November 30, 2020

Misplaced, Taken For Granted and Ignored: My Strange Experiences With An Absent Gospel (Part 1)

reachIn a recent sermon, I said that I was deeply concerned about the understanding of the Gospel that I hear among adult Christians and especially preachers. I was not just making noise. With every passing year, I’m amazed that the level of Gospel understanding seems to be lower and lower among Christian adults. This isn’t just a failure to hear the Gospel in the terms and definitions I prefer. No, it is an ever lowering articulation of the Gospel, a replacement of the Gospel with other concerns and, perhaps most distressing of all, a replacement and confusion of the Gospel-centered mission itself.

I expect that this emphasis on my part will not endear me to some people, mostly on grounds that I am failing to see the significance of things like moral issues, behavior change and political causes. I’ve come to the point that I realize a discussion of the Gospel is going to have a predictable shape:

1) We all know the Gospel. It’s basic.
2) Once you’ve preached or taught the Gospel, then you need to deal with other things.
3) If you are constantly trying to bring the Gospel to the forefront as the main concern, you’re missing the importance of things like behavior change and obedience.

Or

1) Any message on any Biblical text is “the Gospel.”
2) You’re trying to push your theology over basic things like obedience and behavior change.

Or

1) The point is to get people to accept Jesus into their hearts, not turn people into theologians.

In my own tradition as I experience it in several hundred sermons a year, the Gospel is rarely articulated with Biblical priority or in Biblical balance with the rest of scripture. Good ideas from the Bible are common. Concerns of preachers and church leaders are heard every week. Frustrations with the decline of society or poor behavior of individuals is constant. Some form of the Gospel will frequently pass through these sermons in a place where the truth is seen, but it is also not uncommon to hear generic deism, pure moralism or behavior modification based on “Biblical principles.” Vague ideas like “living for God” or “being a good witness” are frequently referenced. As my readers have often heard, sermons without reference to Jesus are so common as to no longer be that shocking.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this decline is how often in 18 years of ministry I have addressed this topic of the Gospel specifically. Never underestimate the power of preaching to make little impact on deeply held beliefs. Clearly, this displacement of the Gospel is not perceived to be particularly problematic. Of course, these are people who have not been exposed to the Gospel-centric emphasis coming out of various places in evangelicalism or reformation traditions today. There is a reason so many of my good friends don’t emphasize the Gospel: to them “Gospel” is a word in front of singing. At most, it references a four step evangelism outline. It is not the central concept in the Christian life. Something like “Holiness” or “obedience” seems far more practical.

In the second post, I will share some of the ways I’ve tried to consistently articulate the Gospel over the years.

Comments

  1. Good article. I have been reading your blog for about a year and thoroughly enjoy it. How would you define the “gospel” in the context of your post? Thanks.

    • As I said at the end, I’ll share some of my Gospel articulations in the next post. Gospel definitions are in scripture (I Cor 15 and the Creeds.)

      • If you’re going to answer this in your next post ignore this but….

        Do you think that the gospel is relegated to verse 3-11 in that 1 Corinthians 15 passage? It always kind of frustrates me that editors put a heading between 11 and the rest of the chapter because it all sounds like gospel to me. I so often hear a gospel that doesn’t encapsulate resurrection (a central part of the Good News!) and victory because people think that it the gospel is synonymous with a limp four point exhortation that barely gives us insight into the crazy words and actions of Jesus – based only on 3-11. Or am I off base here?

  2. This was my question also: what is meant by “gospel?” I personally use the term gospel in two senses: 1) the four Gospels and their core message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and 2) the broader sense of “good news”: the fortuitous message that God is graciously involved in his creation. Others obviously think of gospel as the 4 spiritual laws and “getting saved.”

    When my mom died recently (my mom and dad belong to what I consider to be a evangelical/fundamentalist denomination), we met with the pastor to discuss the funeral. We picked a text (Romans 12) and the pastor asked us, “what should I say?” My response was, “preach the Gospel”–meaning that he should preach the good news of the Christian life in a broad sense. He thought I meant “do an altar call.”

    • I am not referring to the “4 Gospels.” Definition is in I Cor 15. Significance of that core definition is unpacked in Romans, Gal, Hebrews.

      • Ah, there’s the rub, then. I tend to think of the Creed and passages like the one in 1 Cor 15 as summaries instead of definitions. But I’ll not jump the gun too much and wait for the next post as you suggested above.

      • L. Winthrop says

        Well that IS a traditional funeral reading!

      • What I want to be clear about is that I accept scripture’s definitions and creedal confessions. It’s not my job to define the Gospel, though it’s the big sport in the blogosphere 🙂 It is my job to articulate it, which I will explore in future posts.

        • iMonk,

          Don’t get me wrong, I Cor 15 is good news, especially for a community that’s questioning whether there is a resurrection of the dead as Corinth was, but it’s not the only concept/definition of “good news” used in the NT, not even by Paul. Any hope in the coming posts for the good news of the nearness of the reign of God through Christ and what that government is up to (and how)?

          • I get where you’re coming from, and I agree that you have a point.

            There’s also the “I delivered to you as of first importance” thing to consider. How do we put that together with other concepts of “gospel” in the NT?

            I would understand it this way: At the core, the gospel is what’s described in 1 Cor 15–Christ’s death and resurrection for us. The reason it’s good news is that it’s the foundation for forgiveness from sin, reconciliation to God, and entry into his kingdom & the nearness of his rule. A full understanding of the gospel described in 1 Cor 15 will include that element of “we get entry into the kingdom”. (And that’s why “ticket-to-heaven” descriptions are incomplete.)

            That’s why it makes sense to call it “the gospel of the kingdom”.

  3. Me: Gospel
    Other person: Yes thats true but what about behavior change and obedience?
    Me: Gospel
    Other person: BUT WHAT ABOUT BEHAVIOR CHANGE AND OBEDIENCE?!!??!!?!
    Me: Gospel
    Other person: Quote from James
    Me: Gospel
    Other person: Accuses me of being all about head knowledge
    Me; Gospel
    Other Person: Accuses me of being an antinomian
    Me Gospel Sigh……………………….

    I’m looking forward to reading the ways you have consistently articulated the Gospel. Maybe I can pick up something new. Sometimes I feel like a broken record.

    • “Maybe I can pick up something new”

      Nah. Stick with what you had. You may feel like a broken record but what’s the remedy for the broken? Gospel. 🙂

      • I think you’re actually touching the thing that CAUSES what IMonk is frustrated with. Its the arch-enemy of all who think they have something to say (i.e. Christians, especially preachers)…that is a flat punch line. AKA a joke thats not funny OR a MESSAGE THAT PEOPLE DON’T THINK IS GOOD.

