Where gospel presentations took a wrong turn

Bible and heartYesterday’s post was motivated by a growing trend I see in Christians today: the avoidance of the concept of sin. Jesus didn’t come because of sin; he came because people were being oppressed. The kingdom isn’t about helping sinners find redemption; it’s only about allowing otherwise good people to join in a great cause.

I blame it on the typical pendulum swings that the church goes through. There was a time in the past when gospel preaching was all about convincing people that they were going to hell, then offering them a chance at salvation. (which was often presented as a chance; you MIGHT get to heaven if you do things right from now on) The gospel was all about baptism. What about the kingdom? Well, the church is the kingdom, baptism gets you into the church, so it’s still all about baptism.

Over time, people rightly came to reject this distortion of the good news. Now it’s all about the kingdom. We help usher the kingdom into this world, attract others to the kingdom by the way we live, and live kingdom-style from now on. Jesus died to conquer Satan’s kingdom and establish his own. People outside the kingdom aren’t lost because of sin in their lives; they are lost only in terms of not having yet found the kingdom. (Some go further, moving on to universalism; everyone will eventually become a part of this irresistible kingdom, either in this life or after death)

I’m glad we’re talking more about the kingdom. I think we need more emphasis on the king than on his kingdom, but it’s healthy that we’re recognizing that the gospel includes a vibrant kingdom. But I’m sorry we lost the concept of sin along the way. Frankly, we lost the holiness of God, which made us lose sin.

I think the good news of the kingdom includes the bad news that we are sinners in need of grace. We need to see that when men come before the throne of God they cry out “Holy!” and they cry out “Woe to me a sinner.” (Isaiah 6) They fall on their knees and recognize their unworthiness (Luke 5:8). No one who has seen the holiness of God says, “Well, I’m essentially a good person.” They look and see their humanness, their flesh, and don’t like what they see (Titus 3:3; Ephesians 2:3).

In our people-pleasing, politically-correct culture, we’re scared to call sin by its name. We’re scared to recognize that the greatest need of our world is the forgiveness of sin. We need justice. We need mercy. We need love for one another. But the biggest problem mankind has is the problem of sin. And the only answer for that problem is Jesus Christ.

If Jesus is not at the center of your explanation of the gospel, you got it wrong. If the King and his Kingdom aren’t the theme of your presentation, you got it wrong. If the cross isn’t the power behind the message you present, that message is being driven by bad theology.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

Would people say that about you after hearing you talk about the gospel?

How much room is there for bad news in the good news?

Question markI’ve been thinking about the gospel. The good news of Jesus. I’m wondering how much bad news is an inherent part of the good news.

There has to be some. For Jesus to be the answer, there has to be a problem that needs a solution. But what is the problem?

Is it sin? Is it personal sin or universal sin?

Is it the powers of evil? Is that the problem? Satan and his minions that have rebelled against God, deceived mankind, and sown seeds of death and destruction; is that what Jesus came to fix?

Why did Jesus have to die? Is his death part of the good news or the bad news? Some would argue that his death is the bad news and his resurrection the good. Is that it?

Why do people need to be Christians? To be saved from eternal damnation? To be part of God’s Kingdom? To find purpose and community? What’s the point?

I guess here’s what I’d like to hear your thoughts on:

  • What did Jesus accomplish with his death that couldn’t be accomplished any other way?
  • If Jesus is our Savior, what is he saving us from?
  • What do we gain by becoming a Christian that we couldn’t have otherwise?

How would you answer?

Links To Go (June 28, 2016)

Evangelical Christians are selling out faith for politics

Third, we are seeing a group focused on the rights and privileges of their own community, rather than the welfare of others — the poor, struggling and vulnerable. Many in that room do wonderful good works. But they have reduced Christian political involvement to a narrow, special interest — and a particularly angry and unattractive one. A powerful source of passion for social justice — a faith that once motivated abolitionism and various movements for civil and human rights — has been tamed and trivialized.

