“Know this–I am most emphatic here, friends–this great Message I delivered to you is not mere human optimism. I didn’t receive it through traditions, and I wasn’t taught it in some school. I got it straight from God, received the Message directly from Jesus Christ.”
– Galatians 1:11-12, The Message
Christianity is not the only gospel.
Before going further, I should first clarify that I do believe in the gospel as described in the Bible. I am a sinful, broken human being, saved only by God’s grace through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Or, as Pastor Timothy Keller, so eloquently states it, “I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but, through [God], I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope.”
However, I do believe there is a misconception among many American Christians today that Christianity is the only system of beliefs that is a gospel.
What is “gospel?” The Greek word for gospel is “euaggelion.” There are 77 mentions of the word “euaggelion” in the New Testament. It means “glad tidings” or “good news.” Specifically, “good news for salvation.”
I hear a lot about salvation these days, although it’s of a different kind. It usually involves talk of the tax code, health care and government spending.
The presidential candidates for the upcoming 2012 election have been tweeted, blogged, Facebook-shared, lambasted, analyzed, ridiculed by advocates and naysayers from both parties. Quite honestly, I have had pre-election fatigue for a month now. I’m a relatively young voter (still a 20-something), having only participated in 2 presidential elections since I became of voting age in 2002. Over the past 10 years, I have been amazed at the intensity, passion and religious zeal to which people advocate the candidates from their party. Before it used to be limited to lawn signs and bumper stickers and TV ads; now it’s daily Facebook status rants and shared links and blog posts that cloud my social media feeds daily (I’ve already blogged about the overwhelming negativity on my previous post here).
The reaction is always the same–a near-religious fervor to elect a certain candidate on the premise that if they are elected, the country will be put on the right track, in the right direction, toward the right destiny. They essentially preach good news. A gospel. Whether it’s a Republican or Democrat, each presidential campaign button claims to bring “good tidings of great joy that will be for all of the people.”
We live in an extremely polarized age. We have an increasing, unflagging idealism about the way things ought to be; as a result, our idealism colliding with colossal disappointment has birthed nearly unprecedented levels of cynicism. We have a cultural schizophrenia, optimistic and cynical all at the same time.
So many of us continually put our faith in political ideals, in science and technology. We put our faith in education, solid careers, financial security and a 401K. We put our faith in traditional values, morality and discipline. Our culture is saturated with “good news” that if only we vote for this candidate, get this kind of education, make this kind of money, raise a family with these kinds of conservative or liberal values, avoid this type of harmful behavior, get the latest model or upgrade, find the right person, follow our dreams, do what feels good; if we pursue life, liberty and happiness with the individualistic fervor of any good American, then everything will be made right. We’ll be whole. We’ll be better off. We’ll be the kind of people we are supposed to be and find our value and identity and self-esteem fulfilled.
We will find salvation.
It’s a broken gospel, and yet we swallow it whole every day, whether we realize it or not; we are subconsciously seduced by the world’s gospel, whether we are Christians or not.
Maybe this is what Paul meant in Colossians when he said “Set your heart on things above, not on earthly things.” He wasn’t saying that things on earth are insignificant, or that we should just throw up our hands and say, “Oh well, the earth is evil. Guess I’m just hanging on until Christ comes back.”
He’s showing us that things of eternal value and significance are more real than the temporary things we “hitch our hearts to,” as Keller says. If all we ever hold onto is the gospel that says science, technology, education, relationships, morality, reason, personal happiness and fulfillment will solve all your problems, then we are–as C.S. Lewis alludes to in The Great Divorce–mere ghosts, slicing our feet on blades of grass of the Real in the kingdom of heaven.
Christianity may not be the only gospel out there, but I’m pretty sure it’s the only one that’s Real.