this is God’s World…

I just finished running a 4 week course at church introducing people to an summary of the Christian faith called God’s World.

I really enjoyed getting into the material.

There’s a real depth and theological sophistication to it — although some of the key claims and distinctions might be a little too open to misunderstanding (I’ll reflect more on this in a future post).

But it was a conversation I had with Ben yesterday that crystallised what I appreciate most about God’s World:

It sells the benefits of the good news about Jesus (without selling out in terms of faithfulness).

What do I mean?

Well … according to Ben, Apple do this superbly. They don’t tell you that your iPod has an 8 gig or 16 gig capacity. They tell you that it holds 5000 songs or whatever.

And God’s World is a lot like that.

It’s like that because it pays attention to the problem of evil, a problem that almost everyone has a nodding familiarity with.

Better, it integrates it with the basic gospel outline (as it is in fact integrated in Scripture — you’d have to say that the gospel of justification as Paul presents it in Romans at least includes God’s self-vindication, the demonstration of his justice).

So it doesn’t just say, ‘Here’s the message about Jesus and some context in which that makes sense, would you like to believe it?’

Instead, it says:

You know this problem that you already feel more or less acutely? Well, the Christian message actually takes it seriously. It has something to say. And what it says is that God hates evil even more than you do. And, in his love for us, he’s done something decisive about it — he’s sent Jesus to live, die and rise again to defeat it. All that remains now is for him to implement that fully… Do you want in?

Awesome.

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11 comments

  1. You know – I’ve waited days before posting this – but i just can’t help myself. I took the bait.

    Whilst there certainly are strengths to “God’s World” – there are dangers. Two that I worry about are:

    1) God’s wrath and anger at Sinners, and his inevitable judgment. God’s World seems to skate over this issue.

    2) Perhaps (and I say perhaps) a slight skewing of the gospel message to be about dealing with the problem of evil, rather then dealing with the problem of sin. Whilst certainly related, and the Gospel certainly answers the problem of evil (which is caused by Sin) – the Biblical narrative seems to more deal with the problem of sin, than evil.

    Of course – there are good points to. Likewise, I like that it shows how evil entered our world, and how the cross is God’s solution to it.

    Mike

    1. Glad someone took the bait (finally)!

      God’s World quite deliberately and self-consciously “skates over” (as you put it) the whole issue of God’s wrath.

      This is one of the ‘key claims’ I mentioned which feels a little vulnerable to misunderstanding.

      It’s not that God’s wrath and salvation from God’s wrath is insignificant. It’s that the defeat of Evil — and our rescue from it — is primary. Salvation from God’s wrath is a corollary of this — because we only face God’s wrath as a result of our involvement with Evil.

      This, helpfully, shows how God is not schizophrenic in his attitude to us. He doesn’t both hate us and love us at the same time. He loves us — unequivocally.

      We see this when he saves us. Because we’re saved FOR him (not FROM him).

  2. So is the narrative of the bible (and the gospel) primarily about dealing with the problem of evil, or dealing with the problem of sin?

    Mike

    1. Time to nail my colours to the mast, huh?

      For my money, the Bible is not simply a story about how God saves individuals from sin.

      That story is tremendously important — don’t let anyone hear me say otherwise. But it finds its context within the larger story of the Creator God reclaiming and redeeming his good world from the forces of Evil and Death which have invaded it.

      I’m just throwing it out there, but isn’t it true to say that sin only enters the scene in Genesis 3, whereas the snake (apparently) was there before that?

  3. However – no one has argued the Bible is simply a story about how God saves individuals from sin.

    It’s about what is primary in the Biblical narrative.

    To minimise sin and judgment in presenting what the gospel is about seems to be a distortion of the gospel narrative.

    Mike

    1. Minimise the seriousness of sin and judgement? By no means! Rather, I uphold it!

      While the assertion of independence from God is close to the heart of sin, I think we’d want to say that it is — and always will be — a drastic failure. We never actually succeed in achieving the independence we rebelliously grasp for.

      Not only does God remain sovereign, ejecting us from Eden in judgement, but we also end up enslaved to sin, evil and death. We cast our lot in with the devil!

      Indeed, by saying that the Bible is not simply a story (or even centrally) about how God saves individuals from sin, I’m really just trying to uphold the theocentrism of the economy of salvation: it’s not about us (primarily), it’s about him — we’re graciously caught up in the overflow the ceaseless movement and joy of the intra-trinitarian life and love, a movement which overcomes evil and sin decisively in Jesus’ death and resurrection (although the complete implementation of this awaits the last day).

      (How’s that for a sentence to rival one of Tom Torrance’s best?)

  4. Yet, whilst agreeing fully on the theocentrism of the economy of salvation, in Jesus’ presentation of why he came, God’s wrath, condemnation and anger seems to play a much bigger part then “God’s World” gives it credit for.

    John 3:36 is an example. Jesus describes God’s Wrath as remaining on those who reject the Son.

    “God’s World” describes the consequences of rejecting God as being “excluded from God’s World”.

    Minimising God’s judgment, and justice in bringing about his judgment seems to be a fairly fatal flaw in a Gospel presentation.

    Mike

    1. Mate, I take your point — and appreciate your passion.

      I don’t want to be an unreserved defender of any particular gospel presentation — God’s World or otherwise. I’m interested in how we should rightly and biblically think about the gospel we believe.

      All I would ask is how all this talk of wrath and condemnation (which you rightly highlight) fits with God’s loving purpose to establish his kingdom of justice and righteousness? How do we relate the wrath and love of God?

    1. Jenny, that’s a very good question. And I think I would want to say that Evil is whatever is opposed to the good will of the holy God. As such it’s absurd, inexplicable, it doesn’t ‘fit’ or belong in God’s world.

      How then does it get a foothold? Why would God permit something so deeply contrary to his character and purposes to infect this world that he’s made?

      Although I can already hear Mike Allen breathing down my neck in insisting that I do justice to God’s sovereignty over all things — good and evil — I don’t think the Bible ever answers this question about the origin of Evil. It leaves it as an unexplained mystery. It certainly refuses to credit God with evil (although some of the daring language of the prophets comes mighty close to this — e.g., Ezek 14.9). But, as Carson (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, p 212) says:

      [T]he mode of divine ‘ultimacy’ has a built in asymmetry to it. The manner in which God stands behind evil and the manner in which he stands behind good are not precisely identical; for he is to be praised for the good, but not blamed for the evil […] The negative side of divine ultimacy guarantees (1) that even my sinful deeds cannot escape God’s sovereignty, and (2) that I cannot rightly shift my blame to God. The positive side of divine ultimacy is that little bit more immediate, so that I must recognise God’s grace behind whatever good I may do; yet God’s action remains sufficiently indirect to preserve my genuine responsibility.

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