Tag Archives: gospel

Gran Torino

Last week my wife and I stayed in and watched a movie on DVD. The movie was “Gran Torino” – an oscar nominated film from last year starring Clint Eastwood. Spoilers follow.

Clint plays a rather crotchety old man called Walt Kowalski, an old blue collar former Ford- auto-worker from Detroit. Walt has been living in the same neighbourhood for most of his life. He is also a Korean War veteran. Walt is generally disgusted with most things in life, but he becomes especially  dismayed as gradually, his neighbourhood is taken over by immigrants. People of Hmong descent have moved in, whilst most of the white people have moved out. The Hmongs are Vietnamese, but for Walt, that is close enough to Korea to be bad. Nevertheless, Walt stays.

They other thing that has grown up in the area is gang culture.  One of the Chinese gangs are hounding the Hmong family who live next door to Walt in order to get the young boy, Thao, to join. One day, Walt stands up for their daughter against some belligerent gang members and takes her home.  Whilst the girl starts to befriend him, Thao is bullied into trying to steal Walt’s pride and joy, his 1972 For Gran Torino, as an initiation rite to the gang.

Thao does not succeed, but is caught by Walt. As the family try and atone for the young boy’s behaviour, he is drawn towards them. Thao is loaned to Walt as a worker to work of the debt, and, as Walt spends time with Thao, he begins to act as a father figure to him, to protect him and draw him away from the gang.

Joining this gang would get Thao into a lot of trouble – robberies, murders and so on. It would scupper Thao’s chances of having a decent life,  going to college and would push him down the life of crime. Thao doesn’t want this either and needs the direction of a father figure.

Towards the end of the film Walt decides to do something about this gang which has been plaguing the neighbourhood. He goes round to their house late one evening and confronts them. He pretends he has a gun (but actually only has a cigarette and a lighter). As he pretends to draw this non-existent gun (but is actually reaching for the lighter), he is shot. The gang is immediately arrested and jailed, out of Thao’s life.

Walt’s sacrifice saved Thao from the gang. It dealt with the trouble and allowed the him to live a decent life. Oh, and Thao got left the Gran Torino.

There are many religious overtones in this film, made obvious but the inclusion of a young Catholic priest who strikes up a friendship with Walt. For me, the most powerful metaphor was that of the sacrifice which gave life. Walt’s sacrifice was necessary to free Thao from the burden of the gang.

The obvious comparison is with Jesus. The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah, speaking against all the sin and corruption of his nation, had warned of judgement. However, in the same breath, he also said this:

Be silent before the Sovereign LORD,
for the day of the LORD is near.
The LORD has prepared a sacrifice;
he has consecrated those he has invited. (Zeph 1:7)

The apostle Paul sheds more light on the needs for such a sacrifice:

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. (Rom 3:23-25)

All fall short of God’s standards, yet can be brought to God nevertheless. This reconciliation needs a sacrifice to redeem (pay for) the sin. The purpose of this is to give life and enable all to reach their God-given potential. Jesus said:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

A great Christian metaphor from an excellent film.

What Precisely Is the Gospel?

Jeff Purswell from Sovereign Grace ministries helps us understand.

If the gospel message expands to include “discipleship in the kingdom,” then the objective nature of Christ’s work is minimized. When the gospel is redefined as a call to a social or political movement, Christ’s work is replaced with ours. When the gospel includes my response, then the ground of my assurance lies in me rather than in Christ. Indeed, anytime we shift the definition of the gospel from God’s objective accomplishment to our subjective appropriation, the rock-solid foundation of our faith is misplaced—and the glory of God in the gospel is obscured.

via What Precisely Is the Gospel?.

The gospel in a psalm.

Psalm 14

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.“ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

Will evildoers never learn— those who devour my people as men eat bread and who do not call on the LORD? There they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous.You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

Psalm 14 seems to have the whole gospel in a psalm. It begins with a description of those who say there is no God. It is a picture of corruption and evil. We think that then, this must have been a vast minority, even now it is a minority. How can they, we ask, say there is no God?  Well, the next two verses expand the picture. From all the sons of men (all of humankind), all have turned away from Him. They are all acting as if they say there is no God. They have all gone astray. There is not even one who is earnestly seeking God, no-one who does good.

But God is still there. He claims to have a people, and he claims to be a refuge for the poor, who are surrounded by challenges.

It ends with a note of longing and hope. Salvation will come for Israel (God’s people), from Zion! What is Zion –  God’s Holy City. God will restore his people and then all Israel will be glad.

So in the psalm, we have all people going astray, but God keeping is promise of a people set aside for him. Through future salvation, God will restore his people by enabling them to come back to him. With a New Testament perspective, we see that this has happened in Jesus. He has come from God’s Holy City to call all people to him. Centred on Jesus, the fortunes of these people are restored, their salvation is complete, and all of Israel, the new Israel comprising of Jew and Gentile, can be glad.

If we meditate on this psalm, we can come to an awareness of our failing to seek God whole-heartedly – do we often live as if there is no God? Is my whole life and my desires centred around glorifying Him? Even as Christians who know that God is good, how foolish we can be. But we can also be encouraged by God’s grace, love, and protection in bringing us back to him.