        Its a bit of a paradox. Is what makes something good the fact that people benefit from it? No, but I think that is a necessary fruit of something that is good.

        Its all about insecurity. In our effort to show people its good, we lose patience in the very thing we are proclaiming.

        Without a doubt the toughest part of the Gospel is that Jesus saves US. It’s also the part that only trust can allow us to “get”. We are preaching something that HAS US not always the other way around. It ain’t simple to talk about what you’re in the midst of.

        So while I hear what you’re saying about “stick with the simple Gospel.” I will also say: Even just saying the gospel doesn’t get us off the hook. Because “just saying it” would bear fruit. If there is no fruit… receive it AGAIN. Receive it FIRST, AGAIN yourself.

        Alexander, I think your heart is in the right spot when you are still “questioning” if there is more to hear about this gospel for you yourself.

        Katie, I think you’re right about it won’t be new. Just a new encounter with a Tireless Savior.

        I’m not saying anything profound or new. I’m just trying to highlight what I believe is the context of IMonk’s discussion here.

    • Alexander,
      As a Lutheran, I have to tell you you are doing something right when you get the other person to quote antilegoumena at you to make a point, or when they accuse you of being an antinomian. I also like it when they claim to know what is not in your heart.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      This all assumes “Gospel” means something else (and something more) than:
      1) Young Earth Creationism Uber Alles
      2) Pin the Tail on The Antichrist
      3) Culture War Without End, Amen
      4) Take off your socks and spin them round round Jesus round round…

      • “pin the tail on the Antichrist” LOL Someone’s been watching too much Christian television!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Actually, it was a term coined by someone I correspond with. (Coincidentally, someone in Louisville KY. Don’t know how far that is from IMonk.)

          But it describes the attitude so well.

  4. In my life any lasting behaviour change has only come after embracinng the Gospel. It seems the harder I try to live a good ‘Christian’ life, the more I am confronted with the deep rooted and interconnectedness of sin in myself and in those around me. If I somehow manage to change a ‘sinful’ behaviour in my life through self control it only serves to open my eyes to the moral failings that I had not even had the moral capacity to see before. Additionally, if I pursue secondary matters (my witness, morality, etc) and put them before the gospel I am left with so many unanswerable questions (what does a good witness look like?; what should I do in the ‘grey’ situations where there is no clear ‘right’ answer; when have I done enough?) and I am left looking for a guru, a rulebook, or just a quick escape.

  5. If what you would be saying were that every Sunday church service must preach in such a way that it calls people to follow and imitate Jesus, then I would have no problem with such a formulation.

    If what you would be saying were that every Sunday church service must preach in such a way that it calls people to personally accept Jesus as their Savior, then I would say that you must find some of Jesus’ sermons troublesome.

    I would point out that people who are considered to be great evangelicals always paired the preaching of the Gospel with the practice of the Gospel. The same John Wesley who preached the Gospel in the open fields also worked with miners, people addicted to gin, etc. The Sunday School movement was Dwight L. Moody’s attempt to not merely preach (and teach) the Gospel, but also to make sure that children from poor neighborhoods were tutored in the three R’s so that they could succeed in school. Finley also founded orphanages. All the great evangelicals of yore could both preach a “sawdust trail” and preach a call to sobriety and Christian living.

    I am interested to see how you will work this out in tomorrow’s post.

  6. I relate to what you’re saying Mants – it’s only in embracing the gospel that I find my center from which any real change in me, an ability to love others and anything else of worth comes. Due to my job, I’ve had to move a few times and I’m glad that God’s always blessed my family with being able to find a church that is gospel centered.

  7. I am also very interested to hear what you have to say in your next post. As we speak I’m in the middle of an ordination paper for my denomination paper entitled ‘What is the gospel?’ There are definitely a host of divergent views out there. I was struck by your comment to Dave N that its not your job to define the gospel … its your job to articulate it. Well said.

  8. “2) Once you’ve preached or taught the Gospel, then you need to deal with other things.”

    Stellar! I’ve heard this in so many ways. It’s as if the gospel is an elementary teaching which we are supposed to move on from (or maybe get over with), rather than being foundational, upon which everything we teach and do is dependent. I don’t think the gospel is being called “elementary” in Hebrews 6:1; I think misinterpretation of this passage is a big part of the problem. It isn’t just babes in the faith who need gospel assurance.

    John Wesley needs to be rediscovered. His teaching on holiness was not contrary to the gospel or a departure from it. He taught that holiness is a work of God’s grace. What others did with Wesley’s teaching and the holiness movement should not be held against him.

    • I think the gospel is not only the foundational stuff of repentance from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 6:1), but ALSO the “better things… that accompany salvation” in Hebrews 6:9; “the work [exterior activity] and the love [interior contents]… shown towards His name” (Hebrews 6:10, Hebrews 9:14).

  9. Excellent as always – Please add what it means to “obey the gospel” as spoken of in Rom 10:16, 2Thss1:8, 1Ptr4:17 to your future insights.

  10. I’m a high school pastor. Tonight I faced a room full of teenagers. We’ve spent two months in Romans exploring foundational “Christian worldview” topics such as truth, general revelation, Sin, God’s wrath, immorality, the Law and, after a long, dark week preparing to talk about the powerful stronghold of sin/depravity in Rom 6-7, tonight we were at last going to focus on “the gospel” of Christ.

    Instead of preaching “the gospel” I chose to show 3 personal testimonies of God’s powerful work in people’s lives. I thought, “Let’s SEE the gospel’s saving, liberating, reconciling and forgiving power at work in a real life.”

    I chose 3 videos from http://www.Iamsecond.com. Only afterwards did I realize that none of these stories mentioned specifically the cross or sacrifice of Jesus as the means of salvation. They all talked generically about God filling a hole, meeting them in a dark place, giving new hope, liberating them from addictions, redirecting their life, etc.

    My question: How specific do we need to get in preaching “the gospel”? When is a gospel message too vague to be considered the gospel? Consider the options starting with the most vague and growing more specific:

    1. Jesus saves.
    2. Jesus saves us from our sin.
    3. Jesus died on the cross to save us from sin.
    4. Jesus died on the cross as an expiation/propitiation to save us from our sin to avert God’s wrath.
    5. Jesus died on the cross as an expiation/propitiation to save us from our sin to avert God’s wrath, to reconcile us to God, to give us eternal life, a renewed purpose, etc., etc.

    I’m eagerly awaiting your next post. Thanks.

    • “Only afterwards did I realize that none of these stories mentioned specifically the cross or sacrifice of Jesus as the means of salvation. They all talked generically about God filling a hole, meeting them in a dark place, giving new hope, liberating them from addictions, redirecting their life, etc.”

      Yet none of the stories would be possible without Christ’s resurrection. Because He is risen and with us now, he can meet us in dark places. He understands every form of pain and anguish. Whether it is said or not, every testimony of Christ with us now is a testimony of Christ risen.

