...The Bridge illustration, an old evangelistic tool, portrays the gospel succinctly. It highlights the atoning work of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. It shows a person on one side of a deep canyon. This represents us in our sin. God and heaven are on the opposite side of the canyon. No amount of human effort can get the sinner from one side of the canyon to the other. We can try to jump (that is, earn our way through good works), but we will only plummet to our death. The only way for a sinner to obtain God’s eternal life is through the gracious, free gift of the cross. Jesus’s cross serves as a bridge that connects the two sides of the canyon. By turning away from our own efforts and relying fully on Jesus’s shed blood, we are able to walk across that bridge.
The gospel as depicted in the Bridge illustration is true. It rightly presents humankind’s fundamental dilemma (separation from God due to our sinfulness). It rightly gives God glory by showing both his holiness (he will not overlook sin) and his mercy (he offers his Son to pay the penalty our sin deserved). It rightly lifts up the cross of Christ, with its utterly unique power. It puts human beings in their proper place, and God in his.
But this gospel isn’t complete.
The glorious truths celebrated in this too-narrow gospel do not, in themselves, capture the full, grand, amazing scope of Jesus’s redemptive work. For Jesus came preaching not just this gospel of personal justification but the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus’s work is not exclusively about our individual salvation, but about the cosmic redemption and renewal of all things. It is not just about our reconciliation to a holy God—though that is the beautiful center of it. It is also about our reconciliation with one another and with the creation itself. The atoning work of Jesus is bigger and better than that captured by the Bridge illustration.
Jesus’s Holistic Ministry
A context in which much Christian preaching, music, and books emphasize a highly individualistic understanding of the gospel does not provide rich soil for the nurture of believers who will live as the tsaddiqim. This too-narrow gospel focuses believers missionally only on the work of “soul winning.” It has little to say about Jesus’s holistic ministry or the comprehensive nature of his work of restoration. It focuses on the problem of personal sin only, thus intimating that sanctification is a matter only of personal morality. It focuses believers on getting a ticket to heaven, but doesn’t say much about what their life in this world should look like. Put differently, it focuses only on what we’ve been saved from, rather than also telling us what we’ve been saved for.
With a theology that’s all about getting a ticket to heaven for when I die, it’s not surprising that many Christians don’t show much interest in the question of how to live life now, in this world. When our churches teach a salvation that is only from (from sin and death), it’s not hard to understand why so many believers don’t seem to know what salvation is for. And if we preach a gospel that is only, or mainly, about “saving souls,” we shouldn’t be shocked if we end up with congregations that are not very motivated to care for bodies and material needs...
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