Author: David Hood

What is the gospel?

In my last post I explained why we need not just more evangelical churches (gospel preaching churches) but more missional churches in our post-Christian context. The times are changing in Canada and we cannot do evangelism and discipleship exactly as we did them fifty years ago. We need to ask, like good missionaries, who are the people we have in front of us, and we need to do ministry accordingly.

Now the question is, if we cannot do evangelism exactly as we used to do it how should we do it. I have a million things I want to say on this subject, and I’ve really been wrestling with exactly how to bring all of my random and disjointed thoughts together, but just last week I realized there really isn’t much point in writing about how to do evangelism well if I haven’t even defined what I believe the gospel message is. Or even what evangelism is. So in this post I am going to answer the question, what is the gospel, and in my next post I will answer the question, what is evangelism, and then we’ll look at the “how” of evangelism in our brave new world.

What is the gospel?

If I were to summarize the gospel, I would say the gospel is the good news that:

Through the person (Son of God, God-man) and work (sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection) of Jesus, God the Father has rescued us from judgement for our sin, reconciled us to Himself, adopted us into His family (the church), broken the power of sin and the devil in our lives and given us His Spirit so that we can live, though imperfectly in this life, as a new humanity in a broken world, and someday He will utterly vanquish all evil, completely transform us body and soul into our perfect selves, and usher in a new creation, free from the presence of sin, in which we can enjoy our new life with Him forever.

There are past, present, and future aspects to the gospel. God created the universe “good”, and He made us “very good” (Genesis 1-2). We were made to have an eternal relationship with God and to centre our lives on Him, love Him, worship Him, serve Him, and be loved and blessed by Him. In the beginning, everything existed in perfect harmony with God, us, the creation, everything, and we were in perfect harmony with each other, humanity, men and women, and with the created order. We cultivated the earth and lived at peace with it. This world haunts us and we all long to get back to it. The reason it doesn’t exist anymore is because of sin. We are all sinners, that is we have all rebelled against the rightful rule of God and tried to de-god God and take His throne for ourselves. We have tried to find our ultimate joy, meaning, identity, fulfillment, satisfaction, hope, apart from God who created us to find those things in Him. As a result of our rebellion we have separated ourselves from God, un-centred ourselves, and brought disharmony and death into the world. We have grieved and offended God, and hurt ourselves and others and the earth (Romans 1). We are under a sentence of eternal separation from God for our treason, BUT…the gospel. This is where the good news summarized above comes in. Jesus tells us when we repent, that is turn away from our rebellious life, and believe the gospel, that is we embrace this story, that Jesus lived, died, and rose to save us, past, present, and future, and there is no hope for us of being made right with God apart from Him, we are saved (Mark 1:15; Acts 3:19). Our status changes. All the condemnation due us has been fully absorbed by Jesus. Our record of wrongs is entirely expunged and Jesus’ sinless record is substituted in. We go from being God’s enemies, to being His sons and daughters. We go from being exiles to being reconciled to God, to being at home with God. God sees us as He sees Jesus. He sees us as His blameless, unblemished, undefiled children. He loves us eternally, unconditionally, and unwaveringly. He delights in us, is pleased with us, and fully accepts us, because of Jesus. Our identity now is that we are beloved, blood bought children of God in whom He is well pleased. This is the change in our status, our standing forever before God that occurs the minute we repent of our sin and give our lives to Jesus (Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:1-14, 2:1-10). This is our past salvation, although we need to embrace it everyday if we are to live free and overcome our fears, addictions, anxieties, disordered loves, insecurities, inadequacies, self-esteem and self-image issues, enslavement to people pleasing etc…

