Excerpt from Velvet Elvis,by Rob Bell.
Another truth about the church we’re embracing is that the gospel is good news, especially for those who don’t believe it.
Imagine an average street in an average city in an average country, if there is such a place. Let’s imagine Person X lives in a house on this street. Next door is a Hindu, an on the other side is a Muslim. Across the street is an atheist, next door to them is an agnostic, and next door on the other side, someone from Ohio.
Imagine Person X becomes a Christian. Maybe she read something or had friends who inspired her to learn more, or maybe she had an addiction and through a recovery movement she surrendered her life to God. However it came to be, she became a follower of Jesus. Let’s say she starts living out Jesus’ teachings, actually taking him seriously that she can become a compelling force for good in the world. She is becoming more generous, more compassionate, more forgiving, more loving. Is she becoming a better or worse neighbor? If we are her neighbors, we’re thrilled about her new faith. We find ourselves more and more grateful for a neighbor like this. We wish more people would be like this.
Let’s make some observations about this street. The good news of Jesus is good news for Person X. It’s good news for Person x’s neighbors. It’s good news for the whole street. It’s good news for people who don’t believe in Jesus. We have to be really clear about this. The good news for Person X is good news for the whole street. And if it’s good news for the whole street, then it’s good news for the world.
If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody.
And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to those who are the “un” and “non”, they work against Jesus’ teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody (Jesus is actually giving commentary on Torah in his loving your neighbor command, specifically Leviticus 19). We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, “God shows no favoritism” (James 2:1-13). So we don’t either.
Oftentimes the Christian community has sent the message that we love people and build relationships in order to convert them to the Christian faith. So there is an agenda. And when there is an agenda, it isn’t really love, is it? It’s something else. We have to rediscover love, period. Love that loves because it is what Jesus teaches us to do. We have to surrender our agendas. Because some people aren’t going to become Christians like us no matter how hard we push. They just aren’t. And at some point we have to commit them to God, trusting that God loves them more than we ever could. I obviously love to talk to people about Jesus and my faith. I’ll take every opportunity I can get. But I have learned that when I toss out my agenda and simply love as Jesus teaches me to, I often end up learning more about God than I could have imagined.
Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis