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!)
NOTE: Our read-along of this book will likely go through the end of December…
Here are some quotes and questions, please use the comments below to share your own thoughts and questions.
Chapter 1: Toward a Better Vision of a Better Place
[The World-centered View] is right on target in four ways:
• It focuses on this world.
• It denies that humans will bring the kingdom.
• It acknowledges that the kingdom has already begun in Jesus.
• It insists that Jesus will return to finalize God’s kingdom and raise the faithfully departed to enjoy that kingdom forever. (15)
What is lacking in this view is its ecclesiology.
Ways in which Nugent believes that the world-centered view misreads scripture:
• They turn the prophets’ condemnation of Israelite-to-Israelite social injustices into a license to denounce and overturn all injustices everywhere (Amos 2:6–8).
• They expand songs from Mary and Zechariah about God’s exaltation of lowly Israelites into promises that God will liberate all oppressed groups (Luke 1:46–56, 68–79).
• They make instruction from Jesus and James about caring for needy fellow believers into a universal decree to end global poverty (Luke 18:22; Jas 1:27).
• They stretch generic statements about the unique ruling responsibility of humankind into a specific mandate for God’s people (Gen 1:26).
• They misapply forward-looking statements about the royal role of God’s people in the new heavens and earth to the church’s mission before Christ’s return (Rev 5:10). (16)
Do you agree with Nugent that these are misreadings of scripture? If not, which ones seem problematic? And why?
“Even though the New Testament presumes and proclaims God’s redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of all things, it gives primacy to the new thing that has already begun among God’s people. What Christ has begun to do in the church is the core of what will be folded into his ultimate renovation of all things. The order of priority is first Christ, then his renewed people, and finally the redemption of our bodies and of nonhuman creation.” (18)
Do you agree with this prioritization? Why or why not?
“God’s people are not responsible for making this world a better place. They are called to be the better place that Christ has already made and that the wider world will not be until Christ returns.” (20)
Chapter 4: God Creates A Very Good Place
“As believers, we have compelling reasons to be actively involved in the world. But as we pull our heads out of the sands of social irrelevance, it is incredibly easy to stick them somewhere else where they don’t belong or to stick them where they do belong in the wrong way. It matters how we involve ourselves, how we act. It doesn’t do the world any good if they can’t tell the difference between well-intentioned “activism” and the Christian gospel. Discerning that difference is a wonderful—and challenging—task.” (25)
In your opinion, what are the differences between “well-intentioned ‘activism’ and the Christian gospel”?
“[Our] yearning for a better place doesn’t come from a defect in God’s creation. … Our bodies are not cages for our souls that would otherwise be flying free with God. Instead, our bodies and the wider created order are the intentional work of a God who succeeded at making things just the way he wanted them to be.” (27)
Creation is formed with certain limits:
“Adam is told that he may eat of every tree in the garden, except for one. The forbidden tree is associated with knowledge of good and evil. It also represents limitations on human dominion. Adam cannot do whatever he wants. Dominion is not a blank check. All humans must accept that God alone is ultimately in control. God knows things that we don’t, and any authority we wield is on loan from him.” (29)
Pages 30-31 direct us to the question of what dominion means, before and after the fall.
Do you agree with that the nature of dominion changed with the fall?
Do you agree with Nugent’s reading of dominion after the fall? Why or why not?
Chapter 5: Humans Corrupt God’s Very Good Place
“God’s poetic declaration in Genesis 3 contains both a description of the mess humans made of God’s world and a description of how God begins to clean up that mess by making countermoves that preserve his original purposes for creation. The contributions humans make are stated as matters of fact. God’s countermoves are sometimes stated in the language of curses.” (34-35)
The way in which Nugent sees the grace of God within the curses stood out to me.
“[because] of sin, the harmony that once existed between all God’s creatures was seriously disrupted, and it has been this way ever since.” (35)
“sin created a world in which shared leadership is rare and those with more power rule over those with less. This means not only the fall of women from power, but the fall of
power into domination. The rich will dominate the poor, the strong will dominate the weak, and humans will dominate animals and exploit creation. In most cases, the weaker party longs for the power of the stronger. God does not sanction this state of affairs. He simply warns that it is the new terrain that all creatures will have to navigate.” (36)
“To live forever in a state of sin is a dreadful form of torture (the movie Groundhog Day comes to mind). Eternal enmity with the animal kingdom, eternal scratching at hardened soil, eternal domination of the strong over the weak—none of this is what God had in mind for this world. By ending life in a sin-spoiled world, God creates the necessity and therefore the possibility of a new beginning. He creates the desire for a better place.” (37)
Nugent’s summary of this chapter:
What did human sin accomplish? It distorted all relationships between humans and God, humans and humans, humans and creation. It placed all of God’s creatures on a path to degeneration, decay, and ultimately death. It created a world in which corruption, promiscuity, and violence were so rampant that God destroys nearly all life with a flood in order to begin anew. In flooding the earth, God takes a big step forward in making this world a better place. At the least, he makes it a less bad place. (38)
This seems like a traditional reading of the story of the fall.
Do you agree with it? Why or Why not?