violation of a law or laws rather than the betrayal of a relationship. Are there legal ramifications to sin? Yes. But primarily and essentially sin is the cracking of Eikonic relationships. That is what the Gospel (Jesus Christ) fixes.



report abuse
 

Percival

posted November 6, 2008 at 12:25 pm


Bad news:
1) Sin/Guilt
2) Shame/Fear
3) Evil/Emnity
I classified them this way because these pairs of cause/result are not easily separated.



report abuse
 

Percival

posted November 6, 2008 at 12:27 pm


Sorry. Enmity not Emnity.



report abuse
 

Sue

posted November 6, 2008 at 12:33 pm


Sighhhhh….
This thread starts out so helpfully. For years I have struggled with the antiquated, useless jargon that I learned in Sunday school, which largely defines The Problem as “needing to be saved from your sins.” Yeah, well. Somehow I doubt that my neighbors lie awake at night pondering their need to be saved from their sins. So I was thrilled by Scot’s question. Yes, please, let’s think about what my neighbors’ need really is, not from some external theoretical perspective, but from within their deepest, most desperate inner places. What “good news” would hit home for them?
And then…the conversation becomes ponderous with hermenuetics and theology, and my neighbor becomes an abstraction. Mind you, I love a good theological discussion. But it gives me nothing compelling to offer the woman down the street who sits on the porch with her cell phone glued to her ear while her kids squabble and tumble in the yard. I need to understand The Problem in concrete terms so that I can speak to her in a language that makes sense to her, that inspires her to say with relief, “Yes, you really do understand my life.”
I think that Scot’s four areas in need of restoration are right on. But maybe for the average person, the emotional response to those four levels of alienation best expresses The Problem: disappointment, to the point of despair. My neighbor is disappointed in her life. It doesn’t match her aspirations. It doesn’t even match her expectations for this one day. No matter how hard she tries, things don’t come out right. And so perhaps The Problem on the day-to-day experiential level is our own human inability to bring about the perfection that we’re wired for. We can imagine it; we long for it; we get glimpses of it here and there. But at the end of the day, we go to bed disappointed with a life that still falls short of our own longings — even the simplest longing for children who don’t squabble all day long. Each in our own way, we are too poor, too blind, too lame, too oppressed to live the life that we crave from the depths of our being.
So argue about whether Genesis 1-3 is historical or mythical, if you must. But please don’t forget your neighbor for whom a cell phone has become the best available solution for the alienation in her soul.
While I was writing this, Erik Leafblad suggested pretty much the same thought above….



report abuse
 

Darren King

posted November 6, 2008 at 12:54 pm


Sighing Sue,
I agree that its important to understand our neighbors felt needs. Believe me, I totally get that.
However, don’t you think its also important that we grapple with the theology behind human neediness? And if something is “antiquated” beyond usefulness then we should face it head on, not simply ignore it because its embarrassing. Don’t you think?
Personally, I don’t ultimately think we can separate orthopraxy from orthodoxy on this one.



report abuse
 

BeckyR

posted November 6, 2008 at 12:58 pm


I’ve been thinking about this lately, in this way : how we try to find something attractive about some aspect of christianity and use it to sell christian faith i.e. save others. Maybe it’s not a matter of making christianity attractive to others, but continuing on with the story of sin and Jesus’ accomplishments to deal with that sin. On that note, sin does express it’s self in relationships with people, with ourself and with the natural world. But it rubs me wrong to think of trying to find a way to make it look attractive so we can sell the story to nonbelievers. Maybe living our lives in front of others is the witness and learning to be honest with ourselves and then with others about how broken we still are.
Along the same line I’ve been thinking of Paul in Romans saying we serve sin or the Spirit and how easy the choice must really be to choose Spirit. As Dylan put it – you’re gonna have to serve somebody it may be the devil or it may be the lord but you’re gonna have to serve somebody. So choose and go with it. It’s just a choice to make moment to moment. Seems it could be so easy if we live responsibly and consciously.



