When the gospel is not the gospel  

Posted by Denis Haack in ,

Christians believe in something called the gospel, and if you are a non-Christian you have probably heard the term mentioned. What might be less clear is what that gospel actually consists of.

The word itself, gospel, is derived from an old Germanic term meaning good news. It is the designation given to the first four books in the biblical New Testament, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are four documents dating to the 1st century that tell the good news of Jesus Christ, each written by or under the direction of one of Christ’s original twelve apostles. It is good news, Christians believe, because Christ provides redemption—a healing of the horrible alienation that we experience with God, within ourselves, with others, and with the world in which we live. I don’t have time to defend the notion that the gospel of Christ actually promises such a thing or that there are good and sufficient reasons to believe it is true, but that’s what Christians believe. If you have questions about that, I’d recommend you read Timothy Keller’s book, The Reason for God.

Now, if you believed that such good news actually existed, chances are you’d want to share it with people who haven’t heard it yet. After all, the possibility of redemption, of a solution to guilt, alienation, injustice, and even death in this sad world is rather radical. Hopefully you’d want to share it in ways that make sense, but want to share it you would.

Now, here is something that most Christians—at least most Christians that call themselves American evangelicals—don’t know. It’s this: the “gospel” they share with their friends isn’t really the gospel. It’s a condensed version, and the parts that have been left out are the very parts our postmodern world needs to hear and see in order for the gospel to make sense or be believable.

Here is what happened. (OK, I admit, I’m leaving out a lot of details, but the story I relate here is still true.)

The good news or gospel that the Bible tells has four parts: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. Creation tells us who we are, where we are, how things came to be and something of what God is like. The Fall tells us what went wrong, how death and brokenness crashed God’s good creation, and why the alienation we sense with God, ourselves, each other, and nature has made us lost in the cosmos. Redemption tells the story of God’s solution, his entrance into human history as a man, and how Jesus willingly went through even death (the ultimate alienation) to triumph in life in his resurrection. And Restoration tells us how someday the redemption will be consummated, heaven will begin to work backwards to replace injustice with justice, so that human flourishing in a renewed earth and heaven will be fulfilled.

For 2000 years this was understood to be the gospel, the good news worth sharing. Creation revealed answers to big questions and allowed Christians to show how human flourishing flows from what we believe. So for example, during the Black Plague, an evidence of the Fall, when even physicians fled to the countryside, churches remained behind to care for the sick and dying, which was a tiny picture of Redemption. Christians could remain hopeful, even in such desperate periods, because they knew that history was not out of control and someday glory would flood over the earth like water cascading over a massive falls. All four chapters, in other words, were seen as essential to the story, to be shared in how Christians live and speak if the gospel is to be understood and believed.

But then something happened. Two closely related movements arose—Liberalism and Fundamentalism—though the advocates of both rarely see how their movement is related to the other. It occurred this way. As the 18th and 19th centuries unfolded, modern people put their faith in human reason. Give us any problem, modernists said, and we can reduce it down to the basic issues, reason out a solution and move ahead. After all, that’s how science and technology works and look at the progress there. In the church, Liberalism developed as biblical scholars used reason to determine what in the Bible was truth and what was untrue, what modern people could believe and what should be discarded as primitive and old fashioned. In the end, they by and large reduced the 4-chapter gospel down to two: Creation and Restoration. Christianity became a system of morality that could produce social justice and a better world because it provided a vision of what could be and once was. But a lot of other Christians felt that Liberalism left out too much and so they reacted against the trend. What they didn’t realize is that they too were captive to modernism. During the 19th century Second Great Awakening, church leaders like Charles Finney were overwhelmed by the onslaught of ideas coming out of modern science (for example the ideas of Freud and Darwin), and modern art (for example, the work of Manet and Van Gogh). And they believed they too could reasonably reduce the gospel to its essentials. So they dropped Creation (leave art and science to the world that is going to burn up), and made Restoration into a in-house puzzle tied to news headlines (signs of the times to figure out when Jesus would return). To them the gospel to share was merely Fall and Redemption: the problem is you being a guilty sinner, the solution is Christ dying for you on the cross, now pray this prayer and you’ll be saved.

