Whenever I pass churches that have the words “full gospel” on their sign, I think to myself “I should be for that.” No one wants half a gospel or even three quarters. You don’t want mostly good news, or only the living section good news. You want it full and big. You want it all.
Now here’s what I know those who display that sign have right. The gospel isn’t just about Christ’s atoning death for the forgiveness of sins. It also includes the giving of the Spirit, by which the power of sin can be broken and individuals can receive gifts of the Spirit.
But, alas, I’m not sure we’re yet to a full gospel. The gospel, as I read the biblical testimonies, is that with the coming of Jesus, the reign of God has come near. That is, the way the world would look if God was in charge is now observable. And it’s different than the world given to us by the principalities and powers of this present age that value control or lording it over others, securing privilege, demanding what’s right for me and those like me, dividing the world into manageable categories, and using creation for our own purposes. That kind of stuff.
In the language of the great hymn, “Joy to the World,” the salvation offered by God resists those powers in all their manifestations. “No more let sins or sorrows grow, or thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings known, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found…” Far as the curse is found.
So, salvation is not only personal, but also social and ecological. Even in “full gospel” churches, the almost exclusive way salvation (and the gifts of the Spirit) is understood is in relation to the personal. But a full gospel would also announce that the work of God breaks down human and social barriers, bringing justice and peace. It makes no sense to say you are saved and then foment conflict and sow hatred. The salvation of God also anticipates a new creation, a renewing of all things. As Paul says in Rom 8, “all creation is eagerly anticipates the revealing of the children of God. For creation itself was sunjected to futility, not of its own will, but by the will of the one who subjected it in hope that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. New creation. It is surely a mark that we are not yet fully living into the offer of God’s salvation when we live in blithe disregard or callous indiference to the ways creation is being degraded. Now, we’re in the territory of a full gospel.
But why is this a charismatic view of salvation? Most discussions of salvation have focused on the question of how Christ’s death is effective toward our salvation. Liberals tend to emphasize the subjective (Christ evokes a response of gratefulness that transforms us), while conservatives emphasize the objective (Christ’s death changed something in God, turning his wrath away). Both, however, see salvation in relation to God and the individual. Here, Christ seems sufficient.
But if we view salvation in these larger terms, social and ecological, then it doesn’t occur just between God and the individual. It’s not something that happens only to us or inside us, but between people and between us and creation. The death of Jesus, related to this larger view, is not simply a sacrifice for individual sin, but a demonstration of the way of God that will bring his peace and justice to the earth and a renewal of all things. In other words, the death of Jesus is also the ultimate demonstration of the self-giving love of God, God’s power, that will heal divisions and make people more aware of the environment that they and others live in.
Now salvation is set loose in the world. It happens between us and around us and in us. And this requires a Holy Spirit.
So, I want me some full gospel. Amos Yong, in his book, The Spirit Poured Out on all Flesh, writes about the African Earthkeeping Churches in Zimbabwe. They see the Holy Spirit in relation to “earth healing.” The Spirit “who convicts humans of their sins enables confession of ecological sins: chopping down and replanting; overgrazing; destroying river banks; neglecting the construction of contour ridges; and causing soil erosion through irresponsible farming.” Heard sermons on these thing lately in your congregations? “Proper repentance leads to specific reparative actions focused on restoring and renewing the earth.” At a tree planting, a liturgy is spoken that consists of the following elements: the confession of ecological sins that cause “firewood shortage, soil erosion, poor crops and the absence of wildlife; the exorcism of the destoyer (Satan) of the earth; a homily focused on Christ as the savior of the world, including the environment; and a tree planting rite to pacify the land and its aggrieved creator.” As far as the curse is found. Now that’s some full gospel.
I’ve been reading lately of the tremendous spiritual resources called on by civil rights leaders as they faced jailings, beatings, fire hoses and police dogs, all as they cried for justice in the self-giving, non-violent love of Jesus. Now, that requires some Holy Spirit. If you have the power of incarceration or sanctioned violence in the name or order, you don’t need a Holy Spirit. But you do if you’re trying to bring down the dividing walls of hostility that exist between people. That’s some full gospel.
So, give up your puny salvations and their small consolations. Give up a salvation that is only as big as your sense of personal guilt and embrace the fullness of the self-giving love of God to bring peace between people and healing to all of creation. That’s a charismatic salvation.
Come, Holy Spirit!