(This is Part 2 of Bri’s Notes for The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. This week, Chapter 2: Gospels of Sin Management. For chapter 1, start here.)
Building on his opening chapter illustrating how our world is upside-down, chapter two is where the foundation for the remainder of the book is laid. It is here that Willard introduces a thought … that Christians seem to believe in “gospels of sin management”. We spend our time focused on how to deal with sin in our lives instead of focused on Jesus as teacher: the person who can teach us how to live a full life. Now!
Willard starts by suggesting that the current “gospel” we hear preached in most churches deals primarily – if not exclusively – with forgiveness.
Forgiveness is what it is all about.
We have sinned and Jesus came to atone for our sins, which leads to our forgiveness and this leaves us in right standing with God.
Now this may all be true, but it is not the gospel.
Is forgiveness really all we have to offer the world as good news?
The gospel of forgiveness (sin management) does nothing to change our lives. We can be forgiven and not change a thing about how we live. We convey to the world that what a Christian DOES is of no consequence; forgiveness alone is what Christianity is all about; what is genuinely essential to it.
Forgiveness definitely is important, but it is in no way all there is. After all, the payoff for forgiveness only comes after death; it does nothing to change the way we live our lives today in the here and now.
And isn’t that the case in study after study that shows Christians act no different than the world around them. They claim to have submitted to the rule of a different king and yet you would never be able to suggest how this new way of living is any different from the old one they claim to have left.
This may initially sound “harsh”, but it is not intended to be condemning … it simply illustrates that the power of Jesus and his gospel has been cut off from our ordinary existence – our daily life – and relegated it to some point in the distant future.
The Christian message has come to be about how we deal with sin, not how we live our lives.
Willard refers to this as a “bar-code faith”, where something about what we say, believe or affirm somehow enables us to pass the scanner test upon death, but without the scan you’d have no idea this person was any different than the next.
We have removed Jesus as teacher from our moment-to-moment life. In fact, we seem to go to anyone but Jesus to get advice. Where we search for information on how to handle a subject reveals how we truly feel — and few of us turn to Jesus to figure out how to invest our money, foster relationships and more. We seem to assume his teachings are irrelevant in the 21st century.
But Jesus’ invitation — the good news he proclaims — is that we can enter into an eternal life now. Right here in the midst of our work, business, profession, play and study. We can choose in each moment to be alive to God or dead to him. We can have an interactive relationship with him that displays a new kind of life “from above”.
And this forms the basis of all that is to come as this book moves toward its stated goal of opening “the way for people of Christ to actually do what their acknowledged Maestro said to do.”
My favourite quote:
“If gospels of sin management are preached, they are what Christians will believe. And those in the wider world who reject those gospels will believe that what they have rejected is the gospel of Jesus Christ himself – when, in fact they haven’t yet heard it.”