The Other Bridge Illustration: Visual Christus Victor

For all those visual learners who need to see it to understand it. This is the “Other Bridge Illustration.” And yes, I drew these while at Starbucks.

(David Fitch and I did an entire podcast on this topic if you are interested.)

The Original Bridge Illustration

But first we must talk about the Original Bridge Illustration, that staple of evangelism in my corner of evangelicalism.

The Original Bridge Illustration (pardon my drawing)

This is how I was taught to explain it.

On one side is humanity. Humanity sins (Rom. 3:23). And the wages of sin—what you earn—is death (Rom. 6:23). So “sin”, “wages”, and “death” mark the cliff separating humanity from God.

But on God’s side, God chooses to forgive our sin, which is a gift of grace—not earned like wages.  And this gift leads to life (Rom. 6:23).  So “forgiveness”, “gift”, and “life” are on God’s side.

The death of Jesus—his cross—becomes the bridge by which we cross over from sin and death and receive forgiveness and life.

We cross over to God through the cross of Jesus.

Simple, right?

Problems with this Bridge Illustration

Often—but not always—this presentation of salvation emphasizes individual sin and individual responsibility and individual salvation (notice a theme?).  It also assumes a movement from the side of humanity (on “earth”) to God’s side (in “heaven”).

Also, this view, when unpacked, usually holds to certain understandings of God’s wrath against humanity and how Jesus’s death satisfies God’s wrath so that we can avoid hell fire (drawn at the bottom of the chasm—too bad I didn’t have a red sharpie).

And lastly, this view can lead to truncated understanding that “Jesus came to die” or “Jesus was born to die“—which I regularly hear on Facebook or Twitter when I emphasize the significance of Jesus’s ministry or the kingdom of God.

The Other Bridge Illustration

But humanity IS separated from God.
Something needs to be done.
We need salvation.

So here is the Other Bridge Illustration.

The Other Bridge Illustration (the bridge if made of stones, if you couldn’t tell)

On one side is humanity. We are within the kingdom (or reign) of death (Rom. 5:14-17). We are slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17).  And we are captives of the powers (Col. 1:13).

But on God’s side is the kingdom of life, the redemption from sin, and liberation from the powers.

The bridge is made of three stones—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (I don’t know why stones. It’s just what came to me).

God coming to us.

But here is the main twist.
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God is coming to us.

God comes from heaven to earth. God comes to the damned and the sinners. God comes to the enslaved and captives. God comes to seek and save the lost.

The totality of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection witnesses to this. 

Salvation comes to where we are. And this has always been the case. From Genesis to Revelation, God seeks to dwell with humanity. And God is pursuing humanity, bridging every divide, overcoming every obstacle.

This is the victory of God—not that we leave the place of sin and death, but that God overcomes by coming to our place of need, of desperation, of death.


To be fair, parts of the Original Bridge Illustration are true and we shouldn’t ignore them.  But we must place them in the larger context of the Other Bridge Illustration—The Christus Victor Illustration.

What needs to be added?

What would you add to make this better?

(I want to figure out the best was to add the Holy Spirit to this illustration.)

(This post it is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days [BUT I WENT WAY OVER TODAY].  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)

Evangelism and the Missional Church (video)

Evangelism In The Missional Church: How The Kingdom Breaks In Among Us

Missional Learning Commons 2014

November 7 @ 7:30pm – November 8 @ 3:00pm | $25

 (Wait for the 1:08 mark to learn what Fitch really thinks of Geoff, and evangelism…)


This year’s Missional Learning Commons will focus on the oft forgotten member of the 5-fold gifts: the Evangelists. While the Attractional Church focuses mostly on Pastors and Teachers, the Missional Church often gravitates toward the Apostles and Prophets. But what of the Evangelists?

On Nov. 7th and 8th we will focus our attention on the Practices of Proclamation & Presence as we seek the Kingdom of God among us in personal spaces, social spaces, and public spaces.

The Missional Learning Commons is a great value as a 2-day conference (only $25, lunch and childcare on Saturday included), bringing together experienced pastors and theologians into conversations around important themes for the contemporary  church.



Discerning the Gospel: Before Acts 15 & Beyond

It seems there was a bit of confusion and concern about proposing communal discernment.  And that’s OK, it is a difficult thing to understand and from what I can tell it is even less often practiced.  On top of all of this are the countless instances of spiritual abuse, if not outright physical and sexual abuse, committed by churches that destroyes the trust and faith necessary for such discernments.

