Sharing the Gospel

Here’s an imaginary dialogue between a non-Christian and a Christian. In this dialogue the Christian speaks in a completely open and honest way based on the theology that is really inside his head. It’s the theology that’s in the heads of a lot of Christians.

“Um, Chuck, could you explain Christianity to me?”

“Sure, Bob, what do you want to know?”

“Well, the whole thing, I guess. What do Christians say about why we exist and what happens when we die?”

“Oh, that’s easy. You see, God created us – who knows why exactly? Kind of like a kid with an ant farm, I guess. He was bored and wanted something to play with. Then we sinned and made him mad and then he felt like roasting us over an open fire. But he loved us too, so he decided to beat his Son to death instead of killing us.”

“Wait a minute, God has a Son?”

“Yeah, it’s weird, I know. Don’t try to understand it, it’s too complicated. Oh, and he has a Spirit too – but that’s even more complicated, and a little weird. So don’t think about the Spirit, just focus on God and his Son. Unless you’re into weird stuff, in which case you can sit up all night asking the Spirit to make you do weird stuff like bark like a dog and roll on the floor. Anyway, back to my story: God loved us so much that he wanted to kill us, so he made his Son become one of us and killed him instead.”

“Okay, so what happens when we die?”

“Oh, that’s easy too. If you believe that this story I just told you is a true story – and I mean, really believe it, and not ever think that it’s a made up story – then God will let you live in heaven when you die. But if you don’t believe this story then God will still be mad at you and roast you over an open fire even though he also killed his Son to try to stop himself from being so mad at you.”

“Interesting; thanks Chuck, I appreciate your time. I think I’ll go talk to Anil. He’s Buddhist and I’d like to learn a little more about that.”

See the comments section to find out how I would have answered Bob’s questions.

~ Jonathan Stepp

8 comments so far

  1. Pastor Jonathan on

    Here’s what I would tell Bob (with scripture references for those of you who don’t know the Bible very well and will therefore think that I’m making this up.)

    As Christians we believe that God’s nature is a nature of loving relationship (John 1:1.) The Father loves the Son in the love of the Holy Spirit (John 14:11, 16.) The Father created all of humanity so that we could be adopted into this life of love as his children (Ephesians 1:5.) He adopted us by sending the Son to live as one of us, as the man Jesus, and to take us all up into the life of love that he shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 2:14-18, Ephesians 2:6.) I believe that because of Jesus you are adopted into the Father’s life as his beloved child (Acts 17:28, Romans 5:18, Galatians 4:6.)

    And what happens when we die? Jesus shares his resurrection with us, so we will all be resurrected like Jesus and we will all live forever as the Father’s children (1 Corinthians 15:22.) The big question in our lives is whether we will be happy to live forever with the rest of humanity, with our brother Jesus, and with his Father, and with their Spirit. That’s what life is all about: learning to live loved as the Father’s child and learning to live in love with other people so that we are ready for eternal life with Jesus (Luke 15:25-32.)

  2. Jerome on

    One more thing I would add to your gospel message would be a treatment of sin. I would tell the seeker that Jesus took on our very real, fallen nature, and lived a perfect life in our stead, as the second Adam. When He died, we all died in Him, and that fallen nature with all it’s sin and corruption, died too. We no longer have to hide in the bushes with Adam and Eve any more! He has truly freed us to to be able to receive and live the life in God we were created for! We are forgiven, therefore we CAN repent (metanoia:change our minds toward God) and live in and experience the joy of the Lord!

  3. Jason on

    Jonathan,

    I think I understand what you are trying to accomplish with the “imaginary” conversation but seriously…your caricature of the theology of Christians who don’t subscribe to the “Theology of Inclusion” is waaaaay over the top–except your reference to the extreme Word of Faith movement (that looks fairly accurate to me). 🙂

    But really…“Kind of like a kid with an ant farm, I guess. He was bored and wanted something to play with.”?

