Let’s continue to explore the message of Jesus Christ and the church he has commissioned to share this good news in order to change the world. When we look at the anemic expression of the church today, one has to ask, “What went wrong with our interpretation?” In order to find out, we have to go back to the message itself. What went wrong with the gospel?
The Domestication of the Gospel
I believe what’s taken place has been a domestication of the Gospel. The modern mindset, with it's value of individualism, has reduced the gospel and conversion to the experience of the individual. The reality of it being “man-centered” is revealed with such common ideas like “receiving Jesus as your personal savior” and “doing your personal devotions”. The apostle John clearly makes the gospel a communal experience…
"What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands" (I John 1: 1).The gospel story has also been reduced to the experience of death and eternity (thought of in spatial or chronological terms). For example, "Say this prayer so that when you die, you can go to heaven." This all leads to a certain way of doing church. The church essentially becomes a warehouse of people waiting until they die. Eternal life is not now, but future and over there.
This domesticated approach is devastating to our churches and doesn't compel people to become serious followers of Jesus. Discipleship is optional and for the committed few or ultra-committed core. Something has to change from what has become the large crowd of Sunday morning pew warmers to those in the “minority core” (those who attend prayer meetings).
The Church has been devastated by this “discipleship as optional” situation.
Dallas Willard, in his book The Divine Conspiracy, asks three questions:
a.) Does the Gospel we teach and preach have a natural tendency to cause the people who hear it to become full-time disciples of Jesus?We must examine whether the gospel we teach has been domesticated and therefore not reflective of the radical message Jesus taught and represents. This effects how people live out the implications of the gospel in real life. We can not and should not live out the Gospel of the Kingdom from the "receive Jesus and when you die…" gospel.
b.) Would those who believe it become his apprentices as a natural next step?
c.) What can we reasonable expect would result from people actually believing the substance of our message?
Christians are clear about how sins are taken care of by justification through faith by the grace of God. Lest you fear a works approach or legalism here, we live as a disciple of Christ through the same grace by the power of the Spirit. There are things for us to do, but it is not through merit but rather by simple cooperation with the Spirit’s active work.
"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove in vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (I Corinthians 15:10, see also Philippians 3: 4b-17).People will not move from zeroed accounts of forgiveness into discipleship. A "forgiveness only" message doesn't move us toward discipleship. A rule-bound, propositional approach to the gospel does not have the ability to be compelling or winning in contemporary society.
This domesticated gospel today has easily become linked to the American marketing machine. Remember the slogans, catch phrases and bumper stickers: "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven"? Is this really all there is? JUST forgiven and nothing more?
In reality, the gospel of Jesus is a large, all-encompassing story. But more on this in my following posts…