November 26, 2020

My Strange Experiences With An Absent Gospel (Part 4): How It Feels In The Strangeness

strangeThe comments to the three previous posts have featured a variety of responses and reactions to the idea of “Gospel-less” sermons, teaching, testimonies, etc. I am happy for those of you who are in churches where this is unthinkable, but I assure you that here in the Bible belt, this is not an illusion, particularly at the ground level of the most basic understanding of what is being said or proclaimed.

For example, it is not unusual for me to hear sermons with no specific reference to the scriptural, creedal or commonly articulated central ideas of the Gospel. God is generic. The Christian life is “living for God.” The mission of the Christian is either public morality or “being a good witness.” The Bible is a collection of proof texts.

The internet theological class usually is careful to be in a church where all the proper bases have been touched and the theological content is high. But for many other Christians, the Gospel content of a Joel Osteen or the Prosperity preachers seems quite appropriate. Osteen has even said that traditional Gospel content is offensive to what he is trying to do. One can listen to the prosperity preachers or culture warriors for weeks and not hear a clear, cogent articulation of foundational content. Moralism, legalism, cultural religion and shallow sentimentality prevail.

I use articulations such as the ones in the previous posts as component parts of almost everything I say. Tomorrow I will preach on “My Kingdom is not of this world,” but I will relate the Kingdom to Christ, the mission of Christians to the mission of Jesus and the Gospel’s diagnosis of the human situation to the entire mission of God. These will be component parts, not the entire message. The same will be true as I preach advent texts next week and so on.

Other Gospel appropriate Gospel articulations might center around grace, sin, judgment, community or love. I’d love to hear some of yours.

These component parts of teaching and preaching are one response to the issue of Christless preaching. I’d be very interested in your responses.

Many IM readers may not have read the original “Christless Preaching.” I’m linking it here for your reading and commentary. I’m also linking a similar piece: “No Jesus Needed.”

On Christless Preaching
Here’s another: No Jesus Needed

There was a time I wanted to fight this situation, but at this point I feel overwhelmed. I have to face it in the preaching at my own place of ministry and no amount of explicit addressing of what’s happening seems to ring true. Something is missing. It doesn’t feel like a false Gospel- though it certainly can amount to one- and I’m not looking foe minutiae and footnotes. It feels like something was laid aside, then lost and now everyone is used to it. We can sing about it and “amen” it, but there’s a tangible, pervasive absence of the Gospel as foundational content.

A few years ago I did a funeral with a local minister at a Holiness church. He preached first and never came near the Gospel. There was more Gospel at a Jehovah’s Witness funeral than at this funeral. I got up and simply presented the Gospel, especially how Christ’s life, death, resurrection and gift of righteousness gave hope at this time. There was an awkward silence.

If you live where I do, I have some advice: Book your own funeral preacher now and get someone who will preach the Gospel. (David Head, get out your schedule book.)


  1. I’m reading a book where the author asks himself “Will this (behavior, purchase, etc.) get me closer to God?” His phrasing makes me want to say “No. Nothing you can do can get you closer to God. In the first place, everything you do will be tainted with a little sin, whatever your intention. In the second place, God has loved you infinitely and has become one with you in Christ. You can’t get closer than you are now.” I’m going to assume the author mean “Can I walk in ‘newness of life’ while doing ‘X’? Is it true to my transformation in Christ?”

  2. This might sound absurdly simple, but maybe the lack of Jesus and the gospel in so much modern preaching is a direct result of Jesus not being central and supreme in the minds, hearts, and lives of those doing the preaching. And maybe too many church bodies are not bothering to make sure that the person feeding the sheep is a genuine, dedicated follower of Jesus — and not someone just pursuing a religious career as a distinguished and celebrated member of the clergy. I think the church has placed too high a premium on things like oratory skill, a charismatic personality, and an impressive portfolio of degrees and accomplishments when looking for and appointing church leaders — while more scriptural criteria (like time-proven character, a humble servant’s heart, and a passion for Christ and His gospel) seem to have been moved lower down on the list of job qualifications. Churches and denominations might do well to reconsider both the institutional and educational avenues by which church leaders are produced and the procedures by which they are set in place — that is if we really want Jesus and the gospel both proclaimed from the pulpit and reflected in the lives of those who stand behind it.

    • Amen.

