Efficiency or Truth?

In light of my post & the great discussion about the "Sinner's Prayer", here's another article to consider: An Efficient Gospel? by Tim Keel over at Christianity Today's Christian Vision Project.
One of the features of the modern world was "reductionism": the belief that complex things can always be reduced to simpler or more fundamental things. To reduce something is to take it out of context and to take it apart. Church leaders have become experts at reductionism. Ministries that are successful in one context are reduced to "models" that we try to duplicate in other contexts. Sometimes such reductionism is effective. But when we use reductionism indiscriminately, we end up in a world so simplified it is barely recognizable.

So in a modern world, we tend to reduce the complexity and diversity of the Scriptures to simple systems, even when our systems flatten the diversity and integrity of the biblical witness. We reduce our sermons to consumer messages that reduce God to a resource that helps the individual secure a reduced version of the "abundant life" Jesus promised (John 10:10).

And the gospel itself gets reduced to a simplified framework of a few easily memorized steps.

As you might have guessed by now, if that's what is meant by gospel, then yes indeed, I believe our gospel is too small.
People are not asking the traditional gospel question much anymore. Asking, "If I died tomorrow, where would I end up?" does not generate much life. But asking people, "If you had just a few years left, what kind of life would you want to live?" generates enormous energy. It is a question of hope, something our balkanized world sorely needs.

And perhaps not surprisingly, Jesus has a response to those who are asking such a question and on just such a quest. To them he says, "Wake up." "The kingdom of God is at hand." "Come, follow me."

Read the whole thing.

As a part of the same series on the site asking Is Our Gospel Too Small?, another article discusses The 8 Marks of a Robust Gospel:
I sometimes worry we have settled for a little gospel, a miniaturized version that cannot address the robust problems of our world. But as close to us as the pages of a nearby Bible, we can find the Bible's robust gospel, a gospel that is much bigger than many of us have dared to believe

What do you think of the "efficient" gospel we have created? Is it effective? How can we communicate the fullness of the gospel, that includes all of Jesus' message? Or should we try?


Matt said...

I am reading into your connection of your sinner's prayer post and this anti-reductionism message to imply that by discussing salvation as an eternal, transcendental change, the evangelical glosses over the immediate reality of sanctification in our living bodies.

That's a valid concern. But one that strikes me as strongly is the concern that if we preach the gospel as being so intricately woven into our day to day lives as to not emphasize the eternal enough, Jesus is also reduced - in this case, to a Joel Osteen kind of prophet of abundance.

Consider Jesus' early conversation to the fully redeemed Peter after his resurrection:
John 21: 17-19
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. 18 I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

The resurrected Jesus' call to Peter to "come, follow me" is not at all without recognition that this life will be filled with suffering at the hands of men, just as Christ did. I don't think Peter was all that starry-eyed about how the last few years of his life would be. But he was ready for that, when asked to follow Jesus into the grave, and back out.

We have to preach both halves of the gospel to preach effectively. But I consider it a much more grave error to get too hung up on trying to realize promises of abundance on earth when our real reward still awaits us on the other side of death.

Joanna said...

That's not really what I had in mind. Maybe I chose the wrong quotes from the articles or something. I didn't put my own spin in the post because I was hoping people would read the articles & come to their own conclusions, and I was curious as to what those were.

My thought was, the "ticket to heaven" presentation of the gospel (and the prosperity gospel, incidentally) ignore the rest of Jesus' words about what he sought to bring to the world- the Kingdom now. A revolution. A changed life, not of material "abundance" or ease- but joy and purpose. And everything is demanded of us- not just praying this prayer from the tract and getting on with our lives, or expecting things to "get better". We're called to die to ourselves and our own agenda, needs, and prejudices. As part of this revolution Jesus brought, we, like him, are bringing reconciliation into the world- between economic groups, nations, races, and peoples, personal and political. We're called to live in a radically different way and have radically different priorities as a result of and in response to this salvation we just received. This is the part I feel is glossed over- the commitment to the Kingdom of God now that we have as a follower of Jesus, while looking forward to the future aspect of the Kingdom.

Becoming a follower of Jesus isn't to be done flippantly, and the point isn't just to say nice things about Heaven or "abundance" to get as many people "in the club" as possible.

Sorry, Joel Osteen really grates me the wrong way, so you hit a nerve. :-P This probably could be more coherently thought out, and could probably be it's own post. I hope it clarifies a bit.

Anonymous Cogitations said...

Your post inspired me to write my own post. I hope I actually wrote about what you were getting at instead of going on my own personal rant. :)

James Kubecki said...

I think an appropriate question is not "is our Gospel too small," but rather, "is our view of the Gospel too small."

When I first read your post, Joanna, and the excerpted thoughts from Tim Keel, I thought to myself that the Gospel itself would be hard to "reduce" since, in truth, the Gospel itself is very simple and fundamental (Mark 1:14-15, John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, etc.).

However, it seems from your comment (not post) that you are saying that the Gospel isn't just about salvation, but that it is about so much more. We are in complete agreement here. "Easy believism" is a plague and curse upon the church today, and as "Anonymous Cogitations" (if that is his real name) points out, we are called to lives committed to Christ, not merely a moment of professed commitment.

So, the question is why? Why does the Gospel get watered down so badly? I have no answers, but I do have thoughts. Or "tots" as some would say...

1. First and foremost, it gets watered down because we are sinners. We are imperfect, and will be until He brings us into His glory.

2. See #1.

3. It gets watered down because it's easier. Yes, this is still points 1 and 2 all over again, at their core, but we have developed a distorted view of evangelism that places the emphasis on the decision and not on the disciple, on the prayer and not the progress, and on seats filled and not sanctification. (Pretty good alliteration, eh? Just came up with it.)

4. The Gospel can also seem watered down because of secondary issues that there is disagreement over. I'm not saying these aren't important issues by calling them secondary; rather, that they are simply secondary to the core message of the Gospel - transformed hearts by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. As far as what these issues are, well, we'll leave that can of worms intact for now...

One final thought... Reading and thinking and praying about this, I kept remembering a sermon excerpt from John Piper titled God Strengthens Us by the Gospel. In it, he reminds us of the constant need of the Gospel, and its centrality not "just" at the moment of our salvation, but for the rest of our lives. (And as a bonus, he begins with a reduced definition of the Gospel... Sorry, couldn't resist pointing that out.)


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