Bill Tinsley: The Viral Gospel
The world is once again on the verge of panic over a new viral strain that threatens a global epidemic. In spite of efforts to contain it, the 2019-nCoV coronavirus continues to leap national boundaries. In the first three weeks, the infection soared from 50 in China to 17,000 in 23 countries with 425 deaths. We must pray for those who have been affected, especially for those in China and for the families who have lost loved ones.
The power and potential of anything “going viral” is mind-boggling. “Going viral” was once limited to communicable diseases, the kinds that are so easily transmitted that they can rapidly escalate into an epidemic. In our day the term means something quite different. With the aid of the Internet, email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, text messaging and YouTube, what was obscure can “go viral” and become suddenly famous.
Facebook went viral in 2004 when Mark Zuckerberg and a few friends launched it from their dorm rooms at Harvard. Today, more than one billion people use Facebook. It boasted a market cap in 2019 of over $500 billion and has become one of the most powerful tools on the Internet to catapult others into the “viral” stratosphere.
The Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thornberg was catapulted to fame after she posted her first protest as a 15-year-old on Instagram and Twitter. Within a week she gained international attention. Her actions went viral on Facebook and other media and, in December 2019, Time named her the youngest ever “Person of the Year.”
“Going viral” appears to be a 21st-century phenomenon. But is it?
History documents that the Gospel went viral following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. There was no media campaign. There were no reporters, no cameras, no photo ops, no internet, no Facebook. But somehow, Jesus impacted and changed the world. Growing up in the obscure and infamous village of Nazareth, Jesus’ public ministry lasted only three years. He walked wherever he went and never traveled more than 100 miles from his birthplace. When He was crucified, there were no papers to report it, no news teams to film it. But the news spread around the world and is continuing to spread today. It did so by “going viral.”
Paul spoke of “the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Colossians 1:6). And again, “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God” (2 Cor 4:15). “I thank my God through Jesus Christ … because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8).
When the Gospel goes viral, it requires more than posting a few sentences or a video clip on the internet, more than “clicking” and forwarding information. The Kingdom of God goes viral when lives are transformed by faith in Jesus Christ so that society is saturated with honesty, integrity, justice and generosity. Changed lives change the lives of those around them. The Gospel has gone viral in previous generations. It could “go viral” in ours.
Bill Tinsley reflects on current events and life experience from a faith perspective. Visit www.tinsleycenter.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.