The Gospel of Jesus Is Not a Plan

The gospel of Jesus is not a plan.

It is not a pattern.

It is not a gender role, it is not an ordinance, it is not a holy book.

It is not a priesthood.

It is not a prophet, it is not a calling, it is not something you earn or for which you qualify.

It is not a weapon.  It is not a paycheck.  It is not a right.

It is not safe.

It is not power.

The gospel of Jesus is a stripping away.  It is a radical revolution of heart and community.   It is a tear-your-guts-out, break-down-your-walls, destroy-all-your-paradigms, full-contact-sport of living and loving in blindingly truthful ways.

It is salt in a meal.  It is yeast in a loaf.  It is treasure in a field.

It is the God of the Universe making Himself so vulnerable, so raw, that blood dripped from every pore and nails tore at His flesh as a symbol of the agony we inflict upon each other when we insist that the gospel is anything – anything — but Him.

Things that are not the gospel may help us experience the gospel.  But when we make them the gospel, when we supplant Him with them, oh –

How we miss the mark indeed.

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22 Responses to “The Gospel of Jesus Is Not a Plan”

  1. Ruth
    January 20, 2013 at 2:58 am #

    Awesome, inspired. Truly!

  2. Angie
    January 20, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Love the title. The whole idea that God has a specific plan for your life and if you vary from the plan, or make a decision that wasn’t in His “plan” for you then you are screwed and bad things will happen to you …. isn’t something I can swallow. There are multitudes of decisions in life that aren’t good/bad. There are often many options available to you that are all “good” – they are just different. Do you think God gives inspiration and guidance for these types of decisions or do you think these are growth opportunities for us to exercise our free will and shape our own destinies?

    • emmaline
      January 20, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

      Do you think God gives inspiration and guidance for these types of decisions or do you think these are growth opportunities for us to exercise our free will and shape our own destinies?

      I think both and: He both gives inspiration and guidance and they are opportunities for us to exercise our free will and shape our own destinies. I don’t know that there’s a hard and fast rule for it, and I think it can be different at different times in our lives. I’ve had the experience where I felt strongly that God was saying, “Go this way.” And I’ve had the experience where I received no such guidance.

      What have you experienced in this regard?

  3. Kullervo
    January 20, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    WWhat is the gospel then? I mean, specifically. “Gospel” means “good news.” What is the good news?

    • emmaline
      January 20, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

      In this context, I mean that the gospel or “good news” is no more or less than Christ himself.

    • emmaline
      January 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

      Of course, this post is more an emotional piece meant to convey a feeling and shift the paradigm in which we’re thinking than it is a hard and fast theological treatise.

      • Kullervo
        January 24, 2013 at 7:27 am #

        Understood, but I don’t think “what is the gospel” is a hard and fast theological question. The Good News, whatever it is, is the basic and fundamental message of Christianity. So what is it? Especially when we are talking about intersections with Mormonism, where “gospel” is used as a sort of newspeak/jargon/shorthand for “Mormon doctrine, generally,” it’s important to step back and say, “well, if that’s not the Good News, what is?”

  4. Wendy
    January 20, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    Thanks, Emmaline. I shared your post with a number of friends. One of them, who is bilingual, liked it so much that she is translating it into Spanish.

  5. Katie R
    January 27, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

    I thought that was a beautiful piece. Would it be in harmony to say the gospel is charity?

    • Kullervo
      January 29, 2013 at 7:15 am #

      Would it be in harmony to say the gospel is charity?

      The good news is that Jesus of Nazareth is not only the Messiah, but God himself, he has defeated sin and death, and his Kingdom is here, now.

      Reducing that to “the gospel is charity” or anything else severely distorts the message and reduces the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection to a mere powerful illustration. Charity is an indispensible part of the Good News, but charity is not the Good News.

      • Katie R
        January 30, 2013 at 9:03 am #

        Seeing as Emmaline said this was more of an emotional piece meant to convey a feeling I think charity is a great simple answer. Why would Christ do any of these things without charity? What are we to learn, if not charity? Maybe its another byproduct, but I assume you would also argue with happiness or joy or redemption as answers, as you did with the answer, ‘Christ.’ I was struck by Emmaline’s beautiful piece and the emotion it made me think of was charity.

        • Emmaline
          January 30, 2013 at 10:56 am #

          With this post, I’m trying to resist the urge to explicitly “define” the gospel, which I wonder might constrain it too much. Though I would say that charity is certainly in harmony with the spirit of the post, as is what Kullervo is saying.

          In the end, though, I stand by what I said earlier: the gospel is Christ Himself. Even saying, “the good news is that Jesus of Nazareth is not only the Messiah, but God himself, [who] has defeated sin and death, and [whose] Kingdom is here, now,” reduces the good news to a series of intellectual/spiritual assertions. Like charity, yes, those are critical aspects of the gospel. But is it possible that it (or should I say He?) is bigger than even that?

          • Kullervo
            January 30, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

            The person of Jesus Christ is certainly God’s revelation of himself to humanity. But the “Gospel” is not something talismanic and/or amorphous. It’s the Good News. It’s something you can tell people. The fact that Mormons have a habit of newspeaking the word “gospel” into something much more vague doesn’t change what it has meant to Christians since Jesus himself started preaching it 1,983 years ago.

            I strongly suspect that habits of thought bred by Mormon use of the word to mean “the whole breadth and scope of Mormon religious belief and practice” is what has you uncomfortable with the notion that you can define it. Of course you can define it. It’s news. It’s good news. It’s good news you can tell someone. Jesus preached “the gospel of the kingdom” in Matthew. He sent out His disciples to preach it in Luke. The apostles preached it all over Acts. They were telling people something–specifically, to first-century Jews, they were telling people something about the arrival of the Messiah, the advent of God’s Kingdom, and how it means so much more than everyone had been expecting it to mean.

