Firing a Gun into the Air

from Opinionated Vicar by David Keen

Firing a gun into the air seems to be the standard Arab Spring/summer celebration, despite the associated hazards. You can see it as a joyous celebration, a macho display, or a pointless waste of ammo, depending on your point of view. But it reminds me of something else.
I was commended the other day for ‘preaching the gospel’ during a Sunday sermon. That’s evangelical shorthand for taking time to talk about our blocked relationship with God, and the unique way in which Jesus restores it through the cross. There is a strong evangelical pedigree for doing this, and it’s a good thing to do: it’s good to be reminded of how God has saved us through Jesus, and most newcomers to the church don’t come with a fully-formed grasp of the Christian faith.
However, ‘preaching the gospel’ is just firing a gun into the air if it’s not grounded in people’s lives. I’m struck by the fact that Jesus never says the same thing to anyone who comes to talk to him. Every single enquirer is met with a different response. Very few of them are given a forensic, step-by-step account of atonement theory.
If ‘the gospel’, the message about Jesus, isn’t rooted in the lives of the people we are talking with, then we are simply firing a gun into the air. We might be satisfied that we’ve done what we’re supposed to do, but it won’t actually do anyone any good. It may even do some collateral damage, if people hear what purports to be the Christian message, but presented in a way that makes it completely irrelevant to them. If the good news is delivered without a lifestyle or a community which shows this ‘good news’ in action, then it wounds people’s capacity to respond well.
Picking up on yesterdays post, we only gain permission to speak if we’ve taken time to listen. If we speak without listening, we are not preaching the gospel, we’re just firing a gun into the air.

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