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Part 1: 100% gospel
Despite horrendously potent aftershave, Nigel the driving instructor was a good tutor in all things necessary to pass a driving test. That was, until one fateful day in January, when, just after some heavy English rainfall, Nigel decided to get me to drive through a local ford to ‘test my clutch control’. I drove down the hill, but brought the car to a halt in front of the ford to survey the water flowing across the road. It looked significantly deeper than normal. I asked whether he really wanted me to try to drive through this torrent, but Nigel insisted that this would be a useful thing for me to do. So forwards I went, with the water getting deeper and deeper until it rose up to the handles on the car doors.
At this point Nigel began to fear that it might have been a bad decision to send us into the ford, and so, using the dual foot controls of a driving instructor’s car, he tried to put the car in reverse and drive it back out. It was too late. The car had started floating, and moments later water started pouring in. Thankfully, this was in the era before electronic windows, and so we wound down our windows, climbed out, and sat on the roof of the car before jumping into the river to go and search for help.
While I was delighted by the unique and entertaining experience of my lesson, Nigel was mortified. His car had to be towed out of the ford, and was written off. All the other driving instructors he worked with heard about what had happened. In the central office, on the sign that stated his name and his job title – Driving Instructor – colleagues regularly scratched out the ‘r’ in ‘driving’ to turn Nigel into an expert in tuition of a more aquatic nature.
A seemingly small difference – just one letter – actually produces a very big difference. I doubt Nigel would have been a great success as a Diving Instructor. When it comes to the gospel, it is just the same. A seemingly small difference in what is proclaimed can actually produce a very big difference.
There are those who proclaim a gospel that is less than 100%, with some small element scratched out. This might be a gospel with no mention of the plight all humans naturally face, or the cost of being a Christian, or the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, or the fact that the gospel is not just about a personal ticket to heaven, but about Jesus as Lord over all creation and all of life.
Others proclaim a gospel that is greater than 100% with some small addition. This could include a gospel with added focus on guaranteed wealth and health in the here and now, or on specific additional rules and regulations that must be kept rather than trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross, or on particular modern-day prophets who are imbued with a status of infallibility. All these might appear seemingly small, but they make a huge difference.
Yet the truth is that it is not just people ‘out there’ who proclaim a gospel that has had bits either removed or added. We can very easily do it ourselves – sometimes without even realizing it. Less than 100% and greater than 100% are equally dangerous.
I remember a conversation I once had with a woman at the end of a church service. She was a visitor from Latin America. When I asked her to tell me the issue she wanted to talk about, she replied, ‘I am very sexy.’ They weren’t the first words I was expecting to hear! However, in her broken English, it transpired that she had been reading a Christian website which gave reports of individuals who had experienced visions of heaven and hell. One of the people who had had a vision reported how in hell there were lots of ladies wearing make-up and looking ‘very sexy’, and as a result of this, the internet site was telling women that they were forbidden to wear any jewellery or make-up. Of course, there was a right challenge to us all in that. Our beauty should come not from outward adornment, but from our inner self (1 Peter 3:3–4). But this legalistic requirement went way beyond the teaching of Scripture, and the unnecessary command that this woman throw out all her mascara and lipstick came about because she was not holding Scripture as her supreme authority. The internet site was proving a higher authority than the Bible.
I don’t know what degree of authenticity there was in the visions of heaven and hell that she told me about. I certainly believe that God can and does from time to time give people visions or prophecies or words of knowledge. However, the problem comes if these revelations take on a greater authority than the supreme revelation of Scripture. The only place we can be 100% certain that we are hearing the very words of God is in the Bible.1 Of course, all of Scripture needs to be rightly understood, and the Old Testament needs to be rightly interpreted through a Christological framework, but all other authorities, whether the wisdom of individuals or specific spiritual gifts, need to be tested against the written Word (see 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21). The 100% gospel will only flow when Scripture is held as the 100% supreme authority.
1. Christianity is 100% Christ
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.(Romans 1:1–6 NIV 1984)
It was day four of my first job. I was working as a management consultant. I didn’t have much idea what a management consultant does, and here I was with a group of fifteen others, at the beginning of a six-week intensive training programme to discover the answer.
Everyone was out to impress both those higher up in the firm and also each other. The boys were in their new pinstripe suits. The girls were in their high heels. It felt like a cross between a G8 summit and Freshers’ Week. I had been given a piece of flip-chart paper and a pen, and told to be ready in five minutes to present to the group on my answer to a question. The topic of the question surprised me. It seemed to have nothing to do with my new job at all: ‘Who have been the three biggest influences in your life?’