    I’ve never met any Christian with such a poor understanding of Scripture that he would say or even think the way you have “Chuck” speaking throughout his “conversation”. Personally, I’d like to see an imaginary dialogue (or even a real dialogue) with a Reformed or Arminian apologist concerning things like sin, the law, judgement, justice, the Kingdom, etc.

    It’s easy to create a straw man.

    On a side note (but speaking to “gospel” issues), I have a question:

    In the Theology of Inclusion (which, as I’ve said, I’m working my way through with varying degrees of frustration and joy), since everyone is “included” and will have the opportunity even after death to decide to live into the reality of who they are in Christ, then what is the concept of “justice” or “punishment” for the wrongs committed here before a person comes to faith after they die? And I’m not just talking about the obvious unbeleivers who die in rebellion against God (whether in “peaceful” unbelief or the unbelief that manifests itself in committing atrocious acts against fellow human beings), but also those professing “Christians” who spend all their time conning gullible Believers into giving them all their money in order to be “blessed” by God–you know the charlatans I’m talking about (especially the ones on TBN and Daystar).

    Are there any consequences for a life of disobedience (by disobedience I’m referring to unbelief which manifests itself in various forms of practical disobedience)? Because of my new-found (and progressing) understanding of the vicarious humanity of Christ, I have no problem (anymore) with God eventually accepting everyone who comes to Him even after death; but if we can rightly argue that it is morally repugnant to think of God as One who has decreed that He will only love a limited number of “elect” persons and allow (or actively decree) the rest to die in unbelief and forever be removed from the life of God (whether in a conscious torment of hell or the everlasting separation of annihilation), then I would suggest that it is also morally repugnant for those who willfully reject Christ in their unbelief and manifest this rejection in various ways (including the aforementioned charlatans) to not be held accountable in some way if they die in their sin.

    Would you agree?

    Thanks Jonathan.

    Still trying to work through this new paradigm…

    Jason

  4. shackbible on

    Jason wrote: “I would suggest that it is also morally repugnant for those who willfully reject Christ in their unbelief… to not be held accountable in some way if they die in their sin.”

    My take on this issue, for what it’s worth… When I hold an appropriately high view of God, I see that the worst thing that could possibly happen is to not know God, to not share in the Triune fellowship. I believe that when we refuse to know God, the consequence is that we will not know God, and it’s the worst consequence possible. Any additional punishment would be meaningless. It’s like giving a criminal the death sentence, and also telling him that after the sentence is carried out, he will also be poked with a stick.

  5. shackbible on

    In Jonathan’s imaginary dialogue, I think he’s accurately portraying what the evangelizee is hearing from the evangelizer. Not that the evangelizer is using those words, but the ‘gospel’ he is describing is repugnant, and the evangelizee has not been brainwashed to think otherwise. His sane response would be: “You want me to believe THAT?!?”

    With that said, I also enjoy seeing real or realistic conversation transcripts. I find such things very helpful.

  6. Pastor Jonathan on

    Jerome: thanks for the addition, well said!

    Jason: regarding consequences and accountability, I believe all such words have to be defined in terms of the Father and his relationship with humanity in Jesus. That means defining these words in the context of a Father dealing with his children, not a Judge dealing with criminals. So the goal of consequences and accountability is the restoration of the family relationship, not retribution.

    Consider the parable of the prodigal son. In the story the Father does not create consequences or punishments for his wayward boy. He simply allows the natural consequences of his son living in a non-relational way to play themselves out in his son’s life. As shackbible says, the worst consequence that can be is the dysfunctionality that results from the broken relationship.

    Why does the Father allow his son to suffer these natural consequences? So that his son will come to his senses and start participating in the relationship in a healthy way. That’s why, when the son does come home, the Father exacts no punishment and carries out no retribution against him. The natural consequences of the son’s dysfunction have had their intended effect of bringing him back to functional relationship and all is now set right in their relationship.

