Bringing the 4 laws back: A needed return to the simple gospel

This last week I met with a couple of students who are madly in love.  They are both seniors, both love Jesus, and both can’t see straight because of their intoxicating emotion for each other.  We met because they genuinely wanted some counsel as they plan their next steps towards graduation and college.  And as we talked I couldn’t help but admire their almost blinding love for each other and at the same time patronize their naivete. As much as I wanted to help them understand how silly they sounded, and how shortsighted they were, there was part of me that found joy in watching very young love.  Even though it was a very long time ago for me, I caught a glimpse of myself when I was only a year or two older wrapped up in a blinding love relationship of my own.

Upon reflection it is so easy to look down my nose at this young couple, and even at my younger self, at how much I thought I knew about love, and the reality of how little I actually got it.  This couple is in fact in love.  I too was in love like that.  But that love was only a shadow of the love that I experienced when I got engaged to and then married my wife.  After almost 14 years of marriage and 2 kids later, I look back and laugh at how much I thought I understood love and how much I loved my wife.  The love I experience today is so much deeper and more significant then the more simple version of it I experienced earlier in my life.  And when I am married for 50 years, I will look back at myself today and smile at how this love is only a shadow compared to the depth and richness of a lifetime together.

In a similar way, over the past 25 years I have grown in depth and richness in my love with Jesus.  The ways I understand the gospel, the transformation and healing I have experienced, and the application of my growing faith into my life makes my simple confession of faith as a middle schooler look ridiculous.  As an adult follower of Christ, I find myself wrestling with an entirely new set of questions and applications in my faith.  Some of my foundational understandings have been smashed.

With just a little bit of tragedy and suffering I can see that my life is not the center of God’s universe or history.  With just a broader understanding of sanctification, I can see that the gospel is simply not about personal salvation from hell, but total salvation beginning now and onto eternity.  And with a bigger picture of the world, I can see that the thy kingdom come, isn’t something that God does at the end of time, but calls his people to do here and now.  To love mercy, to do justly, and to walk humbly.  As shallow as this three sentence synopsis is, it is still dramatically deeper and more complex then the gospel I said yes to in middle school.

If you are anything like me, then you too have forgotten what the world was like when I was 11.  I forget how I approached life, girls, my parents, school, whatever.  The best I can do is reflect back and fill in the blanks based on my current worldview and understandings.  The same is true with love.  I couldn’t even fathom a deeper understanding of love then, and only upon reflection I see how I have grown.  And the same is true of my faith now.  I have no idea what another 50 years of life will do to my faith.

And if you are anything like me, you HATE it when people older than you tell you how much you just don’t understand.  How you will be a really good pastor some day, how you better cherish this time with your kids because it goes so fast, or how they patronize your passion.  If this is true for me, then I am assuming that these statements would feel just as awful to the students I work with.

Middle schoolers and most of our high schoolers are not going to get the social justice or even missional piece of the gospel.  Their entire world revolves around them.  This isn’t a criticism, this is a developmental reality.  And I am afraid that we might be doing more harm to their faith by making them bite off more then they can developmentally chew.  We, unintentionally, take our understanding and application of faith, and put it directly onto these early adolescents.  But the early adolescents that we work with need different things than we do.  And I think the “Four Spiritual Laws” might be the new-old remedy.

Everything about the four laws is vital and applicable to faith development of our students:

PREFACE Just as their are physical laws that govern the physical universe, so their are spiritual laws that govern your relationship with God. In a pluralistic world where there are no rules, it is a good reminder that there are rules and laws.  We can’t escape or change the law of gravity, and God’s laws are the same.

LAW 1)  God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life. The foundation of the gospel is that we are loved.  God sees us individually and no matter our background, our issues, our strengths, or our weaknesses, God’s stance towards us is one of open armed loved.

LAW 2)  We are sinful an separated from God. When situational ethics rules the day, sin no longer has any touchpoints.  But sin is the dark side of the good news, and one that needs to be addressed and worked through.  We need to help our students see that they are sinful, rebellious, and broken.  It is only then, that they can be healed, transformed, and saved.

