Now is a wonderful time to consider what it means to be an Easter people, and what the Gospel of Christ is really all about. What does centering our lives in Christ and in his Gospel look like? What does it mean to be a Gospel-centric people?
As a boy growing up in south-east Texas, with a father who was a Baptist music minister, I was exposed to the Gospel (at least a particular version of it) from an early age. One of the earliest memories I have of church is the preacher at the congregation Dad was on staff at (when I was about 5) preaching hell-fire-and-damnation-style messages nearly every week. The theology might loosely be summarized: “If God’s love doesn’t woo you into relationship, no problem – we’ll scare the hell right out of you.”
Of course, I say this in a tongue-and-cheek way. My memories of that little church are cherished ones. It is the church where I gave my heart to the Lord and was baptized into the faith, sang my first solo in worship, and even heard Sunday-School lessons augmented by felt-board cutouts.
One reason I’m proud to call myself a Virginia Baptist is that we are a Gospel-centric people. The tricky thing about using the word “Gospel” is there are sometimes competing definitions of the word.
Many Christians show passion for the Gospel from a social perspective. This perspective says that we usher in the Kingdom by being Christ’s hands and feet in the world. People will come to know Christ if we love like Christ. Unfortunately in this camp, some may care deeply for people’s earthly needs but become squeamish when it comes to evangelism.
Oppositely, other Christians show passion for the Gospel from an eternity perspective. This perspective says that we are called to win people to Christ regardless of meeting social needs (although that kind of ministry has its place), because nothing is more important than one’s eternal destiny. These friends are passionate about evangelism but may focus on that to the detriment of being Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
I’m proud that as Virginia Baptists, we don’t buy into the false choice between a completely social (hands and feet focused) Gospel and a completely eschatological (eternity focused Gospel). I believe the Gospel in scripture is both, and that the Gospel of Christ is both.
Through ministries like More Than Nets, Impact! Mission Camps, and Disaster Relief, Virginia Baptists care deeply for the real needs of people, bringing the same good news that Christ brought. In Luke 4:18 Jesus reads from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” We are called to this Gospel because we are called to model our lives and ministries after the life and ministry of Christ Jesus.
Through offering Demographics and Research Studies for local congregations, partnering with movements like Fresh Expressions and the V3 Church Planting Movement, and through training people for Gospel engagement with initiatives like Semillas De Mostaza and the Christian Community Development program, Virginia Baptists bring Christ’s Good News in equally valid ways. The words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,” compel us to tell the world her Savior’s name is Jesus.
I propose that these are not two competing Gospels of Christ, for there is only one true Gospel, and this is truly good news!
Virginia Baptists have historically kept in balance the eternal and temporal aspects of what the Good News of Christ is all about, and how the church is called to engage in the world. This is what truly makes us a Gospel-centric people, and why my church (Urbanna Baptist Church) and I are proud to call ourselves Virginia Baptists.
As we approach Easter, don’t buy into the notion that the Gospel is one of two competing narratives. If we are to bring God’s restoration and reconciliation to the world, we are called to meet the physical and spiritual needs of our world for the sake of Christ. For me, this is what it means to live a Gospel-centric life.
He is a Doctor of Ministry student at Logsdon Seminary.