January 19, 2021

Sundays with Michael Spencer: November 1, 2015


A church-planting friend just wrote me about a conference he’s attended in one of our state Baptist conventions. Plant those churches, boys, was the rallying cry, but stay out of those pubs.

Take the Gospel into the world, but stay out of anyplace that serves beer. That’s someone’s version of how the Gospel applies to church planting. Go to jungles, mountains, into the tribes of cannibals or the roughest ghetto, but stay out of O’Charley’s.

Here’s my current theory: it’s not that we are simply ignorant of the Gospel. We can stop announcing that the church needs to hear the Gospel for the first time. It’s more than that. I think most people in most evangelical churches have heard it more than adequately. (Though I am not disagreeing with myself or anyone else that many in evangelicalism’s darker corners haven’t heard the Gospel with accuracy, understanding or personal application.) They may not have your footnotes on justification memorized and they may not be wrath-anxious enough for some of you, but a lot of Christians understand the Gospel.

The problem isn’t simple ignorance. It’s primarily cowardice.

Here’s the Gospel. Here’s life. Let’s apply the Gospel to life, to sin, to church, to ideas, to boundaries, to traditions, to power, to the accepted way of looking at everything.

Or let’s not….because it could cause some trouble and we’re afraid. We aren’t going to go where the Gospel goes. We’re going to get some brakes on that sucka.

The Gospel should create a whole room full of problems from the extreme nature of grace and God’s radical forgiveness. Instead, we want our church planters to stay out of pubs. That’s not the beginning of the cowardice that accompanies the Gospel these days. We want to have fun and feel great, but we don’t want our message- THE message- to upset, overturn and explode our predictable experiences and presuppositions.

We want to blame the Muslims. We want to hate our enemies. We want our money left in the bank. We don’t want to forgive anyone who isn’t sorry. We want the men in church and the outsiders out of sight and quiet. We want the music enjoyable and the youth group fun. We want our values, politics, opinions and certainties left alone. We’ll praise the power of the Gospel to save, but we don’t want a Rock to crash into our comfortable club.

We don’t want the Gospel to DISTURB the way things are. We want the Gospel on a leash. This far and no more. We want it in a box so we can put it where we want to do what we want.

We resent- deeply- those voices who tell us our Gospel is a mini-Gospel and its power is a prop to the way we’ve always wanted things to be. Radicals are annoying. And the Gospel isn’t radical, is it Marge?

If we could hear ourselves talking about all our opinions and “values;” if we could see ourselves making the world safe for our comforts, assumptions and presuppositions; if we could see our no-risk, no-rankle, no-rock-the-boat religion- and how we keep the Gospel tamed- we would be ashamed.

At every place in history, in every church, in every sermon and book, there is one common fact: no one let the Gospel go far enough.

We wimped out. We didn’t want to be called liberals, fanatics, johnny-one-notes, progressives, trouble makers. So it was the Gospel that got pushed back into the closet and told to be quiet.

We don’t want a revolution that causes us to question what we’ve always been comfortable with. We want the predictable path, going where we want to go and no where else.

We will venerate other cowards, imitate their tactics and say how much they helped us understand the Gospel. In almost every case, they brought us nothing of the demands and power of the Gospel. They let us be today what we were yesterday.

If someone goes with the Gospel and strange, new, different, unlikely and uncontrollable things start to happen without our permission, we already know that’s divisive or dangerous or just wrong.

Our Gospel is safe. The Gospel isn’t safe.

Our Gospel is predictable and familiar. The Gospel is flying in a new direction.

Our Gospel is familiar and affirming. The Gospel overturns the status quo and shakes us up/down.

Our Gospel is the scenery for our little play. The Gospel runs us all out of the theater because the world is on fire…or could be.

Do we need to know more? Or do we need the courage to stop taming and neutering the announcement that turns the world upside down?


  1. Interesting that the red line with US Baptists is bars and alcohol. Problem where I live is the fact that everyone makes their living out of financial services (the sort that usually involve lots of secrecy and tax avoidance), and having a Church that won’t stand up and call it for what it is.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Making a living out of financial services (the sort that usually involve lots of secrecy and tax avoidance) means raking in the Benjamins left and right, and that means more TITHES TITHES TITHES for Pastor.

      Can’t stop that Gravy Train, so let’s preach preach preach about Eternal Hell, Teh Fags, Uppity Wimmen, Demon Rum, and Teh Antichrist.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Yep. The churches I experienced unwillingness to talk about money became an intolerable. My work inside a mega-non-denom showed a system rife with conflicts-of-interest with member business people.

  2. The scary thing is, I’ve seen this in both Reformed and mainline churches. Churches that most definitely want the clock to get dialed back to the1950s – the only difference being the theological and liturgical trappings preferred.

    • Yes. I’ve said this for years. Many Christian sorts (pastors, especially that I know, but that’s just my experience) desperately want to return to a time when women and minorities knew their place. Life maybe was much simpler then, as long as you weren’t a woman or a minority.

  3. “The Gospel runs us all out of the theater because the world is on fire…or could be.”

    Is anyone feeling the flames of Wretched Urgency? Usually where “radical” and “gospel” travel together, Wretched Urgency isn’t too far away. I tend to look, more and more, for the presence of Jesus and the realization of his gospel in my ordinary, everyday life.

  4. Ouch. Truth sometimes hurts, does it not?

  5. Ronald Avra says

    Even a superficial review of scripture would suggest that God is not fond of the status quo; he has no qualms about exploding comfort zones when his people become too enthralled with their environment and forget Him.

  6. In the words of Tozer, this may all be related to man’s nature to make the gospel “the gospel AND…” We seem to have a hard time accepting we don’t have to do anything for God, but rather accept His unconditional gift.

  7. OldProphet says

    Excellent post today. The truth is that this topic, and so many others, are reasons why the world is no longer listening to the Church. They don’t care for what we have to say. Finally, after 35 years in Evangelical churches, I’ve finally figured this out. Our desperate and sick world just wants someone to listen,care, and help them with real help for their hurting hearts. Most of Christianity has no clue of this. Throwing money, programs, cheap talk, referrals, babbling words is not going to lead people to Jesus and His love.

  8. Double +1

  9. FaithfulDoubt says

    How much power can the Gospel have if its power depends on how willing its hearers are to “let it out”? It must be weak indeed if it is so easily overwhelmed by human fear.

    Where is the compulsion? Where is the drive? Where is the “I must speak, for if I don’t it burns within me”?

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