    • RonP,
      For one it is about that simple, but then it isn’t.
      Jesus often isn’t central to the thinking of many preachers. But then the devil rewards that with success, and the church “authorities” defend the successful, or are reluctant to go after them too much, because they don’t want to lose an entire congregation.
      But then sometimes you also wonder if the better part of valor is to wait, and place a more faithful pastor in that congregation later. In the mean time praying for the man’s soul, and the souls of the congregation. It becomes a complicated issue real quick like, let me tell you.
      As for the institutional and educational avenues, well there is no silver bullet. But even a very orthodox faculty can’t guarantee a thing, the devil trains wolves well to wear sheeps clothing!

    • As far as the claim of “Jesus not being central and supreme in the minds, hearts, and lives of those doing the preaching” you describe some, perhaps. Yet, far more preachers (like myself) have Jesus front and center in their preaching, but it is easy to preach following Jesus, discipleship to Jesus, loving like Jesus, serving like Jesus, living kingdomly — i.e., Jesus as moral example while rarely getting to the gospel of Jesus concerning the cross, resurrection, forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.

      So, there are many gospel-less ways to preach with Jesus at the front and center. So, where does this leave the conversation? Peace.

  3. In my context, I don’t see a total “gospel-less” or “Christ-less” preaching much, but what I do see is this: We all see Jesus and/or the gospel “through a glass darkly” so to speak. What’s more, the parts of the gospel, of Jesus, of Kingdom, etc. that are particularly good news to us, or whatever “the true gospel” is in our tradition, is what we emphasize, generally to the practical or intentional exclusion of the other parts. Our various traditions usually encourage this. So, in a church where preaching/teaching is essentially a one-man show, what’s preached is the same angle on Jesus/the gospel (usually one or two of the themes you described) over and again and that’s it. It’s like we hire one guy to give us all a painting of Jesus. And we keep asking him to paint Jesus every week. No matter how good he is, we’d get a better idea of who Jesus is if we passed the brush around more than we do and got someone else’s painting as well. Even if we only let elders preach (or elders and deacons) but we’d get a far more accurate picture of Jesus than one guy can do alone. That seems to be a given in the NT, but we are content with our way.

    • T Freeman,
      Not to sure how well this analogy comes out, as I doubt a group project painting would turn out very well. Most artists have fairly distinct styles even when mimicking each other.
      But I have to say, If you have one guy painting Christ, be thankful for that. You don’t seem to believe this but it is rather quite rare these days. There are a lot of guys out there that say they “paint” Christ, but are painting something else entirely, unless they themselves presume to be Christ. We do that a lot as humans, return God’s favor in the garden, and create him in our image.

      • Bror,

        Of course, I’m glad for every bit of Christ I see, no matter the conduit. And actually the part of the Church I’m with does a good job of bringing several teachers into the task. My point is that I think we’d have less of the problem that iMonk is highlighting if we leaders took advantage of all the preachers among us and “passed on these truths to faithful people who can give them to others.” Even before Paul and Barnabas were sent off on their first missionary journey, they were among 5 guys counted as the teachers at Antioch (I think). Paul, the apostle, was one of 5 teachers. There were 12, at least, teaching in Jerusalem. But we generally do this task solo and expect to get as full and complete of a picture of Jesus/the gospel in our churches.

        The analogy wasn’t so much a group painting project as a gallery of paintings on the same subject. It might be easier to say it this way: If you only had one human teacher teaching you Christ in your life, you’d likely be poorer for it, even if that one was the best you’ve had. Some of the poor state of preaching/teaching in America is that in church we delegate the teaching/preaching work, generally, to one man per congregation, despite our rich NT heritage of plurality in that role. We all see in part, but we all see differently. 10 paintings by 10 different folks will likely give you a better, more accurate, more full idea of Jesus than 10 paintings by the same dude.

    • I think you have a very valid point when you talk of having multiple “preachers” present to the congregation.

      Bror, I don’t the objective is to have a “group painting project,” as you say. The objective to to grow Christians. I think that some advice I heard for musicians is similarly applicable to Christians. The advice was, “Listen to all the music you can get your hands on.” The idea was that musicians and composers get better by being exposed to multiple styles of music and can learn from both well and poorly written and performed music.

      Christians can likewise become better Christians by exposing themselves to multiple styles and messages in preaching. And a church would be well served by providing that opportunity for growth inside their own walls.

      • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

        One thing I’ve noticed about my generation (mid 20s-30s) is that regardless of our theological backgrounds, denominations, etc, we are all pretty frustrated with the pastor-as-CEO model, where there is only one main preacher.

        I think that’ s a good sign.

  4. aaron arledge says

    A couple years ago I went to check out a popular church plant that was growing tremendously in North GA. They had a part of the show (oops i mean service) where they played prerecorded tapes of short testimonies of people that were getting baptized that week. A dad said he was getting baptized to set an example for his children and one young lady said it was time because her friends had encouraged her to do so. The other three had nothing to do with why you would actually get baptized. The sermon was good therapy for our marriage that week.

  5. Right with you on this one. When we did our wedding, I’d seen about half a dozen gospel-less or mostly gospel-less weddings, and they were tragedies as far as I was concerned. I picked a pastor who I know to love the gospel and then explicitly asked him to preach it. We wrote the outline and provided direction to everyone involved in the ceremony so it would point to Christ. Had we not done that, we’d have had a nice, pretty, worldly wedding.

    I’ve visited more churches than I can count that preach without Christ. It’s not, from what I’ve seen, for lack of caring about Christ. Some of these people get everything else right: good ecclesiology, good understanding of how the church should function, etc.

    Jared C. Wilson over at evangel hit this pretty hard earlier this week, actually (hey, you guys agreed on something!): “An implied gospel is a gospel FAIL.” (Rest of the post is less amusingly written, and quite incisive.)

    Assuming the gospel assumes that everything else isn’t dependent on the gospel. If we want better marriages, the answer is the gospel. If we want wisdom, the answer is Christ. If we want help parenting, the answer is Christ. Most of all, if we want godliness—in any way, shape, or form—the answer is Christ.

    But if we just want moralistic therapeutic deism, there’s plenty of that to go around without Him.

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

      I dunno man, I went to a wedding once that was an hour and forty five minutes long once with three hard sell gospel presentations.

      It was painful.

      However, it does make wonder about how to do a wedding with gospel well.

      • I was involved in planning a wedding where the young preacher wanted to do a sermon on how a good marriage really needs God and Christian principles or it won’t work. Which is fine, except that both sets of parents were unbelievers who had (apparently) been happily married for longer than the preacher had been alive.

  6. A friend posted this on facebook.

    worship night at ******* was awesome!! We had like 200 people get baptized and like 1000 people come it was crazy! Congrats to those that took the plunge! Soo exciting! Now i am listening to our church bands new CD

    I wasn’t quit sure what the plunge was?

  7. Could it be that our paradigm of sermon preaching is wrong? For hundreds, if not over a thousand years, Christians in countless congregational gatherings have sat by and heard prepared speeches, I mean sermons, preached to them. When we examine the new covenant writings, we won’t find any examples of prepared sermon preaching. Most of the time when the word “preach” is used in the new covenant writings, it is used when talking about proclaiming the Kingdom and the Gospel to the lost.

    Could it be that our paradigm of pastors is wrong? I’m don’t know Greek at all, but from my understanding the word “pastor” is a word that means shepherd in Greek. If there are certain men in a congregation who are appointed to lead a group of the Lord’s sheep, where in scripture is he charged with giving a weekly prepared speech? Shouldn’t the function of a shepherd be more of a guide rather than a personality who determines the “success” of a church?

    Because the pressure is so high on many pastors who function within this paradigm, many have been sold into the idea that an effective speaker will draw and hold more of an audience, and an ineffective speaker will be looking for a new job (isn’t that really what the position of a modern day “pastor” is – a position in a corporate structure?) Because the position of a pastor is a paid one, in many circumstances a pastor’s job performance in that position is judged based upon the number of people in the audience over a certain period of time and the amount of money the corporation is bringing in. We do it all the time. How many times have we heard “so and so has this many people at his church” or “Wow! Look how many people go there now compared to when so and so used to pastor there!”?

    Or could it be that our paradigm of the church is wrong? Do we “go to church” as part of our weekly schedule? Is it something that we just “do”? When did it change from being a gathering of God’s people who have come together as a family to worship and praise Him as the Holy Spirit leads to what we call “church” today? Could it be that because pastors are seen by many as being the head or leader of a church, the reality that Jesus Christ is the Head of His Church has become just a vague concept?