report abuse
 

Your Name

posted November 6, 2008 at 12:59 pm


RJS,
Thanks for the feedback. I agree that the nature, shape and direction of our relationship with God, specifically Jesus, is the linchpin to it all (hence the invitation to discipleship as “the invitation”). But I’m thinking in terms of motivation and purpose for that discipleship–both initially or evangelistically (what God-given yearnings are in the core of many people outside of the faith) and pastorally (what positive yearnings and hopes are ongoing in Christians), and, most importantly, in terms of what God envisions and intends to have result from his costly ‘gospel’ work. When I think of it that way, the longings, the hope, the aim (of God and humans) goes beyond just restoring our relationship with God; it encompasses everything that Scot outlined–peaceful and functional relations with God, with others, with ourselves, with the created order; and, of course, discipleship to Jesus is the only Way there.
But what is the “there” of the gospel? Where is it designed to take us? That’s what I mean by aim (or God’s telos). As a small example, I’m not following Jesus just so that my relationship with God is okay. I also want my actions with my wife and daughters to be helpful and good, and that’s part of my motivation. (Perhaps more importantly, I don’t think God sent Christ just so that my relationship with him would be okay, but also so that I’d learn to act well toward myself, my family & others, etc.)



report abuse
 

Percival

posted November 6, 2008 at 1:14 pm


Sighing Sue,
I think I understand what you are saying. The needs people feel are what people respond to. But if I lay in bed at night thinking I need a better job, a better car, and a better wife. How is the gospel good news for me using that criteria? Jesus came to bring abundant life and destroy the works of the evil one. He said he came for sinners. What is his message for those whose concerns are totally worldly. I really struggle with this because I am a missionary in one of the richest countries in the world and the people seem to need nothing. What is good news to many of them is an altogether different question than what is the good news of Jesus.



report abuse
 

Hunter Beaumont

posted November 6, 2008 at 1:34 pm


I see fear, shame, enmity, exploitation/irresponsibility as “second level” problems, meaning that they are all rooted in one common cause: the relationship between God and man is broken because the man and woman disobeyed God and sought autonomy (sin).
So I could see robust gospel ministry following this pattern:
1) Pointing to the “second level” problems as evidence that something is not right. This enters into the world as people experience it and sympathizes with the human condition.
2) Moving from “second level” problems to the “root” problem. This will require a robust explanation of sin and broken relationship with God and a call to personal conviction of sin.
3) Explanation of the gospel as *first* a reconciliation to God.
4) Moving in the course of discipleship to helping disciples and the church live out the full implications of the gospel, including: from fear of God to confidently entering his presence, from shame to humility, from enmity toward others to reconciliation, from exploitation of the earth to stewardship.
It seems that some evangelicals always want to start our Gospel preaching at #2, without first sympathetically entering into the world as people experience it. This worked OK when we lived in morally conservative and traditional society. But since “sin” isn’t a commonly accepted condition today, it often falls on deaf ears. Sometimes these same evangelicals also never really get to the fullness of #4.
I also seems that other evangelicals have completely forsaken the need to preach #2 and #3. This is often accompanied by a queasiness over the substitutionary aspect of the atonement. Ironically, I don’t think you can really get #4 unless you have a strong theology of sin, substitution, grace, and reconciliation.
Conclusion: a truly robust gospel has both a narrowness to it that emphasizes the sin problem and need for reconciliation and also has a broadness to it that allows it to enter sympathetically into the human story and then to disciple people into full implications of our reconciliation with God.



report abuse
 

Percival

posted November 6, 2008 at 1:45 pm


Hunter, I might agree with you that sin is the primary problem, but actually I think the Bible talks more about God saving us from our “shame” than it does about our sin. Christ also bore our shame on the cross. However, I don’t think it is possible to claim that he bore our “fear” or our “irresponsibility”. Or maybe I’m getting hung up on the terminology.