But without being idealistic, unrealistic, harsh or ignorant of those who have suffered such abuse, I think communal discernments within the church is what Jesus and the scriptures model.
Below is an exerpt from Prodigal Christianity outlining this process with reference to the Jerusalem council (it comes from the signpost concerning witness). Below that is a comment that I posted on Homebrewed Christianity (“Jesus was a Cowboy without a Community”), responding to Jesus’ supposed opposition to such discernments.

Discerning the Kingdom: The Last Piece


Living as witnesses assumes that God is already at work and that what we need to do is discern this work by entering into each situation together, inviting one another into the presence of Christ. Signposts 2 (Missio Dei) and 3 (Incarnation) make possible our following signpost 4 (Witness) into post-Christendom (signpost 1).  Because we assume God is at work, we can wait patiently, listen, pray, inhabit Scripture, and discern the Spirit in each situation. But we will not know what to say or do prior to discerning what God is doing. Only through discernment can we participate in God’s kingdom work, thereby becoming the vehicle for the divine in-breaking Christ to do his work in and among us. This is the prodigal nature of all witness.


Acts 10–15 give us an example of this type of kingdom discernment. In Acts 10, Cornelius receives an angelic vision telling him to send for Peter. The next day, Peter receives a vision of his own that enables him to receive the Gentile visitors. But Peter does not immediately understand the meaning of his vision and is still pondering it when the men from Cornelius arrive (v. 17). The Spirit tells him to go down and meet the men and go with them (v. 19). Cornelius and Peter are both tending to the Spirit and discerning it, and because of this, the Spirit begins to take them on a journey that will change the entire church. At Cornelius’s house, the first words out of Peter’s mouth confirm that he feels out of his element but is nonetheless committed to discerning God’s work there (v. 28). Peter then begins a “presentation” of the gospel (although not as we usually think of it; this is the subject of signpost 6), and while he is still speaking, the Spirit comes onto all who are listening. They immediately begin to speak in tongues, astonishing all who are present (vv. 44–46).


This passage seems to back up the idea that all we need to do is present the gospel, that is, tell the story of Jesus so that lives will be changed. But this is not the end of the story. A bit later, after the Gentiles had been part of the church for a while, some began to teach that although it was good and fine that God welcomed the Gentiles, all male Gentiles still needed to be circumcised (i.e., they still needed to follow the Jewish laws). In Acts 15, in what is often called the Jerusalem Council, the church gathered to discern together God’s work among the Gentiles. They eventually discerned that the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised, a new understanding that developed over time and in community. It came to them through prayer, listening to each other, and totally submitting to the Spirit’s work among them.


After much discussion, Peter rose and began witnessing to the group about what happened to Cornelius, reminding everyone that “God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us” (15:8 ESV; emphasis added). After this, James turned to the witness of the scriptures about how God would allow the Gentiles to call God by God’s own name (15:15), concluding that it was as Gentiles, not as Jewish converts, that God was welcoming them. In light of these witnesses (the witness of Peter, the Holy Spirit, and scripture) the council writes a letter to the whole church and announces its communal discernment with the words: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (15:28 ESV). The unity of Gentiles and Jews, the great work of God unifying all people in Christ, was being displayed before everyone. This was witness at its finest.


Like those days with Peter and Cornelius, witness today entails regularly discerning the kingdom among us and what God is saying and has said in Scripture. It will entail a community of people where God is working. This is the prodigal journey we must travel.

This is just a rough sketch thrown up as a response to “Jesus was a Cowboy without a Community”:

… Jesus was not some maverick cowboy, lone-ranger that we can’t imitate in the communities we live in.  Rather Jesus was, is, and will be in community, and not just in the Trinity. Certainly in his earthly ministry he never did anything outside the will of the Father empowered by the Spirit, something that we are also called to do (“thy will be done, on earth…”).  Also, I think that Jesus did substantially stand with the traditions of Israel, and drew liberally not only from the prophetic traditions, but also the priestly and kingly tradition.  Certainly the continuity of tradition he was offering was not well received by counter-traditions, but that does not mean we throw out tradition or community.

That Jesus was committed to communal discernment, especially with those that would disagree with him, is that he in no way forced or coerced the truth of his discernment (i.e. his interpretation of the Kingdom of God), but submitted even unto death at the hands of those who disagreed. This is the ultimate commitment to non-violent discernment (he did not use force to proved his point, nor did merely abandon those that disagreed/opposed him).

Not only this, but rather than a post-resurrection so of force (an no, not even Revelation counts as a show of force, but that is a different conversation), Jesus entrusted the truth of the Kingdom within a community of disciples.

In all these way I think we should be like Jesus, and show live like Jesus. I don’t think we should drive a wedge between what we can/should do and what Jesus did.

Making Peace with the Bridge, for Now.