This is good news. However, the gospel doesn’t stop there. There is a present aspect to the gospel as well. Jesus not only changes our status, but He begins to change us. He gives us His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and begins to transform us from the inside out, making us into who we were meant to be, who we were created to be, who God wants us to be, but aren’t because of our sin. Jesus starts to make us like Himself. You see, Jesus’ thirty/thirty-three years on the earth prior to His crucifixion were pivotal. Jesus was fully God but He was also fully human, and the life He lived was the perfect human life. He lived a life of obedience, love, and worship towards God the Father. He centred His whole life on God. He lived the way we should have. Jesus did not only do this so He could be our sinless substitute, able to exchange His sinlessness for our sinfulness (2 Corinthians 5:21), but to show us what a thriving, flourishing, joy-filled, abundant, fully human life looks like. He came to be our example with His beautiful life and sacrificial death. And when we entrust our salvation to Him, He gives us His Spirit and empowers us to live the life that He lived. He breaks the power of sin and the devil in our lives so that we can live lives of faith, freedom, joy, peace, love etc… Lives centred on God, lives of love, worship, and obedience to Him. Through faith we become united to Jesus, like a branch to a vine, and He lives His life through us, producing in us what the Bible calls the fruit of the Spirit (John 15:1-17). What is that? In Galatians 5 Paul tells us that (these lists are not exhaustive): the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (vv 22-23). These fruits are the opposite of the works of the flesh, which Paul summarizes as: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (vv 19-21). The works of the flesh, or the active outflow of our sin nature, are what separated us from God to begin with. Jesus says He is going to purge these things out of our lives and make us new. It is a painful and lifelong process as Jesus peels back layers and deals with all of our stuff, but it is freeing and life-giving. And the amazing thing is, Jesus doesn’t leave us to do this journey on our own. Obviously He is with us through His Spirit, but through Jesus we are also adopted into the family of God, Jesus’ people, the church, a Spirit-indwelt community that collectively is being transformed by Jesus into the new humanity that shows the world what life with God looks like. As we live life with Jesus’ people, He changes us through them and uses us to change them, and together we become more like Jesus.

However, the gospel still does not end there. Jesus came to announce the breaking in of the Kingdom of God through Him and by extension His people, the church (Mark 1:15; Luke 17:20-21). Throughout the Bible God longs not just to restore individuals, but to restore the whole created order (Isaiah 65:17-25; Romans 8:18-25; Revelation 21-22). Everything became effected by sin when we rebelled against the rightful rule of God, but now through King Jesus and His people everything is being reconciled to God, or brought back under the rule of God. It is being centred on God again (Colossians 1:15-20). Churches are outposts of the Kingdom, and Christians are citizens of the Kingdom. As more and more people repent and believe the gospel and live out the values of the Kingdom in their schools, marriages, families, friendships, neighbourhoods, and spheres of influence, the blessings of God’s rule are felt and experienced. Individuals, families, communities, and sometimes cities, cultures, and societies are transformed. The future aspect of the gospel is that one day God’s Kingdom will break in fully and all of the blessings of His rule will be felt in their fullness throughout the whole cosmos. Evil will be vanquished, rebellion will be decisively defeated, and peace and justice will reign on the earth. Heaven will come down and meet earth and this creation will be restored (Romans 8:18-25). We will be perfected body and soul (1 Corinthians 15), and we will live forever with God in His presence. There will be no more poverty, hunger, homelessness, suffering, pain, death, war, terror, depression, anxiety, fear, sickness, illness, slavery, sexual exploitation, corruption, racism, sexism, hate, inequity etc… Things will be the way they were supposed to be, and better (Revelation 21-22). We are to live in anticipation of that day, the fulfillment of the gospel, which is why I believe justice is such an integral part of the church’s mission and gospel proclamation.

