The Christian organisation 3D Movements recently changed its name from 3D Ministries I think to make its vision appear even bigger: the transformation of people’s perception and practice of discipleship and mission. Perhaps they wanted to show that rather than simply assisting Christian leaders in their ministries, the organisation invites people to be part of a movement, God’s movement, in the world. It is this big-picture-thinking – perhaps getting bigger and bigger the more we look at it – coupled with a recent talk by New York pastor Jon Tyson, that has inspired this post.
In 3DM’s new website the word Gospel features more prominently than before. Although I would say it’s been there all along inherent in the organisation’s theory and practice, it has been rightly brought to the fore and now sits alongside Community and Mission. Neatly, Community flows from an appreciation of the Gospel and in turn Mission flows from Community. I like how God’s grace is implicit at the start – it is His Gospel, instigated by Him – and flows through community and mission. Put these together in another way and you get gospel communities on mission or GCMs, as the website shows. I like it!
If these are the three core values then their key message of discipleship sits well with each. Indeed, the website tells us that discipleship happens in community, and specifically in an extended family. To be effective in the world, the extended family needs to be self-extending: it needs to be on mission, looking and acting outwards. The mission is to make disciples and the hope is that a Christian community will seek to further itself, to grow its numbers and multiply itself by making more followers of Jesus. This will be the fruit of a community’s healthy discipleship for true discipleship makes disciples.
So, the best vehicle for discipleship, 3DM tells us, is a community on mission. We should be disciple-making disciples and an extending extended family! Discipleship in an extended family shouldn’t happen in the form of a course or programme, neither is it about maintaining healthy ministries. These communities have the potential to be movements, joining in the worldwide movement of God. But is the movement really all about making disciples? If pushed and having to briefly summarise, I would say ‘yes’, but it is not as simple as that; it is also about a whole host of things: ecology, creation, development, salvation, healing rescue, beauty, justice issues, reconciliation and forgiveness, renewal, generosity, self-sacrifice and ultimately social transformation – the transformation of the world under one Head, Jesus Christ (it really is big picture!). It’s an inexhaustible list.
True, if disciples are made then these things will happen increasingly. Of course, that is the ultimate hope that everyone becomes a disciple of Christ, but what does that mean? The New Testament on the whole uses the terms believer and disciple interchangeably. When you first believe you become a new disciple. You are transformed in that moment and you begin a process of being continually transformed to be more Christ-like. Whether it initially feels very different or not, the fact is it has happened. On the surface it may not look it – it’s hard to measure – but transformation has happened and over time things will be different. The next question that one would naturally ask of the new disciple / believer / Christian is will you engage in discipleship? The Spirit will keep changing you but how much will you accommodate that change? And if you disengage completely, you may remain a Christian and a believer but can you be called a disciple?
But already this is becoming a distraction from the main point, and this is what I want to talk about for the rest of this post. What is the main point? This will draw us back to our starting place and the starting place of all things: the gospel. In previous posts I have outlined the gospel as best I can. Essentially, the gospel is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures. In this sense, He is the fulfillment of a story. As a story it can be neatly summarised like Jon Tyson’s address: Creation – Fall – Rescue (Redemption) – New Creation (Re-Creation). Perhaps one could also explain it like this: Order – Disorder – Reorder, but the former summary gives us more detail, specifically how the Reorder comes about.
As Luke explains in Acts, the gospel is the good news of God’s grace (Acts 20:24) and God’s grace is at every stage of the story except the Fall (that’s our doing). So the flow of the story is about God’s grace and His grace is revealled at nearly every point. With such a gospel as this, one will be emphasising some things over others and this is what I want to get into now.
Much of our (evangelical?) gospel focus has been on the Fall and Rescue at the expense of the start and finish of the story. Our gospel has been as Scot McKnight would have it, a salvation plan. If you start with the Fall, your message is that people are initially and above all fallen. The problem is that people don’t know what they’ve fallen from so the message doesn’t make sense. Some may be able to discern a need for God to save them from perceived sin, whether their own or someone else’s, but many won’t. The second part of the salvation plan is Rescue – Jesus came to rescue you – but if you don’t appreciate what you’ve been (or can be) rescued from, the message doesn’t make sense here either. This gospel therefore will only appeal to a minority. It may be a large minority in places but I think if we were to look at the bare facts of conversion in the west, as I’ve said before, the results would show that either there’s something wrong with our gospel or how we share it. I would say it’s both. Even if we do share it as best we can, the response generally speaking in the west is discouraging.
So, whereas a Creation-Fall-Rescue-New Creation gospel (or four stage gospel) emphasises God’s action and grace in the Universe, a Fall-Rescue gospel (or two stage gospel) signifies a much smaller-scale outworking. A two stage gospel can more easily become about us, our failure and our effort to put it right at the expense of other factors. Now, of course, these elements of the two stage gospel are valid and feature in the four stage gospel, but fitted into the longer story, the full outworking will appear different. If we focus on the Fall it becomes about people’s failure and, as I’ve said, this is generally unrecognised in our culture if not more broadly around the world. The other danger is when we talk about the Rescue we can end up emphaising people’s response to it: you’ve fallen so this is what you need to do. Our gospel then becomes about effort or work to put things right or to receive Jesus as our Rescuer.
