My mailbox is always a surprise, and always predictable. The surprise this week was a warm handwritten note from M.O. Owens, a not-quite-retired 101-year-old Baptist minister who tells me he reads every issue of WORLD.
The predictable missive was a hot-headed harangue from a reader in Sheboygan, Wis., telling me to have our reporters and writers end their preoccupation with “all that secular subject matter” and focus instead on the “simple gospel of Jesus.” “Certainly you must know,” his three-page letter said, “that you’re not going to change the world with the stories you keep filling your magazine with. Instead, you need to tell them about the way, the truth, and the life.”
The letter was predictable because, in one form or another, the same message comes across my desk several times every year. Early in WORLD’s publishing history, one reader so durably impressed me with his charge that I keep his note taped to my desk: “If you’d just spend your time urging people to turn to Jesus, you might not appear to be so sophisticated—but you’d do a lot more good. I get the impression you’re trying to skip what Paul called ‘the foolishness of preaching.’”
So let me repeat what I said back then. Let me say plainly that I dare not dismiss that criticism as the naïve protest of a narrow-minded fundamentalist. Jesus repeatedly called people back to basics—back to the fundamentals. He told one of his most sophisticated questioners that he simply had to be born again.
The core of that process of being born again is to reject our habit of self-dependence and to transfer our dependence to God. It is to admit that we are weak and broken and sinful, and to confess that God is powerful and whole and perfect. It is to understand that God’s power and wholeness and perfection are personified in the God-man Jesus, and that God is willing to count Jesus’ righteousness on our behalf when we finally admit to Him that our own righteousness is not good enough—that we need to be bailed out from our own failure.
Such is the beginning of the gospel. Without some form of that basic understanding, no person has any right to expect to walk with God, either in this life or in eternity. It absolutely has to start with this, and it has to start personally.
But just because the gospel starts there doesn’t mean it ends there.
The birth of a baby is exciting—but no one really wants a baby to stay a baby forever. Birth is exciting because it means a new person has come on the scene, full of potential. So while WORLD rejoices whenever a man or woman or boy or girl drops self-trust and embraces Jesus-trust, we see that exciting moment only as a profound beginning. If the new birth doesn’t happen, there’s no new person in Christ. But the new birth, just like natural birth, is still just a beginning.
That’s why Jesus’ final instruction was to go out to teach “everything that I have commanded you.” The implications of this thing we call the “gospel” are profound and far-reaching.
If at first this seems very complex, it is in fact pretty simple. God says to us, in effect: If you expect to trust Me for the details of your invisible, long-term existence, you might as well get used to that process by trusting Me also for the visible, short-term as well. Yes, the gospel is about spiritual and eternal matters. But to prove its trustworthiness in those realms, I want you also to see how trustworthy I am in the realms you live in now.
So the good news of the gospel, we discover, has deep implications for the here and now. It has implications for morality and education, for politics and justice, for art and music, for business and finance. In all those areas and more, God calls His children to new perspectives which, like the new birth itself, may at first seem foolish. But the more we keep exploring them, and the more we learn to trust God’s ways in all those areas of life, the more He makes sense to us.
That’s one way of describing what we call a “Christian worldview.” To go exploring in all these nitty-gritty areas of life is never a denial of the basic gospel where we all must start. It is rather the logical extension of that magnificent journey.