  11. My problem with the gospel has been, and probably always be, the promise of eternal life. I just can’t believe that.

    I can understand why the need to have our “sin” removed (or whatever term one wishes to apply) is important for being able to approach God. However, buying in to the idea that we (or some of us, the saved ones) continue living after we physically die is really a bit far fetched for me. . .

    So where does that leave me?

    • Songs for the Broken says

      Where does that leave you? I don’t know. But I may have a suggestion.

      By the 1 Corinthian 15:1-4 definition of the gospel, it is that Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead. My question to you would be whether or not you believe Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection is a sticking point in the christian faith. First off, if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, he was definitely not God. But secondarily, scripture ties eternal life for those who put their faith in him to the resurrection. “As He was raised from the dead, so shall we be,” is the thought.

      The idea that any person can be raised from the dead is an intellectual stumbling block to many people who are not yet believers, and prevents many from believing the gospel. Perhaps it can only be overcome by the Holy Spirit. I don’t know what you believe or not, but my suggestion to you would be that if you believe Jesus was raised from the dead, it is not an intellectual leap to believe that some day you will be raised as well. In fact, it is very reasonable. So ask yourself and think and pray about, “Was Jesus raised from the dead or not?” It may help you define where you stand better.

      Take care.

      • Thanks for the feedback. I really need to try and get my head around/ out of this stuff 😉

        I agree that bodily resurrection would be the ONLY way this could occur. I certainly dont accept the idea that we have some kind of spirit bit that floats off to heaven when we die. To this end I sit in the physicalist camp when it comes to the nature of the human being. In order for me to live again, I MUST have a body. And that body must exist in a physical world, perhaps even this world (i.e. the renewed creation type scenario)
        . . .On the other hand, if Jesus’ physically resurrected body acended to heaven, then this implies that heaven has physical matter.. and physical space for that matter… doesn’t sound much like a spiritual realm to me… The whole thing just has too many logical lumps in it.

        It’s pretty hard for me to believe in stuff I can’t even conceive of coneptually. If I do, I’m not really believing in anything at all. Not even ideas.

        • Phil,

          It sounds like this entry from Michael Patton is very timely for you. I think you’ll find it helpful and illuminating.

          “In Heaven, We Will Be Bowing Down Before the Throne of God 24/7″ . . . And Other Stupid Statements

          And to a lesser extent, this one: “When We Get to Heaven, We Will Be Timeless” . . . And Other Stupid Statements

          • Cheers Jugulum, I’d read these a week or so back. I lean in the same direction as Michael Patton on these issues.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            A year or two ago, Internet Monk had a three-posting series on “Too Much Heaven” that covered many of the same subjects.

            1) When Fluffy Cloud Heaven replaced Resurrection of the Body in a New Heaven and New Earth, Death won by becoming Permanent.

            2) Heaven became something “out there” and immaterial (i.e. “not really there”) instead of the Presence and Kingdom of God permeating reality. From Reality to Unreality.

            3) This also ties in with the influences of Platonic Dualism written of extensively by JMJ/Christian Monist: “Spiritual Good, Physical Baaaaaaaaaad!” Until like the Inquisitor in Twain’s Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, any physical atrocity becomes justified “to Save Their Soul”.

            4) Most attempts to describe Heaven (or the New Creation) come up sounding incredibly lame. The one that holds special terror for me is “The Neverending Compulsory Bible Study”, with Left Behind‘s “Neverending Testimony Night” a close second. “Bowing Down Before the Throne of God 24/7” can’t shake the image of a Neverending Cosmic North Korea, with The People Dancing Joyfully With Great Enthusiasm Before Comrade Dear Leader.

            5) The only description I’ve run across that doesn’t sound lame comes from a ghost story about St Thomas Aquinas. In the tale, Aquinas ran into an acquaintance who had (unknown to him) died a couple days before; when the acquaintance revealed he was dead and in the presence of God, Aqunias naturally started asking him detailed theological questions, only to get the following answer: “It’s literally impossible to describe in a way you could understand. Unless you’ve experienced it, it is literally impossible to explain; and once you experience it, no explanation is necessary.” (I don’t know about you, but that actually sounds like someone trying to describe the indescribable, like explaining color to someone born totally blind.)

        • Phil, if you’re still there,
          I think you would get some good help from a careful reading of Dallas Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy”.

          Dana

    • “My problem with the gospel has been, and probably always be, the promise of eternal life. I just can’t believe that.”

      Phil, one thing that helps me relate to “eternal life” is light. Since it travels at the speed of light, it never ages. On so many levels, it is deeply mysterious in a wondrous kind of way. So if eternal life is a huge stumbling block for you, there are signs of physical eternal life in the observable universe.

      To me, so much of my Christian faith is deeply mystical. It defies scientific explanation. Things like communion, resurrection, and the Holy Spirit are simply beyond my understanding… yet through the spirit of Christ living in me (something else I can’t explain) I am somehow able to experience all these things and more.

      I take comfort in the fact that the bible appears to speak of eternal life in very spiritual ways (as opposed to literal/physical ways). For example, Jesus says that life in heaven there will be no marriage (i.e. constructs & systems of human society will not be present) but we will intimately be with God… Paul says we can’t possibly even comprehend eternal life… Revelation appears to be written from a wild dream.

      I also take comfort in the fact that quantum physics is showing the entire universe – instead of being cold, fixed and rigid (Newtonian paradigm) – it is actually breathtakingly messy, deeply inter-connected, holistically beautiful, vibrant with endless possibilities…. just like the Christian faith.

    • My suggestion is not to focus on an afterlife.

      Can you believe that maybe Christ is with us now?

      As to sin, in every thought and action we have two choices. We can turn inward toward self or turn away from self toward God. Turning from sin means turning from self interest and selfishness. It is our nature to put self first. Even a thought like ‘Treat others as you would have them treat you’ can be perverted into a self-serving mantra for personal gain when the focus is self.

      Following Christ is following after one who did not put self first.

      • Sarah, this is exactly the kind of thing I can/do buy into. It doesn’t require large leaps of imagination.

        Although I wouldn’t equate self-interest with selfishness. But that’s proably just semantic.

    • It’s a mystery to me, too, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get my head around it completely. Just the idea of eternity is overwhelming when you really think about it.

      But I believe because of Jesus. One of the things that’s helped me is coming to understand that eternal life is part of our entry into Jesus’ kingdom and way of being, and so it begins not when we die, but when we yield to Him. In other words, for believers, the life eternal, the life in the Kingdom has already begun because Jesus has brought it to us. We’ll never know fully or conceive fully; there will always be some mystery (for instance, about the exact dynamics of ressurection). But I’ve come to a place where I’m comfortable with that, at least most of the time. Hope that you find something like that in your journey, as well as joy and peace and grace.

    • I have great difficulty with the concept, too. There’s been a lot of discussion here about 1 Corinithians 15. I agree with what Paul says in that chapter in verses 17-20 : And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

      As intellectually difficult as the concept of eternal life is to consent to, as much as it feels like a comforting fairy tale and no more; if it’s not true, I have to agree that the practice of my faith is not only unnecessary but pitiable. I wish that gave me more of a feeling of assurance, but I strive to have faith in spite of my feelings. Sorry if that’s not fully helpful–just trying to articulate how I deal with my doubt in that area.

  12. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul points out that the gospel of Christ and Christ crucified is an offense to legalistic, sign-seeking religionists and foolishness to those who place their trust in human reason and intellect. I think that’s still the case today — even within the church itself. That Christ is all in all and that anything we do or build or achieve has no value apart from Him — well, I’ll just say that doesn’t sinc too well with fallen human pride, particularly for performance-driven, limelight-hogging Americans. The simple truth is that there just isn’t room in the spotlight for Jesus and Christian celebrities, megachurch moguls, success and prosperity gurus, the centrality of denominations or church models, and all-powerful, all-knowing, infallible religious tyrants. We say we lift up Jesus to the world, but I think what we’re really doing much of the time is using the fame and historical authority of Christ’s name as a stepping stone toward either personal fame, wealth, and power or the advancement of the religious institutions or movements we choose to champion. And we fool ourselves into believing that those two causes are one in the same. Though this has certainly gone on throughout Christian history, we’re approaching the point of demoting Jesus to the “thank-you” list for the awards ceremonies we hold for ourselves. I fear the religious enfranchisement of bold-faced, unapologetic self worship lies at the end of this road.
    Admittedly, I’m probably giving an exteme, overly dramatic assessment of the situation — but I certainly do agree, Michael, that much of Western Christianity is moving away from the centrality of Christ and the good news of who He is, what He has done, and what that means to degenerate, self-seeking sinners like ourselves.

  13. Its the same here in Singapore. The popular view is that the gospel is the four spiritual laws. And once you know that, move on to the imperatives and the practical stuff. Fed on strictures and principles and Readers Digest advice, believers tend to think the Way is akin to Buddhism, Islam except that our do’s and don’ts are more sensible, adaptable, logical and pragmatic.

    • If those Four Spiritual Laws are the Bill Bright ones it’s no wonder that they are not “getting” The Way. Coming from outside the evangelical circle I had never heard of the Laws and had to look them up. I was taken aback at how they but the believer at the center of the relationship rather than God.

      “God’s plan for your life” = “What is God going to do for ME”

      Give me Damaris’ “Love for your enemies” any day. Most of us struggle to love our friends!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        They say Bill Bright (before he founded Campus Crusade) started out as a salesman.

        If true, naturally he’d emphasize high-pressure salesmanship. Resulting in Christ getting sold door-to-door like vacuum cleaners or bogus magazine subscriptions via high-pressure “Say the Magic Words” salvation. (And BB’s idea of “multiplying ministry” I heard so often in Campus Crusade — sheep saving sheep who save more sheep who save still more sheep — has always had this aroma of an MSM scheme. Christ as Amway Upline/Top of the Pyramid?)

  14. A very wise priest summarized the Christian life as the degree to which we love our enemies. This doesn’t seem simplistic to me, because in order to love our enemies we must be in communion with God. You’re talking about the Gospel, not the Christian life per se, but surely the Gospel is the good news about our possibility of being in communion with God, and it will only be seen in the world as we live it out. I am distressed these days at the amount of hatred and vitriol among many evangelicals against those they perceive to be their enemies. Some of their statements of hatred against those in authority, for example, not only directly contradict Paul’s commands in Romans, they border on treason. May God have mercy on us all.

    • “A very wise priest summarized the Christian life as the degree to which we love our enemies.”

      That IS a very wise summation, Damaris!

      • Pastor Mike says

        If all the Christian life is is “the degree to which we love our enemies,” then we need not Christ to be a Christian. On the other hand, it would be one of the better ways to judge our own walk with Christ.

    • Very much appreciated this. There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement. (Taken literally, yes it could be construed as excluding Christ, as Pastor Mike says, but I don’t think that was the intent)I share your distress at the meanness of so many who call themselves Christians, evangelicals, etc. Where I live many of the most public and vocal and visible “representatives” of Christianity have no love for enemies and exhibit almost none of the fruits of the spirit in their public lives; indeed the opposite is often the case. And worse, to contradict them or correct their errors means becoming a target of their wrath. It’s depressing.

    • “A very wise priest summarized the Christian life as the degree to which we love our enemies. This doesn’t seem simplistic to me, because in order to love our enemies we must be in communion with God.”

      That makes sense, considering God is our biggest enemy (or WAS our enemy before we became reconciled to him, since before that we were enemies of God).

  15. Rob Grayson says

    Looking forward to the rest of this series, Michael. I’ve been what most would call an evangelical Christian for many years, but until relatively recently I didn’t really understand the true centrality of the gospel and all its implications. For me, this has been one of the key benefits of online communities like this one – they have opened my eyes to deeper truths of which I was previously ignorant. Bring it on!

  16. “Some form of the Gospel will frequently pass through these sermons in a place where the truth is seen, but it is also not common to hear generic deism, pure moralism or behavior modification based on “Biblical principles.”

    Did you mean “common” here, or “uncommon”?

  17. But that doesn’t sell. Too deep. Too theological. Too uncomfortable.

    People want a series on marriage, or on parenting.

    Oh, but wait….wise words from Tim Keller:

    “1 Peter 1:12, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”

    He continues,
    “Angels love to look into the gospel. They never get tired of it. So what does that mean? It means gospel ministry is endlessly creative. It means you can preach the gospel and never have to be afraid of boring people . . .
    Isn’t that amazing? The gospel is not the ABC’s of Christianity, it’s A to Z. It’s not just the elementary and introductory truths. The gospel is what drives everything that we do. The gospel is pretty much the solution to every problem. The gospel is what every theological category should be expounding when we do our systematic theology. It should be very much a part of everything.
    Even angels long to look into it. And you should.”

  18. iMonk,

    About a year and a half ago, you used a red light, yellow light, green light analogy with regards to sermons and gospel teaching in one of the podcasts (red light being that the sermon had no attachement to Jesus and the gospel, yellow light being that Jesus was a mere guest star and the the gospel was definitely not center stage, and green light being that Jesus and the gospel were central, despite the scripture passages being discussed). We’ve adopted that rating system in our little fellowship, and it’s helped the preaching folk to step up to the plate and improve. Don’t worry, we gave you credit for the analogy!