Like many of us, I’ve been longing for something beyond the “bridge illustration” to share the gospel (with others, and my children).  Something short, visual, clear, explaining the gospel in an appropriate way.  But of course, the more I learn and grow in the Kingdom the more difficult it is to summarize, especially when you have all these old, truncated ‘gospels’ bouncing around in your brain that you are trying to overcome (the gospel of sin management, the gospel of health and wealth, the gospel of going to heaven, etc).

But then Soren (8 years old) comes home from a church basketball camp yesterday super amped about the ‘bridge illustration.’  It’s all he can talk about.  He pulls out our white board and insists on drawing it out for us and explaining it to us (of course as a seasoned evangelical I’m filling in some of the forgotten steps and verses…).  So I had to step back and rethink my loathing for the ‘bridge illustration.’ (If you are not familiar with the ‘bridge illustration’ check it out here).

Making Peace

I guess this is something that I have know for awhile, but haven’t wanted to admit very loudly (or publicly).  The ‘bridge illustration’ really is a good presentation of the gospel, even if it is just part of the gospel.  I have seen the light come on for children and adults where they begin to understand what God has done for them in a deeper way.

And especially for children who are in the black and white stage of moral development, the ‘bridge illustration’ makes sense.  “We are over hear because of sin.  God is over there because he is perfect.  But in Jesus we can be with God again.”  It makes sense.  It is simple.  It helps them put in place a piece of their spiritual puzzle.

And it fits especially the intellectual development of children Soren’s age.  They haven’t yet reached the world of complexity and abstraction which causes the ‘bridge illustration’ to breakdown or be known as incomplete.

For Now

But the whole point is that children would grow up, and their faith along with them.  Too often we have adults who have prayed a prayer after hearing the ‘bridge illustration’ and 20 years later their faith is still at the same stage.  The problem isn’t in the ‘bridge illustration’ itself but the underlying theology of atonement which is exhausted in the illustration. Certain understandings of the gospel see the bridge not merely as an illustration, but the entire reality.  This leads to the spiritual immaturity and stunted grow of so many believers (which has led to my own discomfort with the illustration).

It is one thing to say that for “now” the bridge is a helpful and, dare I say, true explanation of the gospel.  But only for now.  Not for always.  At the beginning it is true, but faith must grow here and now, and not merely wait for heaven.  We can’t remain stuck on the level of the ‘bridge’ for our entire spiritual lives, just like Soren isn’t going to remain stuck as an 8 year old.

Bridge to the Kingdom, not merely Heaven

We for “now” I’m very pleased that Soren is excited about the bridge, that it has helped him organize some of the biblical stories and ideas that we have been brainwashing him with (ha).  But are already laying the ground work for that spiritual development.  After Soren explained about crossing the bridge in Christ and receiving eternal life (which that church of course links with ‘going to heaven’), I started to redirect from ‘going to heaven’ to ‘life in the kingdom’ here and now.  And I reminded him of the Lord’s Prayer, which we prayer everyday, and how it talks about God’s Kingdom coming to earth from heaven.  The goal is that Soren would come to know all that all those who cross the bridge in faith enter Christ’s Kingdom, which is now!

But filling that all out will come later, and through example, and prayer, day by day, year by year.  But for “now” the bridge will do.

For now.

Bake the bread; give it away.

You need to bake the bread before you give it away.  Likewise, we need to nurture the church to bless the world.  These are the basic movements of the church gathered and scattered.

So often we forget one of these steps.  For some, the moment of blessing the world is so emphasized, of going to the poor and oppressed, of transforming, of advocating, that they neglect the preparation of the bread.  In the haste to bless the world, some feel the church is expendable, secondary, and often times positively a hinderance to God’s mission in the world.  “Why are you so focused on the church when God loves the world?” they often complain.  But this overemphasis often leads to burnout, self-righteousness, and the lack of a developed maturity in Christ.

For others, the moment of nurturing the church is emphasized, the moment of discipleship, of depth of wisdom and understanding, of community and spiritual formation.  In the excitement of nurturing the church it is mission that becomes secondary, an advance step of discipleship, or something that only those with the gift of evangelism do.  Or it takes the mentality that if we build it ‘they’ will come.  But this perspective often leads to stagnation and also keeps the full maturity of Christ from being manifested in us.

But the life of gathering, of baking, of contemplation leads to the life of scattering, of blessing, of action.  To neglect one is to ruin the other.  To bake bread and not share leads to its wasting and rotting.  But to bless the world with something other than the bread of life within us is not blessing at all.

“May the Holy Spirit fire take the individual kernels of our lives and bake us together into one loaf, that we might be the sweet fragrance of the gospel and a blessing to the world.”