What gospel narrative are you proclaiming?

When I drive, I like to listen to the radio more often than not. And I’m not really loyal to any one station. I like a variety of music and stations. So that means that I am often hitting scan on the radio. I come across such a variety of stations. I stop for a few reasons. First, there’s a song that I like. So I’ll stick with that station until there’s a song I don’t care about, or commercials come on. Second, when I hear a preacher. It’s not because I’m going to like what I hear though. I find most of what is proclaimed on the radio and passes for Christianity is really bad theology. I listen because I’m just curious what far too many people are exposed to as the Gospel, which is anything but the Gospel at all. It’s some other gospel narrative that doesn’t free people, that separates people, and judges people. And third, I’ll stop on the so-called “news” station which is really more of talking head pundits with their opinion and spin. They are another form of preacher proclaiming just another gospel narrative in contrast to the Gospel of Jesus.

A couple of days ago, I happened to stop the radio on for a few minutes to listen to the local talking head afternoon radio guy. It helps me get a handle on what and who I’m supposed to be upset about apparently. Thank goodness, or else I might go around being content and seeing the good in creation. Can’t have that. Doesn’t sell very well does it?

Every time I have tuned in, even for the few minutes that I can stomach the show, it’s always the same thing – watch out for the enemy and look at what evil plan they are carrying out. It’s just a matter of who is labeled as the bad guys. I don’t know, this just seems exhausting to me – to go around continually seeing enemies who are out to destroy this or that. It’s also blandly predicable. No originality. Yet, apparently many people thrive on this. Maybe it’s like caffeine or something. Again, I don’t drink coffee or soda, so I don’t get it.

On this day when I listened, the target was teachers. I don’t know exactly what sin they committed and frankly it really doesn’t matter, does it? It could just as easily been any number of other targets for any number of supposed sins that the talking head wanted to expose. Here’s what I heard – a summary in my own words. How terrible the teaching profession was. That all teachers were “leftists.” That teachers were trying to indoctrinate kids. That the unions were just an extension of a political party. Blah, blah, blah. All this in about five minutes! That kind of vitriol should almost be an Olympic sport. These are old talking points used to drive fear and create an enemy to scapegoat. It’s always better to lay blame and all the sins for society on a group of people than do critical thinking and self-examination and figuring out how to actually improve society. Being a privileged victim is en vogue apparently.

My wife has a background in education. If what this preacher of this particular gospel narrative related to education is saying is true, then apparently I married a monster who is better suited to be cast as the villain in the next James Bond movie. I mean, who knew that teachers had an evil cabal in which they get together and pass around their evil plans for world domination by brainwashing children into become little villains of tyranny like the teachers. I can see that working out so well – children everywhere have been brainwashed into completing their homework every time and with out complaint, right? But sure, indoctrination. Anything to make the enemy sound evil. Sometime biting sarcasm is the only reasonable response to such ridiculousness.

And thanks to this radio preacher with his gospel narrative that will save us all, I’m now aware of the vile nature of some of my congregants, my neighbors, and even (gasp!) my friends. Oh the horrors of these….these…teachers.

I don’t know, if I had that much of an issue with the evil teachers, I’d probably pull my kids out of school and indoctrinate, I mean teach them, myself. But hey, that would actually require work and we all know it’s much easier to complain and get someone to just do what we want them to do, rather than lift a finger and do something productive.

Thankfully, I had many wonderful teachers in my life. People who cared about their students’ wellbeing. And so have my kids. People who loved learning and wanted to instill that in others for the benefit of humanity. People who encouraged critical thinking and self-examination. People who taught because they knew it would make a difference in the world, their communities, and int he lives of their students and families. I can’t recall any teacher of any subject trying to indoctrinate my kids. Maybe they were just so good at it and I’ve been so indoctrinated that I can’t recognize it anymore? Education isn’t about brain washing. It’s not about indoctrination.