    But when the older son comes home that evening he is angry because there has been no retribution. From the older son’s perspective the purpose of punishment is human justice: tit for tat, the imposition of a penalty for the sake of balancing the scales. In his eyes the younger son is “getting off scott free.”

    So, the Father cares about consequences only in so far as they flow naturally from our actions and lead us to change our minds, believe the truth of our Son-ship, and participate fully in the relationship. It is our human nature that thinks wrongs can be righted through retributive punishment. But of course, such retribution does nothing to right those wrongs. How often have we heard the families of murder victims say “I’m glad the killer is in jail but it doesn’t bring my son back”?

    The Father’s plan in Jesus is to bring the murdered son back to life in Jesus’ resurrection and bring the murderer to repentance in the righteousness of Jesus, so that murderer and victim can – because of Jesus – live for eternity as brothers and children of the Father. The Father’s whole plan and purpose is thus to restore his family to wholeness.

    So, I would say that there are consequences in the lives of the charlatans who take people’s money in Jesus name. They are suffering the pain of being out of step with the Triune Life in which they’re included and they will continue to suffer that pain – on into eternity – until they change their minds and begin to believe the truth of who they are in Jesus and live accordingly. When they do change their minds in this way they will gladly, as Jesus lives in them, go and seek forgiveness from those they have wronged. And those they have wronged, as Jesus lives in them, will gladly forgive the charlatans. And so the Father’s children in Jesus will find shalom, the peace of restored relationship that comes through the immersion of the Trinity in humanity, and of humanity in the Trinity, in the person or Christ.

    A few months back I gave a sermon on this issue called “What About Hitler?” You can check it out at this link:

    http://theadoptedlife.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/090726-what-about-hitler-revelation-39.mp3

  7. Jason on

    “It’s like giving a criminal the death sentence, and also telling him that after the sentence is carried out, he will also be poked with a stick.”

    Shackbible,

    I understand what you’re saying but the analogy doesn’t really work. The criminal in question knows that he’s suffering the consequences of his actions (sentenced to death), so there is no need to threaten him or to carry out any futher punishment (even if poking him with a stick would hurt after he’s dead). 🙂

    “The natural consequences of the son’s dysfunction have had their intended effect of bringing him back to functional relationship and all is now set right in their relationship.”

    …because he came to his senses. The son came to know and experienced the consequences of his actions and realized the pain of his decision. Many charlatans (as an example) will die never knowing or experiencing the consequences of their rebellion.

    “They are suffering the pain of being out of step with the Triune Life in which they’re included and they will continue to suffer that pain – on into eternity – until they change their minds and begin to believe the truth of who they are in Jesus and live accordingly.”

    How can you say that they are suffering any pain at all unless they are conscious of their “being out of step with the Triune Life”. I don’t see these charlatans in pain at all. I see them joyously “milking the flock” for all they can get.

    I can now accept that they (and even murderers, rapists, etc.) are included in the Triune Life of God by virtue of Jesus’ vicarious humanity, but I can’t fathom the idea that they would be allowed to live like this in this life with no consequences if upon meeting the Lord when they die they can then simply choose to accept the truth of their inclusion in Christ as if their lives in this world meant nothing. (That was a rather long sentence but I hope you all can understand what I’m saying)

    “When they do change their minds in this way they will gladly, as Jesus lives in them, go and seek forgiveness from those they have wronged. And those they have wronged, as Jesus lives in them, will gladly forgive the charlatans. And so the Father’s children in Jesus will find shalom, the peace of restored relationship that comes through the immersion of the Trinity in humanity, and of humanity in the Trinity, in the person or Christ.”

    My heart resonates with this last paragraph and I find some consolation in it; but again it seems like our lives in this world mean very little if a Ted Bundy, upon meeting the Lord after death, can simply apologize to his victims and live happily ever after with them as if nothing happened.

