Preachingthegospel

St. Paul had a handy verb at his disposal: euangellizo 

The noun form is the word “good news,” usually translated like so or as “gospel” in our English translations.

We would therefore translate the verb euangellizo with something like “preach/proclaim/announce the good news.”

We don’t have an English word to correspond to the idea of “doing” good news. So we have to add some word to denote the act of relaying whatever good news someone has to report.

We have to do this, for example, in Romans 1:15. Paul has just been expressing in his letter to the church in Rome how much he longs to be with them, and as he lays out all his reasons he says, “This is why I’m so eager to [preachthegospel] to you also in Rome.”

Paul is writing to believers in the good news. These people have heard the message before. But Paul is chomping at the bit to be in their presence so that he can share that message.

I’ll just go ahead and state the problem blatantly: Sharing the good news, doing the gospel message, or “preachingthegospel,” is far too often held as something that comes on the front end alone, or that is only for the people who haven’t heard it. And having to bring in a word like “preach” or “proclaim” so that we can understand a foreign word like euangellizo irritates the problem because these extra words tend to bring in this shade of meaning that gives the impression that we’re referring to that one time, initial announcement that is done for the people who “need to hear.”

But, I’ll also point out along with the problem the opportunity for how our language can be shaped for the better: When we read, say, and think of “preaching the gospel,” we should understand it as a lesson, a pledge, a reminder, statement–an exclamation, even–that sticks around longer than breaking news and actually goes deeper than hearing, and into doing.

We should take into proper account that the message is utterly repeatable and cannot be worn out on anyone, because a faithful response to the good news is not just something that has been discovered or a belief that has been accepted–a faithful response to the good news is rather more like obediential hearing–what Paul calls the “obedience of faith” at a couple of points (Romans 1:5; 16:26).

Those who “need to hear” are not just those who have not heard. Paul expresses his longing, not to be with a group of those “who have not heard,” but to be with a group of believers–and, not so that he can pass on to them the latest church-growth techniques or because he’s the highly sought after keynote speaker for this year’s conference, but because he anticipates participating with them in the reality of Jesus’s lordship and what it means for the world.

Action items: Remembering to preach the gospel to those who have heard, and continuing to hear the gospel even with those who haven’t.

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The Best Theology That Can Be Done

“Theology.” If you’re a Christian, and you hear this word, you will probably respond to it in one of two ways:

1) “I’ve totally got this.”

2) “I’ve totally not got this.”

In one case, your ears perk up. Answering questions about God is a hobby or profession of yours.

Or, in the other case, you immediately wonder where the more qualified people are. Preferably seminary-trained.theology

What’s the difference between these two kinds of people?

The first is confident in their understanding of God. The second is not confident in their understanding of God.

Now understanding God, like understanding anything else, is of course a good thing.

God does make himself known, after all.

But the process of understanding God is more a journey in worth of pursuit than it is a destination to which we can arrive.

And everybody can and should take this journey.

Faith, trust, and a lot of uncertainty. This journey sounds like any fruitful relationship in which what keeps you engaged is the mystery that remains.

At the heart of faith, you’ll find that someone is trusted rather than that something is known. Yes, it’s true what was said–“Faith seeks understanding.” But faith does not depend on understanding. Our traditions have given us creeds, doctrines, classes, and sermons. God comes and gives us stories, symbols, questions, and metaphors.

After all, shall we remember that one of the most important things to know about God is that most of God is unknowable? God is mostly unexplainable. Even the things that we think we can explain? We can’t. Try explaining grace, for example. A major lesson I have learned recently: I simply cannot do it.

If I wanted to be a good theologian (according to the popular definition), that should bother me. But it comforts and encourages me. How is this so?

In holding confidence in my understanding of God, confusion leads to bewilderment, and uncertainty leads to strandedness. In confidence in my lack of understanding of God, on the other hand, confusion and uncertainty open up to faith and trust.

Instead of some of us having confidence in our understanding of God, on this journey we can all find confidence in our lack of understanding of God. We would all look rather like the people Paul portrays us as in the early chapter of Romans. We are all on the same level. None has an advantage over the other. It would not just be theology “for the rest of us”–it would truly be theology for everyone.

A theology that puts us all on an even plane does not come in the form of a simplified version of what is known about God, but an acknowledgement that in our relationship with God, he is always in the process of becoming known.

So, if we can tweak the way we use the word “theology” for the moment according to its root terms God (theos) and word or utterance (logos) to denote simply what can be said about God, I’ll join all of my fellow theologians (aka “fellow travelers on this journey”) in admitting that “I don’t understand God.” And I’ll be doing the best theology that can be done.