I’m currently reading Yoder’s Theology of Mission (thanks, IVP!). In a chapter on the ministry of Paul in salvation history, he makes an important point between proclamation and persuasion. He points out that the New Testament witnesses proclaimed the good news of the Gospel and did not utilize many of the manipulative methods of persuasion that we currently see in many settings (fear of hell, “if you died tonight,” your life would be so much better, etc…).
He then compares these two approaches of gospel-witnessing to the difference between a train and a taxi. A taxi can’t go anywhere unless a person wants to get in it and pay for it. Therefore, a taxi must sell an individual on their service. A train, on the other hand, is on a schedule and will reach its destination regardless of an individual passenger’s desire. You can get on, or stay off, but either way the train is going.
“Whether somebody gets on the train is completely his or her decision. But if somebody does not get on, they do not go anywhere. Moreover, what constitutes the destination does not depend on them at all.
Think of the difference as it relates to evangelism. Modern Western evangelism says, “Won’t you please get on so I can have a fare? Because I have to make my living running this taxi.” Kingdom of God proclamation says, “This train is bound for glory. Get on or get left.” The objectivity, the fact that the train is going to leave without us if we do not get on, the fact that the Kingdom is coming whether we want it or not, is the way of the kingdom whether we like it or not. As it happens, we will find that it is a good trip. But whether the conductor gets paid does not depend on whether we get on. The train is simply going. The kingdom is not a taxi. The kingdom is more like a train.” (109-110)
Do you agree with Yoder?
Is the Kingdom more like a train or a taxi?
The gospel is good news for the poor. Jesus emphatically proclaimed that the poor would receive the Kingdom of God (Lk 6:20). But must the poor respond properly to the message of the Gospel in order to receive this reward? Did Jesus really mean, “Blessed are the poor, if they repent and believe in the Kingdom“? (We usually interpret the parallel statement in this way, “Woe to you who are rich… unless you believe in me.)
Or do the poor receive the Kingdom precisely (and only) because they are poor?
C.M. Hays suggests that the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 might be read in a way consistent with Jesus’ straightforward statement in Lk. 6:20:
“In this unsettling text (the parable of the rich man and Lazarus – Lk 16:19-31) poor Lazarus is said to have received eschatological rest for no other reason than that he lacked good things during his life (Lk 16:25); there is no indication in the parable that Lazarus demonstrated even a scrap of religious piety. By this reading, the eschatological blessedness of the poor may be partially a matter of theodicy: the promise of eternal happiness helps affirm the goodness of a God who allows the poor to endure a lifetime of suffering.”
A recent poll reveals that “younger Christians are not as supportive of the death penalty as older members of their faith. When asked if they agreed that “the government should have the option to execute the worst criminals,” 42 percent of self-identified Christian boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, said “yes.” Only 32 percent of self-identified Christian millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, said the same thing.”
Perhaps more noteworthy is the revelation that only 5% of participants believed that Jesus would support the death penalty. I wonder what goes through the mind of someone who checks the box indicating “I am a practicing Christian” and then publicly disagrees with (what they believe is) Jesus’ opinion on a certain issue? I only hope that 35% of the participants at least appreciated the irony of their answers.
This is simply one more example of what we already knew: despite the fact that Christians have a decent grasp on Jesus’ clear teachings (on violence, wealth/poverty, divorce, etc), they feel little need to conform their own beliefs or actions to those of Jesus. In fact, this is such a non-issue for the majority of Christians that they don’t even attempt to hide or rationalize this gap (by arguing that Jesus was for the death penalty, perhaps). How have Christians become so comfortably distant from their own Lord?
My diagnosis: too many people worship an “idea” of Jesus more than Jesus himself. That is to say, they have elevated a vague sense of “love,” forgiveness,” and/or “hope for heaven” over and above the actual person and ministry of Jesus. Too many churches don’t read the Gospels seriously, don’t even try to obey Jesus’ direct teachings, and don’t instruct new believers in the way of discipleship.
In many ways, we treat Jesus as another dead historical figure who has come to stand for certain timeless truths. We forget that he is alive, that he is on the move, and that he continues to call men, women, and children to join in the revolution he called “the Kingdom of God.” Sunday morning worship is not a memorial service in which we gather to fondly remember a distant life. It is a gathering of Jesus’ people, who have joined him in rebellion against the powers of darkness and have instead adopted his way of being human. It is a reminder that Jesus is a person to be followed, not just an idea to appreciate.
One of the hardest, yet most important, jobs that I have as a biblical studies teacher is to get my students to reframe their understanding of the Gospel around the Gospels. In particular, many of my students come to me only familiar with a “get-out-of-hell-free” version of the Gospel and struggle to make sense of Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom of God and the evangelistic sermons in Acts. Here is a version of a handout that I pass out yearly in order to try and get my students to see the profound differences between the truncated “heaven and hell gospel” and a more robust “kingdom of God” gospel.
The Heaven & Hell Gospel
1) Christianity is primarily about the invitation to experience eternal life after death
2) Christianity is primarily focused on escaping to the spiritual world (heaven) where we will experience eternal life as disembodied spirits
3) Our actions in this life are fairly inconsequential to our future of eternal life, so long as we check off the appropriate boxes to “accept Jesus” [requirements are different in each tradition]
The Kingdom of God Gospel
1) Christianity is primarily about the invitation to experience eternal live [enter into the Kingdom] now, during this life
2) Christianity is primarily focused on the redemption of this world (earth) and God’s will being accomplished with the end result of a New Heavens and Earth & a physical resurrection of the dead
3) Our actions in this life are extremely important to whether we enjoy the gift of God’s eternal life now (and if we aren’t in the Kingdom now, we might question whether anything will magically change after we die)
The “Heaven & Hell Gospel” is centered around (eternal) life AFTER death.
The “Kingdom of God Gospel” is centered around (eternal) life BEFORE death (which will continue on even after death).