They came to different positions, but Liberalism and Fundamentalism were both products of modernism, and both adopted a gospel that is not the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in holy Scripture. The gospel is not just Creation and Restoration, nor is it just Fall and Redemption. The gospel is Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.

Charlie Peacock, for example, in his book, New Way to be Human, points out that a non-Christian could expect to hear something similar to this today if a Christian witnessed to them:

“All people are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. In order to get to heaven and enjoy eternal life, your sins must be forgiven. You can only be forgiven if you confess to God that you are a sinner and receive his free gift of salvation by accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. Jesus died on the cross for you and took upon himself the just punishment for your sins. He was buried and rose again on the third day. The grave could not hold him. Having conquered sin and death, he ascended to the right hand of the Father where he is now ever ready to intercede for you if you will accept him and receive him as your Lord and Savior.”

Christian are used to critiquing such presentations by asking whether they are true, but Charlie realizes that this is only part of what is at stake. After all, witnessing is not just presenting a set of ideas but introducing someone to a Person. It is not just listing some propositions to which they should give assent, but telling a Story which will provide meaning and shape to the story of their life. So, Charlie asks, is this presentation “a truthful, comprehensive enough controlling story to define the life of someone who professes to be a student-follower of Jesus? The question isn’t whether it is true, but is it the whole truth and nothing but the truth? I don’t think it is.”

I agree. It is not only not the true, whole gospel, the parts left out are precisely the parts necessary to make the gospel convincing and compelling in the society where postmodernity has shaped the perspective of an entire generation. There is a sense then, in which this gospel is an anti-gospel, convincing people who yearn for spirituality and direction that the evangelical gospel of Christ has nothing relevant to say to them.

Some respondents might say at this point, that they can produce Christians who came to faith in Christ through this truncated gospel. I don’t dispute that. All it proves, however, is that God is a God of grace calling out a people to himself regardless of the faithfulness of his people. He used Balaam’s ass, too (Numbers 22), but that doesn’t make the incident a model for faithful living.

If you are a Christian, share the true gospel, not the truncated Fall-Redemption formula that was developed by well-meaning folk unfortunately captivated by the spirit and mindset of modernism. If you are a non-Christian, please believe me—you may not have heard the good news of Jesus when some Christian witnessed to you. Sadly, chances are you didn’t. If you would like to hear the biblical gospel, I recommend Timothy Keller’s brief book, The Prodigal God.

Image #1: Image for the four evangelists in the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript containing the four New Testament Gospels in Latin created by Celtic monks around 800 ad.

Image #2: A graphic image of Creation, Fall, Redemption designed by Bonnie Liefer © 1989 Coalition for Christian Outreach. Liefer’s art is available in a series of cards available here.

This entry was posted at Monday, September 20, 2010 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Denis, you left out some absolutely critical elements, which makes your 'gospel,' not the gospel, at least as presented in your essay.

The fact of our real moral guilt before the Holy uncreated Creator God, Who is the judge of our immortal souls. And repentance and the forgiveness of sins through Christ's penal substitutionary death on the Cross (not just a theory, it is the letter to the Hebrews).
Without the Law and Gospel, you have no gospel at all, just folk pop psychology.

I suspect that it may well be this error which led to the disqualifying fruit of your teaching against homeschooling and Christian schooling.

Your understanding of history is also seriously flawed. Any cursory familiarity with the Bible, let alone the medieval scholastics, will quickly reveal that 'fundamentalism' is nothing new or modernist, and its view of the Bible and human reason is that of the Church and of Israel. The attack on fallen but real human reason is a post-Christian revival of sophistry, and is to be rejected as heresy by Christians. What you call fundamentalism - that is the American penchant for technique combined with Dispensationalism, is not the normal or traditional meaning of fundamentalism. I certainly agree that -that- is deficient.

