The Book of Acts profiles a people living bold.
The theme of boldness takes center-stage in Acts 4 with the story of Peter’s and John’s trial before the Sanhedrin. We learn that what astonishes the Jewish leaders pertains mainly to the apostles’ content, not their emotions. The bewildering reality at work in Peter’s and John’s testimony is what they say about Jesus.
These two fishermen had become messengers of God’s salvation, heralds for a new age in human history. They were now spokesmen of the risen and reigning Lord over all. So yes, they spoke with passion. But the point Luke drives home is not their style, but their substance. Not their homiletics, but their hermeneutics. It was all centered on Christ — how he is the One to whom the whole Old Testament points, how his work has changed the world forever.
The heart of Peter’s and John’s boldness was how they spoke clearly about the identity and significance of Jesus. The picture Luke gives us of the early Christian mission is that the church was not without words when it came to the question of their King. They knew Jesus — they saw him in the Scriptures, they understood his epoch-shifting wonder and its implications for everybody everywhere. They knew Jesus, and so should we.
Boldness for Today
Now maybe this sounds like the bar is set too high for us. Maybe this sounds like some kind of unrealistic expectation about lay-level theological education. Maybe. But my unshakable impression from reading our brother Luke is that he envisions the people of Jesus as a people who know Jesus. That the people of Jesus can see him in their Book. That the people of Jesus know what to say if someone were to ask, “About whom, I ask you, is the prophet talking about in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah?” (Acts 8:34–35). Luke has written a theological narrative for the church to drink up, and when we do, he’s convinced me that it means we imbibe this kind of boldness for our day — that we know whom we have believed amid a culture of confusion. In a word, the church should know Jesus.
This vision of Christian boldness — of speaking clearly about the identity and significance of Jesus — is increasingly relevant in the day in which we live. This is worth highlighting, and there are two reasons why. First, the pluralism around us means inevitable indoctrination. Second, the more we’re marginalized, the greater the risk is that what’s important will muffle what’s the most important.
The World Is Full of Ideas
A pluralistic world is like a raging river of clashing currents. The currents are the vast array of competing metanarratives, which as Richard Bauckham explains, is “an attempt to grasp the meaning and destiny of human history as a whole by telling a single story about it” (Bible and Mission, 4). The point is that, in our world, everybody’s got a story. Everybody lives by some story that tries to make sense of it all, whether cultural, religious, or ideological. There are several rushing currents in this river of our world, and they’re always leading somewhere.
Toss in this river the glut of communication channels around us, and it means that we can’t really do anything without stepping through those tumultuous waters. And if our steps are not intentional — if we don’t know where we want to go — we’ll just drift along with the strongest pull. The idea of not being pulled somewhere is impossible. “One’s life is moving in one direction or another, taking one kind of shape or another,” writes Kevin Vanhoozer in The Drama of Doctrine.
It is essential that we get clear on who Jesus is and what his work means for the world, as the Bible shows us. Bauckham points out that only the Bible “tells a story that in some sense encompasses all other human stories [and] draws them into the meaning that God’s story with the world gives them” (5). The truth of Jesus in God’s story must be our navigating force. If it’s not, we’ll simply be tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every other current’s pull. Vanhoozer says, “To the extent that we are always following some direction or other, our very lives are ‘indoctrinated.’ The only question is whether the doctrine that informs one’s life is governed by the Christian gospel or by some other story, some other script” (Drama, 105). We’re either bold about Jesus, or we’re adrift with no anchor.
Being Clear About Jesus, Mainly
Secondly, when tensions are high and Christians are marginalized, our witness can feel increasingly complex. Articulating the person and work of Jesus doesn’t appear to answer the questions that confront us the most. People don’t want to hear about Jesus, they want to hear what we think about the issues. The issues — that’s the temptation. If we’re not careful, our witness in the world will be shriveled down to just our stance on the next hot topic. That will become our focus. That will be the main conversation we have and the primary object of our energy.
Hear me clearly: there are deathly important questions in our world, and our conviction is indispensable. We need to say it. And then say it again. And at the same time, we need to remember that our mission in this world is not about a stance, but a message. We have deathly important things to say about marriage, but the most radical, controversial thing that we will ever say is “Jesus is Lord.” There is nothing more counter-cultural than telling the world that the crucified Messiah is raised and reigning, and that therefore now “God commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
The gospel of Jesus’s lordship is the best and wildest news anyone will ever hear. And it’s the most important thing we have to say. In fact, it’s because of his lordship that any other issue matters. Jesus is Lord, not the state, not you or me, and therefore his definitions are what really count. Whether we build our arguments from natural law or what have you, the Christian can only faithfully think and act when it’s in respect to Jesus’s reign. His reign and what it means for souls is what we should know best how to articulate. Say everything that is important, but be clear about Jesus, mainly.
So because ideas are everywhere out there and always pulling at us, and because high tensions want to trivialize our main message, we should be bold — that is, we should be very clear and outspoken about who Jesus is and what he has done.