What is the gospel? In short, we might say the gospel is the way God is glorified through his son Jesus and through his creation—you and me. But those first two words in that definition—the way—have been defined in a lot of … well … ways.
Books and books have been written about them. There are four books just in our Bible that we call Gospels, and each is a little different. The truth is that the gospel is both simple and complex, like a stained glass window with many different panes of different color. Each is beautiful itself, and when you stand back the whole is even more beautiful.
One of the beautiful pieces of the gospel is the way Jesus, in his death and resurrection, defeats the stuff that keeps you and me from living to our full potential. The New Testament calls this stuff the powers. In Ephesians Paul says that when God raised Jesus from the dead, he kept raising him, and placed him “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion” (Eph 1:21). So now, we (Jew and Gentile) “both have access to the Father by one Spirit” (3:18).
The gospel here is linked to human potential. One couldn’t truly live out this gospel without recognizing the barriers—“dividing wall(s) of hostility”—that frustrate the best in human potential around us.
For many in my city, and probably yours, one of those barriers is low-quality education.
As evidence, take a look at the EdGap map. EdGap is a project of Memphis Teacher Residency, an incredible program attempting to offer high-quality education to all children in Memphis. On the map you can look at the average ACT score of all the public high schools in many large American cities. Some schools in the Memphis area score as low as 14, whereas some schools average 24. If you were to include private schools in Memphis, some average as high as 28.
So what is a good score? Well the overall average in 2016 was 21.
Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Looking at the EdGap map, it is painfully clear that the thief is still at work, robbing fullness of life from some of God’s children.
This theft starts early. By the third grade the potential of a child’s life is largely determined. According to John Hudson at The Atlantic, if you can’t read by third grade your chances of dropping out of school increase dramatically. If you drop out, your chances of going to prison also increase dramatically. Education matters because all of God’s children deserve life to the full. Education will be the ticket to that life for some and the barrier for others.
Your church is likely involved in some way with a local school. If not, or if you are struggling to determine how best you can support schools in your area, consider the Arise2Read tutoring program, which attempts to improve the reading proficiency of second-graders before their transition to third grade. Members at our church have tutored 59 students in reading this year, improving their sight-word recognition significantly.
Watch this video to hear one of those stories.
Like the boys in the video, I could read only a few words when I started second grade. Some thought I may have had a learning disability. I have great parents but they couldn’t make any reading breakthroughs with me at home.
My second grade teacher Ms. Yates changed my life. She worked with me every day after school until Christmas time. My mom will never forget that Christmas because I read the story of Jesus’s birth aloud for the whole family.
Reading has changed my life. I got my degree on a book. My life centers on the person of Jesus that I read about in that book. I spend every day preparing to share the good news based on what I read in that book and its four gospels.
Ms. Yates didn’t preach to me, but she modeled the gospel for me. Education has made a big difference to my life, and I hope my education is making small difference to the kingdom of God.
These two boys now have the potential to make an even greater difference.
Eric and his wife Lindsey have been at Highland Church in Memphis since 2012. You are likely to find them walking the local Greenline with their sons Noble, Foster, and dachshund Tucker. Eric cares deeply about preaching and social justice. He has a BA in Biblical Text and a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Eric is a board member for HopeWorks, an organization that provides hope and job training to the chronically unemployed and formerly incarcerated in Memphis.