The truncated presentation of Law and Gospel you present as truncated is indeed so, for as Francis Schaeffer pointed out many, many times, we have true truth, but we do not have -exhaustive- truth - for we are finite creatures of an infinite Creator. Clearly creation and what you Calvinists rightly refer to as "The crown rights of King Jesus" should indeed be part of the Gospel presentation. Unfortunately many formerly evangelical congregations now have a pop psych presentation of 'if you are lonely or need meaning and purpose, ask Jesus into your heart and you won't be lonely any more, and the cosmic rift will be healed" without any presentation of the Law and the Gospel. God only knows if such people are saved. Seriously.

September 20, 2010 at 1:23 PM

Hi Denis. This is a great post. Thank you for your faithfulness. While I do agree with Stephen's comment about the need for repentance and atonement, that is implied in the Restoration. You are giving the big picture and did so very nicely. I always appreciate your faithfulness to Christ!
Jefferson Ellis (coming up as anonymouse because I don't have a blog account)

September 20, 2010 at 1:53 PM

Thanks for your kind words. And you are correct that Law and Gospel are implicit in the biblical Story of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration.
Appreciate your taking the time to write.

September 20, 2010 at 4:40 PM

Thanks for writing, and I appreciate the chance to discuss these things.

Part of the difficulty might be in how you are defining the term Fundamentalism. It does not refer to those who accept the fundamental doctrines of historic Christianity, say as outlined in the Apostles' Creed. That is biblical orthodoxy.

Fundamentalism is something very different. It is a movement that arose in the late 19th century in response to modernism, especially in the form of what is usually called "higher critical scholarship." Many Christians were concerned, quite correctly, that such scholars were undermining belief in certain aspects of biblical teaching. They rallied around the "Fundamentals" of the faith (their defense of these doctrines published in a series of books under this term). These fundamentals included five areas: the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth, the historicity of Christ's miraculous acts, the resurrection, and the sufficiency of Christ's death for atonement. All good as far as it goes, but there was a subtle problem: the underlying doctrinal foundations of the Fundamentalist movement was defined by the modernist attack not a balanced embrace of historic orthodox belief. This misshapen beginning skewed the movement, and continues to do so today. The second way Fundamentalism was birthed by modernism occurred during the Second Great Awakening when the modernist reliance on reason led church leaders to reduce the gospel from the whole counsel of God in Scripture to a formula of "you've sinned, Christ died for you, believe." For a careful study of this reduction see Iain Murray's Revival and Revivalism (Banner of Truth). A third evidence that Fundamentalism as a movement was birthed by modernism is seen in its commitment to a sacred/secular dichotomy. They imbibed the latent Gnosticism of modernism, though it is also true that this unfortunate error has plagued Christianity prior to the rise of modernism.

I have not ignored or left out Law and Gospel. Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration is the Story of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, centered in Christ's finished work on the cross. For a biblical understanding of this 4-fold understanding of Scripture--and reality and history--see Michael Williams' As Far as the Curse is Found (P&R Publishing).

It was Francis Schaeffer who first introduced me to this 4-fold understanding of the message of Scripture. You can find it used as a practical application of the gospel to various aspects of life and culture in any number of lectures by L'Abri workers over the years. Or in my work on Ransom's web site.

Hope this helps.

September 20, 2010 at 7:18 PM

I have read your post with great interest and also the comments posted to date. I am so grateful to you for your faithfulness to the truth of all of scripture and your advocacy for real thoughtfulness in communication. In our Sunday school this week we were reviewing Biblical teaching on evangalism and looked at 1 Peter 3:15 "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect"
(1 Peter 3:15 ESV)
You are modeling this gentleness and respect that gets lost so often. The difficulty is that gentle, respectful discourse sometimes seems to some as weak or flawed discourse that is lacking truth claims. We don't need to beat people up with the gospel. We need to see the real heart of the need in us all and have a compassion that compels us to demonstrate something whole and complete, not an easy or formulaic message. Mrs. S always started with "In the beginning God..." mapping creation, fall, redemption and restoration as you have so aptly done. Thanks friend for your faithfulness.