            Is Jesus Himself bigger than the message about Jesus? Of course he is. He’s bigger than everything. But “the gospel” isn’t supposed to be “everything that’s true about Jesus, God, life, the universe and everything” despite how Mormons have stretched and abused the term into broad meaninglessness.

            If you wanted to distill it down even further, you could say the Good News is “Jesus is the Messiah and it’s so much more than what we expected.”

            FWIW, it makes no sense to call him “Christ” in this context. “Christ” just means “Messiah.” “The Messiah is the Messiah” is not Good News; it’s tautologically true.

          • Kullervo
            January 30, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

            “People of Chorazin, I have news for you!”

            “Hi Bartholomew, long time no see! What’s this news?”

            “Jesus!”

            “What about him?”

            “No, no, you’re not getting it. He is the news! JESUS!”

            “Okay, what about him then?”

            “No, I’m trying to tell you, I have news! Good news!”

            “Well, what is it?”

            “JESUS!”

            “What about him?”

            “No, no, not ‘what about him.’ He’s bigger than that.

            “Bigger than what?”

            “No, you’re not getting it! I have news! The NEWS IS JESUS.”

            “Oh. Well, good luck with that, Bartholomew.”

          • Emmaline
            January 30, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

            :)

            Point well taken about both the Mormon over-extension of the term and the hypothetical conversation above.

            Still, the purpose of this post was to shift the paradigm away from a series of concepts and propositions and instead reframe the discussion by considering that what is transformative is God Made Flesh, Christ Himself, a Person: not a plan, a concept, a systematized theology, or even a kingdom.

            Sure there are plans, concepts, theologies, and kingdoms that arise as ways to communicate credibly. We have to use human language to convey the message to other human beings. That’s important.

            But Jesus himself spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in a series of metaphors, not a series of theological propositions that require mental assent. Perhaps I failed — and, like, I wouldn’t pull this out as a “first discussion” with a non-believer — but I was similarly trying to shift the parameters of the conversation among those who already believe (specifically Mormon believers who tend to carry some of the baggage around the term “gospel” that you so aptly pointed out).

          • Kullervo
            January 30, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

            Well, that’s fine; I just wouldn’t use the term “the Gospel” to make your point. Except that, given your intended audience is likely to be Mormon, you probably did a perfectly fine job of communicating what you wanted to communicate. I was just getting on a soap box about Mormon (ab)use of the word. Because I think it matters, and not jsut semantically. There’s a message about Jesus that Jesus told his disciples to proclaim, after all.

            On the other hand, I strongly object to you saying that “what is transformative is God Made Flesh, Christ Himself, a Person: not…even a kingdom.” Jesus never preached any plans, concepts or systematized theologies that I am aware of, but he damn sure taught the kingdom. Again, I suspect your Mormon background and the de-emphasis of Kingdom message (generally conflating the Kingdom with “the Gospel” or “the Church,” which is even more newspeak). Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom. “The Kingdom” wasn’t part of his message, it was his message. So whatever it means (and yeah, he taught it in metaphors, and no it’s not just a synonym for the Church and it’s not a synonym for a vague and overbroad Mormon “Gospel”), it is central.

            In fact, I think that trying to figure out just what the Kingdom actually is and how we’re supposed to be a part of it is pretty much task number one of a disciple–it’s certainly the task Jesus put his disciples to during his life.

          • Emmaline
            January 30, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

            In fact, I think that trying to figure out just what the Kingdom actually is and how we’re supposed to be a part of it is pretty much task number one of a disciple–it’s certainly the task Jesus put his disciples to during his life.

            I agree with this.

            What I meant in my comment, though, is that the Kingdom itself is a metaphor. There’s nothing magical about the term “kingdom” per se, except that he used it. Have you read McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus? He makes the point by replacing the word Kingdom with things like a network, or an ecosystem, to make it accessible in the 21st century.

            In other words, yes, all Jesus did is preach the Kingdom. On the other hand, the Kingdom is a metaphor for whatever the heck the Kingdom actually is — or, that thing we’re supposed to figure out as his disciples. :)

          • Kullervo
            January 30, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

            Have you read N.T. Wright? Because I think Brian McLaren is dead wrong, and in being dead wrong about the Kingdom, he is missing out on something amazing.

          • Emmaline
            January 30, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

            Now that intrigues me. I haven’t read N.T. Wright, though several people have told me I should. Where do I start?

          • Kullervo
            January 30, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

            Well, I’m only just now working through his New Testament for Everyone series, and I think it’s fantastic. Matthew for Everyone is especially appropriate, given how much of Matthew is spent discussing the Kingdom. The series series is great, and written for a popular audience, so it is an enjoyable and digestible read even though he deals with heavy concepts. I specifically picked it up because I was having a hard time reading the New Testament without filtering it through James Talmadge, and I wanted to go through verse by verse from a more orthodox perspective, just to sort of, overwrite all of the Talmadge-baggage I was reflexively bringing to the text. And it has definitely worked.

            As it so happens, I actually have an extra copy of Volume One of Matthew for Everyone. But, to be perfectly honest with you, Katyjane and I have discussed sending one of them to Katie L, because I think she would really appreciate it. I dunno; maybe she can pass it on to you when she is done with it.

  6. Katie R
    January 30, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    :) This makes me laugh. (In a note rude way, I promise)

  7. Kullervo
    March 14, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    Here’s a good post that deals with the topic of what the Gospel is and is not: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christandpopculture/2013/03/why-the-new-pope-shouldnt-listen-to-obamas-advice/

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