I don’t know what would have crossed your mind in this situation, but my first thoughts were these: ‘I can’t possibly mention Jesus’, ‘I’ll be laughed out of town’, ‘I’ll be eaten for breakfast’, ‘My new pinstripe suit will be toast’. In those five minutes, I prayed and cogitated and agonized about what to put on that giant rectangle of innocence that was waiting to be marked with my deliberations. Eventually, knowing I had to put something that declared my identity as a Christian, I put pen to paper, and wrote:
As I spoke to the group, I explained about the key influence my parents had had on me, and that God also had a huge influence on me because I was a Christian, and my faith was central to my identity. The deed had been done. Much to my relief, marmalade was not spread on my new suit.
A few weeks later, I was at a party and recounting this event to someone who was also a Christian. Immediately, she asked the killer question: ‘Did you write “God” or “Jesus” on the flip chart?’ Her question summarized why I had been feeling ambivalent about how I had tackled the situation. I was happy that I had, as it were, planted a marker in the sand to all my new colleagues about how I was a Christian. Yet I also had a nagging feeling that I had taken a fairly soft option. Not only had my parents come before my Lord in the list, but more tellingly, I had fallen short of mentioning Jesus’ name. I had planted the marker, but it hadn’t penetrated very deep into the sand, and was wobbling precariously in the breeze.
Christianity is 100% Christ. John Calvin declared, ‘The whole gospel is contained in Christ...to move even a step from Christ means to withdraw oneself from the gospel.’1 Calvin wrote this at the start of his commentary on the book of Romans. And he did so because Romans begins with the focus squarely on Jesus Christ. In the first sentence of the letter, Paul describes himself as ‘a servant of Christ Jesus’, and then continues to describe the gospel as something that is centred on the work and person of Jesus. Indeed, by the time we have read the introductory verses and got to Romans 1:9, where Paul summarizes his mission as ‘preaching the gospel of [God’s] Son’, Jesus has already been mentioned eleven times.
Paul says he is ‘called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God’ (Romans 1:1). None of us are now apostles in exactly the same sense that Paul was, but all followers of Christ are set apart for the gospel – whether we are called to be a management consultant, a medical student, a machine operator or whatever else we find ourselves involved in during life. Our faith is to be 100% focused and centred on Jesus Christ so that we don’t move even a step from Christ, and so find ourselves withdrawing from the gospel.
Christ is the centre of the gospel
The reason for this bold challenge to be Christ-focused is that without him, this good news from God, who created the world and everything in it, has no meaning. Paul states that he was ‘set apart for the gospel of God...regarding his Son’ (Romans 1:1–3). God’s good news is all about Jesus.2
It is of course vital that we give some content to this Jesus who is the centre of the gospel. Many varied and eclectic Jesuses have been paraded over the centuries since he walked this earth, some more faithful to the original than others. Despite challenges from some scholars, the most obvious place to go in search of the original Jesus is in the pages of the New Testament. Erasmus, the sixteenth-century theologian, wrote that the Bible ‘will give Christ to you...in an intimacy so close that he would be less visible to you if he stood before your eyes’.3
1. Going down: At Jesus’ birth, the Son of God took on human nature
Jesus did not come into being 2,000 ago at Bethlehem. He has always been, and always will be, the second person of the Trinity. Jesus’ coming was not the result of a sudden decision, but had always been the one and only plan. We discover this in the Old Testament, which is not fundamentally a law book, but a promise book. It ‘promised beforehand’ what Jesus eventually came to do (Romans 1:2). The Old Testament shows us how God set things up between him and us, how it went wrong due to human rebellion, and most significantly how the promised coming of the Messiah would put things right between us and God. As John wrote in his Gospel, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...In him was life, and that life was the light of [all people]. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ (John 1:1, 4–5, 14 NIV 1984). God did not choose a man to make his son, but he chose to make his one and only Son a man. God the Son has always been divine. Two thousand years ago, he took on human nature and became fully human as well as fully divine. He was both ‘a descendant of David’ and ‘the Son of God’ (Romans 1:3–4).
Despite all the genetic advances we read about in the press, no-one will ever decide to be born. But Jesus did. Remaining fully God, he became fully human. This is actually the most staggering claim of Christianity. So many people today say they struggle to believe in the miracles of Jesus, or that one man’s death could really deal with our sin, or that Jesus really rose from the dead. But all those difficulties stem from not grasping the most remarkable claim of all: Jesus Christ was fully human and fully God.
My wife and I have three children, but there’s a gap of six and a half years between our second and third child. When Susannah was twelve weeks pregnant with Hope, we told the older two that they were going to have another brother or sister. They couldn’t believe it. Straight away, Boaz (aged six) said, with a nervous grin on his face, ‘No you’re not. You’re joking!’ We told him we were definitely speaking the truth, but he just couldn’t believe it. We showed him how Susannah’s tummy was slightly bigger, but he thought it was just because she had been eating too much.
Boaz couldn’t believe it – until he saw the scan of his mum’s tummy. With that image, the invisible suddenly became visible. In a sense, Jesus is like that scan. He makes the invisible God visible.