  19. I think the challenge for me is to be able to preach through books or series that teach the whole counsel of God, while still connecting each passage to redemptive history and the work of Christ at the cross. I’m trying to grow to the point that even a sermon on stewardship would be tied to the fact that Christ died on the cross and rose again and so by grace and the new life I am enabled to be a good steward. Spurgeon said he ran to the cross as quickly as he could in every text. Bryan Chappel has a great book on Christ centered preaching. Mark Dever and the together for the gospel crowd also stress the importance of the gospel in every sermon. Thanks for addressing this subject. Bill

  20. Hmm. I too look forward to your definition of “preaching the Gospel” and how you can know it’s being done in any given sermon. What exactly constitutes preaching the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand? (I always am disappointed that no one had the foresight to transcribe any of Jesus’ sermons on the topic–oh wait, except for maybe one. 😉

  21. I like what dumb ox, steve and Rick said above. I was reading “Counterfeit Gods” by Keller this morning and as I closed the book I thought this: for many Christians, the Gospel=salvation from sin=past tense. I agree that the Gospel=salvation from sin (and salvation FROM more and salvation TO more), but I think the present and future tense aspects of salvation are oftent mostly (and in many cases fully) discarded.

    As an aside, I’m not smart enough to understand the “New Perspective(s)” debate (and I’m pretty sure most ordinary folk like me should admit that they don’t understand it either), but I’m wondering if one neglects the present and future aspects of Gospel, because they equate it with salvation broadly and justification particularly and one doesn’t want to be equated with Tom Wright. This “aside” may be irrelevant if I’ve misunderstood the “New Perspective(s)” debate(s) (which is entirely possible).

  22. What is “the Gospel”? For Jesus, it was the imminent breaking through and arrival of God’s Kingdom. At least that’s what He proclaimed when He said, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” For Paul, it was that Jesus, the descendant of David, had died for our sins and was raised from the dead and/or that a man was saved by faith apart from works of the Law. The author of Hebrews seems to connect the Gospel to entering the promised land, for he says that the Gospel was preached to the Israelites in the wilderness (he uses the verb form euaggelizomai), but those who failed to obey or believe it did not enter the promised land. The author of Revelation uses the word “gospel” just one time, but only to say to “Fear God and give Him glory” because His judgment has come.

    So: What is the Gospel?

    • Good question, and one I found best answered by Tim Keller in his Christianity Today article, The Gospel In All Its Forms”.

      He summarizes Simon Gathecole’s breakdown of the Gospel, and says:

      “Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.”

      Keller stresses that it is both “eternal life” related, and “Kingdom” related.

      Keller also writes in his sermon, The Gospel-Centered Ministry, that the Good News, when looking at 1 Peter 1:1-12, 1:22-2:12, is:

      “…historical, doxological, Christocentrical, personal, cultural, to quote Don Carson, “massively transformational,” and wonderful.”

      • Thanks! “The Gospel” certainly can’t – and shouldn’t – be reduced simply to “Jesus died for your sins so you won’t have to pay for them or suffer judgment for them. Believe this, and you will go to heaven when you die.”

        But when this is all that’s preached week after week to a group that has heard it ad infinitum ad nauseam in the hopes that the one or two persons who came that morning and aren’t “saved” will hear it and respond by walking the aisle – the climax and culmination and goal of the service being “the altar call” (as opposed to the Orthodox and Catholic Churches in which things center around the Eucharist and being mystically joined to Christ with the rest of the Church by everyone’s common consumption and communing of His body and blood – i.e., the focus is participation in Christ and receiving the attendant benefits while glorifying Him, not simply “getting saved” from hell) – it’s no wonder that people at some point wonder: “Is this all there is?”

        But “getting saved” and then coercing, inviting, etc., others to so “get saved” so they, too, can go to heaven when they die is not the be all and end all of The Gospel.

        Yes, the Gospel should be preached at every service. But that doesn’t mean a weekly repetition of The Four Spiritual Laws. The Gospel has much more width and length and height and depth than this. And the church meeting and message shouldn’t simply or primarily be focused on getting first-time “decisions for Christ” (or “rededications”). The meeting should cause all to increase in their knowledge of Him so that all the members grow further up into the Head of the Church. The church meeting is primarily for the MEMBERS who know Christ, to make them know and serve Him better. Its focus is not on the invitees and visitors.

        YMMV.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          But “getting saved” and then coercing, inviting, etc., others to so “get saved” so they, too, can go to heaven when they die is not the be all and end all of The Gospel.

          AKA Sheep saving more sheep who save still more sheep, whipped along by Wretched Urgency desperation.

          It’s an MLM pyramid scheme, with all the high-pressure and bait-and-switch of one fat man convincing another fat man he’s starving to close the sale on a loaf of bread. And for what? Fire insurance? Floating around as a praise-and-worship bot in Fluffy Cloud Heaven?

          What is this — “For God so loved the world he sent his only begotten Son to be My Amway Upline?”

    • In a way, these are all talking about the same thing: the presence and work of Jesus in various ways and at various times, but always carryiing with it the kingdom and salvation and the promise of eternal life (and those three things overlap a lot too). It has helped me a lot to try and think less in either-or terms and more in both-and terms about some of these things. Peace.

  23. Wow–this post took me back to the 1960s when my dad was pastoring a church in Philadelphia, PA. He was of the persuasion that once people had heard the gospel, they needed to go on to deeper things. He got discouraged because they always asked him to preach the gospel which led him to leave that church. That decision was the beginning of the end of being a full time pastor.

  24. just the other day I was told by a visitor church shopping who I doubt I will ever see again, that everyone has heard the gospel, we need to move on to other things. The main point of the sermon can’t always be the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s death and resurrection. The exchange told me that this woman herself had probably never HEARD the gospel. It meant nothing to her.

    • Bror, as someone who spent years among Wisconsin-synod Lutherans, I wonder if the woman you mentioned didn’t mean what Fr. Ernesto said. (11/18 @11.06).

      • Well I’m not Wisconsin and happily so. But if she meant what Father Ernesto said, than God have mercy on her soul too. When you point to Wesley, Moody, and Finny as people who had the gospel right, you got problems in my book. A.A. works with people addicted to gin and they don’t ever give the gospel. I like A.A. i think they do a great service, but it aint Christianity.
        I don’t know how you go about “practicing” your sins are forgiven. And that as I recall is what Jesus commanded us to preach in Luke chapter 24. To be sure repentance was there, but that’s why we do this thing called Law AND GOSPEL. We dare not confuse the law with the gospel. Just makes for a bad conscience, a sick conscience.

  25. Back in my “formative years” I came to believe that being a believer, or Christian, means being miserable. No happiness whatsoever.

