Yesterday, I argued that the gospel is good news to every culture. It affirms all the best longings in that culture and points beyond the superficial to the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. But we have to be clear: the gospel is also inherently subversive.
For example, the gospel affirms our longing for relationship. When a person is feeling lonely and isolated, the good news speaks deeply into his life: Though we are separated from God and one another through sin, Jesus died to reconcile those relationships and enables us to receive and give love in its truest form.
But be careful. The gospel is also subversive here. It addresses the self-focus imbedded deep within our feelings of loneliness. Very often, our longing for relationship is intensified by self-idolatry. We long for people to make much of us, to see us as we see ourselves, to appreciate and praise us. The gospel is still good news in this situation, but the good news is subversive. It calls us to repentance. It tells us that what we are truly longing for can only be found by denying ourselves and embracing Another. It announces that there is a great King who reigns, and that we cannot and must not rule ourselves.
To every government that believes itself to be absolute, the gospel is subversive. It proclaims that Caesar is not lord (this was the proclamation of the Roman empire at the time of the early church). Jesus is Lord. The good news is the proclamation that he has taken his rightful place as ruler of this world.
To every culture that glorifies sex, the gospel is subversive. It tells us that we have exalted one of God’s gifts over God himself. The good news is the proclamation that we must turn from our pursuit of carnal pleasure and in doing so, we can instead embrace the true Source of joy.
While some cultures are more visibly evil than others, the gospel subverts every culture. The gospel can be effectively proclaimed in every culture, but it also calls every culture to change. We have a nasty tendency to present the gospel in purely happy terms. As I said yesterday, the gospel truly is good news for every culture. It affirms much of what we long for. Yet none of our longings is completely pure. So while the gospel affirms our longing for justice, it subverts our longing for retribution. While the gospel affirms our desire to care for the environment, it subverts our worship of it.
So as we reach out to the people around us with this good news, we should be watching for the ways in which the gospel is good news to each particular person. What are they longing for that the gospel affirms? But we must also watch for the ways in which the gospel subverts the thought-patterns, longings, and lifestyles of the people around us.
There is so much more to say about both of these concepts, but unless we keep both in mind—that the gospel is good news and that the gospel is subversive—then we are not seeing the gospel accurately.