September 21, 2010 at 5:30 AM

Thank you for your encouraging words, my friend. Sometimes I wonder if anyone reads my blog, making me ask whether I should continue it. Other times I wonder if the time it takes for the give and take is a wise use of time, again making me ask the same question. Conversations like this help me answer that question, and I'm grateful.
Blessings on the other side of the world.

September 21, 2010 at 7:42 AM

Thank you, Denis, for your thoughtful comments. We will be reading this blog in our Bible study group tonight, as we continue discussing Jerram Barr's book "Learning Evangelism from Jesus". It is what I have been longing to experience.
One question: You said that this generation, in particular, needs to have the "creation" aspect. Could you please expand on that thought?

September 21, 2010 at 9:13 AM

Hope the discussion in your group goes well.

The need for Creation is particularly keen for the postmodern generation for several reasons.

One is apologetic: they have a moral sense that the earth should be cared for and when evangelicals downplay creation we appear immoral or less moral than they are. This in turn plays into the hands of those that blame Christianity for the capitalist tendency to rape the earth for the sake of profit. And it happens they are correct: it IS immoral--against biblical moral standards--to fail to care for God's good creation.

A second reason is that the fragmentation of families and relationships have tended to cut the younger generation off from the delight of the physical in the deepening of community. Such things as cooking, hospitality, lost arts like knitting, spinning, and weaving, unhurried enjoyment of nature, the embrace of beauty. When these things are part of our lives, human flourishing in increased, which is an essential part of God's shalom. To bypass Creation in practice and talking is to cut off a deep need produced by the Fall in this generation.

Another reason is that the Christian belief in Creation stands out among all other religious options. We can embrace the physical as a part of legitimate spiritual experience. For us the physical is not less important than the spiritual, nor need they be divided to achieve mature spirituality. All other options--radical environmentalism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, secularism--all with exception can not make this claim. Thus only biblical Christianity provides for a spirituality that applies to all of life and culture under Christ's Lordship. The absolute wonder of this has been lost by evangelical Christians who flirt with various forms of Gnosticism which introduces a sacred/secular dichotomy. ALL of life lived for God, ALL of reality redeemed, ALL of culture bringing glory to the King--this is our hope that makes ALL of the Christian life so rich.

Hope this helps.

September 21, 2010 at 10:18 AM

Denis-we do read your blog. keep it up. i'm sure there's more than just the product that you're after. it takes a lot of work to crystalize 2000 years of gospel movement in one blog post. that's good exercise, man. you've done here what we (wy wife and I) often attempt to do with others in conversation: get them off of the pap of cultural pop-gospel and onto the meat.

September 21, 2010 at 10:50 AM

Thanks for the encouraging words.
It is astonishing how often Christians are cut off from the rich heritage of the last 2000 years, and how blase they are about it when their loss is made evident. For far too many sola scriptura has been turned into individua scriptura. Not at all the same.

September 21, 2010 at 11:04 AM

Thank you, once again, for your thoughtful communication. As usual, I have to read, and reread. I concur with Sandra Oster.
You should know, I've been struggling for years now with the shape of my faith. The foundations have not altered, but the way I live out my faith is in flux right now. I have been very disappointed in the church, and very turned off by a lot of the dialogue out there. That is my affirmation for you, and for your wife. I know I can read your blogs, and be encouraged and challenged.
Please don't stop! I am sure I am not alone in that I need dialogue to temper my understanding.
And, though I don't have anything to add to the discussion just now, I am processing the ideas you've set forth.
Thank you~
Cassandra (Just like Jefferson, no account)

September 21, 2010 at 11:42 AM

Sweet words, and I'm grateful.
As long as this is what is happening, even for a few, then maintaining this blog is MORE than worth the time and thought and effort.
Thank you.

