In this series, I am exploring the Gospel or “Good News.” In the current “Atonement Wars” among evangelical Christians, some are insisting that the Gospel must be defined primarily as the story of Christ’s dying to pay for the sins of guilty human beings. While I affirm this doctrine, I am convinced that the Gospel is larger, more cosmic, than simply the story of Jesus dying on the cross to forgive sins. While that is a major part of the story, it is not the whole story. That story answers the predicament of our breaking God’s holy Laws. But is that what the Gospel is ultimately about? Isn’t there more to the story than just the legal, forensic part?
To answer this question, we need to go back to the beginning. And we all know that the story begins with Creation. God spoke everything into existence. He created the earth out of the tohu vabohu (the confusion and emptiness). But we should not make the mistake in believing that the Creation is only about humanity and that the non-human creation was only created for our benefit. “The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it” (Ps 24:1). Humanity is certainly the pinnacle of Creation, the very "Image of God" in Creation (and therefore, when humanity fails in that calling to be the Imago Dei there are cosmic consequences). However, the entire Creation is God’s, and we are a part of the Creation. Another example of God’s love for all of Creation is when he made the covenant marked by the rainbow. It was not just between God and Noah, it was “between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (Gen 9:16). God is in relationship with his entire Creation. God created out of confusion and emptiness a world that was then marked by peace and wholeness.
The Hebrew word for this is “Shalom.” Nicholas Wolterstorff says that a society characterized by shalom combines peace, justice, and enjoyment of all relationships so that all peoples can flourish in their lives, and that they can also delight in their relationship with God (Wolterstorff, Until Justice and Peace Embrace). Writing on shalom, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (President of Calvin College, a leading evangelical institution in the USA) embraces and expands Wolterstorff's definition:
“We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight…the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: The Breviary of Sin, p. 10)
So the predicament that the Gospel solves is this: the LACK OF SHALOM. Plantinga has it right: Things are NOT the way they are supposed to be, not only for us humans, but for all of the created cosmos. The predicament is bigger than sin; it is that there is evil where Shalom is supposed to be. I like the way Plantinga describes it:
“We might define evil as any spoiling of shalom, any deviation from the way God wants things to be. Thinking along these lines, we can see that sin is a subset of evil; it's any evil for which somebody is to blame – sin is culpable evil... Sin grieves God, offends God, betrays God, and not just because God is touchy. God hates sin against himself, against neighbors, against the good creation, because sin breaks the peace... God is for shalom and therefore against sin." (Plantinga, Engaging God’s World, p. 51)
So, here we have a predicament of cosmic proportions: the Shalom that God intended for His Creation has been lost.
And therefore, here we have a gospel of cosmic proportions as well: God, in Christ, brings Shalom Peace to His Creation again.
The prophets foretold us that Shalom Peace would come when God will make all things right again:
- “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)
- “Therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I. How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:6-7)
- “I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me” (Jeremiah 33:6-8)
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, is prophetic as well when his son is born.
- “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:76-79)
The heavenly host proclaims the purpose of Jesus’ arrival:
- “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14)
Jesus’ purpose was to lead his people in the Way of Peace. However, they rejected his way. They wanted to follow other means of retaliation against Rome (the violent way of the zealots, or the compromising way of the Herodians, the separation ways of Qumran--more on this in my next post), while Jesus offered the Way of Peace, the way of sacrifice, the way of the cross. The result, according to Jesus, would be the utter destruction of the city of Jerusalem. Jesus says of the city,
- “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42).
The Way of Shalom Peace both brings together humanity with God, and humanity with each other. Peter learns this through his experiences:
- “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all” (Acts 10:34-36).
Our duty of discipleship, then, as Christ’s followers, is to live in peace with God and with others:
- “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom 12:17-18).
- “God has called us to live in peace” (1 Cor 7:15).
“At their best, Reformed Christians take a very big view of redemption because they take a very big view of falleness. If all has been created good and all has been corrupted, then all must be redeemed. God isn’t content to save souls; God wants to save bodies too. God isn’t content to save human beings in their individual activities; God wants to save social systems and economic systems too…Everything corrupt needs to be redeemed, and that includes the whole natural world, which both sings and groans. The whole natural world, in all its glory and pain, needs the redemption that will bring shalom. The world isn't divided into a sacred realm and a secular realm, with redemptive activity confined to the sacred zone. The whole world belongs to God, the whole world has fallen, and so the whole world needs to be redeemed--every last person, place, organization, and program; all 'rocks and trees and skies and seas'; in fact, ‘every square inch,' as Abraham Kuyper said. The whole creation is a 'theater for the mighty works of God,' first in creation and then in re-creation." (Plantinga, Engaging God’s World, p. 95-96)
Redemption in Christ is the re-establishment of Shalom Peace. This is a huge Gospel, a cosmic “Good News” — God is Peace, and he offers peace to all his Creation.
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Romans 16:20).
Next: I explain how I think the Cross of Christ is the Way of Shalom Peace.
Links to the entire series:
1: Define the Predicament, and You Understand another Facet of the Gospel
2: Predicament #1: The Lack of Shalom
3: Evil Bondage in the Place of Shalom
4: EXODUS and the GOOD NEWS of FREEDOM in Paul
5: EXODUS and the GOOD NEWS of FREEDOM in the GOSPELS
6: Another of Humanity’s Predicaments: Broken Relationships
7: The Prophesied Kingdom of God
8: The Kingdom of God Restoring Israel from Exile
9: The Kingdom of God Healing Broken Relationships
10: The Kingdom of God and the Atonement
11: The Kingdom and the Mission of God’s People
12: What is my view of the Kingdom of God?
technorati: emerging church, spiritual formation