Growing up in an evangelical church in the 80’s and 90’s I have vivid memories of church events literally scaring us young people out of hell causing us to say a yearning “YES” to Jesus so we would never have to go to that dreadful place. I remember the play “Heaven’s Gates, Hells Flames” where we would perform scenes of people’s death depicting where they would end up in the afterlife. Those written in the book of life were joyfully welcomed into heaven with a chorus of angels singing to greet them. Those who never invited Jesus into their hearts would dramatically be dragged to hell screaming by actors dressed as demons. I remember bringing a row full of friends to see the play, all of who decided inviting Jesus into their hearts to avoid hell was a great idea. My church applauded my “evangelical” efforts to reach “the lost”, but it wasn’t long before the effect of the show wore off and none of my friends graced the doors of my church again. They had their insurance from hell. Isn’t that all they needed?
This was the norm 20 years ago in the church. Heaven, hell, sin, phrases such as, “Where will you spend eternity if you died tonight?” Invitations to bow your heads, close your eyes, put up your hand if you would like to invite Jesus into your heart. “Repeat after me” the sinners prayer. Now come to the altar while we all stand and applaud you. Honestly, I’m glad we’ve grown up a bit.
Do I believe in heaven and hell. Yes I do, but I’m happy that there’s been a depth of foundation that has been getting louder than the preachers soap box. “Foundation” that author Lance Ford mentions much of in his new book “Revangelical”. What is this foundation? The Kingdom of Heaven. If you read the words of Jesus, you won’t find the “sinners prayer”, altar calls, or scaring the hell out of people. His focus was in revealing that His kingdom was now among them, what it looks like, and what it means for now and the future for all those who will receive it.
I must share with you some of my favorite quotes from the book as it puts much into perspective regarding this:
“We have all heard it said, ‘If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?’ No one ever seemed to ask: If you LIVE tonight, how will you enter the kingdom of heaven?…. The evangelical gospel has been reduced to a message that has a lot more to do with dying than with living. It has been more about ‘hellfire insurance’ than living a life on fire from heaven…. We have reduced the gospel to a plan of salvation that has more to do with the afterlife than our actual lives….. One of the problems with contemporary Christianity is that we have made eternal salvation the end product, when all the while it is but a by-product of surrendering our lives to Jesus.”
Maybe Jesus isn’t just trying to get us into heaven. Maybe He wants to get heaven into us? (Dallas Willard)
Maybe Jesus doesn’t want us to invite Him into our lives (or our “heart” as we like to say). Maybe He’s inviting us into HIS life?
Understanding those two statements, friends, changes everything.
Jesus is inviting us into something far greater than just a destination years down the road. Eternity is now. His Kingdom is now. What would it look like to “enter into” his invitation to be a part of this? What kind of image comes to your mind? Is it “churchy”? Does it give you memories of a past with shameful preachers telling you everything you’ve done wrong? I can tell you, Jesus is far above all of this. We have settled for far too little in the church if this is all the “good news” is about.
The Kingdom sets things right. The oppressed are released, the poor are taken care of, shame is removed, justice reigns, peace and joy are standard. This is what we enter into if we choose to be a part. This is a much different message than what we’ve heard before, but this is the message of Christ. Restoration of things lost, brokenness redeemed, and a re-connection with the Father.
“The question is often: ‘Have I accepted Jesus as my savior?’ but we never ask the question; ‘Have I accepted Jesus as my teacher?’ And that’s the real question. – John Ortberg
Our answer to that question changes everything.
If you’re tired of what evangelical Christianity has been, I invite you to read “Revangelical”. As “churchy” as the title sounds – yet rebelliously “unchurchy” as the book actually is – you will find it’s pages represent what Jesus actually meant when He said His gospel is good news. It’s pages refreshed my weary soul from religious residue I’ve carried and have been seeking to be rid of for years. You can view the book here.