Conserving the Gospel – 6

 There is one other way in which the gospel is threatened. It is threatened when its proclamation is neglected or perverted.

Complete neglect of evangelism will obviously threaten the gospel, for a failure to proclaim it will be a failure to propagate it. If the gospel is no longer heard, it will not be received, and the gospel message will die with the disobedient generation that failed to pass it on. Failure to evangelise is a frontal attack on conservative Christianity.

The gospel is not proclaimed for several possible reasons. One is sheer laziness and disobedience. When Christians choose to please themselves, hide their faith and avoid the offense of the cross, they will not preach the gospel.

A second reason is hyper-Calvinism. (Not five-point Calvinism, but true hyper-Calvinism.) Hyper-Calvinism denies that man is truly responsible, therefore it dispenses the preaching of the gospel altogether. A warping of the biblical doctrine of the interchange between divine sovereignty and human freedom can lead people to fail to preach the gospel altogether.

A third reason is that some become so acculturated to post-modernism that they secretly doubt that their neighbours are in danger of hellfire for not believing the gospel. They might be gospel believers, but for all intents and purposes they are post-moderns who live as if all beliefs are true to some degree and that there are many paths up the mountain of God.

 ***

The proclamation of the gospel can also fail to conserve the gospel if the presentation itself is twisted, perverted or warped. I am taking for granted that we are not talking about doctrinal perversion, for that goes back to earlier posts. I am speaking about a methodological perversion. In other words, when the gospel is proclaimed in a way that gives a faulty understanding of conversion, this in turn can end up corrupting the gospel itself. For as McLulan said so many years ago, the medium is the message. You might not deny the substance of the gospel message, but if your presentation fundamentally alters the perception of what the gospel does or is, then your proclamation becomes, ironically, a form of corrupting the gospel.

One of several well known examples is when the gospel becomes pure decisionism. Conversion is seen as consisting in a person making a choice hitherto not made, signified by praying a prayer, signing a card, raising a hand, walking forward at an invitation. The person’s act on that day becomes to them the substance of their conversion. This is encouraged by those who make the belief in the gospel centre on a crisis decision, and point back to such a decision as the basis of assurance. It is encouraged by those who, a la Finney, use manipulative techniques to convince the person to ‘accept Jesus’ – lights, sentimental music, guilt trip altar-calls, scare tactics, peer pressure etc.

Certainly conversion is an event, and one which involves the human will. Certainly it can often be traced back to a decisive prayer of repentance and faith, or a public act of submission. However, when conversion is made to hinge on a sinner’s prayer, or a four-point formula, the gospel itself is being diluted into a pale shadow of itself.

Another example of twisting the gospel in its presentation is to preach a utilitarian Christ. When the gospel becomes a means to our own ends, providing improved happiness, less guilt, a better family, more success, more health, more money – then the gospel is being lost. If the death and resurrection of Jesus is portrayed as a yuppie accessory, as the thing which will take your present lifestyle to the next level, it misses the point of the gospel. The gospel is not a means to our own ends. It is restoring us to the moral sanity needed to recognise God as the purpose of our existence.

A third example of perverting the gospel is to use worldliness as the bait. To use forms, devices, media, atmosphere and techniques that are intrinsically or even conventionally associated with the worldliness of I John 2:15-16 as a supposed tool to reach the ‘unchurched’ certainly sends a mixed message. It seems to redefine repentance itself. After all, if God hates worldliness, how can Christian preachers baptise their message in it and expect the hearers to comprehend what God calls them to turn from? If the gospel has left those Christian rockers on stage fundamentally the same, what precisely does Jesus frown upon in the unsaved rockers in the audience? What must they turn from, and more importantly, what do they think they are turning to? “Party life lite”? The self-indulgence of rock with Jesus added?

What you win them with, is what you win them to.

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2 Responses to “Conserving the Gospel – 6”

  1. Tania Says:

    I found this 6 part series of “Conserving the Gospel” very valuable. Thank you so much for sharing this. Series 5 was personally convicting.

  2. David Says:

    Glad it was helpful!

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