What is the Non-Toxic Gospel? (by Dr. Bradley Duncan)
A new understanding of the gospel is emerging in current theology, a trend toward a non-toxic gospel. It’s the Good News that really is good news!
Here are some frequently asked questions about the non-toxic gospel. The thoughts and opinions are expressly my own, but I also speak for a resonating truth that is rising up across many different groups of thinkers and believers.
Q. What is the gospel?
A. The word “gospel” means good news, and the “gospels” refers to the 4 books of the Bible that describe the life of Christ, the one who is (and brought) the good news. The good news is that a savior has come who is God himself. His kingdom has come, and he has left us with the ongoing help of the Holy Spirit as God living within us.
The good news as described in these books does not mean the judgment of God, a new law to keep, or a test of faith, works or goodness. So, we should not expect Jesus or Saint Peter to be at the “pearly gates” stopping inadequate followers from coming to God after their life is over on Earth. That would hardly be good news for the unaccepted.
Q. Why do so many people think the gospel means the judgment of mankind?
A.The toxic tradition of the gospel arises from a carry-over religious mind-set that was held by the overly-religious Pharisees in the time of Jesus. Jesus used many of his teachings to explain to these religious leaders that they were not doing God any favors by trying to please him with religious acts, and that in fact they were committing injustice to everyday people by creating a system of elitism. Jesus directly opposed elitism and the division of people into “good” and “bad” lots. When people judge each other because they are trying to sort out who is good enough to be accepted by God, they are the ones going against God. Jesus said to “judge not, if you don’t want to be judged yourself!”
Q. But isn’t God still our judge, deciding if we have pleased him at the end of life?
A. Yes to the first part, and No to the second part. When Jesus taught that no man or religious system had authority over mankind, Jesus instead taught that God alone had authority to judge, and that he himself was God and also had this authority. With this authority, Jesus claimed all the Earth as his “kingdom of God”. He replaced all previous systems of pleasing God with his own authority. So, yes, we are subject to the judgment of God, and the authority over the spiritual realm that only he possesses.
But what does God require? Since Jesus came to reverse all the previous systems of pleasing God through religious acts, there is no longer any test to pass. Jesus did not set up a new test, like a standard of faith, a minimum set of beliefs, a requirement to adhere to certain ideals, or a magic ticket that is claimed by reciting a certain prayer. Jesus came to destroy that stuff, not to create more of it!
So, No, God does not judge whether we pleased him at the end of our life, as an evaluation of whether or not we can spend eternity with him. In his authority, he chose to set things up a different way.
Q. What’s replaces the system of judgment? Doesn’t God’s acceptance of us still come with strings attached?
A. Jesus came to introduce an era of Grace. Grace is not clearly defined, but broadly means a loving gift, or a gift-giving nature driven by love. The word gift is used when defining Grace, because a true gift means something of value that is NOT earned but is freely given. In other words, no strings attached. There’s no such thing as conditional grace. Grace points to the unconditional love of God towards his children. There’s no such thing as judgmental unconditional love! God elected to come to Earth and bring this gift that we certainly did not deserve, but in HIS authority (described above) he chose to set us into right relationship with himself.
A more pointed question is this: does the gift (Grace) some with a curse? For those that do not accept the gift, is a curse implied for that person? In other words, the gift is free and unearned, but if we DON’T take it, then are we doomed, condemned? No, there is no such thing as unconditional love that much be accepted under compulsion. Such a gift would be no gift at all, but rather like a threat wrapped in a bow. An offer to choose between slavery and death, packaged as sacrificial love and outstretched arms! If God offered such a deal to us, we would be compelled into whatever he demanded out of fear of refusing him. How can we degrade his sacrificial love by appending to it a threat of doom if we don’t accept it?
Q. What is the kingdom of God?
A. When Jesus came, he brought a new era of God himself invading the space of mankind. We also call this invasion the “incarnation”. Jesus became man. Then he gave us the Holy Spirit which continues to work in people’s lives today. This is what Jesus referred to numerous times as the “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven.” The intersection between God and mankind, established on Earth. If you don’t believe me, look around at how faith in God is so pervasive in the world. If you include Muslims and Jews, and other religions who seek God, faith in the God that created the universe is extensively held. Indeed the kingdom has come, and continues to come as more people relate to God.
Q. Does God love me? Or more to the point, why does God love me?
A. Our nature is such that God loves us. He loves humans. There is a special light in us that he recognizes as his own, because we were created in his image, and with such admirable potential and capacity (even if we often fail). Remember, God became human, and why would he become something he despises? As a human Jesus loved people of all types of faith, religious backgrounds, and ethnicities; a few outstanding examples are the Samaritan woman at the well, the Roman centurion, the turn-coat Jewish tax-collector, the harlot, and Nicodemus the Jewish religious leader. Whether they were of high or low status, whether their flaws were by choice or birth, Jesus loved them. He taught people to love using surprising lessons of loving neighbors, loving enemies, loving the little children that surrounded him, loving the outcasts and those that invited him to dinner. Why does God love you? Because you’re one of his children, just like everyone else.