Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Interaction with the Author of the First Video

Feel free to visit James website, and jump in the conversation.

Trevor Holloway on April 8, 2008 at 11:54 am
James,I came across your work on IVP’s site and found the link to both of your Youtube videos. While as a believer I appreciate your call for people to follow the example of Jesus in loving one another, I must say that your presentation falls woefully short in adequetely explaining the true nature of the gospel. It seems as though you are overly focused on the social component (which unfortunately has been too long overlooked by many) while missing the primary message of the cross and resurrection which is forgiveness of sin. Your failure to even mention hell, sin, and eternal punishment misrepresents the incredible magnitude of the grace that God has given to us through the salvation that Christ offers. In avoiding some of these things and not taking the time to better explain the forgiveness component of the cross and resurrection which is the primary function (just read Romans) your presentation comes off more as, “let’s make the world a better place with a little of Jesus in the mix.” Further, and I am not sure if you did this purposely or just mispoke, at one point in your second video you said that we all will be living on the new earth and that is just not true. Scripture is VERY clear that only followers of Jesus will be dwelling in the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:9-27). Overall, your presentation really is not the gospel. It has parts of the gospel scattered in with some humanism. You seem to be calling people to try to make the world a better place through following Jesus’ teachings and example, rather that calling them to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). I apologize if I sound uncharitable or unloving for this is not my aim. I simply am a brother in Christ who cares deeply about the gospel and acurate proclamation of it for the sake of those who hear.

James Choung on April 9, 2008 at 2:03 pm
Hi Trevor –
Thanks for your thoughts. I hear your heart, and the desire to protect the truth and integrity of the gospel. And in that, there can be little blame.
But I’d be interested if you felt the same way after reading my book (or even the booklet). I may not use the words you’re talking about, but the concept of “sin” is woven deeply into this presentation, even more deeply than the individualistic version that’s captured in the American church. Is our sin only relative to God? Can there be other results of sin?
Also, I’m interested in what you think Jesus called “the gospel”? Often, Christians today limit it to “Jesus paid the penalty for our sins so that we can go to heaven when we die.” But that in itself is a small “part of the gospel,” as you say. It’s still true, but not the whole picture. In Mark 1.14-15, Jesus seems to be quite clear about what his gospel is. I think lots of people let Paul interpret Jesus, when I believe it should be the other way around.
On the point about people who live in the new earth and new heavens — yes, I do believe it is for the followers of Jesus. This presentation is an invitation to those who hear this presentation is to step into a hint of the new earth and heavens — the Kingdom of God — and to enjoy it fully in the time to come.
But I do find the charge of “humanism” an interesting one. Is it just because this gospel also finds a “sent together to heal” component for the world that all of a sudden it reeks of secular humanism? Or have we pushed the gospel into too individualistic a sphere, away from the troubles of this world, so that as Oliver Wendell Holmes once quipped about Christians, that they are “too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good”?
I definitely love the Bible and all the good stuff found in it. And I think Jesus has called us to so much more than “waiting for heaven.” If we look more deeply at it, especially in light of its cultural context, we’ll find that the gospel is far larger than we think.
What do you think?
P.S. Eric Peterson and the Southeast Region of InterVarsity has revised this presentation by including more biblical terms for their Bible Belt context. I think you’ll probably find this more to your liking, and I can send a copy of that to you, if you’re interested.

Abigail on April 9, 2008 at 4:13 pm
Hi James,Some of my friends who chose the Gospel track at an IVCF retreat earlier this semester showed me a diagram that I hadn’t seen before, which seems to be a simplified version of yours. I really like your presentation, but in Internet discussions I’ve found many people who share Trevor’s views. From their comments (including the common accusation of ‘tree-hugging hippy’) I’ve begun to think that many people are confused by your choice of the phrase “healing the earth” and the like, and think that on the systemic level you’re talking only about environmental issues (while my impression was that you were focused at least as much on social issues, which after all are what Jesus seemed most interested in). Anyway, just a heads up on what might be confusing terminology.
The revised version you mention sounds interesting too. (Though I can tell you right now that if it doesn’t include a clear message of final judgment based on whether you believe in Christ, it’s not going to go over well with many conservative evangelicals. “Nice, but not the Gospel.”)

James Choung on April 9, 2008 at 4:36 pm
Thanks Abigail. You’re right — the term has been confusing for some, though it seems clear that I’m focusing on more than the environment. It seems that many are reacting against what they perceive to be a “liberal” agenda, instead of hearing what it might have to say. It’s unfortunate. But for their sake, I use “healing the world” more in this second video.
Haha — they’re also calling me a “tree-hugging hippy”? Oh man… =)