September 21, 2010 at 11:53 AM

Please keep writing. As in this post, I appreciate your ability to distinguish what's happening in a culture and the Truth of the Gospel message. Your responses to the comments here are also very helpful and it's not often that someone takes such time and care in responding to comments. I would really like to hear more about your response to Ruth on the need for a proper understanding of Creation in this generation, especially number 2 and how that looks practically for families and young families trying to make a life.

September 21, 2010 at 12:55 PM

Mr Ross:
I appreciate your kind words, and am happy to expand on the second point. If I don't address exactly what you have in mind, please ask further.

My sense is that the younger generation yearns to be married yet is fearful of getting married. Coming from fragmented homes they don't want to make the same mistakes as their parents (or the older generation). They need more than teaching on the topic. They need models.

We believe that radical Christian discipleship today includes such things as:
opening our home in warm hospitality
feeding people
providing a safe place to talk
the grace of unhurried time

For one thing, the way into the church, for many of the postmodern generation, will be through the living and dining rooms of people who demonstrate this sort of authentic discipleship. For another, many young adults want to learn how to do such things. We find young adults naturally crowd into our kitchen and love being involved in setting the table, preparing food, making the setting lovely with a few flowers, or whatever. In the process of deepening relationships and meaningful conversation, passing on skills is occurring.

Today young adults are forming knitting groups, wanting to learn to spin yarn, use cast iron in cooking--so many of the things their grandparents did but their parents tossed aside. Margie and I want to come alongside them there.

Young families have a natural opening for the gospel: simply pursue such things in simplicity and you will help humans flourish. And older couples can come alongside to pass along skills, encourage, cheer, and help make it happen.

This is the gospel in life, Christ's Lordship in the ordinary things of life, love reaching to the very deepest yearnings of the human heart. And it is all firmly rooted in God's good Creation, now so sadly torn by the Fall.

Hope this helps

September 21, 2010 at 3:15 PM

Thanks for the response. It is very helpful and resonates with me (a young married man with 2 little kids). I think you are right that we (young people) need models in this. It's difficult to find people who are experienced in living (older folks) who really want to spend time with people less experienced in living (younger folks). And I mean "time" like you are describing for discipleship. My "small group" is all young men with young kids. We are missing the wisdom of experience. I'm glad to read about your ministry and hope to continue to learn more about it. Blessings to you and your wife. And by the way, my wife and I exclusively use cast iron in cooking.

September 21, 2010 at 4:04 PM

Mr Ross:
Good for you--cast iron is the best. At last year's Rochester L'Abri Conference my wife Margie did a workshop on cooking with cast iron. To prepare she cooked endlessly wonderful meals in her various dutch ovens and pans. I did my part by showing up on time to each meal.
Love it.

September 21, 2010 at 4:18 PM

Failing to understand the doctrine of creation-- especially the cultural mandate and its implications-- inevitably leads to a simplistic fall and a truncated doctrine of redemption and restoration.
Unfortunately most evangelicals I know don't understand the doctrine of creation.

September 22, 2010 at 8:58 AM

As usual you said it with your normal clarity and conciseness. Sadly, you are correct on both points. What is also sad is that attempts to rectify this misshapen understanding of the gospel is met with resistance because the fear is that the gospel is being tampered with. What isn't understood is that is has already been tampered with and we are trying to restore the biblical understanding.
Blessings to you and MJ on your work in Austin.

September 22, 2010 at 9:21 AM

Thank you, thank you, thank you. That is all so helpful in my thinking. When Greg said that evangelicals fail to understand "the doctrine of creation" and all that it mandates... I assume that means other than the oft-repeated argument of "creation versus evolution", but the mandate to take care of the earth, the variety of skills needed for that, etc. Is that what you are referring to? Which therefore would coincide with the need for hospitality, cooking, unhurried time, weaving, knitting, etc. So many of those things would be what we "are" with people, rather than what we just "say". Am eager to learn more...
Thankful for your ministry AND that you're my brother! ;-)

September 22, 2010 at 4:18 PM

Yes, correct. Although I wouldn't want to speak for Greg, I assume he means what I would.