    Well I’m a lot older now, and I’m reasonably certain I’ll never get past that. Plus, God doesn’t hear the prayers of sinners. So there you go.

    This subject concerns me very much, because I’m hopeful

    • God most certainly does hear the prayers of sinners. Otherwise He would hear no prayers at all. We are all sinners.

      I must admit that I sometimes wonder if it is possible to ever get beyond the harmful teachings that impressed so firmly when I was young. I don’t know. These days I feel resentments over trivialities and then realize they must really be about those old unresolved issues. All I can do is pray and trust God. It is not always easy.

      If the fledgling’s wing is fractured, does the adult bird ever learn to fly? Only through Christ, I think. But the mending process may not happen over night.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I must admit that I sometimes wonder if it is possible to ever get beyond the harmful teachings that impressed so firmly when I was young.

        Like God demanding Absolute Perfection, and always parsing every thought to find where I screwed up so He could punish me. (Cue the Great White Throne scene from all those Jack Chick tracts…)

        Like Heaven as a Neverending Compulsory Bible Study. (When I’d rather romp and play with the critters in Aslan’s Land.)

        Like the blindly-quoted doubleplus Party Line called “Scripture”. (You don’t know how hard it was for me to write that word just now.)

  26. Too true, unfortunately. It’s funny how common ideas seem to synchronistically coagulate. I was just discussing this topic with my girlfriend. Last night at church, the worship leader remarked from stage that sometimes we take the message of the cross for granted because we hear it so much. I confess that I grew up hearing about the cross since I was 5 and saw little relevance of it for my daily life except as my ticket to heaven after I was dead. After a lifetime of church and even Christian college, it wasn’t until I lead a class at age 47 using R.C. Sproul’s “Justification by Faith Alone” that I finally “got it”. I never quite “got” or seemingly heard the concept of a double transfer: my sins being transferred to the cross AND Christ’s righteousness being credited to me, apparently what Luther discovered while reading Augustine concerning Romans 3:20-22. Prior to this I saw my saw guilty soul as a dirty garment that kept needing to be washed over and over again as in the song “Nothing but the blood of Jesus”. Understanding the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness changed everything for me. I experienced a cosmic “whew!” Now, thinking of the cross moves me to tears, makes me feel loved, makes me excited about who Jesus is, is indeed the thing that daily encourages and affects my life, provides meaning, calls me to obedience, increases my trust, burdens me to tell others, gets me excited to be in heaven someday, and makes me pray for Jesus’ return. Even my bhuddist and non-believing friends talk about the importance of morality but the message of the cross provides a unique power to restore; it is the jail pardon of life (and death). Incidentally, my girlfriend is a Lutheran pastor’s daughter (Missouri Synod) and I was surprised to see how much the cross is preached at those churches. She informed me that her father’s preaching strategy was always to find some way to relate the Gospel (salvation) as the solution for what the problem the sermon was addressing.

    • Randy, can I quote you? This is the best description of the effect of the gospel on the heart that I’ve ever read.

      “Now, thinking of the cross moves me to tears, makes me feel loved, makes me excited about who Jesus is, is indeed the thing that daily encourages and affects my life, provides meaning, calls me to obedience, increases my trust, burdens me to tell others, gets me excited to be in heaven someday, and makes me pray for Jesus’ return.”

    • I remember getting upset because I wanted to know God loves me, but the only evidence anyone ever presented was that he died on the cross for me. This infuriated me!! That was 2,000 years ago and I wasn’t there for it! Jesus didn’t do it for me, he did it for the human race. When I was a little kid I really loved Jesus and the story of the cross was very sweet to me, but as an adult it no longer moves me like it did. It no longer feels personal, it feels very removed and distant from me.

      • Tim, I was very moved by your words and feel that you came to this site for a reason. The highest example of God’s love for you is that He died on the cross for you, but that isn’t the only example. Go to any church in any community and you will find a group of people there (the true Christians) who will love you like a brother. Do they do that because people are just naturally loving and accepting? Give me a break! They do it because God first loved them and His love flows through them to you. 2,000 years is nothing to God (A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day). To Him, Jesus just died for you. Paul spoke constantly of Jesus’ love for him and guess what? Paul wasn’t there, either! God knows every sparrow that falls and He knows Tim!

        It is hard for us with our limited mind power to understand the mind of God, but He is not limited by time or numbers and is capable of loving each individual like we can’t. I love you, Tim, not because I know you, but because Christ first loved me and died for my personal sins just like He died for your personal sins. For me, the best way to feel close to God is to pray. Prayer helps me feel like God is present in my life and close to me. Do not give up on God – the love of God and His Christ surrounds you, both directly and through His people. Peace be with you.

  27. I can understand why some people say the gospel is “elementary teaching.” Usually they are using gospel as shorthand for the “four spiritual laws.” In this paradigm, my response to the “four spiritual laws,” is to “invite Jesus into my heart.” So hearing the gospel is a one-time event, particularly if you see believers as “once saved, always saved.” Hearing the turn-or-burn pitch again serves two purposes only: getting other people “saved,” and reminding me of the fact I am saved already. If I “backslide,” then it might get me to “rededicate.”

    According to this understanding, then once I am “saved” I am supposed to get on to Christian living … which fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism view strongly in terms of holding to a fairly strict moral code (particularly in one’s private life), remaining “separate” from the world, and converting people.

    However, if we mean “gospel” in its proper sense … if the gospel is the “good news” of God (not the “evangelism pitch”) … of it is the full implication of Christ’ action in our lives … if it is the coming of the very Kingdom of God among us, right now … then the gospel is the only important thing for us to preaching.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Over at Slacktivist, they call this “Say-the-Magic-Words Salvation”.

      I’ve seen the fruit of it — living in the past, always returning to that Year/Month/Day/Hour/Minute/Second you Said the Magic Words.

      Stuck in the Past. No growth or journey through the Present, only Wretched Urgency or one-upmanship or keeping your nose squeeky-clean to pass God’s Litmus Test at the White Throne. No Future, except betting beamed up tomorrow at the latest.

      That is not the type of Gospel or Salvation that leads to Daring and Doing Great Things.

      • [i]Stuck in the Past. No growth or journey through the Present, only Wretched Urgency or one-upmanship or keeping your nose squeeky-clean to pass God’s Litmus Test at the White Throne. No Future, except betting beamed up tomorrow at the latest.

        That is not the type of Gospel or Salvation that leads to Daring and Doing Great Things.[/i]

        This was the idea I was trying to articulate, but explained much better!

  28. I read this post with great interest and couldn’t agree with you more that the Gospel should constantly be in the forefront, but found this posting disturbing. My brother-in-law and I have a running debate on the “culture war” in America. I am the “warrior” and he is not and constantly points me to your site to prove his point. I would like to ask you, in light of this posting, if you indeed feel that there is NO obligation on the part of any Christian to speak out about anti-Christian (at least perceived anti-Christian) actions being taken by courts, media, and other authorities today? Is the Christian to only speak of the “gospel” with no concern about the effects of the culture on the ability of non-Christians to hear the gospel or on their willingness to accept it?