report abuse
 

Sue

posted November 6, 2008 at 2:42 pm


Darren,
Yes, totally I believe that a well-grappled theology is essential and that orthodoxy and orthopraxy must always be united. My concern is when “the conversation becomes ponderous…” (which doesn’t make it a worthless conversation, only a ponderous one), slowing the process of connecting the theology to the person in need. For me, it is a matter of theologically defining The Problem within a real-life framework that applies to my neighbor. I think that Hunter Beaumont’s comments above are a good attempt at that, moving from the “surface” needs to The Problem with an awareness that the process cannot begin with words that have no meaning in modern cultures. Antiquated terminology isn’t necessarily embarrassing, it’s just not functional.
Percival’s dilemma of formulating “good news” for people who perceive only material needs (or lack thereof) is surely an age-old challenge. It made me think of two incidents in Jesus’ ministry: the conversation with the rich young ruler, and the encounter with Zaccheus. Both men defined themselves in terms of material wealth; however, one was devastated by the thought of surrendering his wealth while the other did it voluntarily. I’m intrigued by how compellingly Jesus got at The Problem with each of them. I find myself wondering how those incidents jibe with my own assessments of The Problem and how to express it to others. Not sure yet….



report abuse
 

Larry Geiger

posted November 6, 2008 at 2:45 pm


Sin.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 6, 2008 at 3:00 pm


T (at least I assume -”Your Name” is T)
Well – if the problem is original rebellion – and rebellion against God leads to broken relationships across the board, isn’t the gospel restoration of that relationship enabling restoration of all relationships – including with spouse and children?
I don’t think that the gospel is reunion with God to live happily ever after in heaven.
It seems to me that the gospel is reunion with God to restore relationship with him, which enables restoration of all other relationships. So the there is the coming (now and future) kingdom of God. The now part means that following Jesus will heal or enrich relationships with family, friends, others,… now.
Or is this not what you are getting at?



report abuse
 

T

posted November 6, 2008 at 5:06 pm


RJS,
Sorry, yes, that’s me. I’m still not used to having to fill that in. I don’t even know how to express what I’m thinking here; thanks for being patient. In a nutshell, I’m thinking the shift from ‘the problem is judgment’ to the problem defined as Scot described it has very wide ramifications in how we follow and announce Jesus. Here are some thoughts I don’t know how to sequence, but seem relevant:
I guess the issue of this post is precisely the scope of “gospel”. What “good” is part of the good news itself? The gospel study that Scot’s been posting would seem to suggest that the gospel is not only about reconciliation to God, but includes dealing with all the fracturing he described above. Proclaiming Jesus (as rightful Lord), or proclaiming the kingdom, or proclaiming God’s grace, all seem to be larger than reconciliation to God; they seem to include becoming reconciled to God’s intentions for humanity and his way of accomplishing those intentions through us (as Jesus’ apprentices and imitators and body). It includes–as gospel–those things which we have tended to put into other categories–like the doing of Jesus’ teachings and justice, sanctification, etc.–things that, as you say, his leadership will produce if received. If the gospel is centered on Jesus’ lordship/leadership, I’m just thinking that it’s right and appropriate to talk about what his agenda is, about what his leadership will produce as part of the ‘good news’ of his reign and of his offer to take students. And perhaps the first and obvious benefit of becoming his student would be becoming a (better/new) person who increasingly deals rightly and healingly (a word?), not just with God, but with oneself, others, & creation as a whole. That’s what Jesus offers. It’s about becoming part of the Solution itself, and becoming less part of the problem. We embrace not just the King, but his re-creating agenda of human transformation, all at once. The fruit of discipleship to him (undoing the fracturing Scot outlined) is part of the good news. Alright–enough rambling.



