I’m reading Jim Wallis’ newest book: On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good. Jim spoke at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville a few weeks ago to an appreciative crowd eager for answers.
Jim begins the preface by talking about Jesus’s commandment to love our neighbor and the idea of the “common good”. He expands by saying that “all our faith traditions agree that loving our neighbor is required if we say we love God. Making our treatment of the most vulnerable the moral test of any society’s “righteousness” or integrity is ultimately the best way to make absolutely sure that we are protecting the human life and dignity of all God’s children.”
I have friends who believe in the “atonement-only” gospel, focusing on what happens after we die. Jim Wallis explains the difference between the “atonement-only” gospel and the “gospel of the kingdom” saying that the gospel of the kingdom was the original message of the New Testament and was intended to transform both people’s lives and their societies. Christianity is not a religion that gives some people a ticket to heaven and makes them judgmental of all others.”
Jim shares this comment over and over again: God is personal but never private. By this he means that he “believes in a God who wants a relationship with every person, but then wants us to sign up for God’s purposes in the world.” Jim shares his personal story about growing up in a church but then as a young man, “I became slowly aware of the momentous moral issues of justice and injustice that surrounded me, my nation, and my church. I tried to apply my faith to them, but the church shut that down. I wanted to change the world because of my faith. But the church told me that faith was not supposed to change the world, just to change us, and get us to heaven.”
Jim continues, “In the New Testament, conversion happens in two movements: repentance and following, belief and obedience, faith and discipleship, personal conversion and social justice. It’s all part of the biblical vision of conversion to the kingdom of God.”
“The atonement-only theology and its disciples are missing the vision of justice at the heart of the kingdom of God. Their gospel is too small, too narrow, too bifurcated, and ultimately too private. And in the end, not biblical.
If the atonement-only gospel were correct, Jesus wasted his three years on Earth with his teachings, preachings and healings. Why not just have the Gospels explain his birth and that he went straight to the cross to make atonement for our sins. Why worry about this world? Why not just focus on heaven?”
Jim Wallis asks deep questions that I’m hoping to explore with my friends who are also reading On God’s Side. Jim’s convinced me that I believe in the Kingdom Gospel, too and I’m eager to learn more.
(click below for MP3 file)