Virtual Voices

Tweeting a shibboleth gospel

Religion

I need a Twitter-gospel break.

The new trend of provocatively restating "the gospel" on Twitter may be inadvertently keeping Christians on spiritual milk. Social media is a wonderful tool of communicating and has multiple good uses, but like anything else it has its limits and needs them. Twitter is the new roadside church sign where corny quips go viral. I speak for many who are worn out on the Twitter-gospel.

The Twitter-gospel attempts to reduce the Good News to a 140-character "tweet" that will make readers think it is good enough to be endlessly retweeted, because each retweet builds up the sought-after coolness affirmation for some. It's the "slam dunking" the Bible. I am even beginning to wonder if a few of these Twitter-gospelers are trying to tweet their way to fame.

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Something so important seems hardly reducible to a clever one-liner. The gospel seems clear. The Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible defines is as "the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ." The New International Dictionary of the Bible defines it as "the Good News that God has provided a way of redemption through his son Jesus Christ." But the Twitter-gospel can frustrate the simplicity of the message, as examples found by Jake Belder provide:

"Legalism says achievement leads to approval, the gospel says that approval leads to achievement."

"The gospel obliterates, annihilates, and disembowels any notion of wage earning as a basis for our acceptance with God."

"The Gospel makes us stop asking: What have I done for God? And makes us ask: What's the Lord done through/in/despite me?"

I fully understand that many of these tweets are intended to encourage the faithful to persevere, because for those of us who struggle with idolatry and sin (Romans 7) we need to hear the gospel daily. We get it. So tell us, then, what the gospel actually is instead of collaborating with weak attempts at imaginativeness to reformulate something people have actually died to communicate. Unlike the Bible, the Twitter-gospel has no context, and unless you're a Christian you might not get the point without some sort of theological background.

While it gives the appearance of sophistication, much Twitter-gospel is gospel milk. It reminds me of a couple passages from Hebrews: "Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil" (5:13-14), and "Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment" (6:1-2).

The Twitter-gospel is for über-church Christians who retweet the "elementary teachings" repeatedly, and thanks to that, "the gospel" may be on its way to becoming a shibboleth. Moreover, the individualistic nature of the Twitter-gospel cannot be all that the Good News implies for the Christian life, right? So for all of us who want to uphold the meaningfulness and sanctity of the message of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, will the Twitter-gospelers please give "the gospel" a Twitter Sabbath?

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Liberating Black Theology. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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