Friday, August 10, 2007


Thirty-four years ago, in his commentary on Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Dr. John Stott made the following observation about the Anglo-American church: “All around us we see Christians relaxing their grasp on the Gospel, fumbling it, and in danger of letting it drop from their hands altogether.” What Dr. Stott warned about a generation ago, we see coming to pass among us today.

We Americans are steeped in pragmatism. Questions like, “What works?” “What can I do?” and, “How can I solve this?” drive our very understanding of reality. We tend to be doers, fixers and solvers. Add to this the natural bent of us sinners to please ourselves first and foremost, and you have the multi-billion dollar self-help industry.

The church, in its recent effort to be “relevant,” has accommodated its message to the trend of the age. I find that extremely odd. Was the Word of God ever in danger of becoming irrelevant, and we weren’t aware of it? Yet, many among us have concocted a kind of self-help “gospel” by which we can have our problems solved, our hurts healed, and our dysfunctions made more functional. The church is fast becoming a servant to seekers of self-help.

And the Gospel is in danger of being lost.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the Gospel is in any way contrary to happiness, fulfillment, or wholeness. But what I am saying is that the Gospel is so much more than all that. By focusing more upon its occasional temporal benefits than upon its eternal substance, we have nearly lost the Gospel.

So, what then IS the Gospel? Here’s a hint: the four biblical accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus are themselves called “Gospels.” That tells us that the Gospel, more than anything else, is about Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Son of God. It’s specific, factual, real and objective.

In addition, these factual accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John concentrate mainly upon the death and resurrection of Jesus. Almost half of the verses in these four books deal with Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, burial and victory over death.

In keeping with this focus, the apostle Paul summarizes the Gospel message this way: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the Gospel I preached to you . . . that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4).

There you have it: Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again, just as the Old Testament predicted He would. The Gospel is Jesus doing for us what we could not do for ourselves, even with help.

Indeed, what the Gospel says is the opposite of self-help. The Gospel tells us that we can’t help ourselves, not at all, not even a little bit, because we are spiritually dead. Dead people can’t help themselves. Dead people need someone to take their deadness upon Himself, and give them His death-conquering life.

And that is exactly what Jesus did.

Do you believe it? You should. It’s the Gospel truth. It’s your only hope.


Tom Steagald said...

John-- do you remember the great line from C.S. Lewis to the effect that in as much as we humans are willing to trade the promise of eternal joy for instances of fleeting happiness (and his descriptions are much more specific) we prove that, as a species, humans are "far too easily pleased." It seems to me that the suffering and death of Jesus (theologia crucis) is so much discounted or disregarded in the common "pleasing" presentations of the gospel that "taking up the cross" as a matter of discipleship in view of the promised, coming glory is altogether missing. I have just finished writing a two essays on I Corinthians 15 for a W/JKP lectionary commentary which speak, I think, to the soteriological, ecclesiological and even missional ramifications of such theological evisceration.

Unrelatedly, see my last post "The Sad Truth," about Praying for Dear Life. I fear that a "sepia-toned" memoir clothed in the colors of a canary leave people as confused as a death and resurrection gospel when people only want resurrection. Or is it that they only want reincarnation, their "best life now," as it were?

Pastor John said...

True, true, true. Evisceration is a great way to describe what the feel-good church has done to the Gospel. I remember a Good Friday community service at which the pastor of the local feel-good church preached (on GOOD FRIDAY, mind you!) about the blessings we get by believing in the resurrection.

Crossless "christianity" is powerless to save.

BTW, thanks for your comment. It's like the fifth one I've ever gotten on my blog. WOOHOO!