If then, we can access the truth of the Gospel only from “within” the narrative of the Gospel and in relationship with other believers, then how is it even possible for this narrative to engage those currently outside of it? For quite some time, the church’s strategy for engaging those “outsiders” has been (generally) what McLaren refers to as “motivation by exclusion”. The general idea was that as a community we have a set of beliefs and values, and once outsiders line up with those beliefs and values we will allow them “in” as members of our community. The church isn’t the only organization who has subscribed to this ideology, and it must be admitted that within the framework of the dominant systems of the world it makes a great deal of sense.
However, in a community that is seeking to line up with the narrative of the Gospel, it is simply antithetical to the story, and particularly to the main character: Jesus. When we read the canonical Gospels, we discover that Jesus was radically inclusive. He is constantly in trouble with the religious leaders because of his association with the very outcasts they were seeking to distance themselves from and condemn. He called on people whom he had never met, who were clearly not lined up with his beliefs and values to simply “Come follow me.” Clearly, this is not simply an acceptance or verification of all that these “outsiders” value and believe. Rather, it seems to be the means by which they come to value and believe the things that He does. Eddie Gibbs explains:
“…nonbelievers will be exposed to the gospel in a highly contextualized form. They will not be confronted with a generic, propositional message, but one in which the big story of salvation history as recorded in Scripture is worked out in the little stories of the lives of each individual and at the micro level of the local group of believers. What’s more, they will not be presented with an idealized version of the story that will later lead them to become disillusioned. Instead they will engage in open and honest dialogue with people they know well and consider credible witnesses.”
In the above quote, Gibbs also points out one other crucial aspect. As this “nonbeliever” develops relationships with those in the community of faith who see themselves as embedded in the narrative of the Gospel, the nonbeliever will also learn each of their stories. Each of these smaller stories functions as a sort of mini-gospel that does not serve as a substitute for the Gospel story, but rather serves to reinforce it.
This approach is not simply a “fix” to help the church adapt her methodology so that it is relevant to the postmodern condition. Rather, I believe that it is a matter of fidelity to the Gospel narrative and the Way of Jesus.
(To be concluded...)