The New Testament in 100 Words or Less
This fall I got to play around with one of the more fun assignments I've had during seminary: trying to express the "central message" of the New Testament in one hundred words or less.
What a challenge! What do you include and what do you exclude? What do you emphasize? Who are the main characters? What is the goal? What is the big "why" behind it all?
We were given four opportunities over the course of the semester to take a stab at it. I decided that I would try to write mine in a completely different way every time. My core themes stayed mostly the same, but this choice freed me from trying to hone in perfectly on the dogma that I believe is "right." Like I said before, theological reflection is more about knowing and following God than it is about trying to fully comprehending him and his ways, or reducing our ideas to inflexible doctrines. Nonetheless, it was fun to lay out some riffs that express the essence of what I believe this Christian thing is all about. So, I thought I would share them in the hopes of hearing what yours would be in response.
The simplest one I wrote zeros in on discipleship as the purpose the New Testament was written in the first place...
The New Testament is a collection of resources written for local communities of Gentiles and Jews who are trying to be disciples of Jesus. Jesus is the God who became a man, demonstrated how to be fully human and sacrificed himself as an act of grace that offers others the way to be fully human as well. To be a disciple of his way is turning from other pursuits, accepting forgiveness and the freedom he offers, entering a life of loving God and loving all others, and discipling others to do likewise.
This second one is where I was most meticulous to include every element I thought was essential...
The Kingdom of God is among you! It is commenced by the Father’s sending and incarnation of the Son, demonstrated through the life of Jesus, described through his teachings and epitomized in his death on the cross. The enemies of the Kingdom--human sin and the principalities and powers—have been overcome through his resurrection. It is carried forward by the sending of the Spirit to empower the Church as it participates in God’s mission of holistic redemption and reconciliation. It is enacted through the diversely unified, holy, worshipful, collective life of Christ followers. It will be fully consummated at Jesus’ return.
For the third, I thought I would try to pick a verse to let the NT speak for itself. I decided nothing captures it better for me than Philippians 2 (though I had to whittle at it a bit to get under the 100 word mark)...
...look to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited...
...And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus...
...every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God.
The last version I wrote is a unique approach. I decided that maybe the New Testament is all about unpacking the gospel. So if that is the case, what is this gospel? In my opinion, that's a much more complicated thing than walking the Romans Road or reciting Four Laws. Those might (emphasis on the "might") have some usefulness in evangelism, but they fall short of expressing the whole of the good news concerning God's activities in creation. Here's what I decided to boil it down to for the time being...
The Gospel as…
...humanization. Freed from Sin’s Power(s), we are new creations in Christ by grace and submission to God.
...worldview reorientation. Jesus is Lord! Caesar is not. Rethink everything through the lens of his life, crucifixion and resurrection.
...community building. Sin has alienated us from God, self, others and creation, but salvation reconciles us back into a beautiful unity with our diversities intact.
...shalom spreading. We are tasked to join God in his mission to spread peace and justice through love of neighbor, enemies included.
...present and future hope. God has come and will return to make all things new.
Over the next few weeks I'm going to expand on this final riff, exploring what the Gospel as humanization, worldview reorientation, community building, shalom spreading, and present/future hope might mean.
In the meantime, what do you think about my attempts? What would you write if you had to explain the central message of the NT in 100 words or less?