In a therapeutic culture in which psychology is the lingua franca, it's easy to inadvertently subvert the gospel, to imagine we're talking about the gospel when we're really talking about the anti-gospel.
A few months ago when I was traveling, I attended a local church that was "the" evangelical church in that suburb. The text for the day was the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The preacher began by reminding us of the context—the search of a shepherd for a valuable sheep; the search of a woman for a valuable coin. We were then told that the father in the parable, when he saw his wayward son far off, did not see someone who was selfish or a loser. Instead, through all the junk, he saw something valuable: a son. The sermon concluded with a reminder that God gives us the ability to see the treasure, the value in everyone we meet.
I am one with this preacher's motives and aims, and his insight that the father first and foremost saw a son is the essence of the gospel. But in his desire to proclaim the magnificent love of God, he inadvertently fell into language that risks proclaiming bad news—the talk that suggests the intrinsic value in the object of love. This preacher did not go so far as to say it, but I've heard the following in sermons and read it in books by respectable evangelicals: "You are unique and valuable. You were worth so much to God that he was willing to die to redeem you, so you could be in his family." And this: "We are worth the price God paid for us, the death of his Son."
But of course this gets it exactly backwards. Unfortunately, in an attempt to convey the radical love of God, such well meaning Christians actually sabotage it.
For if we have some measure of intrinsic value to God, ...1