    I find this especially applicable since we have such an unprececented ability to speak out. To limit our speech and thought to only ethereal matters and spiritual subjects is to ignore the teaching of Christ, Himself, that we are to be concerned, even judged, by our interactions with our fellow man. Nor is it legitimate to simply dismiss those who see a relationship between the Gospel and everyday life as lacking understanding or to belittle their point of view with your simple dismissal. There are myriad scriptures that require us to spread the Word (indeed, that was the last imperative given by our Christ before his ascention), so it would appear that speaking out for a culture that would accomodate this spread would be the wise thing to do. Relationshiip with God is the main point of the entire Bible, but behavior change is not irrelevant (“By their fruits you will know them.”), if we are to be the examples for Christ that the Scriptures would require of us. Yes, the Gospel is the focus of our lives and our teachings, but unlike the Middle Eastern frame of thought that says there is ONLY the teachings of their “prophet”, Christianity not only allows us to use our minds, but requires it. We are not bound to Gospel, Gospel, Gospel, but are, like Paul in Athens, to address the idols of the non-Christian’s culture first so that they can understand the Gospel we are bringing. We simply have different idols.

    Before you think I missed your point completely, I did not. I just don’t necessarily agree with it. Especially your point about persons who do not see the direction of our thinking in the same light that you see it as having a lack of understanding of the Gospel. Perhaps they DO understand the Gospel and are not replacing the Gospel, as you said, but rather implementing it. I would be interested in your reply.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I would like to ask you, in light of this posting, if you indeed feel that there is NO obligation on the part of any Christian to speak out about anti-Christian (at least perceived anti-Christian) actions being taken by courts, media, and other authorities today?

      There is a difference between “having an obligation to” and “becoming obsessed with”.

      IMonk is countering the “Culture War Without End, Amen” tunnel vision you see so much of these days.

      • The “Culture War Without End, Amen” (brilliant, HUG) has so turned me off that I just refuse to participate any more, and am finding more and more Christians who are in the same camp. Imagine how non-Believers feel. Is it so important that, for instance, we “win” our “battle” and have the Ten Commandments displayed in every courthouse? What do we exactly win there? Because it is not the hearts and minds of non-Believers.

        It is an easy obsession to have. There is a constant prattle from right-wing radio and Focus on the Family and Don Wildmon’s group, and on and on and on. Frankly, I found it a lot easier when I was a culture warrior than now when I’m not. Except that I was angry a lot of the time and felt “put upon” and at least mildly “persecuted” from all corners of society. But no matter, because I could just tell myself that I and people like me were reviled simply for “loving Jesus”. And it worked for a long time.

        Now, as imperfect as my attempts are, I find it a lot harder to try to “be Jesus” to others, no matter what political/religious stripe.

        • I’d like to see the gospel implemented in a culture where everything from health care to justice is based on a person’s wealth, where any war we’re engaged in is by definition just, and where pro-life is often pro-death penalty as well. As a few examples.

          But do you see Christians working that aspect of Gospel implementation? Nope. First of all, they’re seen as unpatriotic, which is the same as unChristian to many, and second, it takes no effort or personal change to oppose gay marriage (for example) but providing health care to all citizens requires sacrifice and who wants that?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            …a culture where everything from health care to justice is based on a person’s wealth…

            Haven’t you heard of The Prosperity Gospel? If you’re Rich, you’re God’s Chosen! (Osteen goes blink blink.)

            …where any war we’re engaged in is by definition just…

            Gott Mit Uns.

            …and where pro-life is often pro-death penalty as well.

            That’s one of those weird mystery linkages. Just like pro-abortion always links up with pro-animal rights.

            …it takes no effort or personal change to oppose gay marriage (for example) but providing health care to all citizens requires sacrifice and who wants that?

            Because there’s a new Trinity on the block. You hear it preached from so many pulpits:
            1) We Hate Fags!
            2) We Hate Abortion!
            3) We Hate Evolution!
            Welcome to the new Gospel. That’s it.

      • I agree. Our true obsession shoud be for a deeper personal relationship to God and a true knowledge of who He is.

    • There are myriad scriptures that require us to spread the Word (indeed, that was the last imperative given by our Christ before his ascention), so it would appear that speaking out for a culture that would accomodate this spread would be the wise thing to do.

      Jerr,
      I’m not a culture warrior, but I’d be interested to know how you and others who are will be able to discern when you have changed the culture sufficiently so that it will now accommodate the spread of the Word? What will this look like? I ask this in all seriousness because I live among a great many culture warriors and I think this belief is widespread but rarely articulated clearly, though it points to one of the key differences in our outlooks.

      Peace.

      • I am not encouraging a culture that imposes the Scriptures on society, but rather long for a return to the society of my youth where Christianity was taken seriously without the constant ridicule seen in the media and the teaching in the public schools that Christianity is the foolishness of superstitious and uneducated minds. I know that a larger percentage of young people in “my day” were professed believers than we see today. Whether or not these were in a true relationship with God is a matter between them and God. At least they were not “roaring lions” (to paraphrase) devouring the minds of the young people back then.

    • Jerre – in Romans 1, Paul critiques the culture at large, and he lists the behavioral outcome of those who do not honor God or give thanks. However, it does not appear that his solution is to enforce behavioral change on the culture. Romans 2:17-29 points out that even when a culture knows and approves God’s will, and is confident that it has the “embodiment of truth”, it still does not result in obedience to God – – and in fact, our failure causes God’s name to be blasphemed in the world.

      So, to the extent that we try to legislate obedience to scriptural principals, a Christless moral code may result in “having a form of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). The problem is that the hoped-for outcome of the culture war on a political level is the behavioral change itself, not becoming a new creature in Christ.

      In a worst-case scenario, we are actually able to generate some “success” with a culture war, winning converts to a more moral lifestyle. We become excellent teachers of the Law, and perhaps we get people to live well. Sounds great, right? But it seems to inoculate people against their need for the Gospel… Jesus warned the Pharisees that this type of conversion would make the converts “twice as much a son of hell” (Matt. 23:15).

      • I see that my comments have led people to believe that I am proposing legislation of some type to enforce Christianity upon the culture. Not so. I only wish a return to the culture of my youth in which there was no legislation removing Christianity from the culture. A moral lifestyle is important, but not as important as a true relationship with God. You cannot impose Christianity upon any individual or even culture with legislation and few people I know believe more strongly than I that the Law is a burden no man should have to bear. My point was more that the culture can affect the propensity of the populace to take Christ seriously and is more damaging to the non-believer than the believer. Indeed, no culture can be effective against any true believer. I just think it wise to aid the spread of the Gospel in any manner possible and compared to Paul we can easily do this.

