In keeping with the format of www.missioalliance.org, here’s a second post for the week from Geoff Holsclaw, a pastor at Life on the Vine Christian Community, and co-author with me on the book Prodigal Christianity. Read about him here. I’ll get to my post for this week in a couple days!
Like many of us, I’ve been longing for something beyond the “bridge illustration” to share the gospel (with others, and my children). Something short, visual, clear, explaining the gospel in an appropriate way. But of course, the more I learn and grow in the Kingdom the more difficult it is to summarize, especially when you have all these old, truncated ‘gospels’ bouncing around in your brain that you are trying to overcome (the gospel of sin management, the gospel of health and wealth, the gospel of going to heaven, etc).
But then Soren (8 years old) comes home from a church basketball camp yesterday super amped about the ‘bridge illustration.’ It’s all he can talk about. He pulls out our white board and insists on drawing it out for us and explaining it to us (of course as a seasoned evangelical I’m filling in some of the forgotten steps and verses…). So I had to step back and rethink my loathing for the ‘bridge illustration.’ (If you are not familiar with the ‘bridge illustration’ check it out here).
I guess this is something that I have know for awhile, but haven’t wanted to admit very loudly (or publicly). The ‘bridge illustration’ really is a good presentation of the gospel, even if it is just part of the gospel. I have seen the light come on for children and adults where they begin to understand what God has done for them in a deeper way.
And especially for children who are in the black and white stage of moral development, the ‘bridge illustration’ makes sense. “We are over hear because of sin. God is over there because he is perfect. But in Jesus we can be with God again.” It makes sense. It is simple. It helps them put in place a piece of their spiritual puzzle.
And it fits especially the intellectual development of children Soren’s age. They haven’t yet reached the world of complexity and abstraction which causes the ‘bridge illustration’ to breakdown or be known as incomplete.
But the whole point is that children would grow up, and their faith along with them. Too often we have adults who have prayed a prayer after hearing the ‘bridge illustration’ and 20 years later their faith is still at the same stage. The problem isn’t in the ‘bridge illustration’ itself but the underlying theology of atonement which is exhausted in the illustration. Certain understandings of the gospel see the bridge not merely as an illustration, but the entire reality. This leads to the spiritual immaturity and stunted grow of so many believers (which has led to my own discomfort with the illustration).
It is one thing to say that for “now” the bridge is a helpful and, dare I say, true explanation of the gospel. But only for now. Not for always. At the beginning it is true, but faith must grow here and now, and not merely wait for heaven. We can’t remain stuck on the level of the ‘bridge’ for our entire spiritual lives, just like Soren isn’t going to remain stuck as an 8 year old.
Bridge to the Kingdom, not merely Heaven
Well for “now” I’m very pleased that Soren is excited about the bridge, that it has helped him organize some of the biblical stories and ideas that we have been brainwashing him with (ha). But are already laying the ground work for that spiritual development. After Soren explained about crossing the bridge in Christ and receiving eternal life (which that church of course links with ‘going to heaven’), I started to redirect from ‘going to heaven’ to ‘life in the kingdom’ here and now. And I reminded him of the Lord’s Prayer, which we prayer everyday, and how it talks about God’s Kingdom coming to earth from heaven. The goal is that Soren would come to know all that all those who cross the bridge in faith enter Christ’s Kingdom, which is now!
But filling that all out will come later, and through example, and prayer, day by day, year by year. But for “now” the bridge will do.