    • Well David,
      I think it is good that a pastor prepare a sermon for his congregation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean read it!. We have examples and actually mandates in the scriptures to preach and teach. Paul would preach and teach. We dare not ignore either those saved, or those not saved, pastors have duties to each. But one just need to look at 1 Corinthians, to see that preaching and teaching was a regular part of worship in the first century, and the admonitions in the pastoral epistles to see that pastors ought to be doing it. To be sure there are more avenues for teaching than just the sermon on Sunday morning, but that has in time become the primary venue for teaching, because it is hard to get the congregation all together otherwise. Divine Service on Sunday morning is the focal point of the Christians week, around which everything rotates, or at least is most commonly so.
      Preaching though has taken on different forms. It used to be more question and answer format, which is why the admonition for women to ask there husbands at home in 1Cor. 14. women were hijacking the sermon so to speak, and in a way trying to teach with the questions they asked etc. We’ve seen that happen in classes before, where the student presumes to know more than the teacher. Paul puts an end to it. They get to ask through their husbands from now on. But then we went to a more formal way of preaching later on. One which was probably always there anyway, but one that took over completely, the sermon. No more discourse, just a monologue. Some are better at that than others. To be sure though, most would probably be terrible fielding questions on their feet. And you do have more control over the time with a monologue. Oh well. I don’t think the answer to more gospel preaching is to get rid of preaching.
      And a pastor has great responsibility for what is taught. Nothing is more important to the health of a flock than the doctrine it is taught, Nothing.
      1 Tim. 4:13 (ESV)
      Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

      1 Tim. 4:16 (ESV)
      Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

    • David A.,
      Welcome to the club. I began reaching some of these conclusions as far back as 1975 (yes, it was pretty lonely back then), and if anything, matters have generally gotten worse since that time. I do know some Greek, and the word for “shepherd” is mostly used literally for working sheepherders, as in Luke 2. Of the figurative uses, almost all refer to Jesus Himself; the modern institution of “the pastor” rests on one passage in Ephesians, which is a very slim foundation for this thing that dominates public Christianity today. What about the “Pastoral Epistles” of Timothy and Titus? The term has only been applied to those letters for a couple of hundred years; Paul nowhere calls them “Pastors” in the epistles themselves; and at the end of II Timothy and the end of Titus Paul instructs them to wrap up what they were doing and return to him. They were not local pastors; they were members of his missionary team who at times served on detached assignment for a while.

      At best, the office of “pastor” as we know it is non-Biblical; at worst, in some times and places, it may work out to anti-Biblical by interfering with what should be. Because of our conditioning, we cannot conceive of church without it. At its best again, it puts a lot of pressure on Godly men who try to do a good job. I believe a lot of the frustration they feel comes from trying to do a job God never intended one person in each church to be saddled with. At its worst, (and there is a lot of historical evidence for this) it becomes a magnet for people whose character faults make them unsuited for any church leadership, a profession with no hard labor and lots of prestige that some find attractive.

      It might be argued that “yes, it is unBiblical, but it works!” I am not so sure. I think we are reaching a place in history where its advantages are declining, and its negatives are increasingly bearing bitter fruit. I am not convinced that the US was ever a completely Christian nation; I agree with the late Francis Schaeffer that there was a time when the overall thinking of American society was dominated by Christian values and teaching, even among people who were not personally Christians themselves. But that “Christian concensus”, as Schaeffer called it, has been in decline for more than a century, and the rate has been stepping up dramatically in my lifetime. There is a pastor I know here in Indianapolis, a conscientious man trying to do what he has been taught, who is trying to figure out why the things he did successfully 20 years ago no longer work. Our churches are filled on Sundays with people who go to the church building, sit through the sermon and may Sunday School, and then go home to live like their non-churchgoing neighbors for the rest of the week. And each generation gets worse, while the crowds of faithful who show up get smaller.

      I can’t say that I know the answer. But I do believe it will come from God, not men. Seek Christ first, above whatever your pastor or denomination or circle calls for. If you look at the major revivals of church history, they do not originate with popes, archbishops, seminary presidents and professors and other “big men in the brotherhood” types. Wesley and Whitefield were so far down the food chain in the Church of England they couldn’t find churches to serve even as subs; James McGready and Barton Stone, who kicked off the Second Great Awakening in Kentucky in 1800-01, were nobodies serving in backwood churches. Luther was an obscure monk in the boonies of Europe, not a professor in some prestigious academy in Rome. Revival starts at or near the bottom; it does not come from the top down.