We need the whole gospel

This is the whole gospel. Jesus has saved us, is saving us, will save us. Unfortunately, this larger than life gospel has often been reduced to “you’re a sinner, God is angry with your sin, trust Jesus and you won’t go to hell”. Now the gospel is not less than that, but it is certainly much much much more than that. Jesus reconciles us to God. Brings us into an intimate relationship with God. Makes us pleasing, acceptable, and delightful to God. Changes us into our true selves. Makes us fully human. Uses us to transform lives and transforms us through relationships with His people. Works through us to beat back the darkness in our world and show people a different way. And someday He will “make everything sad come untrue”(Jesus Storybook Bible). This is the gospel, and tragically we often under-sell it. For many Christians who have heard nothing but the “Jesus saves you from hell”-only gospel, they see God as an angry tyrant who now thankfully has been appeased by Jesus, but they never come to embrace Him as a loving heavenly Father. They never come to realize that because of Jesus we are eternally, unwaveringly, unconditionally loved, accepted, and delighted in by God. All of the love, acceptance, belonging, and value we long for, we have completely in God through Christ forever. For many Christians who have heard nothing but the “Jesus saves you from hell”- only gospel, they do not live transformed lives. They remain angry, joyless, frustrated, selfish, greedy, addicted, jealous, envious, apathetic, complacent. They think Christianity is all about the after-life, and they don’t know that Jesus came to give them an abundant life in the here and now (John 10:10); to break the power of sin and the devil in their lives that they might live in joy-filled freedom. For many Christians who have heard nothing but the “Jesus saves you from hell”-only gospel, their hope for the future is that they will escape this irredeemable planet as God annihilates it and will live a disembodied existence in another dimension. They think Christianity is all about escaping this life, this existence, this body, this world, but the gospel is that Jesus is going to restore this creation. He is going to utterly vanquish all evil, bring everything back under the rightful rule of God, and usher in a New Heavens and New Earth. He came not just to save our souls, but He is going to resurrect and perfect our bodies, making them immortal and fit for eternal life in the presence of God, and we are going to live a sinless existence with God in this world made new. Without this future aspect of the gospel we care little for our world and bodily existence, seeing justice, efforts at renewal, and acts of love that seek to bring healing to the whole person as rearranging deck chairs on the sinking titanic. But it isn’t! Justice is actually an act of faith in the gospel. It is a declaration of victory.

Conclusion

When we don’t have the whole gospel we live deficient Christian lives. The gospel is good news for our past, present, and future. We are saved. We are being saved. We will be saved. Thank you Jesus!

The Need for Missional Churches in Our Post-Christian Age

In my last post, I explained some of the reasons why I feel we need to plant new churches in Ottawa. I don’t think we need to plant new churches instead of trying to help stagnating churches to come alive again, but that we need to do both. Even if every evangelical church in Ottawa came alive, evangelicals still make up an incredibly small percentage of the population, and the percentage of people who are affiliating with no religion whatsoever is on the rise. In other words, Ottawa is too vast a mission field for just the existing churches to reach. We need revitalized churches and new churches, as well as for the churches who are healthy and thriving to keep doing what they’re doing and then some. However, I don’t think we simply need more evangelical churches, but more missional churches.

What is a Missional Church?

What is a missional church? Missional has become a buzzword in Christian circles, and, like the term gospel-centred, it means many different things to many different people. I think (emphasis on the I) a missional church is a church that has a missionary mindset. It is a church that understands the culture and the times it lives in and is willing to do ministry accordingly, that is it is willing to rethink how it does ministry in order to more effectively evangelize and disciple the people it has in front of it. A missionary, when he or she arrives in a foreign land, always asks the question “who are these people? What are their beliefs and values? What are their idols, their dreams, their longings, and felt needs? How is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus good news for them? How can I share that with them in a way that makes sense to them and would be most impactful for them? Where is there common ground that we can celebrate and build on? Where does the culture need to be challenged with the claims and teachings of Jesus? What barriers are there to belief in the gospel? What are their objections?” A missionary is usually prepared to spend years contextualizing the gospel, patiently walking with people towards faith in Christ, and building a framework in which the gospel would even make sense. Missional churches have this mindset, the mindset of a missionary.

Now why do I think we need more churches like this? Because I believe ‘the times they are a changin’ in Canada, and have been for quite some time. There have been significant shifts in our culture, and yet in many ways the church is still doing ministry like these shifts haven’t occurred or like they are not as significant as they actually are. The church has not discerned the culture and times in which it lives, or perhaps it has but is not willing to minister accordingly. The church is not acting or thinking like a missionary. The question is, what are the times in which we live? Who are the people we have in front of us in Canada, and how ought this to effect how we do evangelism and discipleship? The first question is the subject of this post.