LAW 3)  Jesus Christ is god’s only provision for our sin. This sin we have does have real consequences.  And the ultimate consequence is death.  Because of his love, Jesus willingly takes our sin and brokenness upon himself and will exchange it for healing and life.  It is not a self-help or good works strategy.  It is about surrender.

LAW 4) We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The gospel is a personal to surrender the bonds of sin and brokenness and exchange them for the gift of salvation.  And this is something that doesn’t happen by osmosis, but is an intentional act of our will.  It is something that happens at a point in history.  It is the beginning of the divine romance.

It is the simple, old skool, gospel that allows early adolescents to actually get their mind around what it means to be a Christian.  It begins to shape their worldview, it answers their identity questions, and confronts them with an intentional choice, and it actually allows space for the Holy Spirit to enter into their life and begin the life long work of sanctification and transformation.  This gospel is not all that there is to faith, but it is a strong beginning.

With all of our efforts to give our students a bigger picture of faith and the application of it, maybe it is ok to remember that they are 11.  With a strong foundation and intentional discipleship they will grow in their faith and understanding and will come to understand the deeper things of faith.  None of us start out with the depth of love that people who have been married 50 years have.  We all start out with intoxicating wild love that is blinding and immature.  And through time, that love grows into something deep and beautiful.  In the same way, students don’t begin their life of faith as advocates for social justice, or about expanding the kingdom.  It begins with a simple trust in Jesus to cleanse them from their sins and lead them into the abundant life.

Does a changing culture require a different slant on the gospel? Part 1: The Past

The Gospel is Dynamic One of the most amazing things about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it has proven to be good news to every culture, in every time, and in every context. If you think about it, this is an amazing feat for any religion, and Christianity has done just that.

Christianity is not based on national identity or cultural mandates. It is a religion that offers good news to everyone. As you study how this has worked itself out, you notice that the gospel story has subtle to gigantic differences as you compare what was emphasized in differing Christian communities such as pre-Constantine Mediterranean, to the hight of Papal authority in the middle ages, to the reformation. And this is just the western branch of Christendom.

How much more diverse does the gospel look when you compare the differences from they hyper-spirituality of the Congo to the liberation theology in Central America. The underground churches in China have an expression of the gospel that is very different than the Conservative religious right of the United States.

Once we recognize that the gospel is a dynamic story that has flexibility to truly speak good news to the thin places of need in a culture, we can begin to think more creatively about what is the crisis our students are facing and what is the good news that addresses it.

Part 1) The Past But in order to figure out where we are, it is important to look back into our history and see some of the major cultural shifts and the church's response to it before we can move forward. For our purposes, the furthest back we need to go is for our modern memory, the gospel that has shaped for many of the boomers who are now in positions of power and leadership in the church. This is the Billy Graham Gospel.

Billy Graham and Bill Bright were among the leaders of pioneering a gospel story that was simple, clear, and straight to the point. It truly was good news for a generation of people who had grown up with a religious world view but had now clear path to connect the dots towards a regenerated life in Christ. They were rebellious and needed justification from consequences of their sin.

The gospel was a simple outline summing up the 4 main themes in scripture. These 4 themes came to be known as the 4 laws. The premies of them was rooted in foundational logic and a common understanding of truth. The introduction of the 4 laws says, "Just as there are physical laws that govern the universe, so there are spiritual laws that govern our relationship with God."

The Gospel as the 4 Laws Then will clarity and simplicity, the 4 laws can be presented: Law 1: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Law 2: Man is sinful and separated from GOd, so we cannot know Him personally or experience His love. Law 3: Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin. Through Him alone we can know God personally and experience God's love. Law 4: We must individually receive Jesu Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know God personally and experience His love.

Why were they so effective? This version of the Gospel was highly effective and brought about a significant revival in the 70's. It is the version of the gospel that is still most closely associated with evangelical Christianity. Even through these 4 laws are not clearly stated by Jesus as how to enter into His Kingdom, it has been the gospel that the church has relied on here in Northern America for the better part of 60 years.

