October 21, 2020

Why So Serious?: Considering A Short List of Gospel Contradictions

shadI was reminded this week of how dangerous it is to use the word “Gospel” around evangelicals and expect that you are speaking the same language, so if you need a short version, I’m on a Lutheran Confessions kick. Let’s try this:

The Gospel, however, is that doctrine which teaches what a man should believe in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins from God, since man has failed to keep the law of God and has transgressed it, his corrupted nature, thoughts, words, and deeds war against the law, and he is therefore subject to the wrath of God, to death, to temporal miseries, and to the punishment of hell-fire. The content of the Gospel is this, that the Son of God, Christ our Lord, himself assumed and bore the curse of the law and expiated and paid for all our sins, that through him alone we reenter the good graces of God, obtain forgiveness of sins through faith, are freed from death and all the punishments of sin, and are saved eternally. (FC SD, V, 20)

I’m not wanting to have the infinite “What is the Gospel?” discussion that keeps some corners of the blogosphere running 24-7. I’m not even saying this confessional definition gets to everything that ought to be touched on. I simply want a starting place to reference in regard to my other question:

“If we believe the Gospel, doesn’t it seem a bit contradictory to….”

1. Adopt a pious and pretty obviously phony kind of overly serious demeanor? As if there were something wrong with smiling and having normal conversation? What is this “we’re acting like the Puritans in The Crucible” routine? No one is getting any points for that kind of act. Quit it.

2. Always point out the sins of your favorite target groups like gays or political liberals or Hollywood? Their sins are no more offensive than yours, and Jesus hasn’t asked you to make sure everyone knows how really offended you are. Plus, it’s not a witness to be offended and angry. It just increases the reputation Christians have as being on emotional egg shells when it comes to someone doing something they think is wrong.

3. Not have your beliefs about church challenged at all? Ever? For any reason? When you put the Gospel all out there on the table, and you consider what it means, how can it not challenge the idea that most of what we are to do is go to church programs or make your pastor into a celebrity? I’m not saying the Gospel deconstructs the church, but if the Gospel hasn’t knocked a few holes in your assumptions about the church, something isn’t tickin’ or kickin’ Check out your Gospel please.

4. Hold on to all of your money and possessions exactly like the non-Christians next door? Money and possessions are a pretty predictable sign of where your real treasure is, according to one well known authority.

5. Not be able to explain the Gospel in any kind of coherent manner, or even to lay out the basics of the Gospel in a talk, lesson, conversation or (God help us) sermon? I don’t get it. Why are we telling people they are saved by “asking Jesus into their heart?” Why are we saying that if we progress towards “goodness,” we will be saved by Christ? How can we be this confused about something this basic? How can we constantly talk to people about morals and behavior, then say we were talking about the Gospel?

6. Be more concerned about the culture war, the environment or politics than about missions in the 10/40 window or resourcing the church in Asia and Africa? After all, they are only Africans. Right? Jesus was an American white guy apparently.

7. Still harbor the idea that most Christians are probably in your denomination, and while they may exist elsewhere, it’s kind of a miracle, because your church is really the only church that God actually uses in a serious way? The church is God’s people seen from God’s perspective. Your camp is part of it, but if you are telling yourself that God sees your church as THE church and other churches as something else, Heaven is going to be a real downer for you.

8. Not really care what’s in the song lyrics you use in worship? Doesn’t it seem odd to sing man-centered songs with almost no mention of the Gospel and not even notice that our affections aren’t being directed toward Christ at all? I like a tune and a fun chorus. I like to see people involved emotionally, but the New Testament has entire hymns explaining the incarnation and none about “the secret place.” I’m just sayin…

9. Be so sure we know exactly how God is applying the Gospel through the Holy Spirit in the lives of other people? Wouldn’t it follow that if God provided everything for our salvation, he isn’t turning over the application of the Gospel to us and our comfort zones, but is applying the Gospel in the world according to a plan that may be just as surprising from our point of view?

10. To not be absolutely staggered with wonder, humility and awe? If you believe it, it’s amazing. If you kinda believe it, you’re a little amazed. If you don’t believe it, you’re bored.


