I live in a very secular country. There are two discussion many try to avoid: Religion and politics. The amazing thing about such an unwritten rule in our country is we find the topic in any given situation will often lean towards religion and/or politics. There have been many situations where I have been in a normal conversation with people but as soon as I mention that I am a Christian, there is immediately an awkward silence. They stop swearing and try to clean up the conversation. In one such situation, I said the word ‘bullshit.” Someone made a quick response and said, “You can’t swear, you are a Christian!” Which I responded, “That’s bullshit!” It amazes me those who outrightly make it known their distaste of Christianity appear to know a lot about what Christians can and can’t do. Our foster care social worker was convinced we didn’t drink alcohol because of our religious convictions. For myself, I love a beer. But my health means that I have to be careful how much I consume. My wife also has some health problems that prevent her from drinking any alcohol at all. People often jump to the wrong conclusions. It is not their fault. It is misleading ideas presented by well meaning but misguided Christians (as I once was).
One particular time, I was showing the ropes of a catering business I was working for to a man who had been allocated to me. This man was quite aggressive and volatile. His conversation without any prompting turned quickly to how much he hated Christians. He gave me graphic examples of the violence he had committed to some in the past. I told him straight away that I was a Christian. He looked stunned. I then told him about the gospel, how it has nothing to do with sin and how I believe Jesus Christ is in him and he must listen to Him and no one else. He was not at all offended. The conversation was more relaxed and fruitful as the evening went on. This is not a unique situation. When I preach the gospel from the point of view of Christ’s union with all things, it is only the other Christians who give me the strongest opposition.
Sometimes we forget it the gospel is not limited to our theological breakdown of it. It is not confined within denominational statement of beliefs. Jesus Christ is synonymous with the gospel. The gospel is not a pathway to Jesus Christ through a whole set of steps to get to God. Rather, the gospel begins with Jesus Christ. When Paul in the New Testament talks about the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is not gospel then Jesus Christ. This is Jesus Christ whose being is in union with the Father revealing to us the very heart of God in all that He says and does. The gospel is εὐαγγελίου (euangeliou), literally: Good News, which is the arrival of the Lord, Yahweh, of the Old Testament. The Extraordinary came to us so human that He appeared so very ordinary. So much so, that His appearance did not meet the expectations of those whom He called His very own. Even now, many in the church grossly underestimate the significance of this event. If God comes as this Man Jesus Christ, then we must listen closely to what He has to say. Yet, the Jews did not. In some respects we still fail to listen to what He says. If we really listened closely to what He had to say, then we would have plenty to say, not only to each other, but to the world at large. Instead, we are preaching a gospel from behind the back of Jesus Christ that has its roots in the pagan mind.
The story begins and ends with Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ presents to us the major implications of Himself and what it means to us. His coming concerns us. We see Him in whom the whole of creation consists and is held together. Our origin including the whole of creation has its source in this One human being and it will consummate in Him. He is bigger than the universe yet He made Himself appear to us in such a minute and finite way. He is God who has made Himself so plain in the way He explains Himself. We are actually able to understand Him. God speaking in this human way as a human being means who God actually is is within our grasp. In doing so, what He reveals is so big and so wonderful that we are often left speechless in our endeavour to fully grasp what it is He has in store for us. All this is disclosed only in Jesus Christ. If He is the only one who can give us clarity on the whole subject of God, then everything we say must be critiqued by His infallible disclosed knowledge of Himself. Nevertheless, the way we can receive it is prone to misunderstanding by our weak and fallible minds. Yet, we are critiquing each other against our own fallible ideas about God. The only premise we can have regarding all the ways and works of God is Jesus Christ. Therefore everything we say must remain in Jesus Christ.
Everything we say has the presumption of Jesus Christ in union with all things. This is not a tentative limited union. It is union with our entire being including the depths of our fear and darkness, our wandering and questionable thoughts, our sexual attractions and activities, our wayward and erratic behaviour and how we engage and interact with each other and the world we live in. The Fatherhood of God in Jesus Christ means there is the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity and this is our premise. It is a mess but the Triune God loves us all. Yet, the church as a whole appears to be so insecure in how it handles union. God is so engaged with the wider community and has lavished all that He is on them but we are often too afraid to tell them this utterly staggering reality. Instead, we feel much safer attacking and criticising each other. When we do this, we have to be aware of the underlying reasons why we trend towards being so critical towards each other. I believe it is much easier to switch to our default religious mechanism and point out the imperfections in each other’s theologies. If theology is “God talk” then we should be able to turn to Jesus Christ as God who speaks to see if our God talk lines up with what He declares to us.
Why is this so important? The obvious reason is no one else can have insight into the things of God than God who has appeared to us as the Man Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Jesus Christ appeared to us in a unique cultural setting with a unique way of knowing and seeing. There is a contrast between a Jewish way of knowing and seeing and the way of knowing and seeing that we have grown accustomed to in our modern church culture. There is also a way of knowing and seeing we are brought up with in our Western culture that also bear the hallmarks of the ancient pagan mind. If we are not aware of our own shortsightedness, then we might easily misinterpret the significance of the New Testament.
We have to avoid any kind of theology that endeavours to create stairs or ladders to God. In my past experience, climbing to God is one of the hallmarks of modern evangelicalism. The focus was on the fruit of my life representing my closeness to God. If things were going bad for me this was a sign there were sin problems in my life. So I had to sin less and less. Then I could move closer and closer to God. This would be such a roller coaster ride for me. The reality of what the New Testament shows us is God has stepped down to be with us. God has taken the initiative that while we were still sinners He came to be with us, for us and die for our sake. What is even more shocking is the Father, Son and Spirit have come to make their home in us. When we turn from darkness to Light and start to see Jesus Christ for who He really is, it is an awakening to Christ in us. So we begin our Christian walk with this reality.
The Father, Son and Spirit is closer to me than I am to myself. There is no other human being who knows me like the Triune God knows me. There is no other human being who has insight into my mess to the degree the Father, Son and Spirit has insight to my mess. Yet, He does not even remember my mess. However, there tends to be a great interest by others in the character flaws I have in which God does not see nor remember. This union is such a shocking reality that the character flaws I might see in others around me do not actually exist in the sight of the Triune God. Even what I say about God must undergo a sanctification in Jesus Christ so that it presents itself holy and blameless. Sometimes people hear my messy words and in some mysterious way they might see something of Christ in them. Therefore it is not me, it is Christ in me. Neither myself nor anyone else can represent God in the same way God represents Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. So it is to Jesus Christ we must turn to gain an accurate representation of who God actually is in Himself. We must also turn to Jesus Christ if we are going to have any clue as to our relationship to Him. Our relationship is bound in the midst of the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Theology is “God talk” conveying to us what God is communicating. I believe theology must be good news in character as well as the good news must be theological in character. Both are deeply focused on Jesus Christ as the only point of contact for our revelation of God. Revelation of God cannot be disclosed anywhere else. Neither the good news nor theology can be controlled by any person or institution. All things, including people, authorities, principalities and powers must submit to God disclosed in the whole active and continuing life of the Person and work of Jesus Christ. We engage with the wider community with the Spirit of Christ in mind where the only real persecution are from those within the Christian community who oppose our Triune message of grace. Therefore, our continuing understanding of the ways and works of God in Jesus Christ and how this implicates all that we say and do is one of a continuing change of mind. It is changing our mind from what we think God is to what God actually says He is and what this means in our relationships with one another.