The times in which we live

A friend of mine says that the church today “ministers amongst the fragments of Christendom.” In other words, we live in a post-Christendom society, the church is no longer an influential cultural and political force shaping the language, thought-forms, and ethics of our society. And in many ways we are living in a progressively post-Christian society. Sometimes when I say that ours is a post-Christian age, people react very negatively. I have heard people say “you cannot say Canada is post-Christian, people still get saved, and the Holy Spirit is still at work”. Absolutely! When I say we live in a post-Christian context, I am not saying that the Spirit of God has been removed from the earth and no one gives their life to Jesus anymore. If I believed that, I wouldn’t be planting a church that wants to help people who are far from God discover Jesus and become His disciples. What I mean is that not only has the church as an institution largely been relegated to the margins, but the Christian faith itself is being rejected. We live in a culture now that doesn’t think Christian-ly or speak Christian-ly, and people are increasingly not just indifferent to Christianity but hostile to it.

I don’t believe Canada was ever a Christian nation, or that there can be such a thing, but there was a time when people were culturally Christianized. They believed that the Bible was a holy book, that Christian morality was moral, that the God of the Bible was the God, that Jesus existed and was significant, that sin was real, that we needed to be saved, and that there was a heaven and a hell. Many people were not born again followers of Jesus, but they were conservative and religious. Now don’t get me wrong, this was not some golden age. Cultural Christianity is very problematic, and politicized Christianity even more so. But now, many Christian beliefs and values are deeply offensive to people and many people see the Christian faith as outdated at best, repressive, intolerant, bigoted, and immoral at worst. For some, Christianity is seen as a relic of the past that we must abandon or at least substantially reinterpret (liberal Christianity) if we are to move forward into our brave new future. For others, evangelism is seen as imperialism. If Christianity works for you, that’s great, but you must keep it private, or at least you must not try to persuade others of your beliefs, no matter how true and beautiful they are to you. You can tell your story, but don’t expect anyone to embrace the Saviour of your story. This is a significant shift in our culture that has been accelerating rapidly over the last while.

Tim Keller explains this shift and its impact on evangelism in particular very well in his book “Center Church”. He is describing the situation in America which in many ways is less secular than Canada. He is worth quoting at length here. According to Keller, there was a time when:

Americans were largely “Christianized” in their thinking . They usually believed in a personal God, in the existence of heaven and hell, and in the concept of moral authority and judgement, and they generally had a basic grasp of Christian ethics. A gospel presentation could assume and build on all these things in seeking to convict them of sin and the need for the redemption of Christ. Now, for more and more Americans (and Canadians even more so), all these ideas were weakening or absent. The gospel message was not simply being rejected; it was becoming incomprehensible and increasingly hated. The world that Christians in the West had known — where the culture tilted in the direction of traditional Christianity — no longer existed.

Before this shift, nonbelievers did need to be persuaded of many doctrines in order to become Christians. They needed to understand that God was more holy than they had thought, but there was no need to convince them that God existed or that he got angry at disobedience. They needed to see they were more alienated from God than they thought, but there was no need to convince them that there is such a thing as sin or that there were moral, transcultural absolutes. People did need to see exactly what Jesus had done to save them , but there was less need to establish that Jesus lived and that he did the things the Bible said he did. People needed to learn that salvation was not by works but by faith; but virtually everyone had at least some idea of “salvation” and some type of belief in an afterlife. Finally, people needed to have the difference between faith and works explained to them, and how they had been relying on their works. They would often say to the gospel presenter, “Oh, I didn’t realize that! How can I get it right?” In short, evangelicals could count on their listeners to at least be mentally able to understand the message of the Christian faith — a message largely seen as credible and positive. Their job was to convict people of their personal need for Christ and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to urge them to make a personal commitment to Christ. Gospel presentations could be kept rather simple, stressing the importance of repentance and faith, without the enormous work of having to establish the very existence and character of the biblical God or the other parts of the basic framework of the Christian understanding of reality. In addition, it wasn’t too difficult to bring people into church. It was generally understood that being part of a church was a good thing. In fact, those who wanted to be respected members of a local community understood that local church attendance would be part of the package. (Source: Keller, Timothy J. (2012-09-04). Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (pp. 182-183). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