  1. Brilliant.

    I love what the Gospel is, and what it isn’t.

  2. MOD: Sorry Kurt. Thought you were reposting. My fault.

  3. Sue: Your last comment was my last straw.

    Please read the following commenting policy excerpts, and when I decide to return your commenting privileges, you must abide by them.

    10. What is the commenting policy at IM?

    I moderate assertively. I delete comments that are irrelevant…

    A primary commenting rule is to not engage in attempts to convert other Christians to your tradition or away from their own. (MOD: Or to place yourself and your church as the judge of every discussion.)

    Comments that denigrate the discussion itself or participants in the discussion will not be posted.

    You do not need to be obnoxious, mean or profane to be placed on moderation or banned. If your comments consistently are obstructive to the conversation, I will moderate accordingly.

    I have no problem banning commenters that offer no positive contribution to the discussion. …

  4. I really enjoyed your post! It is a definite reminder of our primary mission regarding those on earth with us, and that being to make disciples of all nations. It is a reminder to stop worrying about denominational lines, political issues, and the like, and instead focus on our real job around here. The rest is a distraction.

    Anyway, I agree with you. Thanks for these words!

  5. One of the most astonishing revelations in my life was the moment that I realized that after 30 years in a popular non-denominational evangelical denomination was that I couldn’t readily (without stumbling) give a clear and concise explanation of the Gospel in a manner that at least captured the major doctrines that I had heard 10,000 hours of sermons on. I was amazed. Much like the recent White Horse Inn Podcasts – where at an Evangelical Radio Broadcaster convention the very question was sprung on attendees.

    Incredibly – most found themselves in the same boat.

    I am not going to say now that I’ve moved toward a Reformed Theology that Evangelicals are bags of hot air when it comes to the subject – I will say emphatically that most can’t get through a sentence without using some “Christianeese” that has no meaning and actually robs of the very substance, i.e., as in your post – “I Received Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior”, or “I accepted Christ”. If you want to have some real fun with that one, and are feeling particularly menacing – ask them to unpack that one for you.

    As a recovering Evangelical I have perhaps recoiled (as I understand many ex-Evangelicals do) toward 4.5 points of Calvin, but realize that most importantly the movement at hand today is to purify the polluted American:”Gospel” of say a prayer and book a seat on the holy bus to heaven mentality.

    However – the perplexing part – though I agree with your posts Michael is why the “Frozen Chosen” or other traditions of Christianity aren’t swelling with the likes of folks looking for substantive relevant life giving water.

    Somewhere between the huge church skate park, 20,000 sq. ft. “Cafe” and “Fellowship Lounge” at the non-denomy and the stuffy ol’ denominational church built in 1947 has to be a balance of outreach and community. Where the Gospel moves people to reach out to their community, not to attract and sift out what wouldn’t be there if the worshiptainment wasn’t there.

    I’m still looking for that.

  6. My favorite place to go for the gospel is 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul says the gospel is something we receive. If it is something we receive, we have no place to boast of self-accomplishment, so the question of contradiction is about as to the point as it can be.

    I might add as a contradiction: Deny that somebody else has truly received the gospel due to some more minor point outside the gospel that we disagree with?

  7. All excellent questions. Who are we, that even Paul–who’d leave us in the dirt in any kind of religious brownie points competition–was so utterly humbled by the unmerited, unbounded, unconditional love and grace of God, through His Son Jesus Christ (e.g., 1 Timothy 1:15)…and yet we presume to have Him, our relationship to Him, and His relationship to everyone else all figured out and tied up like a neatly wrapped Christmas gift? God have mercy on us.

  8. Frank Turk says

    [2] needs some work, I think — because we are calling all men, including ourselves, to repent. They`ve got to have sins if they`re going to repent, don`t they?

    And typing from a French KB is impossible. I have no idea how the French do it.

