I had a conversation with a guy at a bar the other day.
It happened to be a place where a group of friends were gathering and I got there early. So, I ordered my traditional unsweetened iced-tea and sat down beside Dave (not his real name) and started up a conversation.
He told me about his life and how he was getting ready to graduate and work with one of the corporate space programs as an aerospace engineer. He was in a long-term, committed relationship but he believed marriage to be a bit outdated and unnecessary. He worked across the street and came over here every night when his shift ended.
At some point, the attention shifted to me. I told him I was just in town for a couple of days and I had been loving it so far. And then he asked me what I did for a living.
I was curious how he would respond because I’ve seen this play out many times. When I told him that I was a former worship pastor, he recoiled, got a bit closed off and said, “Yeah, I’m not really very religious.” It seemed like he wanted out of the conversation.
But the next thing I told him made him reengage. I told him I was in town for the Gay Christian Network conference. He couldn’t believe it. He literally said, “Woah, you don’t hear those two words together!” All of a sudden, he was curious.
This exchange hasn’t left my mind. It has been turning around and around in this weird brain of mine because it wasn’t the first time I’ve talked to strangers about being a pastor. When the “pastor” word comes out of my mouth, I get one of two responses.
If the person is a Christian they are super pumped and think that I’m something special, extremely wise and should be respected. If they aren’t a Christian, they do exactly what Dave did. They recoil.
That’s why this exchange has fascinated me. People assume something about Christians. It seems like we’re deemed judgmental, discriminatory and closed-minded. It’s like our faith is limited to this weird personal decision that makes us less fun, intelligent and grounded. It’s like we’re about to hit them with something.
But when I said I was attending the Gay Christian conference, Dave heard something he didn’t expect. Something caused him to lean in. He wanted to hear more. Even just the combination of those two words challenged his assumptions.
I share this because I’m toying with a simple thesis. If the Gospel is actually good news, maybe it should sound that way. Maybe normal people should be able to recognize it as such. It certainly shouldn’t make them turn their bodies and defensively say, “I’m not that religious.” It shouldn’t make them want to run from the conversation.
Maybe we’re doing it wrong.
What if defining who’s in and who’s out isn’t what we’re supposed to do? What if coming out of the gate with the accusation of Dave’s sinfulness and his deserving Hell is counterproductive? What if condemning certain groups and individuals reveals more about us than it does about Jesus?
Dallas Willard suggests an alternative, “Well, we can try preaching the gospel Jesus preached in the way he preached it. We could try that.”
And what if we did?
What if I told Dave that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”?
That may be odd or unfamiliar language, but what if I demonstrated it?
It seems to me that one of the things that’s lost in many presentations of the good news is that every single person bears the image of God. Before we talk about sin and death and Hell, what if we started with affirming the value of the person sitting across from us? And what if we actually demonstrated their value by our actions?
If every human being bears the image of God, then every human being is innately valuable above all else. I think what Dave heard when I said the words “Gay Christian Network,” was that a group of Christians actually believed in the innate value. There was a group of Christians who were affirming the image of God in all individuals regardless of sexuality or gender or their choice of romantic partners.
To Dave, this was good news.
This was refreshing and unexpected and intriguing.
Jesus’ good news wasn’t exclusion or condemnation, it was an invitation to participate.
He didn’t put up a fence, he opened the gate and asked us to come in.
So I’ll say again…
Maybe we’re doing it wrong.
Maybe we need to lead with something else.
Maybe every person really is inherently valuable.
Maybe it really is good news.
Disclaimer: I’m not saying to do away with Jesus’ death and resurrection. I believe they are vital to understanding the Christian faith. I just think it is a little more complicated than we like to make it.