report abuse
 

Rebeccat

posted November 6, 2008 at 6:26 pm


This is long and probably a bit incoherent, but if y’all would bear with me, I’ve been struggling with this lately and I’d really like to get some feedback:
As of late, I find myself wandering into a gospel which centers on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I’m pretty sure this is not theologically tenable and I’ll find my way to a more balanced way of thinking of it. However, from where I am right now, it seems that we have the 4 areas which Scot lays out which are in need of fixing. And we have Jesus who entered into the stream of human history to bring the Kingdom of God to humanity. And we now generally preach a gospel which says, “here’s how to avoid going to hell when you die.” And we are largely left with the 4 areas which Scot lays out still being problems for most of us. Even worse, there seems to be no real expectation that they would go away or be resolved. At best, there seems to be some assumption that because we know that we are reconciled to God and will not go to hell, we’ll be motivated to set these 4 areas to rights. And yet, for too many people the Christian faith amounts to “try not to screw up too badly before you die and try to get some other people on board with you along the way so they won’t go to hell.” I don’t think anyone can make a serious argument that Christian people as a whole or our churches have overcome fear, shame, enmity, oppression/irresponsibility (or if you want to just put them all together, plain old sin) in any serious way beyond what the population at large has managed. At the end of the day, we’re still left with the fact that no matter how many times we “make a decision for Christ” or pray or listen to good teachings or read the bible, we can’t seem to get these core issues right.
What seems to be missing is the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. I’ve talked about this before, but years ago I decided to take a chance that the Holy Spirit really was/had transformed me into a new person and started trusting that the Spirit in me would set these areas to rights – something I could not manage myself. It was then that I realized the extent to which as a practical matter most Christians and most churches have no real expectation that God will do what He says He will do in the life of the believer. And they had no real expectation because it is so clear that people are not changing in the ways that they ought to. But the reason they had not changed as much as God promised was because they were still trying to set themselves to right and not leaning on and working with the Holy Spirit in them to do it for them. And they weren’t doing it because they had never been taught that it could/should work this way.
I am of course, over simplifying and leaving a lot out, but this is a blog, not a book. I guess what I am coming to is what my best understanding of the gospel is right now: That God has stepped into the stream of human history in order to redeem humanity in the now and in the forever. Jesus came to point us to this new reality and remove the barriers to this new age of human history. The ongoing work of transforming humanity in this new era is left to the Holy Spirit who will transform us by indwelling in us. And when we become transformed people, our relationships with each other, the world and the challenges we face in this existence will be transformed as well.
It seems to me that we’ve left out the work of the Holy Spirit in the gospel. And that’s the part which it seems to me we need most when we are talking to people today. No, God is not going to make your husband stop burping in public or your kids stop bickering, or pay your bills or keep people from getting sick and dying. But He does want to change you. He wants to change you into a person for whom a world where spouses are gross and kids are annoying and people are nasty to each other and our bodies fall apart a meanful, worthwhile, even Holy experience.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted November 6, 2008 at 6:32 pm


Rebeccat… I’m with you. I ventured into including the Holy Spirit in the gospel itself in Embracing Grace, and I did so for two reasons: the problems of Gen 3 (4-11) are bigger than what many think the gospel fixes and the gift of Pentecost is such a big deal in the NT.
Many thanks for your insightful, personal comment. This is the stuff that makes this blog what it is.



report abuse
 

David Opderbeck

posted November 6, 2008 at 7:12 pm


Great post and comments. I agree with the post, Scot, and with the comments elaborating on it.
But here’s a question always mulling around for me: if the Gospel is this big, this cosmic, why is the Church so small, both in numbers and influence? I don’t think it’s fair just to say “it’s the Church’s own fault.” Sure, the Church continually messes things up. But the world is so big, some of its problems are so impenetrable, and some of its cultures seem so impervious to recognizing the Christ of the Gospel. Why does this big Gospel seem so small in terms of worldwide numbers and influence?



