In the conversations following my Why Evangelism is the Death of the Church blog, I noticed there seemed to be an underlying difference in what we believe the message of Jesus is about. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus talks about “proclaiming the message” in several places. In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus elaborates a bit more by proclaiming the kingdom of God has come near, and that we are to “repent and believe the good news (vs. 15).” In Luke and Matthew, Jesus sends people out to proclaim the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. But how we go about proclaiming depends on what we think the kingdom and this good news is all about. If Jesus is talking about heaven, evangelism makes some sense. The manipulation and goal of growing church numbers are still repulsive but sharing the story of Jesus so people might believe the right things and go to heaven makes some sense. But, if Jesus is also talking about something happening in this world then perhaps our focus should be different.
There are many who believe “the kingdom of God” is, at least in part, about the here and now. In seminary, I remember professors talking about the kingdom of heaven being “already and not yet.” From N.T. Wright to Brian McLaren, there are many biblical scholars and preachers who understand the kingdom of heaven to be about living according to God’s reign in this world. Some would take this even further, Robin Meyers among others, thinking Jesus talked about the kingdom of God in direct contrast to the kingdom of Rome. Whether one leans more toward Robin Meyer’s take on it or toward N.T. Wright’s more conservative stance, still underneath is an understanding the kingdom of God is about much more than heaven someday after we die.
So, if the kingdom of God is about a new way of living in the here and now, if Jesus proclaims in word and in deed the love of God and the ways of God which turn the ways of the world upside down, if our faith has some relevance for this world and not only the next then this is good news worth proclaiming by living it.
Perhaps there was a time when we could have used words. If so we squandered it by using words of judgment, right belief, threats and even violence. We squandered it by using little besides words and tagging our actions as if they weren’t worth doing unless we could gain publicity for the church. Over the history of the church and into the present our words have caused pain. Healing is needed. So, enough with words. Fortunately God’s grace is bigger than our words could ever be. God's kingdom is proclaimed when we feed the hungry and clothe the naked, when we work for justice for all people without resorting to the violent ways of this world, when we treat those rejected by society as valuable and worthy of love, when we serve instead of grasp for power, and so on.
With appropriate humility and bearing in mind the wounds the church has inflicted over the years, sharing the story of Jesus is good. But living the story of Jesus ...that is powerful and amazing good news.
by Sheri Ellwood