    This is very difficult to digest. I realize that we all were sinners and “enemies” of God (and some of us, as Paul says, were “fornicators, idolators, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, theives, covetous, drunkards, revilers and swindlers” and even murderers, as he himself was) before coming to know the truth as it is in Christ, and that we have experienced total and complete forgiveness in Him by the Spirit and are now able to live freely in the love of the Father in the Son by the Spirit; I realize that we are all in the same boat and that the only difference between me and someone who dies in their sin (ignorance) is…well…that I came to know the truth while still in this life. So technically I guess it doesn’t really matter if the charlatan (or murderer, rapist, etc.) comes to know the truth in this life or the next because apart from Christ (if that were at all possible) we are all guilty before the Father. I mean, if there are no consequences for me now (and no condemnation), then why should I expect or even desire that there should be consequences for those who spend their whole lives murdering and raping and robbing, etc., just to be forgiven in the after life if they accept the truth.

    I know I’m rambling now and it looks like I’ve answered my own question…but it’s so hard to accept this! Know what I mean?

    I guess I could just erase all of this but since I’ve spent some time typing it I’ll go ahead and send it on. Maybe you all will have more thoughts to help me think this through more clearly.

    And, Jonathan, as soon as I get a chance I will listen to your sermon.

    Thanks,

    Jason

  8. Pastor Jonathan on

    I know what you mean, Jason. I think this is a significant statement that you make for all of us:

    “I don’t see these charlatans in pain at all.”

    The problem we all have is that we are judging everything based on what we see instead of based on who Jesus is.

    First of all, our hearts are not really like the Father’s heart. His deepest desire is to see the charlatans change their minds and start living as the adopted children that they are. Our deepest desire is to see them in pain. The Father will allow pain to come into their lives in order to change their minds. We want pain to come into their lives so that we can see them “get what’s coming to them.”

    Secondly, we think because we don’t immediately see the pain that comes from living in opposition to our adoption that such pain does not exist. Our natural human approach is “if I don’t see it, then it’s not there.” I don’t think the charlatans are sitting up all night wracked with guilt over their sins, but I do think that all sin – charlatancy included – flows out of the pain of the fear and doubt of our fallen nature. Why are charlatans cheating people? Because, at the most basic level, they are afraid. They are afraid their Father in heaven won’t take care of them in Jesus so they have to resort to cheating others in their effort to take care of themselves. I think this is also the reason that so many of these charlatans turn out to have addictions to sex and alcohol – those are ways they try to self-medicate their pain and fear.

    So, just because a charlatan can put on an act for an hour in front of a camera and hide his pain from me doesn’t mean he’s not in pain. In fact, because of who I know that charlatan to be in Jesus, I can say with confidence that his public life of sin is, in and of itself, evidence that he is in pain and trying to protect himself and hide from that pain by cheating others.

    What I understand Jesus to be saying to these charlatans about hell is something like this:

    “My beloved brother, don’t you know that our Father in heaven loves you and is going to take care of you forever? Trust him, believe that you are already his child in me. My brother, you know that secret pain that is gnawing at your soul right now? The pain you hide from everyone and try to wash away with whiskey? That pain is the result of you being adopted into the life I share with our Father in the Holy Spirit. You are in pain because you are the Father’s child and you are fighting against the reality of who you are. And that pain you are experiencing now, and hiding from others, is nothing compared to the fiery pain that is coming if you keep fighting your adoption as you go into eternity. Our Father in heaven loves you so much that he is going to let the pain get worse and worse until the pain of not believing you are his child becomes greater than the pain of changing your mind and believing. The sooner you stop fighting him the less pain you will experience.”

    In this regard you might also want to read the article John Stonecypher wrote in our most recent issue of The Adopted Life. It’s called “Thank You, Father, For Eternally Punishing Me” and you can find it here:

    http://theadoptedlife.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/The-Adopted-Life-February-2010.pdf


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