A few weeks ago Dave Johnson questioned our adherence to a gospel that does not call forth or expect transformation in our lives. In this post professor and blogger extraordinaire Scot McKnight continues the discussion. He contends that many of the problems facing the contemporary church can be traced to the individualistic gospel we preach. Both Johnson and McKnight will be featured presenters at the upcoming Spiritual Formation Forum in June.
When I was in high school, my youth pastor ? may his soul rest in peace ? opened his home to me and my girlfriend, Kris (now my wife). David King became our personal theologian and one thing that impressed me deeply at the time was this contention of his: he often contended in a rather robust manner that every problem that he encountered as a pastoral counselor could be traced to a "spiritual" problem.
Most of us would not agree with this conclusion, but many of us would contend that we do need to do more "systemic" analysis to find the underlying issues that give rise to many of the problems we now face in the Church. I'd like to suggest a significant underlying issue that gives rise to more than one problem today.
Because of some research I did on the "gospel" in the Bible, leading to a book called Embracing Grace, I have come to a conclusion not unlike that of David King: namely, when I see "problems" or "issues" in the Church, I often say to myself, "What kind of gospel would have been preached and responded to that would give rise to this kind of practice, problem, or theology?" At the bottom of lots of our problems is a "gospel" problem. Students of mine that grow up in Christians homes often admit to me that the gospel they grew up was this: Jesus came to die for my sins so I could go to heaven. This parody of the biblical gospel, I contend, is at the heart of many of our problems.
Example #1: We often hear pastors today wondering why Christians are not more committed to the local church and seem to have so little time for anything extra?
Example #2: We routinely are reminded that 11am on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of America's week.
Example #3: We often observe that there are far too many Christians who "have it together" with God but are "relationally a mess."
Example #4: Many evangelical Christians feel "most spiritual" when they are praying or reading the Bible and do not see their marriage relationship, their parent-child relationships, their sibling relationships, or their relationships with others ? in the Church and outside the Church ? as part of their "spirituality". Instead, those elements are at best "implications" of their relationship to God (which is the focus of spirituality) rather than central to that spirituality.
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