Creation is about origins, certainly, in that it tells us who we are where we came from. We are not the products of blind chance in an impersonal universe. But there is so much more.

Creation also provides us with so much more. Before the Fall we see Adam and Eve beginning art (Adam's poetry about Eve, forever enshrined in holy Scripture), science (naming the animals which involves identifying and distinguishing them), technology (agriculture in the Garden), and relationships (with each other and God). When God instructs them to "cultivate the earth" (the Creation mandate), the term is related to "culture." Thus, the calling of all humanity is to cultivate--make culture--in all its parts and aspects. Like all other parts of life, culture and culture making were perverted by the Fall, but the cultural mandate was not repealed by God.

The notion that some Christians hold that culture (art, science, cooking, whatever) is less important than "spiritual" things is thus not a biblical belief but one they bring in from Greek pagan thought. This sacred/secular dichotomy is thus actually a heresy (I use the word on purpose) that distorts the biblical message.

Christ died not just to save souls but to redeem all that the Fall has perverted--as the Christmas carol puts it, "far as the curse is found."

Thus, the gospel is good news to all Creation. It is centered in God's calling a people to himself, redeeming them through Christ's work. We have forgiveness in his death and new life in his resurrection. The forgiveness is to be shown in our love for God, others and God's world. The new life is to be shown in every aspect of life and culture.

So, when we cut off the true biblical meaning of Creation--in how we talk about it or live--then the power and effectiveness and extent of redemption is not shown to a watching world. No wonder they look at the evangelical community and are not impressed!

And I am proud to have you be my sister!

September 22, 2010 at 5:13 PM

Thank you, Denis I just posted this on facebook. It is good to be reminded of this daily, especially when you work for a church and feel like there's only one emphasis.
holistic holistic holistic is the lord God almighty! :)

September 23, 2010 at 8:34 AM

Glad it gave whispers of glory, even brief tiny ones.

September 23, 2010 at 8:44 AM


You have done well with this, from beginning to end. I have passed the blog posting on to several friends, and I have learned more grace from you as I have read your responses.

We do see out of our hearts, which is why the Hebrew vision sets forth the heart as the center of the biblical anthropology. It cannot be other than that. So while you may know all of your correspondents, of course I don't. For example, the first one, Stephen, brings an agenda to his reading that is perplexing. We did not read the same words as we read your words. His words are familiar to me, as I understand them and use them; but they don't make sense in relationship to what you wrote.

Like you, it was in listening to Schaeffer in True Spirituality, and Pollution and the Death of Man that I first began to understand the richness of the biblical story, a story which becomes incarnate in the gospel of the kingdom. The "gospel" is never something different than the drama of amazing grace which makes all things new-- sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, as well as the whole cosmos.

I have lived my life for "the crown rights" of Christ, as have you. But that is never theological partisanship. Rather it is that very commitment that makes sense of the reason-for-being for Ransom Fellowship, and then of course of the blog posting itself.

You have served your readers and friends well, Denis. Thanks.

September 23, 2010 at 6:57 PM

Thank you, Steve.
Generous words I take seriously.
Life has been richer since our friendship began so many years ago in the mountains of Colorado.