It’s understandable though how some think that’s what it is though. I invite you to read my review of “The Evangelicals” by Frances Fitzgerald. In part 2, I wrote about what the author hits on regarding the fundamentalist approach to education. Here’s just one sentence: For Thomas Road people (Jerry Falwell’s church), education – in the broad sense of the word – was not a moral or intellectual quest that involved struggle or uncertainty. It was simply the process of learning the right answers. The idea that individuals should collect evidence and decide for themselves was out of the question.” (Pg. 282). If this is what your view of education is, then it makes sense that anyone who teaches people to think for themselves is really doing indoctrination because it conflicts with those obsessed with power and control.

I often wonder what these talking heads would have to say if they spared us their fear mongering, always looking for an enemy, scapegoating and labeling. They are proclaimers of a gospel narrative that I can’t identify with. A gospel based on fear and control. A gospel of idolatry – an idolatry of being right and seeing salvation through partisanship, politicians, and ideology. These are not freeing gospel narratives, and rarely do they come with good news. They are based on a theology of might makes right, only the strong survive, and the ends justify the means. There is always an enemy to fight and destroy and that our utopia heaven is just over the horizon if only we dispatch the enemy. Except there’s always another enemy. It never ends. There is never a sabbath rest. There is no love of enemy or seeing the imago Dei in others. There is only winning. It’s a theology of empire.

I don’t see how the message that is proclaimed is in alignment with Christ’s message at all. Yet, many Christians go around proclaiming these messages and following those who proclaim them. I’m left wondering why. What is the appeal of these gospel narratives that the Gospel of Jesus doesn’t have? The answers are too complex and long to list here I’m sure. And that’s not the point any way.

I’m saddened each time I hear these messages being broadcast – whether by a political talking head proclaiming his gospel narrative from his radio pulpit, or supposedly Christian preachers doing the same thing trying to scare people into believing Jesus while expanding the circle of who doesn’t belong in the kingdom of God. I’m really sad for these folks. It must be so very exhausting to always be fighting, to be dehumanizing people, to label people, to hate, and to exclude. You have to be ever vigilant or else someone who doesn’t belong might sneak into the kingdom. And we can’t have that. It would mess things up.

Why do so many bother to proclaim a gospel narrative based in a partisanship or ideology or politician? All political parties will come to an end – it’s only a matter of when. Ideologies will come and go. And politicians – well, seriously, how long are they really in position of power anyway? All of these gospel narratives are, at their core, predictable and empty. They leave thirsty people still thirsty. They leave hungry people with hunger pains. They leave the stranger further away. They leave the naked in the freezing cold. They leave the sick for dead. They leave those imprisoned in solitary confinement. They are oriented towards death. And these gospel narratives all die off, unfortunately leaving a path of destruction and death with them.

Stop looking at the world through the lens of left/right, right/wrong, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, Biden/Trump, etc. There’s no good news in that lens. There is no salvation either. There is no peace. There is no forgiveness. There is certainly no grace or mercy. There is no shalom. There is no imago Dei. There is only conflict, war, fear, anger, revenge, violence. These things are not in alignment with Christlikeness. They are anti-Christ to their core.

What gospel narrative are you living by? One that separates and divides, is full of fear, constantly at war with enemies? Or the Gospel narrative of Jesus – a Gospel that frees people from all of this. It’s not an easy Gospel. There is hardship. You’ll die to self. You’ll find a way to love an enemy and see the image of God in them even though you don’t want to. And it will transform you. You’ll set down violence and war, not because you want to, but because the way of peace leads to life and meaning. You’ll gain a new appreciation for grace and mercy as you offer those things to your enemies even though you don’t want to. You’ll let go of the idea that you are in control, because you aren’t. You’ll be changed and transformed. And a work in progress. You won’t have all the answers and sometimes you feel like you have none at all. And that’s where you’ll gain a new sense of what faith is all about. And you’ll see the face of God in places you never thought you would – in the face of the poor, in the sick, the foreigner, and your enemy.

What in the world do the proclaimers of these other gospel narratives offer that could possibly beat that? The only answer I can think of is that they offer you the idea that you are in control, that you don’t have to change, that you can have certainty. Their message is really old, just packaged in a new language every so often. It’s the same message that the serpent sold to Eve in the garden – you’ll be like God.

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