I spent my morning with a wonderful friend (who is now also my boss) inviting some high school-aged young people to attend Wheatstone Academy this summer. Our “marketing method” is simply to visit a classroom, in this case the Freshmen and Senior Bible classes at San Juan Capistrano Valley Christian School, and to engage in a lively dialectical discussion with them. In a free-ranging and impromptu style, we asked them to think about the pros and cons of modern technology, iPods, movies, the internet, etc., and we challenged them to discover ways to intelligently use these tools while avoiding the most common type of harm that can come from them. Those who are interested and engaged by such a conversation would probably enjoy the conference. Those who were bored and/or totally did not understand the question probably would not enjoy the conference, where we spend time with some wonderful scholars like JP Moreland and Fred Sanders, have small group discussions, and do higher-brow cultural outings.
It struck me, as we tried to interest and challenge this group of bright young people, that we were not trying to sell them on a product, and we were not even selling them on an idea. We were selling them on a way of life. Or better yet, on Life, with a capital L. We have come to believe, because of the influence of our mentors, the great books of Western Civilization, that life on this earth is first and foremost a dynamic thing. It is everchanging. The one thing that characterizes life is that it has no consistant characteristics. Death and taxes are perhaps inevitable, but what else is? Relationships change, points-of-view grow and change, where we live changes, how comfortable we are fluctuates endlessly, what we think is important in life morphs and develops dramatically, and on and on. The one constant is flux. So how are we to swim in the stormy tides of the human condition? By accepting the changing-ness, and taking responsibility for ourselves and our lives. By applying the free will God gave us to our lives in an effort to keep things changing in a direction, from good to better to great to heavenly, rather than from good to OK to not-so-good to horrible. The great challenge is to take a cold hard look at this life and our strange parodoxical identity as humans and to say, “I accept the challenge. I will find out what it means to succeed, and I will do whatever it takes to succeed.” We have the potential, as Giovanni Pica Della Mirandola so passionately argued, to become almost anything. Human beings can grow to be ecstatically happy, “little lower than the angels,” or horribly debase, much worse than the the most savage of wildlife.
The difference rests, primarily, I would argue, in the choices we make. The fact, therefore, that good choices are possible is good news. The possibility of living life, of living Eternal Life, in a community of excellent human beings under the leadership of the One who created us — this seems like not just good news, but the Good News.
But then I asked myself: “Is this the good news?” In other words, is this the Gospel?
If you would have asked me this question in high school, I would have said “No, the Gospel is that Jesus Christ died for me and cleansed me of my sins.” Now that certainly is good news, but first of all, as someone once said, “How important are the good news if you don’t know the bad news?” It seems to be a co-eternal and an equally important historical fact that human beings are born with a certain flaw and need a lot of help recovering from or fixing or redeeming this flaw. We are all born and grow up a bit discontent, a bit lonely, quite a bit small-minded, and with time many of us grow up to be not a little bit skewed, no less than criminal, very often violent, largely deceitful, and non-functioning human beings. The fact that we war against eachother, that many of our leaders (speaking of the human community broadly) take advantage of their subjects, the fact that so many of us are starving and dying from lack of basic physical sustinance is proof enough that something, God knows what, is wrong. Jews and Christians have called this flaw “sin,” or sometimes, “original sin,” but the concept is easy enough to understand. Human beings are (usually) not as they ought to be. That’s the bad news.
So what’s the good news? The good news is, in one sense, God has provided a way for us to escape the consequences of this massive and utterly paralyzing flaw of sinfulness. Great! But many have accepted this gift, and count themself “free from sin,” or at least from the slavery to sin, that is, from the inability not to sin, and do not yet count themselves blessed. They cannot yet say “I have learned the secret of contentment in all circumstances.” Is the good news heard, understood, and is its domain then finished? Or does the good news include and transcend the first step of saying Yes to God the Father’s offer of salvation from sin through his Son?
At this point we could (and probably should) include a lengthy digression into the distinction and/or unity of sanctification and salvation, carefully analyzing the network of Pauline and Johannine (and Petrian) texts in the New Testament to understand systematically (if that is possible) what exactly being “re-born” is, what exactly “dying to the self” is, and “putting on Christ.” But my real concern and question at this moment is whether that continual process that takes place after one decides to follow Jesus is still a part of the “good news,” or whether the good news refers only to the starting point, the one-time redemption of Jesus Christ, which then concedes to some other facet of living in the Kingdom of God.
Thanks for your responses.