Our effort here is to repent and believe and then to live a life for Jesus and tell others about it, which are not wrong – indeed these things are vital – but an incorrect emphasis of these things (ie because of an incomplete gospel) can at its worst lead to a gospel of sin management (which inevitably leads to more failure) or it can lead to withdrawal. This withdrawal will keep us from others because of shame or judgementalism, or from intentional discipleship because it’s too inconvenient or too difficult. It will keep us from the world either to maintain self-purity or because without the Creation and New Creation parts of the gospel, the world becomes irrelevant. This gospel is at it’s heart about me; or perhaps it’s not that bad: it’s about me and you (singular).
Where is God’s grace in it all? I would suggest that God’s grace is at every point whether repentance, belief, living for Jesus or telling others because all these things are gifts from God. His Spirit is at work in people helping them to repent and believe, to live for Jesus and to tell others. The New Testament uses different words when it talks about people’s response to the gospel: repent and believe, believe, respond, have faith, be persuaded about, join, repent and turn to God and demonstrate repentance by deeds (see some examples: Acts 16:14; 16:30-31; 17:4; 26:20). Now, if we emphasise these things in the context of God’s grace enabling us to respond then the gospel becomes not only more attractive but also more accurate – and God’s character is revealled.
As the story goes, God’s grace is present in creation and the Bible tells us we are made in the image of God. Therefore, we are meant to be creators – even co-creators – engaged and at work in the world for God’s glory and for good. God’s grace is present after the Fall when he continues to love and act in the interest of humanity despite our rebellion (see the Old Testament) and then ultimately in Christ. Christ in his first coming enacts the start of a new age when all things are being renewed and joined under one Head – Himself – before He hands them over to the Father. We are in this stage when ALL things are being renewed towards the New Creation.
Our discipleship then as we follow Jesus is about our relationship with him and this will go forever wider and deeper. It is about us having the authority to enact the New Creation, to recreate and to reorder everything in line with God’s purposes. Our ongoing obedience is to act in line with the renewal of all things whether that’s the micro (people’s lives including our own) or the macro (world- and society-shaping events and processes) rather than merely maintaining personal purity or fulfillment.
Now I want to keep repeating that all the elements found in the two stage gospel are vital. I’m not discounting repentance and faith or Christ’s work on the cross and resurrection but these need to sit in their place in the story and therefore one would emphasise some aspects of these things more than others. For example, adhering to a four stage instead of a two stage gospel will most likely lead us to emphasise mission over evangelism. Evangelism is an aspect of mission so I am in no way discounting it but an appreciation for creation and new creation focuses on mission which is much wider and deeper than simply evangelism. Evangelism is about people coming to faith in a message; mission is about renewal of all things. Mission is about world and societal change which automatically has a collective quality to it. A gospel that is about mission becomes one that is about community, self-sacrifice and service. The renewal of all things is the renewal of everyone and everything. On the other hand by emphasising evangelism alone the focus becomes individualistic – transformation as purely personal and, more than likely, about adherence to propositional truths. It becomes about my renewal and your renewal.
Our response to the four stage gospel then is not only to tell someone about it but to show them in order to invite them into redemption and re-creation. In a previous post I talked about the five Ss of mission: suffering, saying, serving, sharing and the Spirit. They are the ways in which the Church shows society the gospel or the story of Scripture. Four out of these five Ss are action- rather than words-oriented. This is appropriate because a gospel only shared by words can only go so far. Even our words don’t have to be simply about speaking face to face; they can come across in a variety of helpful media: film, drama, art, books and music, and with the Internet, ever more widely and powerfully.
As the Church, our response as a community (as 3DM would have it) is to base ourselves around social transformation (ie mission) rather than ritual. With a firmer grasp of the four stage gospel, which includes redemption through to re-creation, we will appreciate more fully Christ’s headship over all things – the stage, I might add, in which we currently play a part. If we view creation under Christ’s power and authority then we’ll view every aspect of society as being drawn under the rule of Christ; what you do in the world is part of the movement of God. Your function in society therefore is extremely relevant. You can choose to see society as becoming part of God’s Kingdom, that is, his authority and power through us who believe. All sectors of society whether education, law, politics, business, government, religion, charities, technology, health, leisure and sport are being used and renewed for His glory.
So, more practically, because the home is the place of recreation, rest and family then it’s a key place for God’s people as the extended family on mission to step out in authority to show their neighbourhoods the four stage gospel, the story of Scripture. Because in a healthy society its social systems such as education, health care, social enterprise, sports and other social activities (underpinned by law and government) are about making society a better place then the four stage gospel will naturally connect. We do all this in the way Jesus showed us – and continues to show us. An appreciation for Christ’s rule will lead us to recognise that He has done it – He has won the victory for the Kingdom.
Church therefore becomes a celebration of re-creation. It’s all celebratory – whether that’s communion, testimony-sharing, the baptism of new believers, making right relationships, having hope despite loss, music and prayer, the use of spiritual gifts, and people being healed and reaching their full potential. Surely, since Church in it’s healthiest expression is community, then what better thing to have at the heart of community than celebration! And people will be drawn to such a community and will become disciples, whether gradually or quickly. This is the trend both now and forever: a movement towards full redemption and re-creation. Imagine society continuing redeemed after Jesus’s return. How will the Church spend its time with this ending in mind?