Home » Theology » The Good News Isn’t That There is No Bad News

The Good News Isn’t That There is No Bad News

In a day when the worst sin a person can commit personally is to “make someone else feel bad,” Gospel preaching has taken a bit of a hit. We want to preach good news… which is what gospel means, but we seem to imagine that good news is good news even when we leave out the bad news that makes the good news good.

Imagine the scene:

An elderly couple sitting in their somewhat posh living room of an evening, listening to records (those black spinning things that play wonderfully scratchy music). The wife is knitting as is her wont, and the husband is reading the evening paper. They are well dressed, well fed… content. The phone rings (a real ring, not a ringtone) and the husband picks up the handset. You see boys and girls, once upon a time, phones were sizable objects affixed to walls or set upon tables, and they had separate parts. He listens carefully for a minute to the person on the other end of the call, nodding, ahuh-ing, saying, “I see” every few seconds. Eventually, he says, “Well that’s good news. Thank you for calling.”  The wife asks. “Who was that, Dear?”[1] He said, “It was the Governor. He said I’ve been pardoned.” The wife says, “That’s good. Pardoned from what?” The husband says, “I’m not completely sure. Apparently I was up for execution or something, but now I’ve been pardoned.” He continues reading his paper; she says, “Knit one, pearl two.”

Then imagine this scene:

Wilson is strapped into a chair that many have come to call, Old Sparky.[2] He is bound hand and foot with leather thongs to the arms and base, and a metal cap with a wire attached is fastened securely on his now shaved head. Water is running coolly down his cheeks from the sponge that fills the space between cap and pate. A group of witnesses have come to “watch him fry.” Years ago, Wilson raped and murdered a young girl he came across after a night of wild partying, and left behind enough evidence to convict him of the crime easily. Wilson knows that what he did was evil; he understands the hate in the eyes of the young girl’s family. He doesn’t want to die, but knows that he deserves what is about to happen to him and that the girl and her family deserve to receive what justice might still be gained in this world for those so cruelly violated. Then, as one of the executioners raises his hand to count off the pulling of the switch that will end his life in what he can only imagine must be a rather painful experience, the phone rings… it’s the Governor.

The famous evangelist Charles Finney, who had the highest rate of conversion staying power of any Evangelist of which I know, used to say that when he preached, he elevated God and his holiness as much as possible and sought to present the condition of man’s heart as darkly as possible, and uncovered the manifold nature of the offenses to which men and women are prone to commit against God and their fellow creatures. Finney said he made the gap between God and the sinner as big and wide and tall as possible. For the bigger he made the gap between the sinner and God in his preaching, the bigger he made Jesus Christ in the life of the repentant, for Jesus is the gap filler.

John Calvin described this tension in terms of mortification and vivification. Only the person standing as good a dead and forever condemned before a holy divine court, fully embracing the just desserts of his own looming punishment can truly grasp the magnitude of the gift that is offered to him or her when that punishment is stayed, taken up by another. The life that flows into such a heart [i.e. vivification] is true and deep and lasting.

The Good News of the gospel isn’t that there isn’t any bad news. The Good News is that there is some horrible news, but that there is a way of escape.

The Good News isn’t that the listener is on a less than perfect path for achieving happiness and self-actualization in this world. The Good News is that even though a person is on a path toward eternal damnation before a Holy God, that Jesus Christ has come into the world to take up that punishment on his or her behalf, that if he or she will repent of a life lived for selfish pursuits and surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord they can be saved from this horrid end.

For the sake of today’s discussion, I couldn’t care less if you envision this process in terms of a reformed model or a arminianist model. What is essential is that one examines his or her presentation of the gospel and ask about its most basic components. Is your Good News about the good life that could be theirs if they clean up and walk straight? Does your Good News have any bad news associated with it… beyond a vague nod to general sinfulness? Do you preach against the specific wicked practices of people like both the Old Testament Prophets and New Testament Apostles did, like Jesus did, or are you too compassionate, too accepting, too tolerant  for that?

There are many ways to evangelize, and each needs to be true their heart’s convictions about method and manner, but, in one way or another, there is no Good News without the bad news penetrating to the human heart through the conviction of the Holy Spirit… and we are among his instruments in this world.

[1] Dear movie people who put subtitles on movies, Please note the properly placed capital letter on “Dear.” Every vocative (i.e. direct address) gets one of these capitals. I am sick of reading, “Yes, sir,” and its like when watching foreign films. Get it right next time.

[2] I suppose I must credit Stephen King for this reference, from The Greenmile, though it is a common name for these bad-boys in most of the states that use them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: