Ever spotted a plot hole?
It’s a strange feeling when you realise something isn’t right in a story. Especially a story that you first heard a long time ago and have always loved. Over the past two years I’ve found myself challenged around a lot of my core assumptions about the Gospel and the outworking of a vibrant Christian faith. A lot of these challenges began on a trip to India.
I led a group of young people to see World Vision’s work in India in February 2012. India is a country of contrast – juxtapositions between the vibrant colours and the dust, between the heat of summer and cold of winter and between the extravagant wealth and devastating poverty. It was this poverty that moved me deeply. Not because I felt some form of pity for people, or because I only believed such destitution existed when I saw it first hand, but because I just hadn’t ever realised the huge importance of helping those in such need before.
Much of the theology in the evangelical, mainstream churches I was bought up in was based around personal salvation. It’s John 3:16 all the time, and let’s be really honest about it – any time we’re talking about helping the poor, feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, it’s always got a big asterix next to it. We say “Yeah, it’s super important for us to share our wealth to help those in need*!” – but what we’re not saying is that, when push comes to shove, it’s about getting people in the door of heaven. There’s little value in simply helping people without salvation being our driving force.
Here’s some important clarity to what I’m saying: I absolutely believe that Jesus is the hope of the world. I believe the Gospel has the power to change the world – and that we need to share the message of salvation through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. But that’s not the end of it. We can get so obsessed with Jesus’ birth (Virgin birth! Word become flesh!) death (On the cross! Taking our sins!) and resurrection (Conquered sin and death! Salvation through grace!) that we conveniently forget he spent a good 33 years here on earth in between all that action, and in his life we consistently see that Jesus chose to relate with the poor, the marginalised, and the oppressed. Through his life and teachings, Jesus demonstrated powerfully how we should live.
It’s time for us to face up to the plot hole in the mainstream Christian dialogue. As it suddenly dawned on me in the slums of Delhi and Kanpur – the Gospel isn’t about us and what we’re getting, it’s about others and what we’re giving.