I’ve recently been writing a series of scripts for videos giving a brief gospel presentation to young people. And it’s harder than you’d think!
The brief is that these young people will have entered the website on which the videos are hosted because they are interested in learning what the Bible has to say about a number of topics – and may even be looking for help with difficulties in their lives. So each video has a theme or a topical starting point from which to start: addiction, materialism, grief etc.
I’ve got 3 minutes – or about 400 words – to engage with the topic, bridge from it to Jesus, make a case for following him, and seal the deal.
Now it may be that the biggest issue here is the format, that trying to lead people to Jesus through an impersonal, one-size-fits-all video is not quite what Jesus had in mind when he told us to ‘go into all the world and make disciples’, but that aside, I’ve been surprised at how hard I’ve found it to present a gospel that I actually believe within that framework. Which has led me to wonder what, framework notwithstanding, is the gospel? What would I say if I had all the time in the world? What is ‘the hope we profess’?
I’m comforted by the fact that Andrew Wilson, in seeking to answer this question, managed to write a 9,500 word paper on the topic a few years back. If the Brain of Eastbourne doesn’t know, and in fact can “think of at least ten ways of summarizing the Gospel that are commonly cited from the New Testament”, I can forgive myself the ignorance, but still…
Just to reassure you, I do get the ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ part, and the ‘Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day’ part, it’s the ‘so accept him and…’ part I struggle with. I’m so conditioned by our culture to offer an explanation of ‘what this will do for you’, that just saying ‘accept him and you’ll be cleansed and be free to worship and serve God’ doesn’t really sound like something people would accept.
This worldview all too often spills over into the way we approach the Christian life, too. In my Bible Study group last week we got to talking about prayer and knowing God. We all admitted that we don’t consistently treat the former as though it were about the latter. We come to God, far too often, to ask him to do things: to help us, to strengthen us, to heal a sick relative, to provide a friend with a job, to not let our boss wind us up today… We act in our prayer life as though God were solely there to make our lives better or easier. Yes, we’d all agree that the things we’re asking for have to be in line with his will, but once that caveat is in place, we can ask away.
It seems that whatever the hope is that we profess, the hope we practice is: ‘Jesus will solve your problems, or at the very least give you the strength to deal with them.’
When the writer of the letter to the Hebrews exhorts us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess”, he’s not talking about the hope of a successful, productive, exciting, happy life. The hope is that we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place, and are free to draw near to God “with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” The goal is God: cleanliness leading to communion with him, relationship with him, fellowship with him.
It’s a tough sell. Even when we think and talk about relationships we tend to emphasise their benefits – security, encouragement, fun, companionship, growing maturity, mutual support. Relationships are good for us, in many ways, but to approach relationship with God on the basis of the benefits it will bring is more consistent with our consumerist/utilitarian culture than with the gospel. He does give us good things, and does command us to ask him for good things. Loving and serving him does give us security, a sense of acceptance, a feeling of self-worth that can’t be met anywhere else, but if he did none of those things, he would still be worth worshipping and serving. That’s a difficult thing to explain to our culture.
But there is good news. In a recent baptism service at my church, the elder was asking the baptisees to tell a little of their story of how they came to faith. One of them said he had grown up in a Christian home, but had drifted away from faith. He started attending church again, but it wasn’t until Liam Thatcher preached on the cost of following Jesus that something clicked and he wholeheartedly accepted the gospel.
I’m not sure what this means for my little gospel video scripts. I’m trying to write them with hope but without giving the slick, easy answers of false hope, because whether it’s what people want or not, we have to offer them the truth – and learn to live it ourselves.