September 23, 2010 at 9:45 PM

I'm home from church today with a sick son, so took the time to read the Bible and do some studying. Interestingly, I read Romans 8. I likely came out of it with as many questions as answers, but one thing is becoming very clear in reading Romans; physical groaning (in all of creation as well as ours) is an object of God's redemption. I recently began to notice that, in the presentations that I've heard, the resurrection is seldom mentioned. We celebrate it on "Easter" (avoiding the controversy over that term), but rarely hear of it the rest of the year. A physical resurrection demands that we consistently refute the underlying gnosticism that still plagues our society. I've even heard gospel presentations that refer to the "heart" as the "real person". It is also promoted as the dwelling of Christ's Spirit, giving an alternative to the biblical teaching that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul goes so far as to say that Christ's death took care of our sin, but the resurrection provided our justification (4:25, with surrounding context). Without it, we would not be brought to God (a theme that I'm finding throughout the book).
Having said that, I know that my mind tends to exalt the spiritual above the physical. It likely has to do with the teaching I've received in the past. While you are consistently gracious in your speech, you also as consistently challenge notions like the ones skittering through my brain as I type. You said, "We can embrace the physical as a part of legitimate spiritual experience. For us the physical is not less important than the spiritual, nor need they be divided to achieve mature spirituality." and "The notion that some Christians hold that culture (art, science, cooking, whatever) is less important than "spiritual" things is ...heresy..." You're quite adept at jostling my comfort zone.
A note to Mr. Ross - I tend to think that sometimes (not always), there is a disconnect because there's a misunderstanding between the "older" generation and younger folks trying to figure out the maze of life. Both assume that the other generation just isn't interested. I've spoken with several senior citizens that feel that they've been put on a shelf, with no more usefulness to God or others. Granted, there are some seniors who are ignoring the not so subtle messages of our culture and are getting to know the youth and young adults in our congregation. Many, however, wrestle with feelings of inadequacy; the older we get, the more we see how little we know. I tend to think that there is at least one older couple/person who would be honored with the question, "Will you come join our group? We need a mentor." They might keel over from shock (carry smelling salts with you) or protest initially (the more likely of the two), but please continue to pursue their wisdom. Culture tells me that the more wrinkles and gray hair I have, the less relevant I am, and L'Oreal is making a hefty profit from that message (ok, I still use it... for now). Scripture tells me that those persistent gray hairs are a crown of glory. I'm taking that seriously and embarking on an initiative that will hopefully impact young people to become insanely devoted to Christ. Again, I would encourage you; find an older person that you respect as a believer and defy culture; pursue his/her wisdom. (Denis, are you ok with this?)

September 26, 2010 at 12:45 PM

Thanks for this. I'm sort of a wounded sheep right now; occasional affirmation that I'm not totally alone in the wilds s appreciated :-).

It seems to me that another, perhaps especially American, twist to the truncated Gospel is its individualistic, abstracted emphasis. Christ is our "personal Savior," we "accept him into our hearts." The Gospel is defined as a discrete set of propositions that, when assented to, bring us into the Kingdom.

I'm not knocking propositional truth. Some statements are true, some aren't. Jesus IS the Son of God. We ARE sinners who need redemption. These truths and others are descriptions of eternal realities that, if denied, walk us out of Christianity and put us on a collision course with the Creator. But the message of Jesus points us to a real, living Christ - whose presence is revealed not only in propositional truth, but in lived truth. We are the embodiment of redemption and restoration in progress.

I run in evangelical circles, and it often seems that while no evangelical I know would deny the reality of Christ's presence in our lives, the emphasis on words - preaching, teaching, apologetics, "witnessing" - takes precedence at a practical level. Mentoring, serving, resolving conflict, bearing real burdens, deep relationship, living the life of Christ as his people and body are themselves truncated. Christ isn't just out there somewhere in the heavenlies waiting to come take us all away; he's here, with and in us, now. Evangelism is important, but I don't think it was ever intended to be a stand-alone activity wherein verbal proclamation is considered not only sufficient, but primary. Again, not knocking verbal evangelism, preaching, or teaching; all are necessary. But when they're cut off from the living Body they're designed both to build and flow from, they fall far short of their original purpose. I think this is especially true in a world where relevance and authenticity are prized.

