Rest Unleashed – Narrative 2 of 3

raven-yenser-2013-bw-red-300x246My journey continues by considering the gospel of Jesus. Narrative 2 expresses my seeking answers to one massive question: What is the gospel? I know the easy answers. I want a deeper understanding. If the gospel is so liberating, why do I feel so guilty all the time? That question spun through my mind day after day while at UBF.


Breaking the yoke of guilt

“We never taught that!”… words I’ve heard often after leaving my former religious organization. One of my most impactful and life-changing discoveries I made after resigning from my leadership position in a fundamentalist, fringe Korean religious group was that my theology was deeply flawed because we were holding onto implied gospel messages that were filled with holes and superficial, un-Christ-like ideologies. Of course the group leaders could claim they never taught the things I was renouncing and criticizing them for on my blog. Our flawed gospel messages were not normally taught explicitly. Most of the time, our shallow gospel was taught implicitly, taught underhandedly through a praise/shame system. We knew exactly what we were teaching, what kind of behavior we expected in ourselves and in new recruits, but we rarely documented such things explicitly. That way all those “R-Group people” (our term for former members) would not be able to prove anything.

I found that I had the facts of the gospel correct—the gospel is about Jesus, his birth, life, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension and future reign—but I had come to accept some very non-gospel messages. I accepted, for example, that I must remain loyal to my personal spiritual supervisor the rest of my life, checking with him for major life decisions to see if my decisions were “God’s will”. We called this “spiritual order”. I also accepted that it was not possible to leave the group I was in, or at least not if I wanted to be in Heaven one day. In fact we created an entire heritage system of implied beliefs—beliefs that are not taught by the bible text directly but that seem to be implied from the text. It was a grand biblical proof-texted ideology. Sometimes this heritage was then explicitly taught. Looking back, I see that I didn’t actually believe such teachings, but I accepted them. I overlooked the built-in contradictions and did my best to apologize for and to perpetuate the flawed theology.

Five Explicit Gospel Messages

In “The Explicit Gospel”, Matt Chandler eloquently articulates the content of the gospel, brilliantly describing the gospel as what he rightly calls “the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air”. In “Your Church is too Small”, John H. Armstrong earnestly and magnificently expresses the result of the gospel, as an exhortation to see the Church holistically, comprehensively, historically and missionally, and yet in a fresh, new light based on Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17. In “Eyes That See, Ears That Hear”, James Danaher repaints the theological framework of Christianity, expressing the fabric of the gospel so that we can perceive the gospel as we continue the epic transition from modernity to post-modernity and beyond. In “Fundamorphosis”, Robb Ryerse brings to life his amazing journey of transformation, renewal and regeneration that reveals the power of the gospel to change and transform in a personal and approachable way. And in “What We Believe and Why”, George Koch presents a masterpiece of theological constructs that connect ancient thoughts on faith with current discoveries in a grand panorama of the faith of the gospel, meticulously documenting the essentials and the basics, the origins and the foundational truths of what Christians believe in an accessible manner few have accomplished. These five books have profoundly shaped my narrative about the gospel, and ought to be collected in some sort of “modern to post-modern transition library” as five classic books that capture the Christian faith in our generation.

I have found these gospel messages to be immensely helpful in guiding my conversations on religious or philosophical discussions. And then suddenly the gospel began to come alive, unleashed from the yoke of my shallow, misguided, guilt-laden, proof-texted notions.

• The gospel is about the kingdom. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).

• The gospel is about God’s grace. “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).

• The gospel is about the glory of Christ. “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

• The gospel is about salvation. “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…” (Ephesians 1:13).

• The gospel is about peace. “…and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).

Communal Salvation

It’s a small world after all. Our world today is smaller in that we are more inter-connected and inter-dependent than at any time in world history. Instant, global communication and rapid world-wide travel is commonplace. The worldwide Christian church is starting to realize that there is only one faith, one hope, one Lord and one body. Our theologies and gospel messages must now pass the test of global criticism. Perhaps we are on the verge of a new kind of uniting by the Holy Spirit that does not define boundaries? Clearly church communities have been ripped to shreds in recent years. Could the Spirit now be uniting entirely new communities, reforming the shattered body of Christ into a vastly more healthy and loving world-wide community?

Personal Liberation

Jesus did not come to bind believers to an upgraded law or to yoke us with a heavy mask to hide our real identities. Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Jesus came to give rest for the soul of the believer. Do you believe that? For most of my life I tried to believe that, but in my mind I always concluded: “Easy and light? Yea right! You gotta be kiddin’ me! Christian life is anything but easy or light…” I believed the gospel Jesus taught, but I lived my life as if I were a donkey tethered to a millstone. My only claim was “Yes I’m tied to a millstone, but it is a better millstone than what Moses gave!” I thought, “My millstone came from Jesus, and I’m going to pull it by golly!” So I became weary in all I did. Everything became meaningless.

If we see the Sermon on the Mount and walk away sad or burdened with guilt or heavy laden with anxiety, we’re hearing implied messages that are not of the explicit gospel messages Jesus taught. Jesus’ yoke is not a new way to be tethered to the law. Jesus’ yoke is grace. Jesus’ invitation to find rest for your soul still stands open today.

One comment

  1. Thanks, BK. I’m not sure all will agree but if there is just one thing UBF might change (on the GROUND practically and not just in the air), it would be this: “I accepted, for example, that I must remain loyal to my personal spiritual supervisor the rest of my life, checking with him for major life decisions to see if my decisions were “God’s will”. We called this “spiritual order.”

    My thoughts are that this is changing (partly because no leader can get away with this for long). But because there is a 50 year history of “keep spiritual order” this would still be years before such implicit sentiments will truly and practically change.

    I hope that this will change practically and in reality on the ground level by my grand-children’s time.