Good Advice or Good News?
Few of us could be ignorant of the widespread fall-out of the ‘nuclear accident’ that occurred in a chain reaction of alien ideas that gained momentum in the 1960s. Man-centred philosophy and rampant secular humanism exploded and the debris and shrapnel of cultural soundbites like ‘Turn on, tune in, drop out’, ‘Free love’, ‘The Hippy Trail’, ‘campus riots’, ‘Make love, not war’ and ‘God is Dead!’ shaped that decade. The results included legalized abortion, family breakdown, easy divorce, playground narcotics, paedophile predators, and much more that led most of us to conclude with Dorothy in the film The Wizard of Oz, that ‘We are not in Kansas anymore!’ The whole spiritual landscape has changed.
The results have, for the most part, been devastating. You can’t go anywhere without meeting its tragic victims. London is filled with them. The mugged, sexually abused, depressed and suicidal, trafficked children, street sleepers, junkies, corrupt city traders, bent politicians, ‘wasted’ clubbers, abandoned single mums, fatherless kids and knifed teenagers and so on, are everywhere.
The only answer to this is the Gospel. The Gospel radically transforms, reorientates and remakes human lives. It affects a kind of metamorphosis – change from the inside out. No education or social conditioning can do this. Over time, the result is ‘redemptive lift’, recreating individual lives. The suicidal find hope, unshackled addicts go free, the sexually defiled feel clean again, the violent find peace. Whole communities and cultures change for the better. This is what we need so much in Britain, but only Christ’s Gospel can do it.
At a time when the Church should be preaching this message everywhere, with Holy Spirit backing, we are often watering it down and warping it beyond recognition. Recently, a book on church leadership offered advice about teaching people simply what they need to hear. It suggests a curriculum for teenagers that includes topics like ‘When I see as God sees, I will do as God says’, ‘Purity paves the way to intimacy’, ‘In the light of my past experiences and future dreams what is the wise thing to do?’, ‘I must consider the interests of others ahead of my own’.
This comes close to moralistic fire-fighting to me. Where’s the Gospel? I wondered why these topics didn’t feature such vital mind-benders as Creation, Fall, God’s Master Plan, Adam and Christ, The Cross, Trinity and Relationships, Christ’s Glorious Achievements, and much more. Our role is not to offer moralism, but to shape the minds of the next generation, showing them God’s big story of Creation, Decreation, and Recreation in Christ. Only then can our relationships, moral decisions, planning, and sex be done to the glory of God.
Must we conclude that we’re most ‘relevant’ to our culture when we offer them homely wisdom, non-confrontational counsel, How To steps to self-improvement, and feel-good pic ’n’ mix spirituality? Yet Paul resolved not to preach anything among the Corinthians (a sordid broken culture if ever there was one!) ‘…except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (I Cor. 2:2). That was what changed them! Tragically, the cross is now considered too jagged, dated, offensive, and bloodied to matter much now. You could catch a splinter touching it, worse still, cause people to faint at its horrors and gore. We’ve become squeamish. We shun subjects like sin, death, judgment, heaven and hell, for more ‘relevant’ topics like ‘Lookin’ Good, Feelin’ Fine!’
Jeremiah gives sound advice here: ‘This is what the LORD says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls’ (Jer. 6:16). Time spent attempting to understand the cross is one way of rediscovering those ‘ancient paths’ that we need to travel again. This is where the route to spiritual, moral and physical health really lies. We never mature beyond this point, rather, we mature more and more into it, as we restate the irreducible elements of authentic Christianity, and it is these we most need in troubled and unstable times.
The great need of our cities today is to be exposed to and confronted by the Christ of Calvary and his radical intent to restore and renew all things, founded upon his eternal victory at the Cross. The Gospel is an announcement of ‘Good News’, not ‘Good Advice’. It tells us more about what has been done for us, than what we can do. It calls us to believe and receive, not ‘try harder’ and ‘be good’. We can now be fixed-up and repaired completely in body, soul, mind and spirit, but only because Christ was made sick to death in our place, on the cross.
Somebody, somewhere, has to announce this great news or God help us!