Trevor Holloway on April 12, 2008 at 11:09 am
James,Thanks for the kind reply. I know it is hard to read tone in print, but I just want to make sure that you know that I am not seeking to be a jerky blogger type, but rather want to engage in sincere discussion as a brother.
That being said, you are absolutely right about many things especially the over emphasis of American Christianity on the individual nature of the gospel. The NT seems to have a fine tension of the individual nature and group nature of the gospel and its affects on our lives. As to your point about Mark 1: 14-15 I would agree that this is a key text and in fact Jesus says, “repend and believe in the gospel.” I do find it interesting that in your presentation(s) you seem to shy away from the very word that Jesus uses, repent. So it seems that when we look at it in the rest of the flow of Mark’s narrative that this gospel that Jesus is calling us to believe in is laid shown to us by Mark through the driving point of his account - the suffering, crucifiction, and resurrection of Jesus on behalf of those who would repend and believe so that their sins would be forgiven.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to overlook Jesus’ way of life or teaching becuause as he said, in him the Kingdom is at near. Yes, Jesus through Jesus the Kingdom of God entered into our world, although it has not been fully realized yet and will not be until he returns. And I absolutely agree with you that as believers we are sent TOGETHER to bring restoration to people first to God and then to eachother.
Your presentation comes off as humanistic in the sense that you say that we can’t heal the planet by ourselves but we need Jesus’ resources. It is not that we need Jesus’ resources, rather we need Jesus himself working through us and that can only happen when we repent and believe in his perfect life, death, burial, and resurrection for our sins. I guess it is at that point that your presentation, in my opinion, lacks because you do well to focus on the other restorative aspects of the gospel but the central aspect of the gospel is just not very clear.
Another point I was encourage by in your response to me was the point you made about not just waiting for heaven. I believe that true believers are active and their fruit is the evidence of their salvation as Jesus said. Unfortunately, too many evangelicals (in particular) today are depending a prayer they prayed as evidence of their salvation rather than looking at life transformation. And as for contextualizing the gospel, I agree that this is vital to communicating to the people around us. The one thing I would be careful of though is letting culture dictate our message. Culture is man-made and often works against God’s Word so we must seek to redeem the positive aspects of culture in order to point people to Christ. However, at the same time, the Bible transends culture so we should be very wary of presenting the gospel in a way that avoids using the very words that God chose to use himself, such as sin. Should we explain sin and these words in a way that people can understand? Absolutely!
So, in sum, I appreciate your heart for the gospel and I just wanted to respectfully point out where your presentation could be a little clearer because those points matter.

James Choung on April 12, 2008 at 5:58 pm
I appreciate your gracious spirit! It’s clear that you’ve been shaped by Jesus not only in mind, but also in heart. And it’s refreshing to interact with you!
As for “repent and believe,” it’s actually woven into the presentation, particularly the second video. All of this is worked out in the book. “Repent,” in the Greek is metanoia, or literally, “change of mind.” It’s wasn’t such a religious term back with Greek speakers; it speaks of a changing of allegiances. Josephus, when he was trying to convince a rebel Jewish faction to lay down their arms and to rejoin the Jewish nobles, asked them to “repent and believe.”
“Believe” is also bigger than how we use it. It’s pistis in the Greek, and means, “to put your trust in.” It’s not so much about believing a truth statement, like “1+1=2″ or “the sun is hot,” but it’s much more relational. It’s about banking your life on it.
So I use different language to speak of “repent and believe” to recapture its original context: change your allegiance and bank your life on this good news. “Trust him and let him be the leader” is how I put it in this video.
Ah — and about Jesus’ resources. I think it would be more accurate to say it’s “humanistic” if we think we can change the world on our own. But we’ll need Jesus’ resources, which includes all that you talk about. And more. It’s also talking about our need for the Holy Spirit to fulfill God’s call in our lives. My language is a riff on Dallas Willard’s language of “Kingdom resources.” And the death and resurrection of Christ is a crucial piece of this. (Check out my post, “Loving Good Friday” to get a sense of what I”m talking about.)
And I fully agree that the gospel message and its truth transcends culture. Absolutely. But the language we use to describe it is often bound by culture. Language is always interwoven with culture. And the gospel-truth rose up out of Jewish culture and Hebrew language, and then was invaded with Greek philosophy and its language.
The word “sin” in our culture needs to be expanded, even though it’s a true concept. People think about breaking the Ten Commandments or breaking the law — which is also all true. But sin is so much deeper than that. It infects our being and makes us act in ways we wish we didn’t. It’s a life-inclination — far more than just breaking a rule or two.
So actually, my use of some words and not others is not to avoid the topics, but to communicate these biblical ideas more clearly to an audience that may misunderstand these words at face value. My heart wasn’t just to connect with this culture, but also to recapture what was originally in the Bible, in its original culture and context, and then share that today.
I love that you want to see life transformation and not merely a “prayer prayed.” And that’s what I hope this gospel presentation will mark out clearly from the beginning: that the Christian life is meant to be communal, transformational and missional.
P.S. I posted the revision of the Big Story that uses more biblical language. It was made for InterVarsity chapters that are in the Bible Belt. I’d love to know what you think.
Rick L in TX on April 22, 2008 at 8:04 pm
In reading the comments again I just want to comment that I really appreciate the 4th step of being sent together to heal. I think this does a great job not only of avoiding the me-ism that can easily infect gospel presentations (making it seem a smaller message that is only about making sure I go to Heaven) - but it also captures and insppires the imagination of a generation that is looking around at a messed up world and asking “What can I do to fix this?”
I also appreciate that it ends up not as a declarative sermon but with a question, so that it becomes a component of a 2 way conversation.
I deeply appreciate what you’ve offered us here.

Trevor Holloway on April 23, 2008 at 1:17 pm
James,Thanks for the candid and heartfelt interaction. I really do appreciate some of the aspects of your presentation because we have so often failed to highlight the social component of the gospel as well as the together component. However, I think we continue to have a few basic differences in our understanding of the essentials in a gospel presentation. If you are ever in the KC area speaking I will be sure to come out to meet you. Peace in Christ.


Jeff Johnson said...

Thanks for posting that Trevor! It was good to get James' explanation of the points he highlights and the terms he uses.

I agree that the image of reconciliation is an appealing one to our generation. 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 captures the gospel in exactly that way: God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and has entrusted the ministry of reconciliation to us. Verse 21 is what makes the passage: I have the righteousness of God! Me! ME!! But only because God made Jesus sin first. Now--with the righteousness of God--I have something to offer a hurting world that desperately needs to be reconciled to it's Maker.