A reader writes: Simple gospel? I don't think so ...
A reader writes:
First, let me say, thank you for your work and writings. While I have read a couple of your works and am working on another currently, I have greatly appreciated having your perspective to re-engage my own jaded perspectives of our contemporary Christian experience.
My question to you – and the subject of this email – is this: Has the Church misrepresented the “simplicity” of the Gospel? By that, let me illustrate from my own profession.
As you can see from my signature, I have my MDiv and served as a hospital chaplain for 11 years in an inner-city, Level 1 trauma center. Halfway through that work, I pursued a JD. I have overseen Clinical Ethics at a large not-for-profit faith-based health care system for nearly six years, now. I face many complex issues of medical practice, technology, legal and regulatory requirements, interpersonal dynamics, communication break-downs and the intersection of competing values systems on a daily basis. Oftentimes, when cases or situations arise, I marvel because – given my familiarity with issues, forms of moral reasoning, provisions with legal codes, understanding of interpersonal dynamics, etc. – I do not perceive the “difficulty” in assessing the situation and addressing it. Quite honestly – and this is either confession or an issue for me to pursue with my counselor – I feel like a bit of a charlatan, at times, because physicians, administrators, staff and others will comment on what an asset I have been in a case and how helpful I was. I – as my wife will readily attest – will say myself, “This isn’t rocket science here. We aren’t trying to get the space shuttle into orbit. This is really pretty basic, isn’t it?” Only recently have I come to accept that, no, it isn’t pretty basic. Especially for people who are so emotionally or relationally “tied up” in an issue, there are powerful subtleties and nuances to these issues that aren’t appreciated until you are so thoroughly familiar with the “material” and have wrestled with many of the difficult questions that you can begin to break the issues down into manageable pieces.
Now, turning to issues of faith, I feel that the Church has given a message to people for hundreds – if not thousands – of years that says, “Here, let us masticate this for you. It’s pretty simple. See? You just consume what we spit into your mouth.” (I am reminded of the image of a baby bird taking nourishment from a parent.)
But, Jesus never told us that it would be that “simple”, did he? In matter of fact, we are told to “count the cost”. We are told that the path is difficult. (Yes, that is in the context of the passage discussing the destruction of Jerusalem if God’s people didn’t turn away from the path of what they thought it meant to be God’s people, but I think it still applies here.) We are called to be Yisra-el; struggling and persevering with God. Never “losing hold”, but struggling with the meaning of all “this”, with its implications, with our nature, with our fellow denizens of this planet and how this calls us to be in relationship to them.
I am struck by Tony Jones’ blog entry about “high school answers”, but I think it is an issue of the Church trying to make “manageable” the complexity and nuanced nature of this faith journey. It isn’t as simple, as all that. It cannot be boiled down to a bumper sticker or pithy saying or praise worship track. While the beginning may be Matthew 22:36-40, that is only the beginning. That is not the “destination”. It is about the journey and, in that, the Gospel is FAR from simple.
What people often refer to as "the simple gospel" is an outline - like 4 Spiritual Laws or The Roman Road - that is extracted from the Bible and proclaimed as "the gospel."
On one level, I do think the gospel can be put very simply: God's reign is within reach, God loves everyone, no exceptions … God is with us … God's abundant life is available to all by grace … but as you say, the depths and implications of those simple words can't be fathomed.