As you can see from the Missio Alliance banner that I have posted above, the theme of the inaugural Missio Alliance gathering was ‘The Future of the Gospel: Renewing Evangelical Imagination for Mission.’ Given what I witnessed, heard, and experienced, I would like to highlight (in the broadest possible terms) the contours of the future of the gospel (#futuregospel), at least insofar as it was communicated by the speakers at Missio.
Before I begin,1 it seems necessary to provide a brief note to clarify what I’m about to say. My assertion regarding the contours of the #futuregospel will be relegated, primarily, to the plenary sessions, as it was these talks that gave shape to the conference. The workshops, by contrast, seemed to wrestle with the practical outworking and implementation of the various aspects of the #futuregospel. That being said, we now turn to two of the contours of the #futuregospel.2
1. The #futuregospel is about Christ.
Using Revelation 1.4-6, Scot McKnight argued for an ‘iconic gospel.’ According to McKnight the iconic gospel:
- Begins with Israel’s long and wandering story––a story that finds its fulfillment in Jesus.
- Is the story of Jesus, which becomes our story.
- Focuses on Jesus as ‘faithful witness.’
- Focuses on Jesus as ‘firstborn of the dead.’ Thus Jesus, and he alone, breaks the bands of death. (McKnight suggested C.S. Lewis’ image of Aslan breaking the stone table as an example.)
- Focuses on Jesus as king over the empires.
- Focuses on Jesus as Savior.
- Is eucharistic and cruciform.
- Asks: ‘What has this to do with Christ?’
(For those familiar with McKnight, you will undoubtedly note many similarities with what he writes in King Jesus Gospel.)
McKnight situates the ‘iconic gospel’ as over and against the ‘idolatrous gospel.’ The idolatrous gospel is about me and ‘my story’––an unfortunate consequence being that ‘my story’ often ends up becoming the litmus test of faithful witness. Furthermore, the idolatrous gospel suggests that someone other than Jesus can sit on the throne and make things better. (In other words, the idolatrous gospel suggests that things can get better apart from Jesus.) Because the idolatrous gospel places little emphasis on Christ, idolatrous ministry tends to avoid the topics of sin and the cross, instead focusing on ‘kingdom justice.’ Similarly, idolatrous gospel ministry asks: ‘What has this to do with me?’
In short, because the #futuregospel is about Christ, a key question for the Church is: ‘Will people see Jesus when they get connected to us?’
2. The #futuregospel is holistic.
Tory Baucum, Alan and Deb Hirsch, and Cherith Fee-Nordling––in what I believe was one of the most stellar sessions of the conference––argued for an embodied gospel, in which we don’t practice a disembodied spirituality. As I’ve already mentioned, it was an incredibly powerful session; a session that very much played into which workshops Crystal and I decided to attend. While I could say a lot about this session, I’d like to simply share a few quotes that I believe convey the point.
Tory Baucum suggests, ‘We don’t need to just read the Bible; we need to be shaped by the Bible.’
Alan and Deb Hirsch note, ‘The Incarnation not only changes how we see and understand God. It changes how we see and understand ourselves and “the other.”‘ Regarding ‘the other,’ the Hirsch’s suggest, ‘Jesus became one of us, so that he could know us. This means that we need to identify with the other on a number of levels.’ In becoming one of us, Jesus didn’t play it safe. He was very intentional about who he associated with and where he stood. We should be equally conscious of these things because, as Deb Hirsch, notes, ‘Where [we] stand determines what [we] see.’
Regarding how we understand ourselves, Alan and Deb, suggest that there are three general understanding of the body as it relates to spirituality: 1) the body is bad (extreme asceticism); 2) the body is good (pagan drunkenness and hedonism); and, 3) redemption of the body (Romans 12). They argue that Christian spirituality is not a disembodied spirituality, but instead, ‘All things in life must be done unto God.’
Arguing from the basis of Jesus’ humanity, Cherith Fee-Nordling suggests, ‘The future of the gospel involves giving [Jesus] his humanity back, so that he can give us our bodies back.’3 She goes on to say that we serve, ‘Jesus, who lives where the now and not yet meet.’ He is persistently about the work of making all things new. As such, ‘Jesus isn’t waiting. He’s ruling. He wants us to wake up in the morning and ask: “What are we doing today, [Jesus]?”‘ This means that the church exists, and we live, in a time between the times. During this time, our future existence is already available and accessible by the Holy Spirit. Consequently, ‘We are the movie preview/trailer for that which is to come.4 Hence, Jesus’ statement, “Greater things than these…”‘
**Stay tuned, as there is more to come.
- I know, that gives the impression that this is going to be a long and lengthy post. Don’t worry, though. It’s going to be short, sweet, and to the point. So please, stick with me. ↩
- I’d like to contend that the Missio Alliance suggests six possible contours to the #futuregospel. ↩
- I believe this to be one of the truly great soundbites from the conference, as there is so much that can be said in relation to this point. ↩
- What an incredible image! ↩