report abuse
 

Dana Ames

posted November 6, 2008 at 7:14 pm


I agree that the problem is relational, because all sin is ultimately relational, but I want to ask “Why” to each of the directions: Why is there fear, shame, enmity and exploitation?
What I come up with as the root is not blatant rebellion. WRT to God, I think it’s lack of trust that God is good. We just don’t believe it. What’s behind the fear is that God is not good. That’s why we don’t worship him, why we draw into ourselves, why we rebel and turn away from relationship with him. Trust is only engendered in love; therefore, the Cross as the demonstration of God’s love is the good news for the Godward relational direction.
When we turn away from God, the source of life, what we get is death, and we know it, but we often can’t articulate it. I think that’s behind the shame; we are disconnected from Life and Goodness. It plays out in the self as dis-integration. Therefore, with T in his first comment, I would say that the good news is Pentecost: God wants to indwell me by the Holy Spirit, and I can cooperate with grace to become a person moving toward re-integration at the deepest levels, congruence between my insides and my outsides, as I apprentice myself to Jesus (trust that he is the Lord of Everything).
Behind the enmity toward others is the fear that my life will be harmed, damaged, diminished or taken away by them, to whatever extent; it’s not always about literal death, but also what *feels* like death to me. The effort we expend in trying to preserve our own lives by our own means and our own power with ourselves as our own point of reference (because God can’t be trusted) is the epitome of sin. Sin is always relational, even if it “looks like” it’s a question of morality, and it’s always oppressive (as per Steve Taylor above) even if that oppression is only in our own heads. It is un-love because it views avoiding death as the highest aim, rather than self-giving for the good of others. The good news is the Resurrection: Jesus has overcome death, gone right through it and out the other side. Death not the worst that can happen. We can risk self-giving love, even if that’s where love leads, because we can trust that Jesus has been there before us.
I think non-trust linked with death can be extended to cover exploitation/irresponsibility wrt to the world. Again, as our own point of reference, in our own power, disconnected from God, first and foremost we do what we think we need to do in order to outwit death. Never mind self-denial in order to preserve the planet so that all will benefit. The good news here is the Incarnation: God is not far from the material world, and he wants to enable us to be stewards of his good creation, like he intended in the beginning, by reflecting/acting on his image in us. We can trust that limiting our aggrandizement, just as Jesus emptied himself, not regarding equality with God as something to be exploited but found in human form as a servant, will result in bringing life in God’s name to God’s world.
Here is something that has lately jumped out at me: Hebrews 2:14a-15. “…he himself likewise shared the same things (flesh and blood- and sufferings, in context) so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and
*free those who all their lives were held in slavery by
the fear of death*.”
Dana



report abuse
 

Cheryl

posted November 6, 2008 at 7:33 pm


I haven’t read all of the comments, so someone might have said far more eloquently what I’m about to say, but here are my thoughts on the original question… “What is the problem that the gospel addresses?”
I think a huge problem (especially for people like me who like as much information as anything that affects me) is that God is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, and deep-fried in a question. Jesus the man, is 2,000+ years removed from our experience. The Holy Spirit is felt subjectively and we experience the Spirit’s presence in fits and spurts.
Given all of that and trying to comprehend it with a brain that usually operates from a place of understanding pattern and logic, cause and effect, etc. with little room for how mystery fits into all it is a pretty big problem right off the bat, at least for me.
Does the gospel even address that problem? It might, but since there’s an infinite amount of wiggle room in what we really KNOW about God, who knows? I would like to think the simplicity of the gospel tells us God loves (takes care of the fear) us (takes care of the shame) more than we know, and because of that we are to love Him and love others (fixes the enmity and everything else). But then again, we might be totally off base! :)



report abuse
 

Tim Hallman

posted November 6, 2008 at 8:08 pm


Scot, you ask: “What is the need humans have that the gospel satisfies?”
Hope.
Humans need hope that there is a way that “works.”
Is there a way to live that reduces/negates my fears?
Is there a way to live that helps me quit doing shameful things or takes away the shame?
Is there a way to live so that I can get along with everybody?
Is there a way to live so that my little part of the world stays beautiful?
A lot of people I know are giving up on hope that there is a way that works and are just trying to make the best of it. Their taking medication for the fear, hiding dark shameful secrets, walking away from friendships/family when it gets hard, and giving little consideration to how much they need to care for the creation around them.
For the people who haven’t given up hope, they are still pretty frustrated that their way is working that well, and that so many other people don’t seem to have it figured out.
I think the four “cracks” that you identify are on the mark.
I’ve never used the fear of hell to convince people to “believe” in Jesus, but I don’t feel confident about the alternatives. I’ve drifted towards heralding how much better the way of Jesus is than the world’s way, but I have a hard time connecting it to what the way of Jesus saves us from and what it saves us to. It’s not been clear to me the connection between loving God/others and salvation/gospel.
Maybe I need to get some more of your books…