In other words, in a post-Christian context, evangelism cannot be done as it was in the days of Christendom, or even in the days when Christendom was starting to crumble. We cannot assume people share our values anymore. In fact, we can probably assume the exact opposite. We cannot assume people value the Bible anymore, or that they have the needed mental furniture to be able to process and understand a simplistic gospel presentation. We cannot assume they believe in God or Jesus. We cannot assume people know what we mean when we say sin, God, hell, justice, reconciliation, repentance, faith etc… And we cannot assume people are going to come to our churches, programs, and events, no matter how seeker sensitive we make them. So much has changed. And in this context, we need missional churches. We need churches that adopt the mindset of a missionary and ask: “who are these people? What are their beliefs and values? What are their idols, their dreams, their longings and felt needs? How is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus good news for them? How can I share that with them in a way that makes sense to them and would be most impactful for them? Where is there common ground? Where does the culture need to be challenged with the claims and teachings of Jesus? What barriers are there to belief in the gospel? What are their objections?”

I sometimes wonder, how many churches are asking these questions at all or have asked these questions within the last five years? How many have taken the answers they have received to these questions and have actually thought through how they do evangelism and discipleship and wondered “is there anything we need to do differently?” How many churches have decided that their approach is going to be to continue doing everything as they have always done it and simply lament how much the world has changed? How many churches have decided that these are “the last days” and we just need to gather in our holy huddles and wait for Jesus to return? How many have decided all we need to do is go about our business as usual and simply pray harder? Now don’t get me wrong, I am not diminishing the importance of prayer. If God is not with us, our best efforts are worthless (Exodus 33:15). Prayer is central. You know who believed prayer was central, the apostle Paul, but you know what else Paul believed, that there was no one way to do evangelism. Just read Paul’s sermon to the Jewish people of Antioch in Acts 13 versus his sermon to the Athenian philosophers in Acts 17:16-34. He knew who his audience was and that shaped how he presented the gospel. Who he was reaching out to shaped how he lived and did ministry. He made significant changes to his lifestyle and ministry methods short of disobeying the law of Christ “that (he) might win more of them…that by all means (he) might save some” (1 Cor. 9:19-23). We often, I believe sinfully, choose our own preferences over the changes that might win more of the thoroughly secular people who live in our post-Christian culture. This is the challenge for us in the West. The church has been established here for centuries. There is a way we do things, a way we like doing things. Will we rethink some of those things, short of disobeying the law of Christ, that we might win more?

Conclusion
Missional churches ask the questions a missionary does, and missional churches act on the answers they get that they might win more. We need more missional churches; churches that embrace the reality that we live in a post-Christian society and that evangelism and discipleship need to be done differently now than they were fifty years ago. You might ask, in what ways do they need to be done differently? This is what we’ll explore in my next post.

Why plant churches in Ottawa?

