Pastoral Note / Mark Bergin
The gospel never changes; it's always the good news of God uniting himself to broken people and our broken world through Christ. But the language we use to proclaim that gospel does change. Because cultural concerns and questions change.
In other words, the way we offer the gospel can become out of date and out of touch, and then tragically, out of sight and out of mind for a world in need of it.
In the decades immediately before and after the turn of the millennium, the primary cultural questions and concerns of people in this country had to do with individual success and security. The economic boon of the 1990s, fueled by the rise of the internet and home ownership and the absence of military conflicts in the West, gave way to bursting dotcom and housing bubbles and the September 11 attacks. Recession and war followed.
The dream of building a safe life in a big house with money in the bank and war only in distant lands was lost. For many, enormous effort to achieve the American dream backfired. People were broke, burnt out, and scared.
The Painted Door Church began its journey amid that cultural moment, preaching the gospel's promise of provision and rest in Christ. We invited people to no longer hope in the fruits of their labor, but instead in the labor of Jesus. To see in faith that all the riches of heaven have been given, and we are therefore free to spend ourselves in love.
That promise remains true and remains a balm for many. But a new cultural moment has emerged, one less concerned with individual success and security. In fact, the primary concern on the minds of many people, especially young adults, has to do with caring for others. For this emerging generation, the values of empathy and fighting injustice for the sake of a fair society have replaced the values of hard work and discipline for the sake of personal achievement.
None of these values are wrong, but hoping in them will fail us. Just as the hope for personal achievement and security left so many disillusioned a decade ago, so too the hope for a fair and just society will disappoint in the years ahead.
And what promises of the gospel will be there to meet such disappointment? That's a question consuming me and many other Christian leaders of late. It ought to be a question consuming all who trust Jesus. Answers will require new language, not to proclaim a new gospel, but to minister the eternal gospel in our changing world.
Here's one promise that you may find hopeful: It is not up to you to carry the griefs and sorrows of others. That is a burden too heavy for any of us. But Jesus has carried the griefs and sorrows of all people, so that those who live in him might enter the pain of others without buckling under the weight. Christian empathy is not about losing yourself in the pain of others; it is about losing yourself in Christ and finding enough strength and healing in him to share with all who weep.