I had four or more conversations last week that helped me process further what the gospel is and what it means to the world. One person worried that we focus too much on converting people, while ignoring the needs of a broken society. Another worried that we keep trying to doctor up a fallen world instead of working on the “real problem” – souls without Jesus.
In a prior post, I mentioned how formative Tim Keller & C.H. Dodd have been to my understanding by framing the gospel under three headings – Incarnation, Atonement, Restoration. I won’t rehash these terms here (read the post if you’re interested), but rather open the question “How do the Incarnation, Atonement, and Restoration flow together to make one gospel?” Drop the ball on this question and many people, like the ones I spoke with last week, will be left wondering why the gospel of Jesus isn’t getting the job done.
Theory 1 – Linear Progression. The gospel may flow best in linear fashion: Incarnation à Atonement à Restoration. Friendship is the best platform for addressing conversion, and coverts, in theory, would do a better job and changing the world.
Theory 2 – Convergence. Maybe conversion is the central piece of the gospel, and the other two components serve as lead in’s to it? Some seek an audience for the Atonement message by serving needs and hoping people inquire about the roots of their kindness. Others wait to share the message until a friendship is in place for honest and mutual dialog. With this theory the gospel would look like: Incarnation à Atonement ß Restoration.
Theory 3 – Primary and Secondary. Kind of similar to the second theory in that Atonement is the non-negotiable core, but this theory points out that you need to participate in both Incarnation and Restoration, even though admittedly each individual gravitates more readily to one over the other. Incarnation <–> Atonement <–> Restoration.
Theory 4 – Comprehensiveness. Maybe there is no flow from one to another because each one is the other. To truly indentify incarnationally with the world, won’t you also seek to restore it? If you’re seeking to restore the world’s problems, won’t you also touch their most fundamental need for atonement? If you care enough to seek atonement for another’s soul, won’t friendship naturally be present?
I’m definitely leaning toward number four. It makes a lot of sense theologically, logically, and practically.