So take me. When I was seventeen, a friend badgered me to investigate Jesus. I thought Jesus was bad news – that he was boring, that he ruined your life. But I reluctantly followed my friend’s advice. I was amazed at what I discovered as I read the Bible, heard talks about Jesus, and discussed the gospel with other people. Above all, I suddenly came face to face with the invisible God. As I read of Jesus calming the storm, I could see God’s power. As I eavesdropped on Jesus’ conversation with a woman who had had five husbands, I could see God’s compassion. As I pictured in my mind Jesus’ turning over the tables in the temple, I could see God’s righteous anger. As I analysed Jesus’ death on the cross in my place, I could see God’s love. The invisible God became visible.
Ron Currie recently wrote a fictional book, God Is Dead, which is also about the invisible God becoming visible.4 The inside front cover describes what the book is about:
When God descends to earth as a Sudanese woman, and subsequently dies in the Darfur desert, the result is a world both fundamentally altered and yet eerily familiar. God – or Sora, as she’s called – has come to earth to experience its conflicts first hand, but adopting a human form also means assuming human frailty and mortality...God is Dead is truly – and terrifyingly – original; blasphemous and heretical, it’s an exceptional debut and a remarkable read.
It is true that you could call the book blasphemous and heretical, as it certainly contains some rather extraordinary ideas, but God Is Dead is in no way, as it claims, truly and terrifyingly original. Rather, it is a poor copy of what really happened. God did come down to earth. He did come into poverty and suffering and struggle. He did die.
This book isn’t original at all. It’s a copy. But it is a copy of only half the story.
2. Going up: At Jesus’ resurrection, the Son of God took on power
Not only was there God the Son’s going down all the way to death, but there was also God the Son’s going up. Just like a yoyo, God the Son went down to come up.
Jesus was always the Son of God, and yet, through the work of the ‘Spirit of holiness’, the resurrection gave Jesus a new status. He ‘was appointed to be the Son of God with power’ (Romans 1:4, NIV 1984 footnote translation).5 Lesslie Newbigin wrote, ‘The resurrection was not the reversal of a defeat but the manifestation of a victory.’6 The resurrection, the culmination and validation of Christ’s saving work on the cross, meant that the Son of God was given all power, not least as Judge and Saviour.
So when Paul was not writing a letter, but preaching to the people of Athens, he declared, ‘[God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead’ (Acts 17:31). Jesus’ resurrection gives Jesus the power and authority to be Judge of us all. The Son of God is alive, and we will all meet him as he brings about total justice.
Yet the resurrection also allows Jesus to be Saviour. He can save us from judgment because, not only did he take the judgment that we deserve when he died on the cross in our place, but he also rose again, proving that his death was successful in fully dealing with our sin. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:17). C. S. Lewis writes vividly:
In the Christian story, God descends to re-ascend. He comes down, down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity, down to the very roots and seed bed of the humanity which He Himself created. But He goes down to come up again and bring ruined sinners up with Him...One has the picture of a strong man, stooping lower and lower to get himself underneath some great complicated burden. He must stoop in order to lift, he must almost disappear under the load before he incredibly straightens his back and marches off with the whole mass swaying on his shoulders.7
It is the original Jesus, the one who went down to death and up through resurrection, who can be our Saviour, as we place our faith in him.
Christ is the call of the gospel
It is because Jesus is the centre of the gospel that he is also the call of the gospel. The fundamental call on our lives is not to be religious or be good or be moral, but to ‘belong to Jesus Christ’ (Romans 1:6).
Daniel Radcliffe is most famous for playing Harry Potter, but he has also done a number of roles in theatre rather than film. One of these was the lead in Peter Shaffer’s play, Equus. The plot concerns a boy who has a highly religious mother, and as a result he has a picture of Jesus on his bedroom wall. However, his father is an atheist who insists that this painting be taken down; it is then replaced by a picture of a horse. The devotion that the boy had given to the image of Jesus is now centred on the image of the horse, and this leads to the father sending his son to a psychiatrist. At one point the psychiatrist declares, ‘Without worship, you shrink.’ His message is that it doesn’t matter what we worship, as long as we worship something.
Christianity says something very different. It says it matters intensely what we worship. Indeed, Paul says it is idolatry...
Table of contents
Citation styles for 100% Christianity
APA 6 Citation
Wynne, J. (2014). 100% Christianity ([edition unavailable]). IVP. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1470565/100-christianity-how-the-gospel-changes-everything-pdf (Original work published 2014)
Wynne, Jago. (2014) 2014. 100% Christianity. [Edition unavailable]. IVP. https://www.perlego.com/book/1470565/100-christianity-how-the-gospel-changes-everything-pdf.
Wynne, J. (2014) 100% Christianity. [edition unavailable]. IVP. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1470565/100-christianity-how-the-gospel-changes-everything-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Wynne, Jago. 100% Christianity. [edition unavailable]. IVP, 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.