    • David A, You have hit the nail on the head and are asking the right questions. “pastor” is mentioned once in the NT and is a spiritual gift. There is nothing to say there are not several ‘pastors’ in a Body of Christ. I know missionaries who have found this to be true in new church plants in the middle of nowhere in backward countries. As some grow spiritually they are gifted as ‘pastors’ and shepherd newer believers. It is not something they instituted. It is something that happened as a result of the Holy Spirit. They are not paid to do this, either. And some are women! GASP!

    • David,
      I just went to a conference a couple of weeks ago in Montana and heard a guy named Jim Putman speak about his church in Idaho. He has a book that was just published last year which tells their story that is called, Church is a Team Sport, and I think you might see some answers to some of your questions in it.
      In short, their church has grown through small group discipleship that trains/disciples believers to the point that they become shepherds of groups of people in the church. It is fascinating to me to note that they have around 90 staff members after 10 years and all but two or so of those staff have been raised up from within the church to lead and shepherd. The key is in taking the focus off of the “show” and putting in into the work we have been called to do, making disciples.

  8. No matter how large or small our venue is for sharing the gospel (whether 1 on 1 or to thousands), whatever comes out of us is primarily what is in us. When Peter gets up to preach he is “full of the Holy Spirit” and proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ. True also with Stephen and with Paul, with Mick and with Joe or Jan… If I’m full of myself, approval of others, a health and wealth or consumer driven gospel, that is what will come out. If my growing desire is to be full of the Christ who is revealed in scripture, that is the gospel I will increasingly proclaim in word and deed. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. What and who is being lifted up? Am I trusting the Word and the Spirit to speak thru me or am I trying to accomodate or manage the gospel so that it fits self/others/cultures palate for life and reality. I’m sure Peter or whoever did not always feel or preach this way and neither will we.

    I am not referring to a particular feeling or expression of the Holy Spirit but to the power and truth he will always be faithful to reveal – even if thru an “earthen vessel”.

  9. As long as “gospel” is the message given by evangelists, then there will be Christ-less preaching. The prophet will preach end-times eschatology. The teachers will teach predestination, world view, creationism, or whatever they feel is their is expertise or makes the look really smart. The cultural warrior will preach defense of marriage, perhaps even opening the pulpit to a visiting conservative politician. Environmentalists will preach tree hugging. And, as your example sadly pointed out, the holiness preacher will preach a high call to righteousness with no connection to the gospel – to the chagrin of Wesley .

    All of them would be offended if anyone suggested that they don’t believe in the importance of gospel-preaching; concerning the gospel, they would just say, “It’s not my job” or “It’s not my spiritual gift” or “It’s not my calling”. I haven’t read Chris Krycho’s link above concerning the implied gospel, but the gospel does need to be more than implied in all that we do. It must be foundational.

    In reference to St. Francis Assisi’s famous quote, the gospel should be the message of all our work and attitudes – even when no words are uttered. When we show grace and forgiveness, we are proclaiming the gospel. When we don’t honk or give the sign of peace when someone cuts us off in traffic, we are proclaiming the gospel. When we can present our concerns patiently and charitably at a political town hall meeting without screaming insults at our opponents, we are proclaiming the gospel.

    The gospel seems particularly absent in our interactions or conflicts with fellow Christians, perhaps because the gospel is what one preaches to non-believers. Is anyone thinking about gospel during a debate about church copiers?

    That sounds dangerously close to implying the gospel, but my point is that if the gospel of peace has invaded our lives, then it should saturate our words and actions – even if we don’t see ourselves as an evangelist.

    • I assume preaching the gospel at a funeral means more than reciting “The Four Spiritual Laws”. I have met pastors like that, where every service is an altar call moment. I still think it is a wrong way of viewing the gospel.

      I can see this taking a while. It probably is going to tear up a lot of people’s play books of life.

    • Christopher Lake says

      Dumb ox,

      How can we truly be “proclaiming the Gospel” without uttering words which actually communicate the Gospel to people? The difference that Christ has made in my struggle with anger is not the Gospel. How I deal with sadness and disappointent is not the Gospel. These things illustrate the Gospel’s transforming power in my life, but to say that my showing them to people is “proclaiming the Gospel” seems problematic. The Gospel is a specific message about what Christ has done for sinful humanity. If I don’t communicate that message to people in words, how can one say that I have truly proclaimed the Gospel?