James Dobson Asserts: Donald Trump Is a ‘Baby Christian’ Who Needs to Be ‘Cut Some Slack’

“There are a lot of people ministering to him personally—a lot of ministers,” he stated in the recorded interview. “I mean, he did accept a relationship with Christ. I know the person who led him to Christ, and that’s fairly recent. I don’t know when it was, but it has not been long.”
“I believe he really made a commitment, but he’s a baby Christian,” Dobson contended. “We all need to be praying for him, especially if there is a possibility of him being our next chief executive officer.”

Partisanship in the U.S. isn’t just about politics, but how people see their neighbors

In an era of increasing polarization, Republicans and Democrats disagree over many things – and that extends even to the traits and habits they’d like or dislike in a new neighbor. Some of the widest gaps in how people of different parties see new neighbors are over new community members who own guns, don’t believe in God, regularly attend religious services or have served in the military.

Serving in Church: When Your Spiritual Gift Isn’t Changing Diapers

Love for the church means a heart that desires to give. There are weeks I’m tempted to go to church, sit back, and be served. Now, sometimes being served is necessary. If we’re always giving, but in pride refusing to receive, that’s not okay. There’s reciprocal joy in allowing others the chance to serve us.
At the same time, if we refuse to serve in the nursery because Sunday is our one chance to get away from kids, we’re thinking of church wrongly. The Bible speaks strongly about the church being our family, even more than our flesh and blood families. Sunday is not a chance to take a break from family—it’s a chance to serve our true family.

Why WOULD Anyone Sing in Church These Days?

We’ve minimized the congregation’s role.
We’ve changed our focus from disciplined, intentional music-making to creating emotional responses.
We’ve stopped training musicians.
We’ve chosen songs written for solo performance.
We’ve stopped giving the musicians among us the resources they need to apply their abilities.
We’ve chosen instrumentation that doesn’t support a congregation.
We’ve stopped leading and started performing.
So let’s stop asking why people aren’t singing anymore. It really shouldn’t be a surprise, since we’ve done nearly everything we can to kill congregational singing.

How an epidemic of grade inflation made A’s average

A recent study revealed that 42 percent of four-year college grades are A’s, and 77 percent are either A’s or B’s. According to Inside Higher Ed, “At four-year schools, awarding of A’s has been going up five to six percentage points per decade and A’s are now three times more common than they were in 1960.” At Yale, 62 percent of grades were in the A range in the spring of 2012. That figure was only 10 percent in 1963.

Tim Tebow helps airplane passengers during an on-flight medical emergency

The most recent installment comes from a Delta flight in which a passenger suffered a medical emergency while travelling from Atlanta to Phoenix. According to a Facebook post by Richard V. Gotti, passengers and crew members alike tended to the man until the plane landed.
One of the passengers who offered aid was none other than Tebow himself.
Tebow reportedly moved from his first class seat to the back of the plane to pray with the ill man’s wife and other passengers.

Parents brawl during kindergarten graduation ceremony

Up to six camera-toting parents posted up in a small space in the back of the auditorium at P.S./I.S. 178 in Crown Heights started shoving and yelling at each other over a photo opportunity around 10 a.m. as the young grads in light blue caps and gowns were handed their diplomas, witnesses said.

Equip Conference in Orlando

equip logoThe Equip Conference takes place in Orlando this coming weekend. Formerly the Spiritual Growth Workshop, the Equip Conference is a gathering of members of the churches of Christ with a focus on practical application of Scripture. This year’s focus is on “Harvest.” looking particularly at evangelism. That makes it fitting for someone to be there from Hope For Life, a Herald of Truth ministry. I’m privileged to be that someone.

Besides the sessions in English, there is also a strong Spanish track. I was very pleased to be invited to speak both in English and Spanish. As is often the case, there are numerous excellent offerings in English at the same time as my two classes; I have no illusions about drawing a large audience. In Spanish, mine is the only class where there is a separate ladies class going simultaneously; though I’ve got a better shot at speaking to a good-sized group, I know that my audience will only be half as large as it would be otherwise. But I don’t go to such events so that hundreds can hear me speak; I go to meet with other Christians and be mutually encouraged.