  9. Frank Turk says

    FWIW, the rest of the list is keen. 🙂

  10. In regard to Frank’s comment, I think the keyword in #2 is “always.”

    Some of these are behaviors I don’t see much in my circles, but did in my Lutheran days (sorry to say). #8, though, is something I can totally relate to!

  11. This is an excellent list, Michael. And being the liberal that I am, I have no problem with #2. I am more than halfway through Andrew Marin’s Love Is An Orientation and on page 86 he says, “If God is the only one who can actually validate and judge anyone or anything, why are we fighting so hard to prove a point that has already been made?” And he says, “I promise that God loves his children enough that he will always tell each of them what he feels is best for their life.” I realize that may sound a bit too simplistic. Many of us “struggle” with want God wants for our lives. But, actually, we can make it simple: Live your life in love…treating yourself and all with respect; pray often with gratitude for the grace God has given you. And beyond that, just do as you think is best, trusting that all will be will in the end, even if you make some mistakes along the way. Jesus does not want us living in fear that we may make a wrong decision. Just make a decision and get on with it!

  12. aliasmoi says

    What’s the 10/40 Window?

    [Quote] “I Received Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior”, or “I accepted Christ”. If you want to have some real fun with that one, and are feeling particularly menacing – ask them to unpack that one for you. [/Quote]

    Ohhhhhh I’m off on Wednesday night!!! I might have to go to my old church and try this one! Anyone want me to report back on this?

  13. As a missionary in Africa (Bunda, Tanzania) who gave up or sold all his possessions to go where God called, I can only say, “Right on ya’, mate!” I am surrounded by Australian missionaries, so I pick up their idiom. All the denominations work together here. We don’t care whose name is on the church in the village, we only care that there IS a church in the village. Theology is not discussion here, it is action, every day in suffering, pain, and unspeakable joy.

  14. Per #2. I’m surprised no one has pointed out that in Paul’s sin lists, he puts the sins of Christians like gossip right next to the sins of emperors and perverts. It’s the joy in pointing out the sins of others as a way to relativize my own that I’m talking about. That’s plain I think. I am not denyng the call for repentance, but the sport of haranguing various groups about their sins while minimizing or ignoring your own is a contradiction of the Gospel.

    This is what harassing gays while having a major divorce, domestic violence and sexual abuse problem is all about. It’s clearly a form of denial.

  15. I agree with Bishop Wiggins. When my wife and I were in South America, we cooperated across the missionary spectrum. Many of our home denominations would have been shocked and then would have defrocked various of us for the amount of cooperation in which we were involved. Hmm, as the regional field director for my mission, I reached an agreement with the Baptist regional director on how to split up a certain piece of geography so that we would not overlap missionaries and duplicate resources. (Shh, the Lutherans were involved also.)

    Then we returned to the USA. What a shock to find out that fellowship between Christians (no, not inter-communion, that is another subject entirely) was based on 90% or more agreement between us on doctrinal issues! I realize that there are legitimate areas that prevent us from being the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, but surely we can see that the mystery of salvation is at work among us!

    • Scott Eaton says

      Fr. Ernesto,

      I would fellowship with you anytime! 🙂 Not all of us Baptists are a rigid as some think. Bless you brother.

  16. I’m not sure what you are suggesting about “the culture war” (please remind me who’s fighting) and “politics.” Do you really perceive Christians’ interest in these subjects to be insufficient?

  17. Jesus never told us to fight a culture war. He told us to make disciples and proclaim the Gospel/Kingdom. Plus how we “fight it” is generally a festival of sin.

    The culture war is what evangelicals have decided will replace the Gospel. It’s much more interesting to people who don’t really get what the Gospel is all about anyway.




    • plus what we fight is often dictated by “some” political party…..if i could only remember which one

    • Why is the “culture war” any different than the “social gospel”, one of the heresies that we evangelicals resist? Do we have logs in our eyes or merely specks?

      • Hmm, the social gospel has become part of the culture war. The supposed problem with the social gospel was that it ignored the preaching of salvation and substituted a human mediated “salvation” for a God mediated salvation. In fact, the arguments over the social gospel were the first trumpet calls that led to the separation of a conservative Gospel of salvation from a social concern from the world.