      • That crossed my mind after posting it. The gospel as a cure for anger wasn’t my point. My point is that a Christian does not forgive out of a moral principle or imperative; a Christian forgives because he or she has been forgiven. A Christian is gracious, because he or she has been shown grace. I don’t have an answer for how strawy that may sound; that’s my failure. God’s work has no dependency on our response or action. And honestly, I receive forgiveness every Sunday, and I am far less than forgiving and gracious even by the time I get home from church. Christ have mercy. But there is a very real and present danger of destroying the gospel in the very act of trying to defend it. If the gospel becomes just words we preach or an idea locked away in our creeds or faith statements, it will die. If the Savior has come and there is no need to wait for another, then this should be apparent in our outlooks, our motivations, our response to trials, and in the way we treat others – especially our enemies. Feeding the poor would not be a carrot-and-stick to get them in the door of the shelter so that we can give them the words of the gospel; feeding the poor would be an expression of how we were once hungry and Christ fed us. Showing kindness to our enemies is not a sign of weakness or a moral obligation; instead, when we were God’s enemies, He showed us kindness; therefore, we do the same. We do need to verbally explain the connection between our actions and the gospel; many take our lack of a militant defense of the faith as weakness or cowardliness, rather than an expression of God’s mercy.

        The best defense I have of my point would be the numerous things we do in the liturgy which symbolically scream gospel without uttering a single word. The sanctuary is full of art and symbols which also proclaim the gospel without words. In comparison not just our words but our actions proclaim the gospel.

  10. Back in March I lost my parents to a murder/suicide. They raised my siblings and I in a Pentecostal church, we were there every chance we got. As we got older and were able to make the decision to go on our own, they slowly stopped going as often. That was back in early 2001. They gradually declined into apathy, smoking, drinking, recreational drugs and eventually settled into a life of alcoholism and escapism. They still spoke of God as if they believed, but had long since abandoned his ways. We’re not sure what/when the breaking point that caused the violence was.

    Anyways. My Aunt called in her Baptist preacher. My parents hadn’t gone to church in years, so they didn’t have a pastor of their own (and the church I grew up in was 1500 miles away in CA).

    The Baptist preacher I’d never met before ended up performing the services. At my Aunt’s request he preached on salvation. It made some of my siblings uncomfortable – many of them have left the church for various reasons – and they were concerned with such a blatant message of salvation at the funeral of 2 alcoholics who had obviously lost their way. They were afraid the hypocrisy alone would be enough to deter any converts.

    But the more I thought about it, the more I knew it was the right thing to do. Many of their friends would never hear salvation talked about, would never see the inside of a church, were it not for that.

    I guess this is an awful lot of information but it’s really just to confirm what you’re saying. I don’t regret the preaching, even though it was uncomfortable to about 60% of the mourners. And I know that my parents, at one point in their life, had believed in everything that he said.

    The gospel was presented and even if it just planted a seed, I’m glad we gave the spirit that opportunity to find good in the midst of the tragedy.

  11. “One can listen to the prosperity preachers or culture warriors for weeks and not hear a clear, cogent articulation of foundational content.”

    I have little use, personally, for prosperity preachers, but the reason you don’t hear a “clear, cogent articulation of foundational content” from the average culture warrior is because that is not what they are trying to do. The closest analogy I can think of is that you can watch a farmer plowing fields for weeks and never see any crops. Like this farmer, the culture warriior is not planting seeds, he is preparing the soil.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    The Christian life is “living for God.” The mission of the Christian is either public morality or “being a good witness.”

    If they want Public Morality (TM), what are they doing as Christians? You want Public Morality (TM), you go to Wahabi Islam. Their enforcement of Public Morality (complete with special Morality Police) beats anything you see over here. The Wahabi in Saudi have WON their Culture War, and you can see the results.

    The Bible is a collection of proof texts.

    Which are memorized and rewordgitated until you wear down any opposition. Another area where Islam has us one-upped. (Again, what are they doing staying in Christianity when their entire approach is more Islamic?)

    Though to me, “proof text” means “one-liner verbal component magic spells”, upon which the Bible (and Koran) become nothing more than grimoires.

    A few years ago I did a funeral with a local minister at a Holiness church. He preached first and never came near the Gospel. There was more Gospel at a Jehovah’s Witness funeral than at this funeral.

