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 6: God Uses the Powers to Make this World a Better Place
Summary of the Powers:
“Since these authorities came into power in a fallen world, their impact is often negative. That is why humans struggle against them (Eph 6:12). Some of them even strive to separate us from God’s love (Rom 8:38–39). So Christ made a spectacle of the powers and triumphed over them on the cross (Col 2:15). Since that time, they are being subjected under Christ’s feet, and those that resist will eventually be destroyed (1 Cor 15:24–26).”
The work of the powers “impacts the conditions in which we carry out our mission.”
- Rom 13:1–4a
- 1 Tim 2:1–4
- 1 Pet 2:13–14
“We encounter the powers in the workforce and in the household. All bosses are powers. All parents are powers. All educators are powers. They are “human institutions” that strive to bring order to society. They seek to make the world a better place. Sometimes they even succeed. That is why many of them are viewed as benefactors even though they abuse their authority by lording over the people they’ve been called to serve (Luke 22:25).” (44)
“My point is this: The tasks of keeping sin in check, meeting basic needs, and making the world a better place are crucial for human thriving, but they are tasks that God has assigned to ordinary human power structures. Most people assume that the powers hold world history in their hands. The powers are the movers and shakers. What they do has potential to make life better for all people. This is why everyone gets so excited around election seasons and regime changes. What rulers do appears to be most important. God’s people have always been tempted to be like these powers. We often assume that because they are fallen and often leave their work undone, it must be our job to pick up the slack. Who better to fix this world than those who are intimately familiar with God’s will?” (49)
How does Nugent’s depiction of the powers in this chapter square with your own understanding?
Chapter 7: God Forms a People to Prepare for a Better Place
[God’s people] “cannot be a mere extension of the empires they are leaving behind.”
Discuss. To what extent are churches in the US merely extensions of the American empire?
1. God takes his people away from the nations and makes them his own nation.
2. God’s people order their lives according to God’s instructions.
3. God’s people thrive due to the superior way of life that he gives them and the blessings he pours upon them.
4. The nations notice and are impressed, having never before seen such a life.
5. The nations decide on their own to come to where God is blessing his people in order to learn this way of life from him.
“It’s important to note what God’s people do not do. They do not come up with their own plan for making the world better. They do not engineer their own path to success. They do not devise a marketing strategy and promote it among the nations. Nor do they presume because of their prosperity and unique relationship to God that they are entitled to rule over other nations. They do not seek to enlarge their territory by absorbing inferior nations. They do not colonize other nations for their own good or head up an international coalition. They simply live how God calls them to live. They don’t try to make the world a better place. They humbly accept that God is making them into a better place.” (54)
“In short, God did not build his people into a nation that could aspire to the superpower status of neighboring empires. At best, they would be a relatively small and quirky nation that appears to the nations to have something of an unhealthy codependency upon their deity.” (55)
Discuss this thought on God’s design for the ancient Israelite people.
The role of prophets in Ancient Israel:
“The prophets’ unified testimony is that God’s people failed to live out Torah. They failed to rely upon God for their national security. They failed to execute justice in their courts. They failed to care for the poor and needy among their people. They failed to steer clear of all other gods and their respective worship practices. They domesticated Israel’s priests,
divested the tribes of equal status, and subsumed all power and authority under one human head: the king.” (56)
“God’s prophets had not given up all hope. They firmly believed that God would remember his creation. Somehow, some way, God would intervene decisively in world history. God would step in and make this world a better place. When he does, wars will end. People will live long abundant lives. Creation will be restored from the curse. Humans and animals, predators and prey, will live in harmony with one another. God will pour his Spirit upon all people, and all nations will embrace his reign.” (57)
Do God’s people have prophets today that function in a similar way? Why or why not?
Chapter 8: God Sends Jesus to Inaugurate a Better Place – Part I
“As with most kingdoms, God’s kingdom has both rulers and the ruled. The king is God Most High, and his son Jesus reigns at his right hand. The God of Abraham entrusted all power in heaven and on earth to Jesus (Matt 28:18). Jesus wasn’t an ordinary, run-of-the-mill ruler. He was the king for whom Israel was waiting—the Messiah who was appointed to restore the fortunes of Israel. He was the one who would renew God’s blessing upon Israel and then bless all nations through Israel.
The ruled, then, are those who submit to God’s reign through Jesus. Kingdom people seek first God’s kingdom. We learn in the New Testament that God’s kingdom began with Israel. In fact, Jesus explicitly states that he was sent only to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 15:24). This is not because God doesn’t care about other people. It is because Jesus refused to do Israel’s job for Israel. God promised that he would use Abraham’s descendants to bless all nations. He didn’t send Jesus to break that promise, but to fulfill it.” (61-62)
“In our day, it has become fashionable to separate the people of God from the kingdom of God and to speak as if God’s kingdom work happens wherever God’s justice breaks forth in this world.” (62)
Discuss this thought. In what ways have you seen the kingdom discussed without reference to God’s people?
“What, then, is the kingdom? It is the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes. It is the reign of God over his people on behalf of all creation. It is the new world order that the prophets foretold. It is everything God’s people longed for, and more. It is Israel’s God intervening in world history to make a better place in this world.” (67)
Do you agree with Nugent’s depiction of God’s kingdom? (in the above quote and in the chapter as a whole?)
Chapter 9: God Sends Jesus to Inaugurate a Better Place – Part II
Where is God’s kingdom?
“As pertains to humans, however, Scripture’s hope revolves around a kingdom that encompasses this earth. It may extend beyond earth, but it never leaves earth behind. It may involve a dramatic change of affairs on earth, such that metaphors of destruction are fitting (2 Pet 3:7–12), but the end result is not the abandonment but the refinement of this world.” (69)
“The classic way to express the when of God’s kingdom is to say that it is “already but not yet.” This phrase captures the New Testament’s teaching that Jesus truly inaugurated God’s kingdom here on earth, but did not bring it completely.” (70)
When is God’s kingdom?
“The church’s tendency has been to emphasize the “not yet” at the expense of the “already.” The not yet has caused many, even Jesus’ forerunner John the Baptist, to question the already.”
How well does your church maintain the tension between ALREADY and NOT YET?
How does God’s kingdom come?
“The gift of the Holy Spirit is not like coercive human power. It is not the irresistible force of horses and chariots, of drones and stealth bombers. It is a gift that can be rejected. It is power that can be resisted. It can be quenched. It can be denied. Remember the bystanders on Pentecost who accused the apostles of being drunk. The Spirit doesn’t have to get its way in our lives—or else! It would rather move on than mow over stubborn humans.”
Discuss. Do you agree that this is how the Holy Spirit works? Why or Why not?