        It has become a stereotype that Evangelicals preach salvation but are pro-life only until someone is born when they change to caveat emptor, while Progressives question Scripture, etc., but are pro-choice only until someone is born when they become pro-life until that person is very very near the end of their life. And so, an orthodox Gospel of salvation is found in one American camp and social concern is found in the other camp. Among American Roman Catholics, this is why neither side can understand the Pope. He both preaches against abortion and euthanasia, but also preaches against uncontrolled capitalism and socialism and against a view of government that would maintain government only lightly involved in the social conditions of its citizens.

        And so, the Pope is confusing to American Roman Catholics and Protestants for he has no separation between the Gospel and social concern.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          The Social Gospel concentrated so heavily on the works of charity and mercy that it ended up “A Gospel without personal salvation”.

          The reaction (which you see all around you in the Evangelical wilderness) was a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

          Both are out of balance, just in opposite directions.

    • As a seasoned Culture Warrior I humbly disagree with you sir. I remember well your limbaughization post and I disagreed with many of your comments then.

      The culture is the intellectual air we breath. It influences our very language and the way we worship and think of God. In this Post-Modern age the intellectuals fully understand this and are in the process of re-making our culture. And make no mistake they are no friend of Christianity.

      No doubt too many cultural conservatives get hung-up on defending Western Culture and Americanism. They are pleanty of things in the American culture we could do without – like consumerism.

      • I have always found it ironic when someone complains about consumerism while typing on a home computer. Not being disrespectful mind you, just saying…

  18. The Gospel has implications for people who believe it. You just listed ten. I’ll add one more: “If we believe the Gospel, doesn’t it seem a bit contradictory to live in denial that there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus?.”

    • Scott Eaton says

      That really is good news, isn’t it? O how sweet the gospel sounds to my sin drenched ears!

  19. # 2 is a great list…we always point out the sins of the “other” whether it’s the gays or the libs from Hollywood, or the overweight baptist we don’t understand or the politically conservative surburban housewife, all of us are quick to diminish those who are “not like us” as people and magnify their sins out of proportion to our own.
    I lack the intellectual firepower to keep up with the theology on this blog, but have no problem with keeping up with the magic of the gospel that God would reach out to someone like me.

    • More on #2

      The list is always more important to those who have not yet come into a complete and utter train wreck with their own depravity and incurable ability to be good enough. Never trust these people.

      I believe a clear understanding of The Gospel occurs after this train wreck with ourselves in one way or another. A complete recognition of our depravity. It leads us to the Hope in Christ and leaves us in incurable awe of His love for us. When I finally understood these things – and suffered the sight of my own depravity in honesty – I stopped looking at the others on the list.

      This point was driven home to me one day after a Samson Society meeting in that, I had actually come to church to talk specifically about my failures – how my attempts to live apart from God had produced chaos in my life and the lives of others around me. This group gathers specifically to speak of their failures to walk intimately with God. A deliberate intervention to stop the Sunday morning B.S with our friends on how perfectly victorious we really are. It’s a deliberate practice in communal confession, authentic brotherhood and spiritual intimacy. Lot’s of 12 steppers come to this meeting and can instantly relate to the brutal honesty and willingness for a safe place to be created so real work can be accomplished.

      So it’s amazing now. My closest brothers in Christ are now liars, thieves, people that deal with SSA, adulterers, gossips, over-eaters, drunkards, yes- all at least one of these – and I have never felt closer to God with them than another group of “Christians” in my lfe.

      • Your phrase “train wreck with their own depravity and incurable ability to be good enough” is priceless. My sin goes all the way down. Even at my good moments there is pride and self lurking. My solution has been to abandon the quest for goodness and to embrace trusting my heavenly father.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      …we always point out the sins of the “other”

      Especially those we think we have NO chance of committing ourselves.

