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KINGDOM ETHICS D a v id p . G u shee

Holistic Ministry for the 21st Century (Part 2): Evangelism, Discipleship, and the Church A kingdom reframing of Christian mission, as I argued in my last column, helps settle the evangelism vs. social action debate, once and for all. Let’s hope we never have to revisit it. Evangelism happens when Christians invite non-Christians to respond personally to God’s reclaiming and redeeming love in Jesus Christ and to participate in God’s redemptive project on the planet. Evangelism is the invitation to respond to God’s gracious offer to be transformed and to participate in transformation.The call to discipleship, and the beginnings of “social action,” must be built into the evangelistic message. When we invite people to “accept Christ,” we should emphasize from the beginning that the call to faith is not just a call to believe something rather than something else. I tell student audiences that “accepting Christ” actually means a call to: a. Believe—accept the claims of and about Jesus Christ, as recorded in Scripture and attested to by Christian tradition and the church. In some ways, this is the easy part. b. Trust—lean into a personal existential confidence in Jesus Christ as the Savior who loves us even unto death—both his own and ours. Abandon any other grounds for confidence in self or life. c. Obey—study and practice the actual teachings of Jesus and the rest of Scripture

as refracted through Jesus. Do God’s a. The church is the body of Christ—the will, with no bracketed areas, blind spots, continuing presence of Jesus in the or exceptions. world, doing his work by his power d. Die—think of oneself and train oneuntil he returns.Whatever he did in his self toward becoming entirely dead to earthly ministry, we seek to do collecself-interest, dead to sin, dead to ungodly tively even now. He did the works of passions and actions, dead to any purthe kingdom. So must we. pose other than following Jesus where b. The church is a pioneering community he leads. This is an ongoing process —blazing a trail of fully human life of death to self in order to live for (redeemed creation, God-honoring, and Christ and his kingdom. obedient) for which the rest of the world truly hungers. The church embodies A person who believes, trusts, obeys, the kingdom, while also looking outand dies for Christ is a disciple. Making side itself for kingdom opportunities. disciples is the goal of Christian evangeThe very existence of a peaceable and lism. Many go to church. Few become just community of love is part of the disciples who have believed, trusted, obeyed, kingdom and also instrumental for died, and are therefore fit vessels for advancing the kingdom. doing God’s kingdom work. c. The church is a witness people—offerWe sometimes say in the South, where ing testimony to the goodness and power I live, that there are more Baptists than of Christ, using words when necessary. people here. Certainly there are more The church demonstrates the kingdom churchgoers than Christians, and more daily. The best answer Christianity can Christians than disciples. As Christian culoffer for the problem of evil is the church ture-religion fades, there will be fewer itself. churchgoers but, one hopes, more actual d. The church is a community of love. Christians. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know And one hopes that they will find that you are my disciples, if you have nurture and a home in the local church. love for one another.” It was love that I am pushing hard at every opportuGod demonstrated in sending his one nity these days for a recovery and strengthand only Son to this violent, rebellious ening of the local church. Christ’s bride world, and love that Jesus demonis afflicted by all kinds of challenges these strated in dying on the cross even for days, with much evidence that many of his enemies, and love that we must our best and brightest young people are demonstrate as our cardinal virtue and so turned off that they will settle into the central obligation—love for God, love spiritual but not religious, or Christian for every human being. n but not churchgoing, category. Michael Lindsay showed in his important book David P. Gushee is a distinguished univerFaith in the Halls of Power that many top sity professor of Christian ethics at Mercer evangelical leaders in various fields are University in Atlanta, Ga., co-chair of the not regularly going to church. I think that Biblical/Contextual Ethics Group of the the future of the church in the next gen- American Academy of Religion, and presieration is really up for grabs. Many dent of Evangelicals for Human Rights. He is seminarians that I teach are not at all sure the author of 11 books, including Kingdom they want to invest in the local church, Ethics:Following Jesus in Contemporary at least in its current form. Context (with Glen Stassen, IVP, 2003) And so we also need a kingdom and The Future of Faith in American reframing of the church, perhaps along Politics (Baylor University Press, 2009). these lines: PRISM 2009

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Holistic Ministry for the 21st Century (Part 2): Evangelism, Discipleship and the Church  

Kingdom Ethics March 2009

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