The characters had all been introduced in earlier films. Now Earth's mightiest heroes are assembled after an attack from the demigod Loki in a culmination of previous interconnected stories. They chase and capture Loki. They bicker and splinter. Loki escapes and uses alien technology to open a wormhole above Manhattan which allows a Chitauri army to begin its invasion. The Avengers reassemble to fight off the alien horde in the Battle of New York. In the end (spoilers) Iron Man carries a nuclear missile through the wormhole and destroys the Chitauri mother-ship, Thor escorts Loki to be imprisoned in Asgard, and the heroes quietly gather in a deli to eat shawarmas.
That is my brief synopsis from opening sequence to post credits scene. Considering its theatrical success, popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and general demographic of people who read my blog, I realize that most of you have all ready seen this movie and don't need an explanation of the plot. We all could probably recall our favorite moments from the film: the epic fight between Thor and Iron Man, the witty banter between egos, when Hulk smashes the crap out of Loki then calls him a puny god.
Pretend for a moment you have not yet seen The Avengers until now. (C'mon, it's been three years. Where have you been?) The first scene is the moment Loki connects the Tesseract to the machine on the roof of Stark Tower and aliens begin to pour from the sky. You see the iconic image of the five superheroes gathered in a circle with their backs to each other, prepared for war. The film plays through the climactic battle. At the moment that the missile is detonated to defeat the invading Chitauris, the screen goes black. End of story. Roll credits.
image courtesy of Marvel Studios
If that is all you got, you are missing something. Sure, you saw some action. But there is more to the story than the fight and the winning explosion. You missed the exposition, the initial conflict, the rising action, and the long dark night of the soul. You witnessed the climax, but received no resolution or conclusion. This truncated version of The Avengers would be hollow, an ultimately unfulfilling lack of entertainment.
Watching an incomplete third act of a three act play creates unanswered questions. Who are these people and how did they get here? What is going on? Why should I care? You have no vested interest in the characters and given no incentive to see any sequels.
We may not do that with our favorite movies, but Christians tend to do that to the Gospel.
When we try to explain the basics of our beliefs, we start right before the final showdown and end with the climatic deathblow. Then we wonder why no one is listening.
Having grown up in evangelical culture, I have seen this minced version of the gospel presented so many times I have begun to wonder if these people even read their bibles.
Ninja ministry style seems to compact God's story into a five second snippet to be dumped on bystanders with minimal effort: "You're a sinner and Jesus died for you so you can go to heaven the end."
Is that the best we can do?
That is an incomplete gospel. It lacks substance. If that is the only story you have to tell, your listener will be left with the same questions as they would with the hypothetical version of The Avengers described above.
"You're a sinner." Who am I and how did I get here? "Jesus died for you." What is going on? "You can go to heaven." Why should I care?
A truncated gospel fails to answer these questions. It provides no vested interest in discovering God and no incentive to pursue a deeper faith. Skim through the gospel, pick out a couple of soundbites, and wonder why no one listens.
There is so much more. A complete gospel answers these questions because it starts at the beginning and ends at the end. Mankind's sinful nature is not the first part of the Gospel story, and hope of eternal life is not the end.
The complete gospel begins with exposition. God created us to be in a perfect relationship with Him. The initial conflict is failure damaging humanity's connection with the divine through which sin enters the world and infects everyone. In the rising action, we see how God offers methods for people to reconnect with Him, but humanity is so broken we continually screw it up until God sends His Son to restore the damaged relationship. His Son, Jesus, is executed in the long dark night of the soul. The gospel story climaxes when Jesus conquers death through resurrection.
Still, the story isn't over. We are given a resolution that Jesus’ sacrifice gave us the freedom to truly live here and now. This is where God's original intent for a perfect union with Him begins. The future hope is the conclusion but that element of the story hasn't happened yet. This is when God has given us life in abundant measures. This is when we share our story and invite others to participate in our adventure.
The purpose of the gospel is not about how we will someday go to heaven. Such simplistic view misses the point. Eternity begins now. What we say and do matters because we are a part of the gospel story.
So if the only version of the gospel you know to tell is a five second blurb, please stop. God's story is bigger and better than that.
ps: If you still haven't seen The Avengers, what are you waiting for?