Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church
By John Nugent
We will be reading through the book this month, and posting discussion questions as we go. We hope you will read along with us, and share your thoughts and questions. (Or, even better, get a group of people at your church to read through the book together!)
Chapters 1 – 2
Here are some quotes and questions, please use the comments below to share your own thoughts and questions.
Chapter 1: Yearning for a Better Place
Central Questions of the book:
“In the past, we’ve wanted to save the people from this broken world. Nowadays, we want to fix it. We want to end war, purify water, feed the poor, and eradicate all forms of discrimination. We don’t just want to talk about it; we want to do something and make a difference… But I wonder, has God really called us to fix the world? Is this what Jesus meant by calling us salt and light? Are we even capable of fixing the world? Is it something God has empowered us to do?” (4)
Summarizing James Davison Hunter:
“Culture changes from the top down, not the bottom up. Though bottom-up movements achieve specific goals, their achievements are often short-lived and limited in scope. … [The] ability to shape culture is concentrated in elite institutions with a monopoly on the tools of cultural manipulation. Even powerful elites cannot change the world by themselves. They need to be connected to overlapping networks of social, cultural, economic and political influence. When such networks join together with a common purpose, they can and do bring sweeping change.” (5)
What do you think? Is this how culture changes? Some of the time? All of the time? If not, how does culture change?
The stories of Joseph / Moses / Daniel / Esther…
“None of these figures engineered their own rise to power so they would be strategically positioned to fix the world. Rather, God used their unfortunate circumstances to preserve the posterity of his endangered people.” (6)
“The methods Hunter identifies as essential for world change simply don’t square well with Scripture. It wasn’t the way of Israel, and it certainly wasn’t the way of Jesus and his followers.” (7)
“When Christians begin substituting activism for discipleship, it’s not the world that becomes endangered, but the gospel.” (7)
Do activism and discipleship exist in an either/or relationship? Is it possible to do both at the same time?
Chapter 2: Incomplete Visions of a Better Place
“Let me be as straightforward and clear as possible: it’s not the church’s job to make this world a better place.
Don’t get me wrong. I, too, want this world to be better. I want it as much as anyone else. I hope my three daughters and future grandchildren grow up in the best possible world. Yet my desire—however strong and pure it may be—does not trump God’s word. Were we to do what it takes to make this world better, we may ultimately fail to do the very thing God has called us to do in Scripture.” (8)
Discuss. Is Nugent right? If not, why not?
Ways that the church has approached the concept of a better place:
- The Heaven-Centered View
“According to this view, God’s kingdom is not here and not yet. It is in the future and in heaven. Proponents of this view seldom claim to know exactly what life in heaven will be like, but it will most certainly be a better place that is free from sin’s negative consequences. So the primary role of the church is to spread the word about how Jesus paved the way to a better place.” (9)
- The Human-Centered View
“…affirms that when Jesus came and preached the kingdom of God, he was establishing a charter for how God’s will could be done on earth as in heaven. He was casting a world-transforming vision of social and economic justice. When people of faith embrace this vision and put it into action, they advance God’s kingdom and make this world better. Jesus began making this world a better place. It is the church’s responsibility to finish the job.” (10)
- The World-Centered View
“Though humans play an important role in this view, it holds forth little hope that we will ever bring God’s kingdom. Human progress in history does not accumulate in such a way that this world becomes better and better.
The heaven-centered view is right that if we are ever to inhabit a significantly better world, God himself will have to make it so. Yet God is going to remake this world into a better place and not whisk us away to another one. Only this kind of divine intervention, according to the world-centered view, truly fulfills the earthly hopes of Scripture, and only a future bodily resurrection enables all God’s saints to enjoy it.” (12)
“It is little wonder, then, that the world-centered approach is fast becoming the new favorite. Though it is a considerable upgrade over the other views, it remains a work in progress. It, too, has shortcomings that need to be addressed.” (14)
Without reading ahead into Chapter 3, what are some issues with the World-Centered View that you anticipate that Nugent might name?