    What did he preach in lieu of the Gospel, IMonk? Given that this was a Holiness church, I suspect Public Morality Uber Alles — rigid dress code, rigid behavior rules, rigid public morality, Thou Shalt Not after Thou Shalt Not, probably via hellfire-and-damnation denunciation. (Hellfire-and-Damnation seems especially likely, given this was a funeral, though given that setting I would usually expect a “scare ’em into the Kingdom” Altar Call ending which implies at least SOME Gospel — even an abbreviated summary a la Four Spiritual Laws.)

  13. Matthew James says

    Dear iMonk,

    Thank you for your posts on this issue. I recently took the initiative to resign from my 9-year staff position at my church (which was only 10 years old at the time) due to issues like these, and the others that go with it. I just couldn’t do it to people any more. We didn’t start out like this, and I’ve got my theories of how we got there, but due to the way the governance, or lack thereof, of our church was structured, there was no peaceful, respectful way out. So instead of continuing to play my part in keeping our religious business afloat, I made my concerns clear, sought to discuss them with the leadership (which responded with many of those looks you talked about) and after about a year of that, we ended up moving to another town. It was either resign or lose all sense of my integrity as a minister of the gospel–which is what I believe Jesus has called be to be.

    How could I not see it for so long? How could I contribute to it for so long? How could I get up and teach isolated truth statements that contained no Good News? Why are we so naturally drawn to that? Why are we bored with the radical simplicity of the gospel? Why do we want to be interesting and insightful at the expense of the gospel? I just don’t understand. Then, even at best it seems like we relegate the gospel to four steps for the lost guy at the end of the sermon, and the rest is good advice on how to get your junk together. Why can’t we see it’s still junk whether it’s spread all over our room or in a nice neat organized pile in the middle? Where is the clear, explicit articulation and application of the gospel to the life of the believer?

    Anyway, thank you for who you are, and what you do. Thank you for speaking these unfashionable truths at this point in the history of the church. We need it, and God has gifted you to articulate these things well. It has been one of the few blessings to my soul over the last couple of years. Struggle on brother!

    • Special prayer for you and your family Matthew. Thanks for adding your story to that of so many others. You have integrity and nothing can take that away.

  14. I agree completely with your proposition that “It feels like something was laid aside, then lost and now everyone is used to it.” The gospel has become something that is believed once, upon believing and recieving Christ, then laid aside to be brought out again when one has learned how to present it to someone else.

    Not actually living the gospel leads to: 1) Seeking an experience though worship or bible study that tells us “we’re okay” (saving ourself). 2) Accumulating a list of things that we have done to prove to the world and ourselves that we are Christians (saving ourself). 3) Accepting ourselves just the way we are.

    However being gospel centered makes us: 1) Seek him because we know how helpless we are without him. 2) Everything we do glorifies his grace, since we can do nothing without him, and 3) We never stop trying to become more like him, out of love and grattitude for what he is doing for us. Not what he has “done” for us. What he is “doing” for us.

    So my vote is that the notion of actually living the gospel is what’s missing. That Osteen and many more want to teach us how to have our best life now by us changing the way we think, instead of letting Christ and the gospel transform us into our best life now, is a witness to how far from gospel living we have gone. Any gospel that doesn’t involve being changed by grace is living a life (gospel) of works, and powerless Christianity. All the praying and bible reading in the world won’t change us if we are trying to do it ourselves.

    Don’t ask me what “living the gospel” is, unless you really want to get me started.

  15. I didn’t realize you were spending so much time in mainline churches…

    Seems like the only difference between what you’ve been hearing and what I’ve been hearing is specific tasks assigned to us (environmental tithes, anyone?)…Sigh…

  16. Another factor in misunderstanding the gospel has to do with an incomplete understanding of salvation. The Hebrew idea of salvation was an ongoing, moment by moment reality (e.g., Psalms) for which they trusted in God’s ongoing presence, mercy, and deliverance. Evangelicals have reduced salvation to a one time event of praying a prayer, making a decision, or believing a certain set of propositions that are called truth. Once that is taken care of then God becomes a a supplement, an additive, or a booster shot to help us have a better life. Tragically, all of this prevents a person from entering into an interactive relationship with God where salvation is the presence and reality which reveals more and more of his true heart toward us.

    • Well said!

    • wow, that is one GREAT explanation: THANKS. I think you are spot on with connecting the dots between the gospel we preach (or don’t) and how we (mis) understand salvation. Very well said.