It’s been eight years since I’ve been to this workshop, but I remember it as a vibrant gathering. I’m really looking forward to being back there.

Evangelism Inside Out

CIOOne of the main reasons that I wrote Church Inside Out was to help churches and individual Christians grow in their concept of evangelism. More than that, I wanted to help everyone see that we can all be involved in the evangelistic process. Here are some excerpts to give you a feel for what I talk about in the book:

When we are talking about reaching out to others, be they teens or octogenarians, most of what we need to think about can be boiled down to what Jesus called the greatest commands:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37–39)

We have to love God and love our neighbors. We have to show our neighbors that God loves them and help our neighbors come to love God. (p.17)

If a church is focused on building itself rather than growing the Kingdom, it’s not doing the Lord’s work. If a church is focused on making a name for itself rather than making God’s name known, it’s not doing the Lord’s work. If a church postpones outreach and evangelism “until the time is right,” it’s not doing the Lord’s work. (p.35)

There are lots of good things that churches can do, lots of important ministries that need to be performed. But we must never forget that the unique mission of the church is to share the good news of Jesus Christ. That’s the task we’ve been given as ambassadors of the kingdom of God. As Paul said, we beg people to reconcile themselves to God. (p.73)

Too often we approach our communities like marketing executives, coldly analyzing demographics and statistics to put together the ideal plan for reaching out to the people around us. We forget that the Bible tells us time and again that prayer is an essential part of evangelism. It’s an essential part of every aspect of the Christian life. (p.82)

Research done in the 1980s showed that anywhere from 75 to 90% of new converts came to church through the influence of a friend or relative. Five to six percent came through the work of the preacher. Less than one percent were reached through campaigns. Only four or five percent started coming to church through Sunday school. The vast majority came because of the influence of someone they knew and trusted. That hasn’t changed. If we aren’t forming relationships with people who don’t know Jesus, we won’t be able to effectively bring them to the Lord. (p.93)

As we talk about the process of conversion, we run the risk of de-spiritualizing the new birth. God draws people to Him and convicts them with His Word. It’s not a question of our skill nor our ingenuity. God gives the growth.
At the same time, He has given us the task of proclaiming the gospel and helping people know how to respond. In the above text, Paul makes it clear that the whole process depends on God; he also makes it clear that God uses people like Paul and Apollos in that process. (p.122)

I think one mistake that the church has made at times is to consider the new birth to be the goal. Remember how Jesus instructed His disciples:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19–20)

The command is to make disciples. We do that by baptizing those that believe in Jesus, but we also do that by teaching them to obey the teachings of Jesus. In the journey to discipleship, baptism is a critical step, but it’s not the final step. (p.130)

One problem with many of our evangelistic methods is that they are only focused on taking someone the last step to new birth. To continue the metaphor, we’re trying to sow the seed in a field that hasn’t been cleared or plowed. There was a time in the United States when most people were already several steps into this process. They believed in God. They accepted the Bible. They wanted to follow Jesus. They just needed to be “shown the way of the Lord more perfectly.”
That isn’t true today. We have to be willing to look at non-Christians and determine where they are in their journey toward God. And we need to deal with those people accordingly. Sometimes we’ll be the ones that get to rejoice as the harvest is brought in. Other times we’ll merely clear some stones so that others will one day be able to sow. (p.134)

Before planning what we’re going to say, we need to plan on listening. We build relationships. We are present in people’s lives. And we listen for the kairos, the right time for speaking a word for God. (p.142)

How do we know when someone is ready to hear a presentation of the gospel? If you have built a relationship with the person with whom you’re working, there shouldn’t be too much pressure at this point. That is, even if you jump the gun and share with someone who isn’t ready to hear, that won’t be a big problem if you’ve established a friendship. If she knows you and trusts you, she won’t be offended that you decided to share with her something that’s important to you. (p.147)

When we’re ready to share the gospel, it’s important to keep in mind what we’re wanting to talk about and what we’re not looking to discuss.
What we share can be summed up in one word: Jesus. People need to know about Jesus. (p.156)