DO YOU REMEMBER THE WORD jipped? It’s not in my dictionary, but I think it’s one of the best words I’ve ever heard, kind of like ubiquitous, caveat, or robust—words that not only feel good rolling off your tongue but that carry a lot of meaning. To me, jipped means to get short-sheeted, shortchanged, ripped off, dissed, deceived, or intentionally screwed. I remember the first time I got jipped. I was seven, and I was at a local ice cream shop in Chicago. I had ordered one scoop of chocolate ice cream on a waffle cone. When the lady handed it to me, I remember having to stick my head all the way down into the waffle cone to find my ice cream.
My friend yelled, “Man, you got jipped.” It was the first time I’d heard the word, and I immediately forgot about my lack of ice cream and just sat there basking in how cool the word sounded. I recall riding my bike all the way home, saying “jipped” about forty times. After that, I started to say it to everyone. My mom grounded me because I used it so much around the house. “Hugh Tom, clean your room.” “Oh, man, that’s jipped.” After she scooped me some dinner, I’d yell, “Man, I got jipped,” just to get to use the word. This went on for few months, until I discovered the word chick. Jipped went on vacation until my freshman year in college.
It made its return when I was visiting a charismatic church by our campus. I remember being floored as the pastor talked about the Holy Spirit and its active working in our lives. While walking back to the campus, my friend, concerned about how I would process my first charismatic church experience, asked, “What did you think?” I’m sure he wanted me to comment on the old farmer dancing in the aisles and the lady singing a prophecy about “eagles and vipers” in the middle of the offertory. I didn’t comment on that. I said, “I got jipped.” “What do you mean?” he asked.
I went on to tell him that in twelve years of being a Christian, I had never heard one person or pastor mention anything about this Holy Spirit guy or his pet bird. Seriously, I had never been taught about one of the primary aspects of God! I just kept mumbling, “I got jipped.” The next time I remember being jipped was in 2002. I was reading Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy. In this great work, Dallas cracks wide open the concept of the gospel and reminds us that it was never just “the gospel.” It is the “Gospel of the Kingdom of God.” That is, the gospel was about something really big, something different, and something that is to be experienced, not just spoken about.
This gospel, according to Dallas, is about an aspect of God’s divine life that is available to us now, not just after death. After reading and seeing the gospel in an entirely new light, my heart started to race, and I sprang out of my chair and yelled, “Dog gonnit . . . I got jipped again!” The Short-Sheeted Gospel Do you think it might be possible that the primary reason Christianity in the West is in such marked decline is simply due to the fact that we don’t know what the gospel is?
I know that sounds akin to telling professional basketball players that they don’t know how to dribble, or a librarian that he doesn’t read very well. But the church’s results of getting positive responses out of our gospel presentations begs the question, “Do we actually know what the gospel is?” About five years ago, I was in Sydney, Australia, working with about twelve young church planting teams. These were very bright, attractive, nontraditional-looking leaders. The first thing I asked was, “Why are you planting your church?”
I gave them a couple of minutes to think and write down their responses. When we came back together, I asked them to share. Their unanimous response was, “So that people will go to heaven.” “Fine,” I said. “Now describe how people are going to get to heaven.” After some debate, they all agreed that people would get to heaven by hearing the gospel and then responding appropriately. My next question was, “How are people going to hear the gospel?” Their response: “Through our preaching.” “Fine,” I said. “And what will their appropriate response be and how will you know they made that response?” Answer: “They will pray a prayer to receive God into their hearts.” “Where will this transaction take place?” I asked.
They all liked the idea that it could happen anywhere, but after a little prodding, they admitted that they see most of this happening after a sermon in their church. After getting their responses, I gave them one more opportunity to change or adjust their answers, but they decided to stick with what they had. We then took a Sanka instant coffee and Vegemite toast break (something I hope never to relive), and when we came back together I summarized their idea of the gospel. “So let me play back what you said was the reason and the means of planting this church. You are going to start a church so that you can preach the gospel, hope they believe your message, pray a prayer, and go to heaven. Correct?”
They smiled and sheepishly nodded in unison. I pushed a bit more and asked, “What is the gospel?” Their response: “The message of God’s love and forgiveness of our sins and the hope of eternal life.” “So let me keep going,” I said. “The gospel is a systematic set of beliefs or doctrines about God, sin, heaven, and hell that you try to get someone to buy into?” Crowd still nodding. “So salvation is viewed as a gift you get when you . . . pray a prayer?” They nodded like a bunch of puppies watching a yoyo. “So a Christian is someone who has prayed a prayer, and a good Christian is someone who has prayed a prayer and consistently comes to your church, gives money, and generally stops doing all the ‘biggie’ sins.” They still nodded. “So a non-Christian, someone who is doomed to hell for eternity, is someone who hasn’t . . . prayed the prayer?” All of a sudden it got a bit quiet. I kept going. “Evangelism, then, must be the process of trying to get someone to pray a prayer.
Heaven, this beautiful eternal wildly awesome place, is only for those who have prayed a prayer. And hell, the fire, gnashing of teeth, eternal torment, is for everyone who didn’t come to your church, hear your sermon, and pray the prayer?” By now, I was visibly emotional, as was the wife of one of the church planters. Many of the other leaders were looking down at their feet. Some had put their hands over their faces, and we just sat there quietly. “I have to be honest.” I said after collecting myself. “I would not be interested in coming to your church if that is all you’ve got going.” I was saddened but not surprised, as we have heard the same anemic version of the gospel story for so long here in United States. Jipped again!
The good news is now bad news . . . or no news. Jesus knew that the only people who would find his news to be bad news would be the people who didn’t want to lose control of their lives or “come to the light,” as he put it. Everyone else would view his gospel as an attractive alternative to the life they were experiencing. There will always be people who are, at a heart level, completely resistant to Christ. But this book isn’t about them. This book is about the millions of people who are openhearted and curious about life and God but who are honestly not finding goodness in the good news that we talk about and that, at times, has been forced down their collective throats.
We have to be honest with ourselves and realize that if the message isn’t attractive, and the people of God aren’t attractive, then we must not be telling the story right, or we aren’t living the story correctly. Maybe we forgot the story, or even worse, maybe no one ever told us the whole story. Maybe you got jipped, too. If so, you may also have jipped others.
Excerpt from Tangible Kingdom - By Hugh Halter