An Invitation to the Story of God
All over the United Sates, students are coming to Christ for the first time. InterVarsity USA, the ministry I work with, hasn't seen this many students make a first-time decision for Jesus in our more than 70-year history! Particularly in deeply secular places like Los Angeles and New York, where historically the good news of Jesus was resisted, InterVarsity is experiencing growth.
A significant part of this growth and student conversion has to do with the very nature of the story of God. N.T. Wright has said that the historic doctrines of the church—like atonement and resurrection—are "portable stories" that connect us to the story of God itself. The story of God as captured in the gospel is good news, a portable story that connects deeply with this emerging generation—if explained properly. It is a story that God invites us into as we choose to embrace Jesus Christ.
The story of God in Christ is, in part, a story of the courage to take on seemingly insurmountable obstacles of injustice and suffering; it is a story of a man of passion and compassion. The story of Jesus is a story of incarnational suffering and authenticity, of a purpose-driven mission that has in view the betterment of all peoples.
There are lots of themes that connect the story of God as told in Christ with the aspirations of this emerging generation but perhaps no greater theme than the theme of victory as seen in the resurrection of Jesus. In the past, the resurrection seemed to smack of mythology, an unbelievable supernatural element of a fantastical religion. However, in the aftermath of the collapse of Western scientific rationalism, postmoderns long for the fantastical, for wonder, and for power. One need only look at the films and literature that break the box office and download list to see that our age is characterized by mass consumption of the fantastical.
This emerging generation wants to change the world, and they want change that they can believe in. Real power to conquer things like human trafficking, HIV/AIDS, genocide, or economic inequality has unfortunately been elusive. Economic and political strategies are failing, and the quest of our day is a quest for fantastical—but real—power.
In the story of God, we see this power displayed in the resurrection. In the past, the cross was the center of the evangelical faith, but I believe that for the young Americans who are coming to Christ today, it will be the wonder-working power of the resurrection that will center them in the story of God. The global relevance of the story of God as seen in Christ for today's young Christian is seen in the fantastical, world-changing power of a resurrected Jesus—now this is change we can believe in!
"Because Jesus is alive," I said recently to a packed auditorium of students, "you can experience the power of God not only to change the world but also to change you from the inside out! You can become the good you long to see in the world by first receiving the One who was good and who was raised from the dead in victory over the darkness of your soul and the darkness of the world!"
The resurrected Jesus has the power to save us from cutting and pornography addiction, from alcohol and drug addiction and depression.
What's so appealing about the portable story of God as encapsulated in the doctrine of the resurrection is its dual application to personal and global transformation. The resurrected Jesus has the power to save us from cutting and pornography addiction, from alcohol and drug addiction and depression. The resurrected Jesus has the power to save us from the wrath of God and eternal separation from God. The resurrected Jesus, however, also has the power to save our world from hunger and poverty, from cycles of commoditization and exploitation, and from ethnic cleansing and economic tyranny. These are the themes of the portable story of God as told by the chapter on the resurrection. God in Christ has the power to save us not only from the hell to come but also from the hell that is now—to transform both our soul and our society.
Young Americans are drawn to the story of God as they are invited into it. The resurrected Christ, sent into the world to take upon himself the darkness of sin and death, has risen victoriously and now calls us to join him in this same incarnational, world-changing work of personal and global transformation! The mission of Jesus is not merely to be witnessed and applied to our souls in lifelong church attendance and meal-time prayers. In John 17:18, Jesus said to his Father, "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." Being sent by the resurrected Jesus with the power to change the world is a compelling narrative element of the story of God and one that we invite people into as they repent of sin and confess Jesus as Lord.
The gospel message has not changed, but how we tell the story of God and what we invite this generation into has. Jesus died for sin, but now we understand that this includes not merely our privatized sins of lust and anger but also the wickedness of systemic poverty and the forced prostitution of child sex slaves. Jesus was raised to new life, and now we understand that this not only saves us from our own sin but also from racism and the exploitation of the world's natural resources.
We do not have to choose; we do not have an either/or Jesus—and for this generation we must not choose. We serve a both/and Jesus, and as we invite people into the story of God through the doctrine of the resurrection, we invite them into a story of power and transformation. Yes, we invite them also into a story of suffering and death, but ultimately a story of victory.
R. York Moore is a national evangelist with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the author of Growing Your Faith by Giving It Away: Telling the Gospel Story with Grace and Passion (2005) and Making All Things New: God's Dream for Global Justice (2012), both from InterVarsity Press.