News! News! News!
There are preachers and not just teachers for the same reason there are reporters and not just commentators. The reason is that there is news and not just comment. News begs to be heralded, at least if it’s good news. Later it may need to be explained and argued about.
Ordinary Christians need to remember this. Christianity is news before it is theology. Picture the scene: there was a horrible situation with many people trapped, their lives in peril. There seemed to be no way of rescue or escape. It was terrifying. Behind closed doors authorities planned a daring assault and deliverance. Suddenly, there was a break-through. Rescuers succeeded, with incredible loss, to make a way out. Countless people began to escape. The news spread like wildfire: “There is a way out! There is a way out! Come to the coded house. There is a tunnel to freedom.”
Christianity is first news. Then theology.
J. Gresham Machen loved to stress this about sixty years ago, because he was utterly committed to the factuality of Christianity. News is about facts, not mere ideas. Christianity is about something that happened, not just about somebody’s ideas. There were real events: a man born of a virgin, a few years of teaching and healing, a trial, a crucifixion, a death, a resurrection, an ascension into heaven. And then there was an explosion of news-telling.
In his book, God Transcendent (p. 39), Machen says,
We could not hope to be listened to if we had merely our own thoughts; there are so many others in the world wiser and more learned than we. But in a time of peril in a beleaguered city the humblest of day-laborers is more worth listening to than the highest of orators, if he has news.
In times of peril, a bringer of news is better than great philosophers. Nor does it matter if his accent is good. Or his grammar. Or his looks. If he has good news for beleaguered people, he will be more treasured than ten thousand theologians. Plain people who have heard the news and been saved by it should take heart from this. People need news first. Hard questions can be answered later. We need joyful, breathless news-bringers, not just intelligent news commentators.
Yes, yes, I hear the caution. We need both. Yes, sometimes the news is unintelligible without comment. Yes, it is good news that the good news is intellectually compelling. Yes, yes, yes. I love all that. But what I think needs to be stressed for some people is that we have news! And it is better news than the discovery of a cure for cancer. Infinitely better. We need to believe this and to feel this, and then to go about news-casting.
It really is a joyful thing to bring good news. I know that many people do not feel they are in peril. That complicates news-casting. But if you really believe the peril, and really believe the news, it is still a thrilling thing to tell people about the events that have made a way to safety and joy and hope.
What I think we need to do often is ponder the news-ness of Christianity. It’s news, not just ideas or arguments. That too. But first and powerfully and joyfully it is news. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).
Although sin is great and universal and deadly (Romans 3:23; 6:23), Jesus, the Son of God, has come into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). The just has died for the unjust so that we can get right with God (1 Peter 3:18). This Jesus, Lord of the universe, has been raised indestructibly from the dead and cannot die or be defeated (Romans 6:9; Hebrews 7:16). The way to be saved by him is not works of merit but faith in the God who justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5; 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Is it any wonder that this message—this news—spread triumphantly across the Roman world in those early days, even in the context of paganism, pluralism, occultism and persecution (days like ours)? The news was just too good to contain. And all history exclaims: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!” (Romans 10:15).
News-bringing with you,
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