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 6, 2008 at 8:38 pm


David,
My 2¢ … I think that the church is small because it does not live the Gospel in the wholistic community sense. The Church is small because it doesn’t really embrace the gospel in the power of the Spirit. We don’t really even care about those in our community much less those outside our community.
When/where the Gospel is embraced – the church grows.
My question goes with Rebbecat’s comment (#?) – where do we see the power of the Spirit?
Boy do we need numbers on the comments when the thread gets long – the numberless system makes it difficult to carry on a conversation.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted November 6, 2008 at 9:47 pm


T, (5:06 pm)
That’s not rambling — you’ve got me thinking.



report abuse
 

mariam

posted November 6, 2008 at 11:16 pm


Great post and comments. Scot, I very much like the way you have laid out four aspects of “the problem” and the solution. It transcends, as much of what you write does, particular theological understandings of the nature of the relationship between man and God, Christ’s redeeming work and the response God expects from us. Even though we may disagree on the nature of “the fall” and how we come to be in the state we are in, what even non-believers know is that we can’t seem to help ourselves from having broken relationships and living unhealthy and immoral lives due to our selfishness, fear and shame. I certainly agree with the problem as you state it here and that we are offered the solution for all those things through the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Christ.
In answer to why the church is so small, I think it is because our thinking about what the gospel is has been too small. I think that for too long many Christians have concentrated on a message, not of hope, but of individual skin-saving. We have presented the problem as “we are all going to hell because we have sinned” and the solution as “believe in Jesus and you will escape God’s wrath”. Even many born-again Christians just don’t believe this. Unbelievers are incredulous. They do not believe in hell – to them it seems a ridiculous concept – and they do not believe that they have done anything to merit eternal punishment. You can see the evidence for this everywhere, even among believers. People do not act as if they really believe there is a hell. They still sin, they do not love God with their whole hearts and they do not love their neighbours as themselves. If we truly believed in eternal punishment, shouldn’t we all be spending all of our energy and resources trying to save mankind from such an awful fate? An unbeliever will arrive logically at this conclusion. I haven’t met many Christians with that level of commitment to THAT notion of the gospel. I have yet to go to a funeral service, for example, even in a evangelical churches, where the pastor suggests that because the deceased was a non-believer, it is now game over. Sometimes they will suggest we must trust in God’s mercy, but usually they will imply that the deceased is now “with God” and their suffering is over. Whatever we may then say about God’s wrath and escaping damnation, our behavior betrays who we really are and what we actually believe. A non-believer will come to the conclusion that we are either incredibly callous or we’re bluffing. Or they will come to the conclusion, as Dana suggests below, that God cannot be trusted. And what is the point of a God that cannot be trusted? Fear may result in compliance and obedience but it does not result in the freely given gratitude and love that God desires in His relationship with us. I agree with both Rebeccat and Dana. The gospel message is that we need not fear. We need not fear death because Jesus has shown it can be overcome. We need not fear shame because we have all sinned and hurt one another and Jesus took our shame, guilt and hurt upon Himself. We need not fear God, but rather we must trust Him.
That God has stepped into the stream of human history in order to redeem humanity in the now and in the forever. Jesus came to point us to this new reality and remove the barriers to this new age of human history. The ongoing work of transforming humanity in this new era is left to the Holy Spirit who will transform us by indwelling in us. And when we become transformed people, our relationships with each other, the world and the challenges we face in this existence will be transformed as well.
Well said Rebeccat.