    • I second that. Well articulated. The one-time event/belief/proposition view of salvation not only works against ongoing transformation, but also against an openness to the radical nature of the gospel and the idea that we might have to not just do something different but be someone different as God works in and through us. In other words, Jesus the revolutionary and transformer of hearts with a message that can turn the world upside down through us is instead tamed and made to accommodate our small and meagre world.

      Even in my own church, which does a good job of preaching Jesus and the gospel, this idea of transformation, of new identity and what that means, is sometimes missed. We’re finishing up a series on Ephesians and I keep thinking that in the first chapter Paul is really spelling out for the Ephesians what their new identity in Christ is and means, and the rest of the book seems to flow from and build on this, but I’ve not heard this brought out in the series. Sigh.

      • Just for Quix says

        Great point. Teaching from Ephesians is a classic example where Evangelicals often don’t go far enough to trust God in performing His work of salvation. (And such preachers shortchange Believers by not to trusting them with the big picture of God’s intent.)

        Preaching the gospel from chapter 2, for example, often stops at verse 9. In the intent of being “seeker friendly,” or out of fear of preaching works righteousness so many seem to be afraid to teach WHY Christ saves us by grace while yet in our sins: So that the good works we do thereafter can be the works He has ordained us to do — not those we might reason and choose for ourselves as meriting us righteousness (v10). Yet, to the chagrin of those afraid to talk about works, His intent is for us to do good works HE has chosen for us.

        Jesus saves us so that we may have close communion with Him now the old temple veil has been torn (v13-14) instead of one mediated by tradition or a priestly class. He saves us so that individuals and communities of faith can be reconstructed, covenant rebooted, and ordinances changed so those who are already familiar to Godly ways may be brought together anew with those who have been alien to Him (v15-18). He saves us so a new body of unity is built where the corner of the foundation is Christ — not our traditions, not our individualism, not our comfortable preferences, but Christ (v19-20) and His word. He saves us so that we would not just be saved by a prayer of confession but fashioned into a new temple that will endure as a place for God to exist in our presence (v21-22).

        Christ didn’t save us just to give us an individual gift. It’s bigger than that. He has a work He’s doing and is making us God’s Sons and Daughters in order to redeem the world. To stop the teaching of the gospel message, in this case, at Ephesians 2:9 is to keep salvation focused on our individual benefit instead of the bigger picture of God’s work.

  17. Merely having the cross at the center of the Gospel is not quite enough. What I find missing is the NEED for the cross. Yes, Jesus came to die for our sins, but what real consequences are there for not accepting Him? If a person simply says they do not NEED the life, death, resurrection and righteousness of Christ, what of it?

    Is a man any better off for having Christ than the man who does not?

  18. iMonk,
    You’re preaching to the Choir with Me! You, Steve Brown, N.T. Wright and Dr Rosenbladt have been like a long cool drink of God’s grace to this sinner. Now, regarding what you’re saying, I have found myself speaking up more–ie when the sermon has had no mention of the Gospel. But I think it all comes back faith in Christ Jesus. Folks answer an alter call, then sit in Church on Sunday and that’s the extent of their exposure to the Gospel and the Bible. Furthermore, to oversimplify and generalize some more!—if you disagree with the Preacher or the theology he’s preaching you’re labeled a heretic or worse a “liberal.” All I know is desperately need God’s grace and I need to hear the Gospel preached. But when I need answers or have questions I tend to look online where body of Christ is more forgiving and open and compassionate.


  19. I totally agree with your post about the message of Christ so I read your broader work “On Christless Preaching” and felt like I was kicked in the stomach. Why? My Grandfather was a Methodist Minister trained at Duke University so clearly “well educated”, my material Grandfather was a Civil War Chaplain train at a Seminar in Richmond VA (they sent me a sermon they had on file). So maybe it’s genes or maybe it’s enviroment but in College I was totally taken by the “Jesus Movement” and wanted to preach the living Gospel.

    But every “educated Minister” I heard and met was dead, dry, numb and so fossilized I never wanted “formal” training. So according to you that makes me uneducated and ill equiped to minister. I have taught, ministered and served God for 40 years now and as Roman says (if I may be so bold as to quote scripture) before my own master I stand or fall.

    So while I agree that Christ is the central message I don’t agree that I needed to be formally molded by religious denominational bias in order to do my job before God.

  20. Just a very helpful post for me right now. Thanks.

  21. Z. J. Kendall says

    “Book your own funeral preacher now and get someone who will preach the Gospel.”