Evangelism and gospel outlines – what is the gospel?

… and which gospel outlines should we use? I have just been reading an article on Christianity today by James Choung who challenges the traditional gospel outlines.

Gospel means good news. The word is used to sum up the plan of God from creation to new creation, centred on Jesus. But this plan is big, how should we communicate it?

But first – there are a number of gospel outlines that can be useful in our evangelism. There are many, and none of them are perfect. One of the favourites taught in America seems to be the four spiritual laws. This outline concentrates on the sinfulness of mankind separating us from God, and the cross providing the way back. In many ways this is similar to the bridge illustration developed in the UK – this is one I like to use occasionally.

These are both useful, and get over one of the central messages of Christianity, that sin separates us from God and that Jesus has dealt with our sin on the cross of open up the way back to him, and that each of us can now approach God by accepting this gift of grace from God through Jesus. It deals with reconciliation of man to God, and atonement. One of the problems, however, is that this is all these outlines deal with deals with – a very personal decision of deciding to accept Gods grace. They focus on heaven as the reward and they do not say much about how a Christian is to live until then – maybe apart from individually thing to be a better person. It is also individual – a personal response – neglecting the other further reaches of sin which affects relationships between people, creation, and ourselves.

Another very simple outline is Do vs Done, which challenges the misconception that all religions are about trying to get to God. Religion is spelled D-O – doing things (rituals, prayers etc) to try to get to God. Christianity is not like that. Christians realise that, because of sin, we cannot get ot God on our own. Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E, as God has come to earth in Jesus and done everything required to get to God.

But the thing I find most difficult about them is that they start with personal sin. Let me be clear, personal sin is definitely a part of the gospel, but does it have to be our starting point? I have spent many conversations in the pub or over lunch with atheist friends trying to convince them that they were sinful (in the nicest possible way!), only to realise that most non-Christians these days do not have a concept of personal sin. And the concept of heaven (of Christians and non-Christians) is often cloudy. With a cloudy concpet of heaven – will people actually want to go to heaven anyway? Is there a better place to start?

In the UK, students are taught Two Ways to Live. This approach has many advantages, such as it talks about God begin the rightful ruler and creator of the world and that everything comes under his Kingship (kingdom appears a lot in the gospels). So, people can either live under the kingship of God or live under their own authority. This second choice is descibed as ‘sin’. It also talks about death as the consequence of not living under the kingship of God. This is good as it gets away from sin being just about bad things that we do, and there is an expectation that once poeple decide to follow Jesus (i.e. live under his kingship), it will have consequenses on how they live. However, the illustration is still very individual, focusing on the personal, and I have always found the 6 steps a little difficult to remember.

So what is different about James Choungs outline. In the article he doesn’t paint out the outline exactly (you probably have to buy the book for that) he starts with a concept of sin that is more real and ends with an immediate hope as well as a heavenly one.

Evangelicals have traditionally assumed that we have to start every gospel message by helping people see they’re sinners. If we don’t, then we can’t move on to salvation or how Jesus gives them assurance that they will be in heaven when they die. It’s not that this message isn’t true, but the approach is jarring. We haven’t created any common experience or authority so that our message will have any weight. We just come out and say it’s the truth. And in a postmodern setting, that sounds arrogant. How do we know it’s the truth? Have we ever been to heaven?

So at the beginning of the Big Story, we instead talk about our common perception: the world is not the way it’s supposed to be. We all agree with that. And we all agree that it makes us sick to our stomachs when we think about it. No one thinks that our world is great as it is. We hunger for a better world. And up to this point, there is no disagreement. We all experience this.

So whilst he doesn’t outline the approach, I imagine it goes something like this (Im not quite sure how the circles will fit in…). We see troubles, hardships and difficulties all around us. There are wars and conflicts, relationships between nations and individuals are broken. The world is broken, sometimes creation seems to be playing against us (tsunamis , floods, famines). Many people are not even satisfied with themselves, they have a low self-confidence, or try to ‘fix’ their bodies or minds. We hope for better. Everyone can agree with this. This is not how it is supposed to be. The world is broken because creation (including us) is broken and separated from God (This is all in Genesis 1-3 – maybe explain the fall here).

The good news is that we were created for better. God has a plan to restore his creation to what it was supposed to be, and it is centred on Jesus. He came to show us how to better relate to each other through his teaching and life, to enable us to better relate to God through his death and resurrection, and to enable us to begin to become the people we were created to be (bringing confidence in self-identity). His resurrection also shows us that we are created for a better world. By following him we can have the hope that there is something better to come (heaven and a restored creation) and start living that hope now – bringing that promise for the future into the present (how we should live now). We are not to just  sit around waiting and hoping for what God might do next, but to actively participate in ‘kingdom’ actions.

This seems to have a much more rounded picture of the gospel in it, which begins in a place people can relate to, and has all the essential ingredients of the gospel in it.

It is always useful to have a gospel outline or two in our minds, to help us structure a conversation when someone asks. I like Choungs approach, but it seems to me that the best thing is for Christians to know the message of what God has done for us so well, and to continue learning and living it out, so that any response can be individually altered to the character of the speaker and the one who is listening.