Each day during our series, The Colorful Kingdom, we at Oakland Communion are journaling our responses to various prompts in the book Multiethnic Conversations. Each week during this series, I'm making one of my journal entries public with the hope that it will give each person journaling something to push up against and everyone else a place to enter the conversation.
In Day 1 of this week's reading, Mark DeYmaz and Oneya Fennell Okuwobi share this story:
Somewhat troubled by this teaching on Gentile inclusion [being inextricably linked to the gospel in the book of Romans], a pastor in Phoenix once asked Mark, 'Isn't the gospel enough?' In other words, he was suggesting that by simply preaching the gospel, diverse people will be moved to walk, work, and worship God together as one in the local church. Yet...86 percent of churches throughout the United States remain segregated at present, failing to have at least 20 percent diversity.... So we should honestly ask, 'How's that working for us?'
I feel for this guy in the story. He wants to believe that by telling the Christian story of God reconciling all people to himself through Jesus, making us one with him, then all people will naturally reconcile with each other. It seems like it follows logically. But it hasn't happened. And he's left grappling with the efficacy of his core beliefs.
I would like to suggest that the problem isn't necessarily with his gospel. The problem is that he is asking the wrong question.
Is Teaching the Gospel Enough?
In a certain sense, asking, "Is the gospel enough to create racial justice and reconciliation?" Is like asking, "Is the science of global warming enough to stop global warming from happening?" No...it isn't. It is definitely indispensable, but it has to be applied.
If what you mean by "the gospel" is the teachings about Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, then the gospel is not enough to create racial (and other kinds of) justice and peace. That's just not the kind of thing that teaching can do on its own.
The effect of good teaching is new understanding. But new knowledge may or may not propel new behavior. Human beings are not brains on a stick. We are embodied people who live in communities with practices and rituals and who work through thoughts, emotions, urges, unconscious patterns and dearly held traditions on their way toward a behavior.
To say that what we do with the gospel is mostly teaching is like saying the body mostly breathes. Well yeah...that...but also loads of other things.
What is the Gospel?
The gospel is not just a proposition to be memorized but a story to be entered, embodied, and lived by a community. t's the Christian story of God's love for the world, a love that was so unwilling to give up on us that God embodied himself in Jesus to enter our suffering and end our separation from God and each other. It's the story of how he showed his power over the darkest forces of spiritual, political, physical, religious, and relational evil by allowing himself to be put to death by them and then conquering death on the third day.
But I want to submit that virtually none of that will make sense to you fully unless you see it embodied in a community of people who have entered that story, who live it day in and day out. The Gospel is a reality not, primarily, a teaching. That's why it has to be lived and not merely taught.
When that Gospel is lived in every-day practical ways, when Christian communities embody the good news that because of Jesus we are one family no matter what our background is, and do this by treating people with love inside and outside of the church through advocacy, relief, development, deconstructing unjust systems, and empowering those who've been historically oppressed, then the gospel will be truly enough.
May the Spirit of God give us the power to embody this reality together.