Here’s the first question an editor asks a writer: “Who’s your audience?” It’s like asking a soldier before he shoots his rifle, “What’s your target?”
Readers already know the rule. If a first sentence starts, “Use this document to see if your SSI benefits are taxable” we know where it’s going. So, too, if a book begins, “Long, long ago in a world far, far away…”
So who is my intended audience for A Spreading Goodness?
There are lots of options. There are sites for Christian professors, students, and pastors who aim to probe or present ideas. We also have life-enrichment sites. Some sites propagate new ideas. And monetized sites offer resources to buy or financial needs to be met.
This site looks at Christian spirituality. I aim to be theologically and biblically accessible and softly controversial; with lay Christians in view along with some who live on the near outskirts of faith. I expect a basic level of Bible or theological appetite and awareness. The Trinity is central as we explore what it means to have a God whose “Being is communion.” And what it means to have God’s Spirit indwelling us as we participate in God’s life.
That said let me be more explicit about the affective—“heart” or “love” based—themes I often raise. I take Jesus in John 8:42 at face value: “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God…” Jesus restated this idea in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love, in fact, is regularly linked to living faith.
If we press this link where does it take us? The context in John 8 is Jesus speaking to a group of “believers” who are actually from another clan: “You are of your father, the Devil” (v.44). The encounter tells us that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian. Jesus, after all, came to “winnow” the religious crowds of his day (Matt. 3:12). And many who claim faith will, in the end, be told, “I never knew you; depart from me…” (Matt. 7:23).
This obviously raises a troubling question for readers: Am I really a Christian? Am I a true grain of wheat? Or a religious seed of a weed sown by God’s Enemy? And how do we distinguish spiritual immaturity—as in 1 Corinthians 3—from a complete absence of spiritual life?
We have two common tests: the behavioral and the credal. The first features obedience to God’s laws. And the second relies on affirming key doctrines. Most churches live with this pairing as gateways for prospective church members. And both certainly offer useful starting points. But a quick read of the Gospels dispels any idea that these are all we need. Most of the Jerusalem Pharisees met these standards yet many also endorsed Christ’s crucifixion.
So what I aim to offer in A Spreading Goodness is an invitation to share our family affiliation with all who “know” the Father and the Son, and who have Christ’s Spirit. This sidesteps trying to scrub out false beliefs by using a tight theological grid. Or by becoming moralists. In other words I believe Jesus draws some people to himself, but not all. His presence is captivating to some and hated by others (Matt. 6:24). So the goal of our writing is to elevate Jesus as Lord and lover. And then I get to see who is attracted. I’ll also listen to detractors but always with biblical ears.
The benefit of this approach is that we move away from the self-conscious fear of not being saved into a very different quest: into “Lord, I want more of you!”
There’s nothing new in this approach. Jesus elevated it after the Temple lawyers condemned him as a sinner for his Sabbath healing of a man born blind (John 9). They were among the “bad shepherds of Israel” cited in Ezekiel 34. And it was in this context that Jesus set out his premise of spontaneous spiritual affiliation. All of Christ’s authentic sheep “will listen to my voice” and join his “one flock” (John 10:16).
There are other examples of this call to the spontaneous affiliation of love. Jesus told Pilate, for instance, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). But Pilate wasn’t drawn to listen as we see when he then ordered Christ’s crucifixion.
Paul also understood this feature of spiritual attraction when he used a parallel metaphor with the Corinthians, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:14-16).
Let me get back to the question of audience again. My aim is to offer my own desire to “taste and see” God’s goodness on this site. And then pray as others are spontaneously doing the same sort of thing—with all sharing a love for Christ. We can then gather momentum back into the “first love” we share as genuine, Spirit-sensitive, children of God.
The finale of this movement, by the way, is nicely summarized in Christ’s prayer of John 17—go see how it impacts you. It was first spoken, of course, for a very limited audience.