But have you ever stopped to think about why was this version of the gospel so effective? What was the crisis that these laws were good news in fixing?

Think about the post World War II context with its rigid social rules and norms. Think of Leave it to Beaver. Everything was made right and had order and rules. The Judeo-Christian story was part of the culture and the Church as still the center of social and cultural life in the community. Sermons were even printed in the New York Times every Sunday.

With this emphasis on religion and order as cultural values, the crisis became one of rebellion. Many of us have heard the definition of sin as missing the mark. This is an important illustration in a culture that has a common understanding of order and law and could agree with what missing the mark meant.

As the chaos of the 60's erupted with its emphasis on rebellion and freedom, it made sense that there has now become an established thin place to communicate the gospel. Many of the boomers grew up with structure, order, and rules. When they exchanged that for rebellion, there were earthly consequences that followed. But because there was a common set of rules and norms it was easy to find a place for the gospel to be shared.

There was a common understanding of God. There was a common understanding and experience of rebellion and the consequences of that rebellion. And now there was a gospel that covered sin and washed away the consequences of that rebellion, and that was the person of Jesus Christ.

Why has this gospel become less effective? This gospel that used to have the power to fill stadiums with thousands of people coming forward, this gospel that used to be shared with just about any stranger on the street with a high chance for success, seems to have less and less impact, has lost some of its umph.

We no longer have a common Judeo-Christian culture with shared values, laws and rules. If you don't believe me, as any teenager an ethical question and you will quickly see that there is no truth with a capital T, but only situation ethics with the foundation built on minimizing their consequences. With little common agreement on the nature of truth, the nature of God and the nature of sin, the 4 spiritual laws don't answer any of the key questions being asked or solve any of the felt crises.

Because the gospel is dynamic and malleable to every cultural context, I think the gospel of the 4 spiritual laws with the emphasis on justification as the good news for our rebellion is fading in exchange for a gospel that is more relevant in addressing our current generation's crisis.

Where do we go from here? In part 2 we will take a look at what the emerging leaders have brought to the table and the transition in our understanding of the gospel. We have gone from a gospel of justification to one of healing. Where the crisis was rebellion and the good news justification, current thinkers like Tim Keller are clarifying a new gospel where the crisis is brokenness and the good news is healing power of Jesus Christ!

Want to join a conversation that is wrestling with this changing reality? Mark your calendar and save October 5, 2012. Click HERE for more information.

Bringing the 4 laws back!

20120130-021206.jpg

This last week I met with a couple of students who are madly in love. They are both seniors, both love Jesus, and both can’t see straight because of their intoxicating emotion for each other. We met because they genuinely wanted some counsel as they plan their next steps towards graduation and college. And as we talked I couldn’t help but admire their almost blinding love for each other and at the same time patronize their naivete. As much as I wanted to help them understand how silly they sounded, and how shortsighted they were, there was part of me that found joy in watching very young love. Even though it was a very long time ago for me, I caught a glimpse of myself when I was only a year or two older wrapped up in a blinding love relationship of my own.

Upon reflection it is so easy to look down my nose at this young couple, and even at my younger self, at how much I thought I knew about love, and the reality of how little I actually got it. This couple is in fact in love. I too was in love like that. But that love was only a shadow of the love that I experienced when I got engaged to and then married my wife. After almost 14 years of marriage and 2 kids later, I look back and laugh at how much I thought I understood love and how much I loved my wife. The love I experience today is so much deeper and more significant then the more simple version of it I experienced earlier in my life. And when I am married for 50 years, I will look back at myself today and smile at how this love is only a shadow compared to the depth and richness of a lifetime together.

In a similar way, over the past 25 years I have grown in depth and richness in my love with Jesus. The ways I understand the gospel, the transformation and healing I have experienced, and the application of my growing faith into my life makes my simple confession of faith as a middle schooler look ridiculous. As an adult follower of Christ, I find myself wrestling with an entirely new set of questions and applications in my faith. Some of my foundational understandings have been smashed.

