Promotion Theologies

Advancement in the kingdom. 

This morning my wife and I did our usual routine—up at 4:15 to run, shower, coffee, and then Word study. I've got a couple of writing projects in the works, and my mornings are reserved for books on Paul's prison letters. Normally I use the King James version for my books because of its English structure, literal translation, and popularity, but I decided to do my own translation for these books to make them easier reads. This morning I translated Philippians 1:12–14:

I want all you brothers to know that my circumstances have turned out for the greater advance of the gospel. You see, my bonds in Christ have become known among the entire Imperial Guard, and all the rest. And the greater part of the brothers in the Lord here have become even more emboldened by my bonds, daring to speak the Word without any fear.

It'll be a while before I set down my thoughts on paper, but I've had a little bugger of a thought following me around all morning. It's how Paul's testimony appears to fly in the face of everything that we hear on Christian TV, radio, and church every Sunday. Our popular theology says that God does everything he can to promote us—better jobs, more pay, nicer neighborhoods. And he does this so he can expand our area of influence to "affect" more people or at least impress our new-found friends with all the fringe benefits that go along with being a believer. Over the years this promotion type of theology has spawned corporate-style ministry organizations with sophisticated direct marketing campaigns, iPhone apps (usually at a cost), entourage-styled ministry teams, and jet-set contributors. The irony is that it's all based on Paul's letters, mostly 1 Corinthians 9, but also Philippians 4.19.


When we read these couple of verses in Philippians, we see that Paul's been stripped of any of these gospel accoutrements. He hasn't been promoted, isn't getting paid, and is wasting away in a prison cell where he has to rely on friends to feed him. Many of our popular preachers would have written him off—they would have had more influential people to see, better strategic places to go, and many more important things to do. Seeing and supporting a common Roman criminal wouldn't fit in their ideas of divine contacts, spheres of influence, or mass media.

Reading his letter, we find that Paul isn't lamenting the error of his divine right of promotion. He's bubbling over with enthusiam, in fact. He says that the circumstances of his imprisonment have not only not hindered the gospel, they've actually advanced it. And, he writes, that many of his fellow Christians had become even more emboldened by his imprisonment which led to the gospel advancing even further. You can almost hear grandstands in the background.

Sure, there is advancement in the kingdom, but it's not what's regularly preached from the pulpit these days. Paul didn't concern himself with the toys of the flesh; he sought a crown of righteousness. He didn't care for the corner office, the nice house in the suburbs, a couple of cars in the garage, and a tidy bit of savings socked away in a 401k. He had those things as a prosecutor for the Jews, but he counted them all crap (a scriptural word) once he was saved. His sole aim was to advance the gospel any way he could, on whatever road it would lead him on. His just happened to lead to a Roman prison. We'd do well to follow his example (he says we should), and we should be skeptical of preaching of any kind that tends to advance our personal interests more than it does Jesus Christ's. The gospel isn't a multilevel marketing scheme.

ConversationsPeter Smythe