report abuse
 

Jeremiah Daniels

posted November 6, 2008 at 11:51 pm


This is fantastic and has all the markings of getting longer than the other posts — and thankfully so far its been played out very nicely. Praise God!
Just a few thoughts that hit me while reviewing the comments thus far …
* This is a three sided problem: me, God, and others. As its been pointed out its all relational. Any answer has to include all three parties.
* Why do non-Christian groups seem to be drawing huge numbers of converts? If we base this on traditional morality folks — many of these groups beat mainstream Christianity as far as strictness is concerned. I know this really depends on the message of these other groups — but why Islam, Buddhism, “New Age” groups, etc?
* Given the history of condemnation as an evangelism tool (and still a popular one from what I can tell), can we say that method of messaging the gospel ‘works’?
* As to our early posts on the Fall and its relationship to our broken condition, RJS comments its not a ‘creation myth’ nor historical — please what would you call it then?
* I am perplexed by the role of the Holy Spirit in this discussion. While I believe in it and its power and have felt it, I’ve never met a fully transformed Christian. Do not get me wrong — I’ve met some great believers and I can see God’s presence in them, but, on the other hand, given enough time I also see them sin. What exactly is this role if its not consistent and thorough in its effect? Should I compare it to a vitamin, a miracle cure, or what?



report abuse
 

mariam

posted November 7, 2008 at 1:03 am


Jeremiah,
I have a lot of Muslim friends. Theirs is very much a “works-based” religion, but it must start with faith in Allah and the Book. They don’t have the notion that some Christians do that any small sin is enough to condemn them. They believe Allah is merciful and forgiving if we ask for forgiveness and repent. From what I understand, they think God will sort it out on Judgement Day and weigh the good we have done, against the wrongs we have done. It is therefore a strong motivation to do good deeds, and I see, for example, a lot more philanthropy among Muslims than you typically see among Christians. Muslims who don’t practise enough good may go to hell, although some think Hell is a place of purification, rather than eternal punishment. Christians and Jews, who are also “people of the book” can go to Paradise, as long as they lead righteous lives and do not reject Allah. They think God’s laws are laid out clearly in the Qur’an. As in Christianity there are many different strains with varying views of exclusivity, predestination, hell, etc. I think the popularity of Islam comes partly because it is a practical sort of religion with clear rules. The life of Islam is very ordered. Because your salvation is not assured, there is a strong motivation to follow the rules. Especially in countries where conditions are chaotic and where there is lawlessness and or poverty Islam has a strong appeal. There is also a certain desire, especially among young people, to set themselves apart from the West.



report abuse
 

Jeremiah Daniels

posted November 7, 2008 at 2:01 am


Miriam,
Thanks. I think that said it pretty well.
I believe it extends beyond the “countries where conditions are chaotic” to even countries where things are rather orderly.
A lot of people feel insecure and need a strict framework around their faith.
Actually, despite our assertions of grace, many sects of Christian are still very much like what you describe about Muslims. The sect I was raised in (and have subsequently left in my adult life) rarely talked about grace at all. It mostly about the fire of hell for those who disobey and how evil the rest of the Christians were for not interpreting the Bible the same way they did.
Anyway, those are just stray thoughts. Again, I appreciate your insight on that particular question and think it was spot on.



report abuse
 

Jeremiah Daniels

posted November 7, 2008 at 2:24 am


Miriam,
After rereading my next to the last paragraph, please just ignore it — I was obviously off on some internal tangent there that had absolutely nothing to do with what you wrote.



report abuse
 

Lauren

posted November 7, 2008 at 8:18 pm


I appreciate your clear definition of the “problem” for which Christ is the answer. When I find my faith becoming stagnant, it is usually a result of falling deeper into one of these problems and forgetting that Christ is the way out. For myself and many of my peers, I find the problem with self to be an often unmentioned wall. Shame and self-hatred block us from fully loving God or fully loving each other; shame subverts the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I’m sure my neighbors would not want to be loved the way I sometimes “love” myself.
On another note, the gospel that answers these problems also leaves no room to use fear or shame as motivating factors.
Thank you for the reminder of why I believe what I believe (and why I shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it).



report abuse
 

Pingback: Problems with the Problem: What’s the Atonement For? | Rumblings

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.