With just a little bit of tragedy and suffering I can see that my life is not the center of God’s universe or history. With just a broader understanding of sanctification, I can see that the gospel is simply not about personal salvation from hell, but total salvation beginning now and onto eternity. And with a bigger picture of the world, I can see that the thy kingdom come, isn’t something that God does at the end of time, but calls his people to do here and now. To love mercy, to do justly, and to walk humbly. As shallow as this three sentence synopsis is, it is still dramatically deeper and more complex then the gospel I said yes to in middle school.

If you are anything like me, then you too have forgotten what the world was like when I was 11. I forget how I approached life, girls, my parents, school, whatever. The best I can do is reflect back and fill in the blanks based on my current worldview and understandings. The same is true with love. I couldn’t even fathom a deeper understanding of love then, and only upon reflection I see how I have grown. And the same is true of my faith now. I have no idea what another 50 years of life will do to my faith.

And if you are anything like me, you HATE it when people older than you tell you how much you just don’t understand. How you will be a really good pastor some day, how you better cherish this time with your kids because it goes so fast, or how they patronize your passion. If this is true for me, then I am assuming that these statements would feel just as awful to the students I work with.

Middle schoolers and most of our high schoolers are not going to get the social justice or even missional piece of the gospel. Their entire world revolves around them. This isn’t a criticism, this is a developmental reality. And I am afraid that we might be doing more harm to their faith by making them bite off more then they can developmentally chew. We, unintentionally, take our understanding and application of faith, and put it directly onto these early adolescents. But the early adolescents that we work with need different things than we do. And I think the “Four Spiritual Laws” might be the new-old remedy.

Everything about the four laws is vital and applicable to faith development of our students:

PREFACE Just as their are physical laws that govern the physical universe, so their are spiritual laws that govern your relationship with God. In a pluralistic world where there are no rules, it is a good reminder that there are rules and laws. We can’t escape or change the law of gravity, and God’s laws are the same.

LAW 1) God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life. The foundation of the gospel is that we are loved. God sees us individually and no matter our background, our issues, our strengths, or our weaknesses, God’s stance towards us is one of open armed loved.

LAW 2) We are sinful an separated from God. When situational ethics rules the day, sin no longer has any touchpoints. But sin is the dark side of the good news, and one that needs to be addressed and worked through. We need to help our students see that they are sinful, rebellious, and broken. It is only then, that they can be healed, transformed, and saved.

LAW 3) Jesus Christ is god’s only provision for our sin. This sin we have does have real consequences. And the ultimate consequence is death. Because of his love, Jesus willingly takes our sin and brokenness upon himself and will exchange it for healing and life. It is not a self-help or good works strategy. It is about surrender.

LAW 4) We must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The gospel is a personal to surrender the bonds of sin and brokenness and exchange them for the gift of salvation. And this is something that doesn’t happen by osmosis, but is an intentional act of our will. It is something that happens at a point in history. It is the beginning of the divine romance.

It is the simple, old skool, gospel that allows early adolescents to actually get their mind around what it means to be a Christian. It begins to shape their worldview, it answers their identity questions, and confronts them with an intentional choice, and it actually allows space for the Holy Spirit to enter into their life and begin the life long work of sanctification and transformation. This gospel is not all that there is to faith, but it is a strong beginning.

With all of our efforts to give our students a bigger picture of faith and the application of it, maybe it is ok to remember that they are 11. With a strong foundation and intentional discipleship they will grow in their faith and understanding and will come to understand the deeper things of faith. None of us start out with the depth of love that people who have been married 50 years have. We all start out with intoxicating wild love that is blinding and immature. And through time, that love grows into something deep and beautiful. In the same way, students don’t begin their life of faith as advocates for social justice, or about expanding the kingdom. It begins with a simple trust in Jesus to cleanse them from their sins and lead them into the abundant life.