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preaching article Rethinking Our Witness to the Neighborhood

Rethinking Our Witness to the Neighborhood

based on 5 ratings
Dec 18, 2012


Communities that live life in and among the neighborhoods and the stuff of everyday life have numerous opportunities to proclaim the gospel. But at times we are confused.

The gospel is not this singular version. As Scot McKnight and N T Wright and many others have been writing, the gospel is that God has come in Jesus Christ and fulfilled his promises to make the world right. In Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, God has accomplished the victory over the powers, evil, sin and death. He now reigns. Jesus is Lord. And through the sending of the Spirit and the church, He is bringing in His Kingdom. Will we participate?

Rarely has there been a need in the history of the church to reinvigorate this gospel and contextualize it more than now, in the West. We simply do not know how to translate this gospel into everyday lives and in the social realities around us.

In Prodigal Christianity, the upcoming book I’ve written with co-pastor of Life on the Vine, Geoff Holsclaw, we offer four proclamations as a starter. These are “realities” that can be proclaimed in the midst of the chaos and vacuum of hope we often meet in day-to-day situations. But the truth is there are many more.

The four we proposed are:

“God Is Reconciling You in All Your Relationships”

Everywhere around us is enormous isolation: relationships that are disconnected, broken, or abusive. We can proclaim into people’s lives, when the occasion arises and the Spirit prompts, that God is at work reconciling all relationships, including our relationships, in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:17-21). Sometimes this means calling one another to receive forgiveness in Christ, and sometime it is a call to ask for forgiveness. Sometimes it is seeking reconciliation between businesses or political organizations that have done harm to people in a neighborhood—repairing wrongs done. If this invitation is accepted, people enter the kingdom the righteousness of God, restoring relationships. And this salvation spreads into every area of our lives and our contexts.

“God Is at Work”

Everywhere around us is busyness and emptiness. Many are losing faith in the American dream. We have failed at a job, a marriage, personal or moral health. We are financially trapped. We have no vision for the future. In response, we can proclaim that Jesus is Lord and at work renewing all things—making a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). As we listen, we can point to places where, by the Spirit, we see God at work. We can proclaim the gospel: Jesus is Lord and King over that place or person bringing his purposes into being. We must learn to ask, “What is God saying to you? What is God doing?” and believe that God is really at work, taking us somewhere, building the kingdom. “Can you take steps of faith and obedience in response to what God is doing? Can you enter in?” Again, if the invitation is accepted, people enter the kingdom, and this salvation spreads into all areas of their lives.

“God Has Put the Power of Sin to Death and Is Calling You into Life”

Everywhere around us are places of addiction. People find themselves powerless, trapped, and overwhelmed. They ask if things will ever change and believe they never will. We can proclaim that Jesus has defeated the powers of sin and death (Col 2:15).The kingdom of death (the first Adam) is crumbling, and the kingdom of life (the second Adam) is coming. We must learn to invite one another to put these desires to death on the cross with him in order that new life might be resurrected in and out of us (Rom 6:6-7). We must call each other out of the evil powers of lies and falsehood by asking, “Can you enter in?” Again, if the invitation is accepted, people enter the kingdom, and this salvation spreads into all areas of their lives.

“God Is Calling You into Mission”

Everywhere we find people who lack purpose. We work 60 or 70 hours a week, have nice things, and yet our lives feel empty. Or if we’re younger, we have none of these things and find the pursuit of them empty. We can proclaim that the mission of God is to bring the whole world to God’s own righteousness, justice, new creation, and reconciliation. We can invite our neighbors into God’s mission, even if they have yet to recognize God in their lives. A missions project, a service effort we’re doing in the community? A trip to Haiti? Will you join us? They may not yet even fully know or trust God in Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, there is a point of entry in the proclamation that over all the injustice, hate, and emptiness in the world, God is at work to redeem it all. If the invitation is accepted to join in, this salvation can spread into all areas of their lives.

Learning to listen, be present and be available to one another and the Holy Spirit is the pretext for any such proclamation. It is not a program; it is part of everyday life. It is only through living that we can find the right words to proclaim. Yet we must understand we are speaking “reality” into people’s lives by the Spirit and we too are being challenged and changed in the process. This dynamic of proclamation I believe has been lost because a.) our preaching has become limited to a teaching exercise, and b.) we have limited the gospel so narrowly we have lost many if not all the entry points with our culture.

For now, what are other ways you have learned to proclaim the gospel in your context?

David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary. Hehelped start Up\Rooted, a collaborative gathering for Chicago area church leadership engaging the post-modern context. More recently he's been involved in organizing the Missional Learning Commons in the Midwest.

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Talk about it...

Bill Williams avatar
Bill Williams
0 days ago
@Patrick, I'm not sure I understand your comment correctly. Are you under the impression that the author is dismissing McKnight and Wright? Because that is not how I read the article. I understood the author to be endorsing the writings of McKnight and Wright. But like I said, perhaps I misunderstood you.
Patrick Doherty avatar
Patrick Doherty
0 days ago
@Bill. Thanks for pointing that out. I completely misread the punctuation in the sentence - I humbly retract my comment. At first glance, I thought the author was saying the Wright and others have been presenting a "too narrow" gospel. I'll delete my comment.
Mark Baker avatar
Mark Baker
0 days ago
I confess that I am more than a little concerned with the explanation/definition of "the gospel" presented here. At a minimum, I'm not exactly sure what he/they mean. It may sound specific, but it is not. Also, even though the author seems to make it sound more palatable for a wider audience (which is not a good thing), it smacks of the leaven which is sweeping through much of the church. At worse (in all of this) what he/they mean by "the gospel" is "a different gospel," the same "postmodern"/emerging church/"social gospel"/liberal ... "gospel" that is not good news. Furthermore, to appeal to these guys as authoritative on the gospel is deeply concerning.
Doug Conley avatar
Doug Conley
0 days ago
This is another article that is geared to larger, more urban congregations. With all the small rural congregations, I would think that the struggle in those would be written about occasionally. While this article may very well be pertinent in some settings, there is, once again, no help for the small, rural church.
Bill Williams avatar
Bill Williams
0 days ago
@Mark, I don't think the gospel presented by this article, or as described by the Biblical scholars such as McKnight and Wright, is meant to be palatable for a wider audience, at all. On the contrary, I suspect that the implications of this understanding of the Gospel, when thought through, would be quickly rejected by the majority of people. The idea that Jesus is Lord, and that he is bringing his kingdom into this world, poses a great threat to most people, who are quite satisfied to be their own Lord and rulers of their own kingdom. We may give lip service to the idea that Jesus is Lord; but an honest evaluation of most people in this world, including a significant portion of professed Christians, would reveal that we really prefer to be in charge, ourselves, thank you very much! On the other hand, the understanding of the gospel by many that is limited to the forgiveness of one's own personal sins, would seem to me to be MUCH more palatable to a wider audience. So much so that it would lead exactly to the kind of Christianity that we, in fact, see--a church filled with people who claim to be Christian, but whose lives look nothing like the life of Christ! And it certainly poses no threat to the powers of this world.
Bill Williams avatar
Bill Williams
0 days ago
@Patrick, don't worry, I misread stuff all the time, myself! @Doug, I'm not sure how this article would not be applicable in a rural setting. Could you expand a bit more on your concerns?

So, what did you think?


Thank you.