Living in Denver, I’ve had the opportunity to do my fair share of hiking over the summer. Recently, I was doing a hike outside of Manitou Springs on Barr Trail (which actually takes you to Pike’s Peak if you go the whole way). At the trail head, there was a sign giving some brief information concerning the history of the trail. Fred Barr was responsible to the creation and making of the trail. Somewhere in all this information, it said something in regards to Mr. Barr listening to the mountain when constructing the path. Mr. Barr let the mountain guide and define his work, not the other way around. I would think this type of listening would be similar to a stone carver or wood worker allowing teh contours of their medium dictate what shape it will take and what the end result will be.
I began to think that this might be helpful to think about in regards to the church. What if we would allow the gospel to shape the church? What if we would allow the contours of the gospel narrative to have more influence than the latest church growth book or the latest leadership model from church gurus? What if we were insistent on remaining faithful to the gospel instead of simply trying to add more and more parishioners?
Herein lie the difficulty. We don’t have just one gospel. Not only that, but we see different faith communities responding to the gospel in different ways. And then we also have the Old Testament to deal with. Listening to the contours of the gospel sounds wonderful in theory; practice, however, tells a different story. Each of the gospel writers are trying to express their own theological convictions in their writings and thus we are often faced with dichotomies of choosing to remain more faithful to one gospel over another. But there’s probably a reason that we do have four gospels and other literature within the Bible that varies and may even seem to contradict itself. We see many pastors clinging to certain passages or certain themes with a death-grip. Yes, indeed, these topics and passages are part of the gospel. But they are only a part of the gospel, not the whole gospel. If we wish to remain true to all the contours of the gospel, we must never hold one aspect of the gospel too closely especially if it allows us to nullify or reject other parts of it.