Friday, May 08, 2009

Worst gospel presentation ever?

As Christians, Christ left us with a mission: to make disciples for him, baptizing them and teaching them. Because of this, some Christian groups have given their members guidelines on "presenting the gospel". The thing is, some of these gospels bear only a vague resemblance to the gospels in the New Testament. I think the word "gospel" needs translating these days, even for a Christian. The gospel is news about Christ -- an announcement that changes our knowledge of reality in such a radical way as to transform our lives.

I am putting together a future post on seeing what the gospel is -- of which the short version is "Jesus Christ" -- but here I want to separate that from my frustration at one approach to presenting the gospel. Here I will give what I believe may be the worst gospel presentation ever, something I consider to be a complete failure in the "good news" department. Certain parts may contain elements of truth, but that does not keep it from being a hideous distortion of the gospel. This is the distilled version of the worst of the worst I have heard over the years:
Every sin of thought, word, and deed is so abhorrent to God that you are sentenced to eternal torture. Even decency or living rightly with dedication and earnestness gets you no slack with God because you have not done it perfectly, and God demands perfection, which is beyond our reach. There is nothing within our power which can make things right. However, God in his mercy sent his son to bear our punishment, and God accounts our wickedness to him, and his goodness to us, if we believe it is true. Christ's death was acceptable in our place because of his innocence and because God subjected his son to the most horrible death imaginable for our sakes. Those who do not believe correctly about this are condemned in God's sight for not believing it.
The problems with this presentation run deep -- but it is close enough to many "gospel presentations" I have heard. It makes it sound as if our real problem is God's unreasonableness; with that as a starting point, there is no "good news" about us reconciling with him, and never will be. It also makes it sound as if the solution is satisfying God's appetite for wrath and torture on an innocent victim, with God being just as unreasonable as ever but now we're all clear to spend eternity with him. And then "faith" comes in -- here meaning the intellectual assent (or fearful capitulation, as the case may be) to the right set of propositions about why this all works and is good.

I wanted to voice my frustration with this presentation of the gospel before I move on to good news that we tend to forget or obscure.


Tony-Allen said...

That's a problem I always had with the Way of the Master methodology. They in essence tell the person, "You're a sinner, you deserve to die, God hates you," then say, "Oh but good news, accept Jesus Christ and you're A-OK!" To me this is another version of solo fide, the corrupt version of sola fide. While sola fide is a living faith (ie what James wrote about), solo fide just says, "Oh, believe in Jesus and don't worry about anything else!"

Of course this kind of testimony rests on shaky ground, and proved its weakness when Todd Friel tried to convert a learned rabbi who blew his methodology out of the water by turning to examples of forgiveness in the Old Testament.

Howard said...

It's pretty amazing how far off we can be when we engage with this subject. We need to begin by understanding that God loves His creation, and has acted to convey that to a world corrupted by sin - a world which will be redeemed by that love. God is involved in reconciling us. Condemnation is the status of those who chose to stay in darkness and murder the light, who reject God's mercy and His love.

Darrell said...

"Worst gospel presentation ever?"

Yes. Yes, it is.

Weekend Fisher said...

I think the thing that frustrates me the most is how often the "gospel" is presented in such a way as to make God sound like an unreasonable, capricious, and vengeful being with a perverted sense of justice.

Tony-Allen, I'm not familiar with the Way of the Master methodology but your digest of it sounds really horrific. The kind of theology that makes you want to ask, "Which way to the nearest exit?"

Howard -- yes, that God loves his creation, and that the world is redeemed by his love. These are core things -- yet somehow we fail to present them as core things in our gospel presentations.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Howard said...

Anne wrote:
"yes, that God loves his creation, and that the world is redeemed by his love. These are core things -- yet somehow we fail to present them as core things in our gospel presentations".

I think that's due to nearly twenty centuries of dualistic 'leavening' of the truth, coupled with our sad propensity to legalism instead of grace - a pretty lethal cocktail. No wonder the Gospel is still viewed as dangerous as when Jesus first shook the world.