Hello all. My name is David Hood. I’m a follower of Jesus, child of God, husband, father, and church planter, and the internet has thoughtfully provided me with a space to tell my story, share my journey, and write about my thoughts and beliefs on Jesus, life, mission, and the church. It makes sense to start this blog with a few posts on church planting, because church planting is sort of consuming our lives right now. It is the newest and by far most exciting and terrifying development in our lives. I’d write about the how, but I’m still figuring out the how. I’ll write those posts in 20 years. For now I’ll write about the why.
My wife, Diana, and I are planting a church. We felt like life was not quite crazy and unpredictable enough, so we decided to throw ourselves into the adventure of starting a new Kingdom outpost in southeast Ottawa. We want to help more and more people discover Jesus and become His disciples. And we want to help more and more Christians live the Kingdom life that Jesus lived, died, and rose to give them. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10). We want more and more people to have that abundant life, that full life that comes from knowing, loving, living for, and following Jesus. That is what life is all about. So we’re planting a church.
When we tell people we are planting a church in Ottawa most people are really excited at the prospect of a new faith community taking root in our nation’s capital, or at least they are really excited for us that we are following the call of God on our lives and are taking risks as a family for the sake of Jesus’ fame in our city. However, some people are a little confused as to why someone would feel called to plant a church in Ottawa. Or even Canada. We already have enough churches do we not? We do not need any more churches, we need the churches we already have to step up and get active in their communities and the world. 100%. I totally agree. We need gospel renewal, for existing churches that are stagnating to come alive again and embrace their identity as the family of God, indwelt and empowered by God, and sent by God to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:31), to be a blessing (Genesis 12:2), to pray for and seek the welfare of our cities (Jeremiah 29:7), to seek justice (Micah 6:8), to fill all places with Jesus (Ephesians 1:23), and to make disciples (apprentices of Jesus) of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded us to do (Matthew 28:19-20). And indeed there are many churches that are doing just that, they are not stagnating, they are embracing their identity and call. For instance, I am doing my church planting apprenticeship at Sequoia Community Church in Barrhaven, and they are alive! They are praying for, striving for, strategizing for, stewarding for, and equipping and unleashing their people for Kingdom impact in Ottawa and beyond. We need churches like that to keep going! But I would argue we still need new churches, new expressions of our faith.
We need churches that are more contextualized to the culture because they are being built from the ground up with the culture in mind; churches that have mission in their DNA from day one; and churches that embrace the reality that we live in a post-Christian nation. Christendom is dead, and we are not going back, nor perhaps should we go back, and ministry and disciple-making will need to be done differently now than they were fifty years ago. It is easier for new churches to embrace this reality and minister innovatively in it, because they do not have history, entrenched traditions, and ways of doing things. So yes, we need healthy missional (mission as an adjective) churches to keep fighting the good fight. We need gospel renewal for churches that have forgotten who they are and why they are here, AND we need new churches. Indeed, the planting of new churches helps revitalize existing churches, and church planting is a catalyst for gospel movements in cities, but I will explore all of that in a later post. All I want to do here is address the assumption that often underlies the question “why plant churches in Canada, and why plant churches in Ottawa?” When people ask that question, they are assuming that Canada and Ottawa are sufficiently reached. But are they? According to Impact Ministry Group:
  • In Canada there are close to 24 million people who do not have a personal relationship with Christ (out of a population of 35 million).
  • Nearly 82% of all Canadians have no meaningful church relationship.
  • According to Outreach Canada demographic research, only 18% of Canadians attend church regularly.
  • No single city or province in Canada has a greater percentage of churched people today than a decade ago.
  • Among existing churches in Canada, 80% are characterized as plateaued, declining, or disintegrating.
  • Evangelical churches have failed to gain an additional 2% of the Canadian population in the past 50 years. In other words, we are not even reaching our own children.
  • North America is the ONLY continent where Christianity is not growing.
How about Ottawa?
This will probably come as a surprise to many, it did to me, but Ottawa is the least-reached English speaking city in Canada, after St. John’s, Newfoundland. Ottawa, with its population of 1.1 million, is an educated, prosperous, and cultured city, but it is also an increasingly secular city with a growing number of people who are non-churched and de-churched. 23% of Ottawa residents claim to have no religious affiliation whatsoever. Less than 5% are evangelical Christians, probably only about 2-3%. Do we need revitalized churches? Yes. And do we need new churches; churches that can contextualize more easily, have a missional DNA from day one, and that are ready, willing, and able to innovate to make disciples in an increasingly secular culture? Yes. We do.
So why plant churches in Ottawa? Because Ottawa needs Jesus, and it is the church that has been sent by God to tell the world about Jesus, to help people discover and become disciples, apprentices, followers of Jesus. The more missional churches there are, the more people get to have an encounter with Jesus through the words and deeds of His people.