As you may know, I serve as a contributing editor to Christianity Today and was recently in Chicago to meet with the team and learn more about them and their future plans. One new initiative I would like to highlight today is the Global Gospel Project, a brand new five-year teaching venture for the magazine (not to be confused with The Gospel Project curriculum from LifeWay).
Launched in the December 2011 issue, the Global Gospel Project will provide resources for a full-orbed discipleship of heart, mind, soul, and strength.
To date, nearly all catechisms have been written with one tradition or another in mind--Reformed or Baptist or Catholic and so on. Given the realities of contemporary worldwide evangelicalism, we also need discipleship resources that embrace a broad, centrist, and historic understanding of the faith, one that recognizes the gifts of our various traditions yet focuses on the gospel message and mission we share. Our mission to spread the gospel in word and deed can only be strengthened as we understand and grow together in what is core to that gospel.
The GGP resources will not replace the catechisms of our different traditions; it will not be able to drill deeply in the unique teachings of these traditions, which bring such richness to worldwide Christianity. But the GGP does have seven emphases that will, we believe, help it contribute to all churches:
2. Broadly Evangelical
3. Set in the Local Church
The gospel is good news, and the GGP will keep this in mind from start to finish: that we are learning about the most astonishing and electrifying story the world has ever known, a story that has its source in the goodness and love of a great and glorious God.
Excerpts from two articles in the December issue as part of the GGP are below. I encourage you to follow along with this initiative and provide any feedback on it in the comments below.
A quick survey of adult classes and Sunday sermons does not paint a pretty picture. Thematic life-management series (finances, parenting, hobbies) dominate the Sunday morning education hour and often the sermon as well. Many sermons seem allergic to the challenges posed by the text, and even those that manage some exegesis tend to offer a mere pinch of historical background before hurrying toward an ethical "life application."
For the kids, the situation is especially dire. Summer camps feature Jesus on a surfboard, or perhaps in safari gear, while Sunday morning classes tend to specialize in low-quality group counseling sessions...In our quest to become relevant to children, we risk being pathetically boring, and so denying them the greatest blessing going to church can bring: the love of God expressed in the story of Jesus.
...Further, classroom environments for children are so remarkably different from the experience of going to "big church" that we risk giving an impression that faith, like dolls and toy trucks, is something to mature beyond. A steady diet of object-oriented curricula can only reinforce the very problem we are addressing: Once Christian children grow up, they may consider it time to put away childish things like wooden shepherds, miniature baptismals, and, alas, Christianity.
So what do we do? Perhaps the answer is much simpler, and more "old-fashioned," than we think: Maybe we ought to be teaching churchgoers to read the gospel. The first thing Muslim children learn about Christians is one of the last things Christians learn about themselves: we are a "people of the Book."
...If we could surrender our anxiety-ridden need for novelty, we could think about how to "work with the words" of the gospel in a way that makes God's loving call resound anew for children and adults alike. In learning to read the gospel, we would be giving ourselves the greatest and most formative gift possible: the gift of love for the fundamental story of the world, and a way of receiving and experiencing the divine love that story narrates. Imagine a church in which children and adults of all ages, races, and classes were bound together by their common love for the words of the gospel. If Christians can learn, week after week, to read the story of Jesus of Nazareth--to love what we read, to be loved by what we read--then surely the future of the church would look a bit more hopeful.
God has climbed down to us, meeting us not in the "high places" we erect, but in the lowest places: in a barn, suffering our scorn, fellowshipping with sinners, and hanging on a cross. We don't ascend from particulars to universals. Rather, the source of all universal truth has descended to us in the concrete particulars of human history.
Of course, we see signs of the objective nature of the gospel before the Incarnation. The Old Testament prophets weren't spiritual prodigies, "special ones." They were ordinary people, going about their ordinary vocations, when God addressed them and commissioned them to deliver his Word. Their guidance counselors never said, "Hey, you have a real aptitude for religion; have you thought about becoming a prophet?" The truth did not bubble up inside them, but came to them. God's message surprised them as much as it did their contemporaries. And God's message chiefly concerned Israel's judgment according to the law and the everlasting covenant of grace, which would be fulfilled and dispensed with the Messiah's arrival.
There is no passable route from us to God. We cannot climb the ladder of mysticism, speculation, or merit. In pride, we try to rise to heaven through reason, but God descends to us in humility and self-sacrificial generosity. We seek the truth within ourselves or in universal laws derived from our moral intuition, but God surprises us--and his name is Jesus.
This is partly why the gospel is scandalous: not because it's irrational and subjective, but precisely because here, faith refuses to remain on the Alcatraz of private opinion. The gospel is also a scandal because of what it announces: a radical rescue operation amid a radical problem (God's wrath). The gospel exposes that our claim to be defenders of reason is based on an irrational decision to ignore history and to stand in defiance of our own intuition that we are shipwrecked and need rescue. Left to ourselves, we use reason so irrationally that we determine that God cannot enter history, even before we examine whether he has done so. Again, it's not "neutral reason" running the show here, but a blind faith in naturalism.
While we were looking for "God" in the glorious splendor of our inner lights and universal morality, the Son became the most scandalously particular yet historically accessible revelation of God.