Where’s the Gospel’s Missing Third?

The Bible reveals a whole and healing gospel. Good News!

Today however, a third of the gospel is missing from much evangelical preaching, teaching, and living. Even among Wesleyans.

The Bible is the story of God, God’s people, and God’s land. The Lord God has an “everlasting covenant” (Gen 9:16) with the earth. We’ve largely forgotten it. Yet Scripture is explicit: I’ve made a “covenant between me and the earth,” Yahweh says (Gen 9:13).

God’s great redemptive promise is not just for people. It is for his whole creation. By God’s design, humans live interdependently with the earth and its creatures. More and more, science is showing the beauty and intricacy of this interplay. Bible-believing Christians really shouldn’t be too surprised—if they pay attention to what God says about the whole earth and its creatures and God’s purposes and plans.

Human beings—you and I—have a very special place in the biblical picture. A responsibility “upward” to God and “outward” to the rest of creation. Worshiping God; serving God on the earth. Stewards of God’s grace (1 Pt 4:10) and stewards of the garden (Gen 1:31). A symbiotic double stewardship.

John Wesley said no word “more exactly agrees” with our life on earth “than that of a steward” (The Good Steward, ¶2).

Wesley took time to write a multi-volume work, The Wisdom of God in Creation. A key point: How can we properly worship God if we don’t understand his Book of Nature?

Wesleyans still have a lot to learn from Wesley here. We will see for example that Brother Wesley’s concern for animals was biblically and theologically based.

We need the whole gospel. Today we’re missing one third of it.

The Missing Third

Dozens of Bible passages show that land/earth is integral to God’s redemptive plan. I marked them in my Bible. Passages such as these (skipping some of the “classic” ones, like Isaiah 11):

Genesis 1:31, 2:15, 9:13, 13:17, 15:18; Exodus 3:8; Leviticus 18:25, 20:22-24; Numbers 13:17-20, 34:2; Deuteronomy 4:22, 5:33, 8:10; Joshua 5:11-12; Isaiah 49:8; Jeremiah 24:5; Ezekiel 11:17, 28:25-26, 34:25-29, 36:38; Hosea 13:5-6; Joel 2:26. Plus dozens of the Psalms.

Many of these are echoed in the New Testament, particularly in the Book of Revelation.

They illuminate Jesus’ sayings such as “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5) and “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).

We misunderstand Jesus if we miss the Old Testament background here. The Apostle Paul certainly got it! (Romans 8; Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:18-20).

Nearly always when God promises blessing and healing, land is included. Check it out.

Ah, you say, but those Old Testament promises mean the Holy Land!

Indeed, many of them do. And what is the Holy Land? It is of course the whole earth.

Do we think God is concerned about all people everywhere but not about the whole earth and all its creatures? The integrated biblical worldview doesn’t work that way.

We have gotten hung up on “Promised Land” as though it meant heaven.

Or maybe several thousand square miles of soil at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. So it’s basically irrelevant now.

Or else a lightning rod for politics.

No! Biblically, Holy Land refers ultimately to the whole earth. God’s salvation plan really is wholistic.

We have focused on holy in the Bible and missed land.

When I discovered this in Scripture, it upended my theology. Or rather, grounded it in God’s full revelation. I explain fully in my book with Joel Scandrett, Salvation Means Creation Healed: The Ecology of Sin and Grace.

Consequences

Leaving out a third of the Good News hurts the whole message.

Missing the theme of land in the Bible is like missing the theme of blood. Scripturally the two are related, actually (e.g., Gen 4:10).

A biblical understanding of the created order shapes our worship, our prayer life, our music, our habits, our modes of transportation, our use of money, our theology and curriculum, our relationships—in short, our discipleship and witness. It enriches evangelism.

How can we understand the image of God in people if we don’t see how God’s glory is reflected in the whole created order?

To preach salvation of humans leaving out God’s plan for all creation shrinks the scope of the biblical Good News. It easily leads to an escapist view of salvation. It undercuts stewardship.

Leaving out this biblical third—

* weakens our worship: We miss “the wisdom of God in creation.”

* compromises our discipleship: we are earth’s stewards.

* opens the door to materialism and secularism.

* undercuts the biblical meaning of human personhood.

* over-spiritualizes our understanding of Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection.

* distorts the biblical picture of the kingdom of God.

Understanding the Bible’s teaching on land touches everything else. Biblically it broadens our theology. It further illuminates the New Testament. It opens us to learn from the God-given Book of Nature. It helps us understand holiness and the Year of Jubilee. It teaches us what shalom really means.

God’s plan for the earth enriches our understanding of beauty, relationships, sexuality, and family life. Not to mention agriculture and how we are to understand so-called “natural resources” and “real estate.”

Prayer grows deeper and broader as we both praise and intercede for the earth.

Music finds inspiring new themes.

Jesus’ parables come alive in new ways.

Classical economic theory gets turned upside down.

We may change how we vote. God promises the time will come “for destroying those who destroy the earth” (Rev 11:18).

Mission becomes clearer and more prophetic. More avenues of witness.

When we miss one third of the gospel, we’re shutting a great evangelistic door. Many more people would turn to Jesus if they saw how broad and bright the “narrow way” of the kingdom of God really is!

We wouldn’t have to convince people they are sinners. They would be won by the Bible’s kingdom vision and find redemption in Jesus.

Restoring the missing third would help us stop misunderstanding heaven.

Focusing on heaven without earth is missing more than half the gospel, in fact. Not just a third.

A biblical understanding of the place of the earth in God’s salvation plan is a great antidote to unbiblical dualism, gnosticism, and political ideologies of left or right. Also helps cure an unbiblical understanding of sexuality.

Right now there’s a gaping hole in the (U.S.) Evangelical gospel in this regard.

Without this biblical third, you don’t have the Christian worldview.

More than Environmentalism

It’s a common and very unfortunate misunderstanding that the biblical emphasis on land and God’s everlasting covenant with the earth (Gen. 9) has to do only with creation care.

When the biblical emphasis on creation gets reduced to environmentalism or becomes the hobby of a few, it ceases to be biblical.

But aren’t humans more important than all earth’s other creatures?

Wrong question. That’s like saying: Isn’t my brain more important than the rest of my body? God made them interdependent. True of the human body, and true of his whole creation. It is deadly to separate what God has joined together.

Longing

How I long to hear a fully biblical presentation of the gospel of the kingdom of God—redemption, restoration, creation healed! Inspiring, hopeful, transforming. The Bible tells us so.

Can we not preach the whole gospel?

Can we not more fully embody the kingdom of God as Jesus did?

God’s Word asks us to.

SHARE

International Representative, Manchester Wesley Research Centre in Manchester, England. Formerly professor of the history and theology of mission, Asbury Theological Seminary (1996-2006); Professor of Wesley Studies, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, 2007-2012. Has taught and pastored in São Paulo, Brazil; Detroit, Michigan; and Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Snyder's main interest is in the power and relevance of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom for the world today and tomorrow. Works include The Problem of Wineskins, Community of the King, and most recently, Jesus and Pocahontas: Gospel, Mission, and National Myth.

1 COMMENT

LEAVE A REPLY