Monday, October 8, 2012

My Gospel Pedagogy

Whether we consciously realize or are willing to admit, Christians have a philosophy of presenting the gospel (or avoid presenting it).  My experience from the States and my former theological heritage has made me realize how often it is extremely lacking, ineffective, and bordering "another gospel" (cf. Galatians 1:6-7).  So I'd thought I'd share with you my thoughts on a good presentation of the gospel.  This goes for children too, by the way.

    (1)   Shorter is not better – I have heard over the years people advocate the "K.I.S.S." principle ("keep it simple, stupid!" or "keep it simple and short").  People try to condense the message of the infinite God into a shrink-wrapped package of 3 simple steps or 4 spiritual laws or 5 verses from the Romans road.  And yet we neglect verses in the OT about the gospel that have impacted the writers of the NT in substantial ways.  Verses like Isaiah 52:7 where the term "gospel" is first used and probably influenced the gospel account writers to use the same term.  And what was the gospel message there?  God is King!!!!  Paul quotes Genesis 12:3 in Galatians 3:8 and calls it the gospel.  That's where God promises to bless the nations through Abraham and his descendants.  When are these concepts ever listed in our presentation of the gospel?  Jesus preached the gospel of God's reign (often translated "kingdom"; cf. Mark 1:14-15).  It was laden with the concept of believe and repent.  Such a concern cannot be reduced to short, little statements.  The gospel is complex.  One should strive to present a comprehensive gospel. 

(2)   Simple is not better – the other side of this is the over simplified presentation.  People have the "just the facts, ma'am" mentality.  All they really need to know is 1 Cor. 15:1-4, that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again.  While those things are necessities to the gospel, there is so much more.  Where is the concept of following Jesus, repentance, grace, God's kingship, the blessing of the nations in that simplified presentation?  The reality is, to include all aspects of the gospel in one's presentation means that it is not going to be simple.  Where simple becomes downright heretical is when the presentation is simplified so much and we are eager to get another "convert" so badly that we will have a person repeat a meaningless prayer and then tell them, "You are saved!  Welcome to the kingdom!"  I would venture that 99% of the time, these people couldn't even articulate the gospel themselves (simple or complex).  Who are we kidding?  The stories where I am confident conversion has actually happened is when many conversations occured and the sinner calls out to God in true repentance (hatred toward sin) w/ no prompt from from the witness.  The gospel is a God-thing!  Why make it into a man-thing by simplification?

(3)   Stunning is not better – the reality is, the reason we present a simple and shorter gospel is that we are trying to convince people, so we give them a message that is not so difficult to accept.  We dress it up w/ as little cost as possible and make it attractive.  This runs so very counter to how Paul conceived of the gospel as a scandal (1 Cor. 1:23).  Even evangelicals who oppose the "prosperity gospel" still present a less scandalous gospel when they speak on all the things that "Jesus will give you if you simply trust in him" (I've heard this!!!).  Things like heaven, peace, joy, comfort, and no hell are all included in this.  And yet, the 1 thing that the gospel does promise to give as its focus is often not included b/c it is not attractive to the fleshly person – Jesus!!!  The gospel promises us God.  To focus on anything else is idolatry, for people who love idols.  A sure fire test that someone has truly been accepted by Jesus (notice I didn't say "accepted Jesus") is that the person turns from sin and follows a message that is so absurd and nonsensical that it was clearly God who changed the person's heart.  That is the beauty of the gospel.  It is a scandal that a person charged as a criminal to die a criminal's death in a most gruesome way can be the basis for our forgiveness from offending God.  How can we be blessed by someone who is crucified when the Bible says a man is cursed for hanging on a tree?  Why would anyone follow this man, especially when that man says that following him costs everything: family, friends, and your own life?  Jesus stepped on toes.  Why don't we? 

(4)   Smarter is not better – Paul also mentioned the foolishness of the cross.  That means it is also absurd to think that a criminal dying a criminal's death could achieve and secure deliverance from sin.  Yet, with our cleverly invented scenarios and catch-phrases, we have concocted a presentation that will make what is absolutely bizarre seem so rational.  We try to convince people that following Jesus is a good idea and the way to success, when the reality is, following Jesus means persecution, pain, grief, and hardship.  Oh sure, there is eternal bliss in the end and eternal life now, but that is only because we have Jesus as our prize.  He is our promised blessing and inheritance.  People who try to take the foolishness out of the gospel do a disservice to the gospel b/c it is such a foolish concept.  A presentation that displays all of the above is going to look absolutely foolish in the eyes of the world.  And that is the point.  Someone who is changed after hearing the gospel can only have God to thank for it.  If I make it seem so costly and strange (which it is), and that person repents and follows Jesus in spite of that, then God be glorified for his grace on that individual.  As Paul said, "Let the one who boasts, boast in God."

Lord, let our gospel to the world be something we live.  May we not be ashamed of it.  May we not simplify or shorten the most amazing message of the infinite God.  May we not take away its scandal or foolishness.  May we present you as King, your son as Lord, and leave all else to the Holy Spirit to regenerate hearts.  God, may we be after disciples not converts as Jesus commissioned his own disciples.

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