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Is the Gospel Just a Fairy Tale?

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of college students about the idea of Christian nonviolence – or as Quakers would call it, “the Peace Testimony.” I was encouraged by how receptive they were to the message that the heart of the gospel is peace. We talked about how Jesus’ death on the cross is the ultimate example of how God brings peace to earth – not through violent conquest, but in a humble life that surrenders itself in order to show unconditional love to others. We considered together what it means to live our lives in Jesus’ way of peace, and how that impacts all our other commitments.

Though I had been specifically invited to speak about the Christian peace witness from my own perspective as a Quaker, I was surprised by what a wide-ranging conversation we ended up having. As our discussion deepened, it became clear that the real question was not whether the gospel is nonviolent (clearly, it is – Jesus is our peace). The deeper, more urgent question was how we might live into the radical life of discipleship that we have read about in Scripture – particularly the Book of Acts. What would it mean to live like the New Testament church today, in 21st-century America? 

I was both excited and dismayed to hear this question. Excited, because this is exactly the question we should all be asking ourselves. Christianity isn’t meant to be a dull habit, but an acute fever. If we as the modern-day followers of Jesus aren’t on fire with the passion of the gospel, just as the first Christians were, something has gone wrong. I was happy to hear that these college students were asking some of the same questions that have been at the heart of my journey for the past decade.

So why was I dismayed? Simply put, I was convicted that I had nothing to offer or invite these passionate young disciples into. After years of seeking, praying, yearning to be part of a movement of “primitive Christianity revived,” I still haven’t found it. If anything, I feel farther than ever from the life of power and beauty in community that I see in the Book of Acts. In my years of ministry, I’ve seen glimpses of the kingdom; I’ve experienced moments of power and transformation in community. Yet I had no good answer to the question, “What should we do to experience the power of the New Testament church today?”

On a personal level, I’m convicted that my own life does not demonstrate the world-shocking presence of the living Christ. I’m a pale shadow of the Spirit-filled women and men I read about in Acts. I’m also convicted on behalf of the North American church as a whole. In my long search, I’ve rarely witnessed communities that are truly living into the full gospel that Jesus invites us into. At times, it’s tempting to wonder whether the whole story of the New Testament is just a fairy tale – a beautiful story, but not applicable to everyday life.

Where is the Spirit-filled, earth-shaking, radical church of Jesus Christ today? I want to see it. I want to participate in it. I want to point others to it. I want to sacrifice for it and be deeply challenged by it. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!

It breaks my heart how little I have to offer to the young disciples who are coming up today. Their passion and faith makes me want to be a more faithful disciple, someone who can point them to Jesus and invite them into a faithful community where they can be challenged in their discipleship. Where can I go to find this circle of disciples? What must I do to change my life so that I can be a more faithful brother to those who are coming along in the way of Jesus?

Related Posts:

Do We Need Bigger Engines, or Better Wings?

Who Are the Heroes of Faith?

  • “After years of seeking, praying, yearning to be part of a movement of ‘primitive Christianity revived’, I still haven’t found it.”
    What about the Friends of Jesus Fellowship?
    From what I read that sound like part of that movement, something I would want to be part of if I lived on your side of the pond.

    • Good point, Wim! Friends of Jesus is a really awesome group of people. Unfortunately, despite the dynamism of the fellowship when we get together nationally, we’re struggling to form communities in our local areas. Would definitely appreciate your prayers for divine guidance and growth!

      What signs of life do you see on your side of the pond? Anything like Friends of Jesus there?

  • broschultz

    The Gospel is a goal. You treat it like any other worthwhile goal. You train. You study. You hang out with people who are better than you at it so you can see how it’s done. You don’t settle for mediocrity and you don’t quit.

    • I think I need to spend more time hanging out with elders in the Way.

  • Mark Walker

    I don’t have much contact with Quakers anymore. But having returned to my Pentecostal Faith after almost 20 years I recently had a similar discussion like this with a friend. When I was a Pentecostal decades ago, it was a very different world. If you were a member of a church and somebody was sick all the people in the church with band together, they would cook meals for those people and somebody would be there praying with them and for them until they were well.There would be times of prayer that went on all night. People gladly came on Tuesdays and pray all night. If someone in the church needed a car, the church banded together and bought a car.I have personally witnessed miracles maybe you believe in them and maybe you don’t but I know what I seen with my own eyes. Now, as I have returned to my former faith, I no longer see what used to be. I see semblances of it in worship services but everybody there is just there for themselves and how they can be better individually. At some point, somebody is going to have to become full of the Holy Spirit and let the Holy Spirit directly move through them and touch other lives. They’re going to have to lay aside their own thoughts, their own worries, their own selfishness,what they want to do and follow only the spirit of God and though you may not understand what I’m saying the gospel is not just word only but is in deed and Power….real power.

  • charlesburchfield

    Your post brought up feelings of claustrophobia for me & the lyrics to this old ballad, by one of my favorite of all time singers Peggy Lee, came to mind.
    Quaker query: 1.were you were raised by religious addicts? 2. Are you a perfectionist? 3.Are you constantly trying to persuade others to accept a poor toxic tradition as if it were the Gospel? 4. Do you experiencing peace & that God loves you unconditionally on a daily basis? 5. Do you have a peer relationship or a therapist who fully listens to you and supports the changes you want to go through?
    For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
    When that final moment comes
    And I’m breathing my last breath
    I’ll be saying to myself
    Is that all there is?
    Is that all there is?
    If that’s all there is, my friends
    Then let’s keep dancing
    Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
    If that’s all there is
    Is That All There Is?

  • David William McKay

    Last week in my job search workshop we talked about an interview question that sometimes arises, “Do you have any heroes/role models?”

    Behind that question is an assumption about human psychology. It actually maps back to Freud. If you see something and someone that strongly attracts you and makes you want to emulate it — it isn’t because it isn’t in you, it’s because it is and you unconsciously feel a need to strengthen that part of you. So as you can see the question tends to come up more and managerial interviews then in front line type interviews.

    So if the spiritual energy in the Book of Acts speaks to you, it isn’t because that energy isn’t in you or in the community you find yourself in. It is because it is and you’re called to nurture it. I have a similar ache in me regarding the Letter of James, the brother of the Lord.

    • That’s interesting and helpful, David. Thanks!