Biblical Holism: Is the Good News Just About Getting People to Heaven?
by Rick Love
Part One in a series on Biblical Holism
I have the privilege of serving in a denomination that believes in a holistic gospel. The Vineyard Association of Churches builds its entire ministry on the theology and experience of the kingdom of God. You can’t get more comprehensive than that, and I love it!
However, I haven’t always believed in a holistic gospel, and much of my work is with evangelicals who lack this holistic perspective. Many suffer from a “truncated” or “reductionistic” gospel – a narrow understanding of the good news that focuses only on the spiritual part of life; one that values evangelism over all else; one that only wants to get people to heaven.
Now I believe in the spiritual part of life, and I value evangelism as long as we understand it as bearing witness to Jesus and not converting people to Christianity. As far as getting people to heaven… I believe having an eternal perspective is hugely important.
But the gospel that Jesus preached, the gospel of the kingdom, is so much bigger than this. Jesus’ goal is not just to get people to heaven. His goal is to bring heaven to earth!
That’s what Jesus meant when he called us to pray, “Your kingdom come! Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). That’s what Jesus models when he says, “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). In other words, every time Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, fed the hungry, stilled a storm, granted forgiveness, or embraced the marginalized… God’s kingdom was coming to earth. Jesus’ ministry was a foretaste of heaven.
How does this gospel of the kingdom differ from the gospel that is usually preached by many evangelicals? In his book, The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons rightly describes a serious evangelical blindspot:
God’s story is made up of four key parts: creation, fall, redemption, restoration…The truncated Gospel that is often recounted is faithful to the fall and redemption pieces of the story, but largely ignores the creation and restoration components (p. 53).
I wholeheartedly agree with Gabe. Evangelicals have been splendid at communicating about the fall and redemption. We are skilled at explaining how to become new creatures in Christ. But Jesus did not come only to save souls. He came to heal and restore a broken world (creation and restoration). The gospel is not just about personal salvation. The gospel is about making us new creatures and about God building a new creation.
To ignore the creation and restoration components of the gospel minimizes the Bible’s story with devastating repercussions for our lives. Without a gospel rooted in creation (Genesis) and moving towards the new creation (Revelation) we lose the “big picture” of the Bible’s story and become unfaithful to Jesus.
In the beginning, God created us, blessed us, and commissioned us. As God’s image-bearers our mandate was to rule the earth; to cultivate and care for the world (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15). This first commission has never changed or been rescinded. Because we are created in God’s image, all humanity is inherently creative. Everyone is wired to make culture, to figure out better ways of doing stuff, to cultivate beauty, to develop technology, to be productive. Whether consciously or unconsciously, despite sin and brokenness, every human being fulfills this commission.
But something has gone terribly wrong. Divorce, injustice, murder, rape, genocide, war and ecological devastation litter the history of humankind. God’s good creation has been spoiled by evil, and it groans for deliverance.
And through Christ, deliverance will come. Creation will be renewed. Through Christ, people will be saved and restored to rule the earth in a way that reflects God’s image (and thus His original purposes). This is the good news that Peter, Paul and John shared:
But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God's righteousness. (2 Peter 3:13 NLT).
For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God's curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay (Romans 8:19-21 NLT).
For you [Jesus] were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth (Revelation 5:9-10 NLT).
One thing we have in common with everyone: we all live in a broken world. And if we realize that the gospel addresses all of creation, we will naturally build bridges with those who know little or nothing about Jesus. A gospel that includes creation and restoration will motivate us to serve shoulder to shoulder with others seeking the common good. We will more naturally “seek the peace of the city” as Jeremiah exhorts us (Jeremiah 29:7), we will find it easy to “always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people” as Paul says (1 Thessalonians 5:15), and peacemaking and all sorts of good works will take on a whole new meaning.
Gabe Lyons calls people engaged in ministry like this “restorers:”
Telling others about Jesus is important, but conversion isn’t their only motive. Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and love. I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. They recognize that the world will not be completely healed until Christ’s return, but they believe that the process begins now as we partner with God (p. 47).
A holistic gospel is concerned about getting people to heaven and about bringing heaven to earth. But people are more receptive to the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection when they experience a foretaste of the future kingdom through what his followers say and do in the present. If people see us bringing heaven to earth, they will be hungry for heaven and eager to know the One who rules in heaven.