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

      I think the important question is: How did God go to war against idolatrous culture and win? By the cross of Jesus.

      We have framed the question of cultural power in terms of military victory and war. So we fight a culture war. The Gospel defines power in a radically different way. The first is last, the weak are strong, the poor are rich. Jesus connects his politics to his cross, and inaugurates a whole new way of doing politics. (Mark 10:41-45).

      Have we let the cross infect the way we do politics like Jesus commands us? I don’t think so. Are our politics cruciform?

      No, instead we have made the cross small, so that it only deals with our individual private sins, and gives us the magic words to go to heaven. And our politics seems to be: “If only we could be Caesar, then everything would be all right… If only we could be Pharaoh, then everything would be OK.”

      Brother, I don’t think you get it. I used to think like you, and then I realized that my understanding of Jesus’ cross was far too small.

      Perhaps I am reading my own previous situation into yours.

      • Jonathan, I do think that Jesus went to the cross for all mankind and therefore the cross is large enough for the entire world. However, He died for all mankind individually and so the cross does, indeed, deal with our individual private sins. The death and resurrection of Jesus, in fact His entire life, was to allow us to enter into a personal relationship with God through His Son. There are no magic words, only the blood of Jesus given for the sins of all. Our personal power or title is irrelevant, so I think I missed your “Caesar” and “Pharaoh” point. My point is simply that we have the opportunity to help get our culture somewhat out of the way of non-believers and their willingness to consider the cross and we should take that opportunity.

        • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

          What if the cross means more than just that Jesus died individually for all the sins of humankind?

          Pharaoh becomes king by enslaving others to his will. God becomes King by setting the slaves free. Caesar rules by putting others on crosses, God rules by letting his son be put on a cross.

          So do culture war politics try to change the laws and norms, to enforce the will of Christianity on others through the way of Pharaoh and Caesar? Do we try to “lord over others?” Or do we try to reveal through suffering, through bearing our crosses, what the rebellion against God leads to?

          • Jonathan, I suppose we just will disagree on this. I am not and have never proposed that we “lord over others” and did not say so. In fact, in replying to various people I have gone to great lengths to express that it is not my desire to force any Christian will on anyone. I simply want to change the laws and norms to ALLOW the expression of Christianity as we have always done in this country, not to FORCE such expressions. The suffering of the early Christians did not reveal to the Roman masses what the rebellion against God leads to but rather what the rebellion against Roman law leads to. The Roman masses could have cared less about God and I fear that we are rapidly promoting such an attitude in America by the timidity of Christians in speaking out for the Lord, even in the secular realm.

    • I agree that the gospel has applicability to culture and that we should not retreat from engaging with the culture.

      The problem is that the conservative Christian political outlook, whatever its merits or dismerits, are not related to the church’s gospel mission. The conservative Christian political agenda is not based not on a reckless, self-denying, redemptive love for all our fellow-citizens. It’s based on fear about the fact that evangelicalism has lost political clout and that the Christianity’s status as “unofficial official” religion has slipped. Living out the gospel would involve something much more radical than trying to make abortion illegal or quibbling over whether the hanging the 10 Commandments in courtrooms is constitutional. It’s very practical and relational . . . and if we were really doing it, this country would look a lot more Christian, whatever the government spent its time doing.

      • “The problem is that the conservative Christian political outlook, whatever its merits or dismerits, are not related to the church’s gospel mission. The conservative Christian political agenda is not based not on a reckless, self-denying, redemptive love for all our fellow-citizens. It’s based on fear about the fact that evangelicalism has lost political clout and that the Christianity’s status as “unofficial official” religion has slipped.”

        Danielle, I would simply ask you how you know this and pray for your cynical attitudes toward those conservative Christians that are truly concerned about their gospel mission and are truly not concerned about political power. The rest of your comments are certainly points that, in my opinion, are well taken and should be considered by those trying to accomplish a return to past values in this country.

  29. Jonathan Hunnicutt says

    In seminary, I was an algebra teacher at a Christian high school. I was talking to one of the students, and I asked her what she thought of youth group at her church and of chapel at our school. She paused, and said: “It’s just more rules. It’s just more people in my life telling me what to do.”

    So I started listening to the Chapel messages with new ears, and I was like: “Holy crap! It IS just more rules! That IS all we’re telling these kids…”

    One day, they foolishly let me have the pulpit, and I preached a sermon about “It’s not about good rules, it’s about good news.” Of course, I was a young stupid foolish preacher, so I gave it a super edgy title, hoping to hook my audience, which totally distracted from what I wanted to say anyway. So everybody talked about the title, and not what I really wanted to get across. At least I learned a very powerful lesson, despite the pain of the lesson.

    The director of student ministries at that school told me a story about how one kid said: “Hey, I think I’ve pretty much figured out Christianity, and I can sum it up in three words: Make good choices.” That’s when the director of student ministries realized he had a lot of work to do.

  30. Read BLUE LIKE JAZZ by Donald Miller. Stories of how Jesus impacted persons’ lives in non-traditional ways.

    • And “non-religious” ways. 🙂 By “persons,” I mean Donald Miller himself and his friends and acquaintances and strangers he met, not NT Bible characters.

  31. Once you’ve preached or taught the Gospel, then you need to deal with other things.

    This is how it was in the church that we’ve just stepped away from. The Gospel was a step on God’s ultimate plan to get us indwelt by the Spirit. And so the focus now is on learning how to yield to the Spirit in order that we might show more fruit in our lives. The work and person of Jesus was completely passed by. Ironic since not having Christ and the Gospel constantly informing what you teach kinda cripples what you are setting out to accomplish.

    Looking forward to this series though. Be interested to see if you talk about the incarnation and how it related to applying the Gospel.

  32. One thing I really find uncomfortable is the idea that gospel message is a kind of “misery loves company” thing. We humans suffer here in this life and God is kind enough to come down and suffer with us and let us know that it’s okay to look forward to death.

    This idea seems to me to be call to fellowship of human misery and comfort in Jesus.

    Sigh.

    • You would be correct in your assumption if it were not for the resurrection! As Paul said, if Christ was not raised from the dead, then we are of all men most miserable. The resurrection allows us to find joy in the midst of our pain and, dare I say it, at times even because of our pain. (That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering…)

    • Patrick Lynch says

      What’s wrong with this?

  33. I agree totally. Where do you go these days to have intelligent conversations about theology? The Internet. It does not seem to be available in the churches. More common is “dumbing down” or even adjusting theology to fit the people. Thank you for your insights that keep my mind awake and alive. Blessings, bro!