  20. Have to warn you against reading the BOC iMonk, It has a tendency to bite when you aren’t looking.
    Sadly, it is too often that though we Lutheran’s have a solid definition of Gospel in our confessions, it often goes unheard. Which is why what Bob says rings all too true. In fact, though I know better I see some of these things in myself. Introspective navel gazing, when it is honest, should show many of these behaviors in all of us. Which is why we need the Gospel all the more. Not just for the sins of drunkenness and lude behavior, but for the phony act we put on on Sunday morning too.

  21. Not to worry Bror. I read last night where Small Cat. says we “lost” the image of God. So I know it’s not perfect 🙂

    • Doesn’t say that in the Small Catechism.

      • Wm Cwirla: I have a 1944 edition of the SC, and I now see that most of the book is “A Short Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechsim.” In q114 it says that the image of God was lost when Adam fell and is beginning to be renewed in Christians. My error, but what about the idea?

        • Depends on what one means by “image of God.” Classical Lutheran dogmatics tends to deal with the “image of God” in terms of original righteousness, holiness, truth, purity, and innocence. At stake is the doctrine of original sin. It’s in this sense that the Formula of Concord of the “lost image of God” in fallen man. Exegetes often go beyond that narrow definition, however, to include other characteristics of humanity vis-a-vis the creation and especially the animal world. It is, after all, being made “in the image of God” that sets us apart from the animal kingdom..

          You are correct. The “Short Explanation” (longer than the Small Catechism itself) is not the Small Catechism which is a confessional standard of the Lutheran churches. Its questions and proof-texts have a long tradition among Saxon German Lutherans. However, these questions and answers, while informative, are not necessarily confessional.

  22. Darn it, Michael — STOP holding that mirror up to me! Thank you for the reminder that there is a better possibility out there than the “Churchianity” into which it’s so easy for me to fall.

  23. I realize that “receive Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior” may sound abstract, but don’t knock the word “receive” when it permeates John 1 and Acts 2:38. Better that we learn to unpack its implications than to diminish its importance.
    Fr. Ernesto, I really appreciate your comments, and I realize that – had it not been for this blog and the “Gangstas” – I probably would have taken the attitude in #7 and not have paid attention to the great things that God is doing in your ministry. Thank you, to you and to Michael, for helping me over that hurdle.

    • To be clear – I never knocked the word, or even the phrase “To Receive.. Jesus…” my point was simply that we often speak languages that nobody understands outside the church. This is know as “Christianeese”, in my definition. Sadly, we often speak phrases that have no meaning within the church as well – I call this Christian B.S. When we spurt out something we’ve heard to try to describe something we can’t fully explain or understand.

  24. Michelle says

    Did you intend the pop culture reference with the title “Why so Serious?”
    Interesting – this is what the Joker in Dark Knight “says.”

    I find this comically ironic……

  25. Michelle- yes, that was my intent.

  26. Bruce Meyer says

    Now, I’m wondering…are people who “asked Jesus into my heart” Christians? I mean, did Jesus even have to die or die and be raised again for us to ask him in?

    Ok, I’m being provocative unnecessarily. But it’s a problem. Especially that if you don’t believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, or that He’s your Lord, or repent of your sins. I’m just sayin’, thas all.

  27. If you don’t believe the apostolic proclamation that Jesus is the resurrected Lord who died for sins, it’s a problem.

    What you were led to do to begin the Christian life is less of a problem, imo. But still has to be measured against scripture.

  28. Compositions like these are the reason I’m always checking internetmonk. What a great list.

    It’s way off topic — please moderate me — and perhaps Bruce was just being sarcastic, but I have often wondered myself what Jesus’ death has to do with the Truth of the Gospel.

    If he lived to a ripe old age, could you no longer trust this list as the truth? Would He have stopped being the Son of God?

    Heretical, I know but point number 3 and all. I take this list as illuminating and a reflection of the Word of God, no problem. I believe in the resurrection, yes.

    And I know there are about 1 million theories of atonement, but who would call it just if I sacrificed my daughter because my dog kept tearing up the couch?

  29. Stephen Johnson says

    Uhhh….. Where is the repentance and trust in our Lord Jesus Christ? Beware of Lutheran confessions that assume everyone is saved without the requirement of repentance. As Jesus said, “you must be born again”.

