June 12, 2007
Is Your Gospel Robust?
A few weeks ago Scot McKnight shared how the gospel we preach is having an adverse impact on the church. Last week at the Spiritual Formation Forum he spoke in greater detail about this problem. He called the standard evangelical gospel, outlined below, "right, but not right enough." Essentially, we've watered down the good news in a way that has marginalized the church in God's plan of redemption.
This fact was driven home recently by a friend of mine who teaches at a Christian college. He said a hand in the class went up in the middle of his lecture about the church and culture. The student, in all sincerity, asked, "Do we really need the church?" My friend was struck by the question, and by the fact that the classroom was filled with future church leaders. Something is amiss when even Christian leaders are questioning the necessity of the church. That something, according to McKnight, is the gospel we've been preaching.
Scot McKnight summarized the "Standard Gospel Presentation" this way:
God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
Your problem is that you are sinful; God can't admit sinners into his presence.
Jesus died for you to deal with your "sin-problem."
If you trust in Christ, you can be admitted into God's presence.
He went on to say that the problems with this popular evangelical gospel include:
1. No one in the New Testament really preaches this gospel.
2. This gospel is about one thing: humans gaining access to God's presence.
3. This gospel creates an individualist Christian life.
4. This gospel sets the tone for the entire evangelical movement.
5. This gospel leads to spiritual formation being entirely about "me and God."
6. The evangelical gospel has created a need for evangelical monasteries.
7. The evangelical gospels turns the local church into a volunteer society that is unnecessary.
8. The evangelical gospel is rooted in Theism or Deism, but not the Trinity.
In contrast to this anemic gospel, McKnight believes a more accurate and "robust" gospel presentation would include the following features:
1. A robust gospel cannot be "tractified" (meaning, reduced to a formula).
2. God made you as an eikon (Greek for "image") to relate in love to God, to self, to others, and to the world.
3. The "fall" cracked the eikon in all directions.
4. Bible readers cannot skip from Genesis 3 to Romans 3.
5. Genesis 4-11 reveals the "problem" of sin: the climax is a society of eikons trying to build their way to God.
6. Genesis 12 begins to restore the eikon by a covenantal commitment and forming the family of faith. The rest of the Bible is about this elected family of faith.
7. The "problem" is finally resolved in "four atoning moments": the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
8. The "locus" of resolution is the family of faith: three big words in the Bible that describe this family of faith are Israel, the Kingdom, and the Church.
This understanding of the gospel does not marginalize the church, but instead makes the community the heart of God's work in the world. Is McKnight's more robust gospel better than the pervasive "4 spiritual laws" version? Is the tract gospel the source of our diminished ecclesiology and individualism? Are we even open to a wider discussion about the nature of the gospel, or is such a thing taboo - to only be permitted in "emerging" circles?