Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bad Church Signs: The Gospel in Three Words: "God Loves You"

Ok, I might regret this, but I have always considered starting a log of "Bad Church Signs" or "Bad Church Marquis." Why might I regret this course? That is because while I don't want to be known as a negative, "critical" person, or a "finger-pointer" or part of the "orthodoxy police," I also recognize that the Church here in America has given itself over to sloganeering, and too often the slogans are bereft of serious, theological reflection, having a propensity to espouse simplistic, one-line quips. The purpose of the one-line quips is natural, of course: the nature of the sign is designed to catch drivers as they pass by, and drivers don't have the time to read of paragraph out of Calvin's Institutes or Augustine's Confessions, or anything of rank profundity. What about a verse of Scripture, you say? Why not something like that? Good question. But I suppose that may not be the solution either, since so much Scripture is already taken out of context. Even so, a distich of Hebrew poetry (Proverbs) might suffice.

So, here is my first-ever written beef against a church marquis. This one, I saw on the east end of Hickory and the sign said: "The Gospel in Three Words: God Loves You." Well, not quite. "God Loves You" is most certainly true, but that is not the gospel. In addition, the word "God" is too easily read in abstraction from anything concrete and real (who is God, anyway, and what is he/she/it like?). Also, "God loves you" does not capture the proclamation of the gospel either. Rather, the gospel (Gk. "good news") is the proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord. In Romans chapter one, starting at the opening, Paul writes,

"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord."

The "gospel" of God, Paul writes, is the "good news" that Jesus Christ is Lord. Paul tells us who Jesus is: he is, as to his human nature a descendant of David, born to us of the virgin Mary and whose earthly father was Joseph. Jesus is the "Son of David" (Matt. 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 20:31; 21:9; 21:15; 22:42 and elsewhere); he is the king of the Jews, and the promised Messiah (click here for a debate between Dr. Michael Brown [a Jewish Christian] and Shmuley Boteach).

Jesus is also declared the Son of God through his resurrection of the dead. As the Son of God, Jesus is--again--the king, and God's Anointed One. According to Psalm 2, a messianic, regal Psalm, God's Anointed King is king over all the kings of the earth. So, "Son of God" expands upon the notion of "Son of David" with greater clarity that Jesus is the king over all nations. Jesus is the Christ (King Anointed One, Messiah), the Son of God. Hence, Paul concludes his "gospel of God" in verse one with "Jesus Christ our Lord" in verse four. The good news of God is that Jesus Christ is Lord.

The church sign would have read better had it said, "The Gospel in Four Words: Jesus Christ is Lord."

To wit, the phrase "Jesus Christ is Lord" is so profound, that volumes could be written on it. There is the meaning of the words Jesus (Savior), Christ (King) and Lord (kurios, a title given to God in the OT). Furthermore, the phrase "Jesus Christ is Lord" impels one to ponder the power and strength of the written word: what is nature of revelation as written over say, spoken, seen, or dreamed revelation? Again, the phrase Jesus Christ is Lord impels us to understand who Jesus was as a figure in history; it impels us to understand the reason for a promised Messiah in the Old Testament. For these reasons, and more, the church sign would do better to change "The Gospel in Three Words: God Loves You" to "The Gospel in Four Words: Jesus Christ is Lord."

In fairness to postmodern sensitivities and eastern religions, the phrase "Jesus Christ is Lord" may lack the muscle one thinks it has. For example, D.A. Carson writes in his book The Gagging of God, that "Jesus is Lord" is not always a sufficient turn of phrase for those who hold to a pantheistic or polytheistic worldview, as it could be reinterpreted into a pantheon, where Jesus is set on the shelf with other "Lords" such as Krishna, Brahman, and others. It is true that phrases has their limits because they don't have much (if any) context. Nevertheless, the phrase "Jesus Christ is Lord" is a phrase in Romans chapter one that has the whole of Scripture and history as its context, for the gospel of God was "promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures." There is a promise, there is one who promises, and there are the means by which that promise came about: agents of divine utterance (prophets) living in a certain geographical locale (Israel) in time (3500 B.C. and onward), and communicating their utterance in a form to be seen, handled, read and heard.

While Carson has a point, that "Jesus is Lord" or "Jesus Christ is Lord" may be reinterpreted into a set of presuppositions that relegates Jesus to a mere finger upon the hand of many gods, it is still a better approach than "God Loves You" as a short-short of the gospel. In fact, as we have seen, it is the gospel.

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