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 14: The Better Place in Action
“The church bears the direction of world history because it worships the Lord of world history. The church does not pave the way for the world’s future; Christ is the way and he has already established its future. The church walks in this way and points others to it. Following Israel, we receive God’s calling as a gift. But the church has no reason to be proud of its status; it is entirely God’s accomplishment at work in us.” (119-120)
“To the world, greatness means power over others. To Jesus, greatness means faithful service in the greatest kingdom. But God’s people do not bring that kingdom. We are no different from Israel in that regard. Jesus brought God’s kingdom when barely anyone was paying attention. A group of Jews called Zealots were already trying to take the kingdom from Rome by force. A group of Jewish rulers called Sadducees were already trying to gain influence within the Roman establishment by infiltrating its power centers and making tactical alliances.
Jesus came and simply announced it: the kingdom had come. God was doing it. Believe it! Receive it! It’s good news for the meek, poor, hungry, and persecuted. It’s good news for those who have no power to do anything. Such powerlessness perfectly positions them to humbly receive everything.” (120-121)
Do you agree with the distinction that Nugent makes about the world’s notion of greatness and Jesus’s notion? Discuss with your group what greatness would look like in your church context.
To keep in mind as we read the remaining chapters:
“In this final section, Part Three, I explore several practical areas that are impacted by the church’s calling to be the better place rather than make this world a better place. I frequently attend to the biblical story, paying special attention to what Jesus and the apostles taught about the kingdom. This practice keeps us grounded in the biblical space and yields much fruit. It also helps us test what we’ve been thinking about. Does my argument mesh with what the New Testament teaches about other topics? Does the framework I’m proposing make better sense of the biblical story than the frameworks I’m arguing against?” (122)
Chapter 15: Discipleship
“God has assigned his people an indispensable place at the center of his plan. God seems to have chosen us precisely because we are weak and wayward without him. In him we are strong, and in his strength we boldly proclaim the new creation he has begun with us. It is not humility to act as if this were not so. It is hubris. It presumes that we know better than God.
This hubris is at work whenever someone chooses Jesus, but rejects the church. When believers make Christ the center of their lives without participating in a local church, they are trying to act out of their own strength. Jesus is head of the church, not the private Lord of pious individuals who want to live right and do good in this world. God’s better world is made possible by the work of Christ, and it is made visible in the body of Christ. We cannot seek first God’s kingdom without joining the people who embrace, display, and proclaim that kingdom.” (123-124)
To what extent are you tempted by this sort of hubris, that is, to resist what God is doing in the church?
“Authentic disciples truly plug into a local body of Christ. They enter fully into church life, form deep friendships with other members, and build a new life together with them. Attending one or two weekly meetings, giving a set portion of your income, and finding a few concrete ways to serve the body will not do. If the church were a social club or a community service group, that might be enough. But it doesn’t reflect the kingdom. It doesn’t proclaim the gospel and convey new creation. It’s like an athlete who suits up, walks onto the field with the team, but then wanders around the field aimlessly while the game goes on around her.” (124)
Do you “enter fully” into the life of your church? Why or why not? Are there ways you could more fully devote yourself to this calling?
Nugent observes that Jesus refused to identify himself with the religious movements within the Judaism of his day (the Zealots, the Essenes, the Sadducees or the Pharisees).
In what ways are you tempted to follow in the path of the Zealots, the Essenes, the Sadducees or the Pharisees?
Discipleship within Nugent’s framework:
(1) Disciples stop thinking of “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” as just an individual confession.
(2) Disciples strive to live, at all times, in line with the new socioeconomic order made possible by Christ.
(3) Disciples move beyond the question “What can I do to show people God’s love?” to “How can we as a body display God’s kingdom by loving each other the way God loves us?” (128-129)
In what ways does your church promote this sort of discipleship? How could you do better? Are there other characteristics of discipleship in church community that you would add to this list?
Chapter 16: Leadership
“What would change if the church’s first priority were to be the better place that God has already begun? What if the church’s mission were to embrace, display, and proclaim the kingdom? What kind of leadership would the kingdom-centered view require? Does it matter that the church is called to be a certain way and not to do a certain thing?” (132-133)
Discuss these questions that Nugent asks.
“All members play a vital role [in the decision-making of the church], and those who are called to be examples should be clearly seen and heard. Community minded decision-making doesn’t happen magically. Order and process are required, and that means leadership. But we should be careful not to assume that kingdom leadership, like worldly leadership, involves the power to make decisions and impose them upon others. That framework is central to what it means to “lord over” and “rule over,” which is strictly off-limits for church leaders (Mark 10:42–43; 1 Pet 5:3).” (134)
Have you seen this sort of leadership at work in your church? How are decisions made in your church? How could they be made more faithfully to the kingdom that God established in Jesus?
“Put differently, church leaders help all members lead in their areas of giftedness so the whole body might reflect Christ and his kingdom. They serve the body by helping it grow into the better place God has called the church to be.” (136)
Discuss this definition of leadership. How does your church embody it? In what ways do you have room to grow in modeling this kind of leadership?