Two Bible passages have been on my mind a lot lately - "By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35), and "To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:26). Sometimes I wonder if in our pursuit of the perfectly packaged church service, persuasive argument, memorable message or meme, we've forgotten where our greatest source of power (and proclamation) lies - in our lives, individually but especially in community, lived faithfully (not perfectly!) in Christ.

Again. thanks for the thoughtful post, and for putting up with my ramblings :-)

September 26, 2010 at 10:48 PM

24/7 Mom:
You are wise to bring Romans 8 into this discussion because it is right on target. The reduction of the biblical gospel that occurred in revivalism also tended to restate the Christian hope. Biblically the Christian hope is the resurrection; in revivalism is became the rapture. Resurrection involves the physical, a raptures rescues us from all that. It's not that denied a resurrection but buried it, opening the door more widely for the gnosticism that lurks beneath the surface.

In your email you asked me about "Romans 8, suffering, creation and especially the "if/then" statement in verse 17 (and seemingly reiterated in the following verses). How do I reconcile this with Eph. 2:8,9?" In Eph 2 St Paul insists that salvation is not due to our merit nor can we do anything to earn it--"Not by works." Salvation is by faith alone. In Rom 8 Paul is addressing the question, "Well, if salvation is by faith not works, what sort of faith is that?" The faith that justifies, Paul says, is a faith that does not turn back at suffering. We do not earn or merit salvation by suffering, but the faith that saves is not destroyed by suffering.

This touches on another reduction that occurred. The biblical teaching about assurance is best stated as "the perseverance of the saints," i.e., true faith will persevere to the end. We aren't saved by being good perseverers, but true justifying faith is characterized by being persevering. This rich teaching was reduced to "eternal security" meaning that "once you have decided for Christ, you'll never be lost again." Perseverance keeps our attention on Christ's grace, eternal security shifts it to an experience we had.

And your comments to Mr Ross are spot on.
Thanks for writing.

September 27, 2010 at 10:29 AM

I'm back! I'm so appreciating the additional comments. Thanks to all. I found myself feeling championed in some way by Steven's comments. It is probably my own baggage, but when I read Stephen's response, my heart hurt a little bit. No direct criticism toward Stephen, but his response put me in mind of the many people I have met in church who seem to put knowledge and being right over anything else.

I just reread the chapter titled Membership in CS Lewis' The Weight of Glory. I will have to reread it, but I think it speaks a little to Sarah's thoughts.
Thanks again to everyone.
Cassandra (who desperately needs to get a gmail....)

September 27, 2010 at 10:29 AM

Knowing Steven as I do, I know he will be pleased you felt championed by what he wrote. Grace does that, and if my brother exudes anything, it is grace.

I'm like you. I found the conversation wonderful, and hope I can continue to post things that can result in similar discussion.

September 27, 2010 at 3:29 PM

I am so sorry you need to identify yourself that way. It was not meant to be, not at all. And you are most assuredly not alone, not at all.

I agree wholeheartedly that another way the gospel has been reduced is to give it an "abstracted individualized" character. Propositional truth is a good gift, but if all truth could be reduced to propositions Jesus would not have told so many stories. One time a number of years ago I assigned a short story to be read by our small group. One person (he happened to have a doctorate) said he didn't have time for fiction and asked for the "point of the story." It's sad how such highly educated people can be so, well, uneducated.

Reducing evangelism to technique has resulted in all sorts of mischief. The worst is a whole lot of people, both within and without the church, who believe they have told/heard the gospel when they haven't. The message they were involved in did not adequately introduce Christ in all his amazing grace, did not reflect the scope and depth of God's redemption, and did not present anything close to the Christian hope which extends Christ's Lordship, in resurrection power, over all of life, reality and culture.

It's actually damnable, but then God uses his church anyway. Takes my breath away.

The two verses you note could be used as highlights for this entire conversation. Well said.

By the way: you think too poorly of your comments. Don't find them rambling at all. Thanks for being part of this.

September 27, 2010 at 3:44 PM

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