a full-er fourfold gospel?
About nine months ago a friend and I were preaching at a Church and the subject was “The Kingdom of God.” Easy, right? Well, anyway, we decided to simply have a public conversation, and our preparation was to sit down for an afternoon and dialogue about the kingdom.
What came out of that conversation was exciting for us. In fact our discussion has largely shaped the way I articulate my framework from which to discuss the gospel and the kingdom.
Our basic premise was this – evangelicals have tended to see “salvation” as being primarily related to one’s own reconciliation and continuing relationship with God. Thus salvation has tended to focus on the dynamics between humans and God, and how that might affect an individual’s post-mortem fate. However, if we go back to the beginning of the Scriptural narrative in Genesis 1-11 we find that such a view of salvation is, though present, inadequate to make sense of the entire story.
“The Fall,” as it is most often called in Christian tradition, is in a sense a misrepresentation because that term is nowhere found in the Bible. In this way we should be able to rename that event depicted in the narrative to help bring a fresh perspective on it. My friend and I decided to go with the term dislocation, in the sense that Genesis 3 depicts a dislocation between God and humans.
Now this might seem like an arbitrary alteration. But it was necessary for where our conversation was to end up. Indeed, we went on to say, there are more dislocations going on in the Genesis narrative than just that which occurs between God and humans.
What about the dislocation in the relationship between the two humans in the Garden? How does that continue to play out as the narrative moves past Genesis 3? What about the murder of Abel by Cain? What about the violence reported in Genesis 6:11? What about the fracture between Noah and Ham? Or the establishment of competing human empires leading up to Genesis 11? Our conclusion was that in addition to a dislocation between God and humans, stemming from Genesis 3 there was also a dislocation between humans and humans.
We also pointed to the fact that there was an internal problem within humanity. Adam shifts blame away from himself in a prideful display. Noah gets drunk and leaves little to the imagination, indicating that he does not know himself and his capabilities. Ham’s act of uncovering his own father further demonstrates humanity’s internal evil, which is of course exemplified in the human pride of Babel in Genesis 11. A further point that we made, then, was that in addition to the first two dislocations, there was also a dislocation between the human and the self.
Lastly we looked at the way in which humans now had a difficult relationship with the earth following Genesis 3. Indeed, the earth (ground) suffers because of humanity, and then humanity is judged in Genesis 7 with the agent of judgment being the earth’s waters. In addition is the onset of human civilisation in Genesis 10 which implies the exploitation of the earth at the hands of burgeoning empires. We concluded, then, that in addition to the other three dislocations was a dislocation between humans and the earth.
To summarise, Genesis initiates a world of dislocations between;
1. God and humans (theological)
2. Humans and humans (sociological)
3. The human and the self (psychological)
4. Humans and the earth/creation (ecological)
These four dislocations then come to a head in Genesis 11 with the story of Babel and the heightening of human empire. In empire all four dislocations are exacerbated in that humans delude themselves (psychological) in believing they can reach the heavens and control the world (God’s role – theological), a task that necessitates the exploitation of marginal and/or competing humans (sociological) and of nature and its resources (ecological).
To where does the narrative then move? To the story of Abram and his descendants in Genesis 12 onward. Our sense here was that the narrative sets forth a character through whom the four dislocations of Genesis 3 will eventually be reversed (salvation). Thus God sets up an alternative to the rising human empires, which will become Israel, and more broadly will become the kingdom.
What, then, is salvation? Surely it is any act that reverses the results of “The Fall,” or perhaps more helpfully, the dislocations. Any act that reconciles a human with God, or with another human being, is salvation. Or what about psychological healing that reconciles a person with their own self? Or ecological healing that reconciles a person to the earth? This too, in our view, is salvation.
Perhaps our conclusions have toyed with the narrative, or perhaps we have simply seen something by the grace of God that is often missed – of course you must decide. But if such conclusions have any weight then salvation is a much more comprehensive process than many have imagined, and God is interested in more than “saving souls”…
… he is interested in seeing his kingdom come in all spheres of life. Perhaps this is the so-called “full Gospel.”