As an evangelical Christian, I grew up hearing the Gospel and knowing about the Four Spiritual Laws. I knew about “asking Jesus into your heart” to be saved. My perspective and thinking has shifted and I now have some issues with the traditional evangelical approach to preaching the “Good News”.
If we go back to what I was writing about at the beginning of the month, the research on shame shows that everyone experiences shame and that shame drives us to hide. Yet when we tell people about becoming a Christian we focus on how they are sinful (as their identity) and how they’re not good enough.
This is completely counterproductive and here’s why: in telling people they’re not good enough we’re essentially heaping shame on them. And shame drives people to hide. At the same time, we tell people they need to come to God. Why would someone come to God when they’re hiding in shame and have been told that HE doesn’t think they’re good enough? This is certainly not the Good News from my perspective.
Here’s what I believe: people already know they “sin”. People outside the church don’t use the word “sin” but they can certainly attest to hurting each other and themselves, of messing up, of making mistakes. They experience shame and so they know all too well the feeling of “not good enough”. As Christians, we don’t need to remind them of that and reinforce the message of shame (and with that, fear).
Jesus did tell people to repent of their sins and turn to God. He saw how they were lost and broken but He focused on their actions (guilt) and not their identity (shame). He didn’t want them to be afraid and hide. And actually, he said that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17).
Jesus talked about love and said that loving God and loving others were the most important things (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-34). He talked about God’s extravagant love for us in parables such as the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8). And He said people would know we are followers of God if we love one another (John 13:34-35). This isn’t typically what evangelical Christians focus on when sharing the Gospel.
While I believe that our “sin” (and shame) separates us from each other and God – shame drives disconnection – our sin does NOT diminish our worth in God’s eyes. We are of such value to God that He sent His Son to save us from our sin and shame (“God so loved the world…” John 3:16).
Which brings me back to the “Imago Dei” – the image of God. Why don’t we start here when telling people about God? That they bear the image of God, that they are beautiful and precious to Him. That He loves them so very, very much. He longs to have connection and relationship with them. It’s not about God controlling our lives – He gave us free will. It’s about relationship. He wants to remove the things in our lives that drive disconnection, that come between us and God and between us and each other. This is for our benefit. This is for healing and wholeness. His grace says that “we are enough”, we are accepted; we aren’t condemned. Through God, we have a way out from under our shame. Jesus made a way for us through His death and resurrection to come back to God in relationship. I don’t exactly understand how, but through this Jesus dealt with our separation from God (which included hiding in shame). Our part is simply to accept that this is true, to receive that love, and to be open to a relationship with the One whose image we bear.
This is a much more compelling message in my eyes. Instead of a message which has shame and fear as the foundation, we have a message of love, acceptance, and belonging – those things all people are wired for – those things which are ultimately fulfilled in our relationship with God. A relationship which brings freedom and healing and life. Good things! Good News! That’s what I want to focus on.