The Good News is Still Good News“The biggest problems of today are the biggest problems of yesterday.”
My parents immigrated from South Korea to the United States in the mid-1960s. They left one war-torn country for another that was also undergoing tremendous upheaval and change. President Kennedy had recently been assassinated. The Civil Rights movement juxtaposed the soaring rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr’s dream with peaceful protesters met by fire hoses and attack dogs. And the modern wonder of television brought not only entertainment into living rooms but also the traumas of the Vietnam War. Then added to the mix was the counterculture of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. In those exhilarating and befuddling years, like many young immigrant families, we were trying to understand this new country and to find our place in it. The very sense of American identity appeared to be deeply contested, as our nation experienced profound convulsions.
Today, with seismic cultural shifts in American society, we are becoming more ethnically diverse and yet politically tribal, religiously pluralistic and yet increasingly secular, globally connected and yet nationalistic. Sociologists and pollsters can put statistics and percentages to this fracturing, but we have all lived its truth. Are these passing problems or something more substantial?
Evangelicalism is likewise at a crossroads. The sheer number of books, articles, and cultural commentary on evangelicalism reveals that this movement is confronting an identity crisis. And it is not a mild sort of growing pains. Real challenges exist. Some have given up on identifying as evangelicals. Should we reject or rehabilitate this name? Should we write an obituary for evangelicalism or a birth announcement of its renewal?
The good news is that the good news is still good news. God has created humans in such a fashion that we are compelled to craft a story to make sense of the beauty we long for and the darkness we see, for the goodness and truth that we believe is out there but often fail to discover. This search for a story really is the longing for good news, for THE good news.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus enters Galilee in the Spirit’s power to begin His public ministry, and news about Him was raising expectations and building momentum (Luke 4:14). We, as readers, lean into the text with eager expectation for Jesus’ first words. What will He say in His inaugural address to the world? The Bible tells us that at the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus “stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:16-19).
As the sovereign Lord of all, Jesus could have started His public ministry in any way. He could have used any passage of Scripture in His candidating sermon for messiahship. Yet, He uses Isaiah 61 to introduce Himself, to define who He is and why He came to this world, and to foreshadow what His followers would need to pursue.
In this passage, the phrase “proclaim good news” translates a Greek word that is the basis of the English word evangelical. Evangelicals are literally ‘good news’ people. When Jesus came to proclaim good news, He came as the first evangelical, that is, the first and foundational ‘good news’ person. Of course, He didn’t simply proclaim good news. He himself was and is and ever will be the good news. Jesus made this point in riveting fashion and landed His inaugural message: “Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:20). Jesus certainly captured the moment.
Will we likewise capture the moment that God has given us? At the core of evangelicalism is the transformational encounter of Jesus with waves of renewal brought about by God’s Spirit. Good news people “fasten their eyes” onto Jesus and attune their ears to the proclamation that “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” and have their hearts sing “hallelujah!” In Jesus the hope of humanity is fulfilled. He is still the Prince of Peace and the Lord of love. The Good Shepherd who became the Lamb of God. The King of kings who became the Suffering Servant. The Savior whose death becomes our life. He still is good news of a great joy for all people.
There is, however, something even more specific in the passage. While the Gospel certainly secures the forgiveness of sins and offers everlasting life, Jesus’ choice of Isaiah 61 emphasizes God’s particular concern to proclaim deliverance for the poor, freedom for the prisoner, sight for the blind, and liberty for the oppressed. To be formed by and follow in the footsteps of the first evangelical, the first proclaimer of good news, is to share His heart for the vulnerable in body, spirit and society. Over the years in periods of great tumult and tribulation, such radical hospitality bore powerful witness to the gospel. In these days, the mission of The Salvation Army—to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination—proclaims this good news in word and deed.
I am indebted to such a faith. Long before anyone in our immigrant family even knew the word evangelical, or I even understood the gospel, people of faith extended hospitality to us amid a world that so readily devolved to hostility. There was the Lutheran pastor who helped with the immigration process; the Irish Catholic family who housed us in the Bronx; the evangelical youth pastor who enabled me to truly meet Jesus.
The biggest problems of today are the biggest problems of yesterday. While our obstacles take modern forms because of technology or socially specific contexts, they are really rooted in the fundamental problems of a world broken and bent by sin. In a 1959 lecture series entitled The Church God Blesses, the founding president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Harold J. Ockenga, preached that “we in America are going to have to come to that place where we’ll humble ourselves and confess our sins if we’re ever to see revival or see blessing in this nation–the sins in race of our day, and the sins in war, and the sins in class, the sins in labor, these things are bidding to destroy this nation.” This clarion call for revival resonates for our day.
As a renewal movement, evangelicalism needs the Spirit’s renewing touch. Whenever believers come in word and deed, in the Spirit’s power, with a tender but tenacious faith, with an inexpressible joy and an irrepressible hope, they bear witness to Jesus in the marriage of gospel truth and gospel justice. The world still needs to know that the good news is still good news.
During these past few years, I have taken encouragement from a good news person whose times were vastly different but whose faith speaks to our moment. As Clement of Rome led church in the early birth pangs of crises, he prayed: “We ask you, Master, be our helper and defender. Rescue those of our number in distress; raise up the fallen; assist the needy; heal the sick; turn back those of your people who stray; feed the hungry; release the captives; revive the weak; encourage those who lose heart. Let all the nations realize that you are the only God, that Jesus Christ is your Son, and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture.” Now in our day, may the witness of the Gospel in word and deed bring hope and healing.
Dr. Walter Kim is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He also serves as teacher-in-residence at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, VA.