    • Stephen Johnson,
      There is a great Lutheran Theologian in Canada who shares your name, you should look up his books and read them. From him you will learn that Lutherans, and the confessions especially, in no way whatsoever believe that everyone is saved. Nor do they believe that one is saved who is not repentant of their sins, or does not trust in our Lord Jesus Christ. I mean we were the first to tout Sola Fida! Nor anywhere will you find a Lutheran who doubts Jesus’ word that you must be born again. Though we probably disagree vehemently with you as to what all that means.
      Personally, I have never met a person who believes in Christ’s satisfaction for all sins on the cross, who is not born again, or repentant, and does not trust in Jesus Christ. To be repentant, and trust in Jesus Christ is to have faith, is to be born again.

  30. Actually it is a witness to be offended and angry, just not a very good one.

  31. I would appreciate an explaination as to why my post was rejected. Thanks. My only point was that moral smugness is a two-way street.

    • Alfred: From the FAQ

      10. What is the commenting policy at IM?

      Comments are welcome. Sometimes comments are held in moderation, but not most of the time.

      I moderate assertively. I delete comments that are irrelevant, too long, off topic, selling things, pimping blogs and especially those that reject the Christian profession of other posters.

      A primary commenting rule is to not engage in attempts to convert other Christians to your tradition or away from their own.

      If I announce a policy in a particular thread, I will moderate assertively according to that policy.

      Comments that denigrate the discussion itself or participants in the discussion will not be posted.

      You do not need to be obnoxious, mean or profane to be placed on moderation or banned. If your comments consistently are obstructive to the conversation, I will moderate accordingly.

      I have no problem banning commenters that offer no positive contribution to the discussion. I have a large audience and I moderate so they can have a civil discussion. I do not have any commitment to absolute free speech on my blog. I have worked hard for the success I have in this medium, and I do not share it or allow others to denigrate or manipulate it. You may participate, but I do not sponsor wars, slander, threats or pointless arguments.

      I’m not a perfect moderator, so if you want to accuse me of being hypocritical or inconsistent, I already agree with you and it doesn’t matter. You won’t win the comment war.

      • Sir, with respect, I am at a loss at which policy my comment was in violation of. I respect your right to moderate the discussion and generally believe you do a very good job of it.

  32. 11. Approach the Church as consumers, where we demand satisfaction, instead of treating it as place where we serve others.

    12. Ignore Christ’s call to feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit those in the hospital and in prison, help the downtrodden and those forgotten by our society. Instead we watch too much TV, work too hard, endlessly entertain our children and turn our Churches into social clubs.

    13. Fail to daily take up our cross and follow Christ, the author of our salvation. How can we, after fully understanding the Gospel, not be transformed in how we live our daily lives? How can our lives be virtually indistiquishable from those who do not understand the Gospel.

  33. How ’bout this for #11: Say things like “Christians who don’t tithe risk God’s curse.” As in this article from the Biblical Recorder

  34. Tom Meacham says

    Hi Mike!!!

    Yes, yes, and yes! to your book review. (Like I should disagree with Luther?) The Gospel turns religion on its head–it’s no longer about what I must do, but about what God has done. Faith is not a requirement, a “work” or even a virtue–it’s God’s work in us. It’s a miracle. Thank God my life with God is sustained by God and not by my woefully incomplete faith.

    Reference Luther’s distinction between “grace” and “gift” in his Preface to the Epistle of Paul to the Romans.

    On another subject, have you reviewed “A Christianity Worth Believing” by Doug Pagitt?

  35. I was directed here by a comment on a yahoo group site. I like what I see and your statement of what the gospel is explains a lot about the current state of religion in America today. 🙂 Thanks

  36. I’m frequently off the mark, over the top and blow it when it comes to living what I believe. I appreciate your commentary because I think it hits the points where we all mess up.



  37. Brilliant thoughts. Hilarious that you stirred in the clinker about song lyrics. Bet it sounded brilliant too when you were writing it in the dead of the night. 😀

    Keep up the good words!

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