Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Can the Gospel be Tweeted?

Several days ago I asked people to tweet the gospel. It was supposed to be an experiment of sorts, just to see how and if it could be done. In thinking about the dominance of social media in our culture as the vehicle and catalyst of human interaction, even as a location for community and communion, my friends and I wanted to know if the gospel could be shared there as well. Of course, if community and communion can happen on Twitter, then surely the gospel can too!

I didn't get a lot of response--perhaps people were as hesitant as I would be about trying to put the gospel into 140 characters or fewer--but some of the ways that this has been done include tweets like:
"Jesus is risen!"
"God gave life, sin brought death, man fell, Jesus came, death died, Jesus lives, and you can too!" "Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so."
"God is love"
"Jesus is God, God loves you, you can be forgiven."
"No Jesus, no heaven. Know Jesus, know heaven"

Now, entangled in this is the question, what is the gospel? What is the good news to which we sometimes so casually refer? Is the gospel something that can be summed up in 140 characters or even a whole book? Can it fit in a tweet? Can it fit on a bumper sticker? Is it something we can put into words at all?

When the gospel writers of the New Testament endeavored to offer the gospel, the good news, they didn't offer a statement or a thesis or even Creed. Instead, the gospel writers wrote stories. They described relationships, they made it personal because when they wanted to tell the gospel, they wanted to tell a person. They didn't merely want to offer information about Jesus. They wanted to offer Jesus.

See, we can sympathize with information. We can even become inspired by and passionate about information. But we cannot empathize with it. We can only empathize with persons. The fact is, even the gospels themselves aren't the gospel. The point of a story is never the story itself. The point of our stories is not the information they convey about us. The point is us. The point is the person. And we tell stories of persons in their relationships with other persons because persons are their relationships. The gospel narratives are not the gospel, they are stories about a person because the gospel is a person. The gospel is Jesus Christ himself whose very person is the person of God. Eberhard J√ľngel wrote, “if thinking wants to think God, then it must endeavor to tell stories.”

That's what we miss when we "tweet the gospel." In a tweet, and in social media in general, we can share information. If we dig deep enough there the stories can be found and the persons can be encountered, even if only in some provisional way. But we usually satisfy ourselves with sympathy when what we really need is empathy. We satisfy ourselves with the safe distance of pictures and posts, when to truly encounter a person we need the person themselves--their relationships, their history, even their body. Social media will always only be a provisional form of encounter because every element of presence we can capture from a computer screen will always be conditioned and shrouded by the absence of the persons themselves.

So when we endeavor to tweet the gospel, we must endeavor to tell stories because stories point beyond themselves. Whatever we say when we say the gospel must always recognize that the gospel cannot be said. It must be encountered. Jesus is the gospel. 

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