(More Musings on For the Love book and new musings on the gospel)
I have been blessed for the last several months to be a part of the launch team for Jen Hatmaker’s new book, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards (available now on Amazon).
For the last couple and one more week, I’m taking chapters of the book that meant a lot to me and discussing them. Thus far, we’ve covered crazy self-imposed expectations of parenting and responding to the millennial generation (without being crappy Christians 🙂 ).
This week another topic dear to my heart and the heartbeat of God’s kingdom: what is the gospel really, stripped of our ever-present tendencies to make it what we want it to be? Jen has a great standard from which to start that conversation.
“But then God changed my life, and everything got weird. I discovered the rest of the world! And other cultures! And different Christian traditions! And people who were way, way different from me! And poverty! Then the system in which God operated according to my rules started disintegrating. I started hearing my gospel narrative through the ears of the Other, and a giant whole bunch of it didn’t even make sense. Some values and perspectives and promises I attributed to God’s own heart only worked in my context, and I’m no theologian, but surely that is problematic.
There is a biblical benchmark I now use. We will refer to this criterion for every hard question, big idea, topic, assessment of our own obedience, every “should” or “should not” and “will” or “will not” we ascribe to God, every theological sound bite. Here it is:
If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true.”(Chapter 3, On Calling and Haitian Moms)
I love this. I absolutely, stinkin’ love this. It’s so simple. Some time ago, I wrote a post on the gospel and what it really is. I asked people to narrow it down to 25 words or fewer. Some of you did, and it was great. (Mine was fourteen. Top that. OK, maybe Jesus would not be quite so . . . competitive.)
If the last year of political posturing and pontificating on how Jesus’ gospel relates to this crazy world has taught us anything at all, it’s that Christians have wildly different views on that answer. And that we are quite pleased to knock our brothers and sisters out of the kingdom ring like Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots if their interpretation differs from ours.
Ferguson a year ago touched off a hurricane of argument that has rebounded with every touchstone event. Staten Island. McKinney. Supreme Court decisions. Charleston. Perhaps the fact that the list refuses to end should be a clue that we are to take this seriously. There needs to be a gospel response. And it needs to be the real gospel. Not the gospel I carry around in my head and heart because it’s near and dear to all I’ve ever known.
It needs to be a gospel for the Haitian mamas. Because Jesus came for everyone—including me and everyone else. If what I’m saying is Jesus’ gospel response to the issues of our day is not true for the Haitian mama, it’s not true. If it’s not true for the black daughter grieving the loss of her mother in a church basement, it isn’t true. If it sin’t true for the illegal immigrant mama terrified of returning to a country that will sell her son to drug lords, it isn’t true. If it isn’t true for the gay person who won’t consider any claim of Christ because he’s read between the lines of “hate the sin but love the sinner” and knows he’s not loved at all, it isn’t true.
Are these tough issues? Yes. Is the gospel capable of handling them? Yes. If we let it be what it is. All it is and not all it isn’t.
“Theology is either true everywhere or it isn’t true anywhere. This helps untangle us from the American God Narrative and sets God free to be God instead of the My-God-in-a-Pocket I carried for so long. It lends restraint when declaring what God does or does not think, because sometimes my portrayal of God’s ways sounds suspiciously like the American Dream and I had better check myself. Because of the Haitian single mom. Maybe I should speak less for God.”
Maybe speaking less for God involves first taking a scalpel to my God-in-a-pocket version of the gospel and learning what it truly is. All that it is and, maybe more importantly for today, all it is not.
That’s the gospel. Winnowed down. All that it is. Not all it isn’t.
We messed it up. We all messed it up. We keep messing it up. But every once in a while, we have a chance to look around, see clearly how messed up things really are, and declare, “Not on my watch.”
Not so long as the gospel means what it really means. That Jesus came to unmess our mess. And once we accept that beautiful, intense, mop-up grace, he wants us to help clean up the mess. He wants us to be restorers and reconcilers. Not restorers of the American God Dream. Restorers of God’s creation plan. I think it looks a tad different than we imagine. I think it’s beautiful.
To order Jen’s book, click here.
Are you interested in a book club discussion of her book? Comment below!