Why We're Rethinking the Gospel
The desire to reach out and a new focus on spiritual formation are changing the way we preach the gospel.

Our friends over at Preaching Today have launched a new series on preaching the gospel. They're asking, "Is our gospel too small, or is it too big?" and "What does it mean to preach the gospel in today's culture." They've begun with an interview with Leadership's own Skye Jethani. Below is an excerpt. You can read the entire interview here.

Preaching Today: A number of Christian authors, pastors, and theologians are raising critical questions about our understanding of the nature of the gospel. What do you think has stirred such passion?

Skye Jethani: A lot of passion has been fueled by the angst produced from conversations about how to reach younger, postmodern generations. Two schools of thought emerged from the beginning. One group opted for the conservative approach: we just need to be more relevant, repackaging the same gospel message in a manner or style that's going to be appealing to the next generation. Another group insisted the church needed to go deeper than repackaging the content. They felt we needed to rethink the content. A lot of today's conversations about the gospel were born out of the early tension between the two schools of thought.

Our gospel arsenal is a lot bigger than it used to be. We can choose to preach the Good News from a number of different angles, according to the audience we've been given.These two groups were not unlike the two groups that formed during the modernist/fundamentalist split that happened a hundred years ago. Think about the massive cultural changes that were going on: Darwinism, Marxism, textual criticism of the Bible, psychology. Many Christians looked at that tangled mess and concluded they needed to adjust the gospel. In doing so they ended up forming mainline, liberal theology. The fundamentalists among them said, "I don't care what's happening to the culture. The gospel's the gospel, and we're not changing it!"

It's quite similar today. One side prides themselves on not changing the gospel but only the style in which it is preached. In their eyes, anyone who adjusts their perspective on the gospel represents a new liberalism. The other side responds with a certain degree of disdain over what they feel is stodgy fundamentalism blind to its own modernist bias.

Another factor that explains why we're currently engaged in gospel-oriented conversations is the revival of interest in spiritual formation. Decades ago, Richard Foster and others at Renovar? were not asking, "How do we reach younger generations?" They were asking questions like: "Why aren't we seeing Christians living in Christ-like ways?" "Why is the church so culturally captivated?" "If we've been preaching the gospel all these years, why aren't we seeing much change in people?" Their conclusion was that we had been preaching a limited gospel - one that didn't bring about radical transformation. Foster and others were questioning whether or not we were preaching a gospel of transformation for the here and now and not just for life after death.

Read the full interview at PreachingToday.com.

May 27, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 18 comments

Chris

May 30, 2008  3:48pm

The "Way of the Master" ministry has come to a similar conclusion ("Hell's Best Kept Secret," as they call it). And I think Melody touched on some similar points above. WotM asserts that the Gospel without the Law is like thread without a needle, but I prefer to say the same thing with a different analogy: The law is the wrecking ball for incompetent structures, while Jesus is the Engineer who will lay the new foundation and the Gospel is his blueprint. There are probably many ways to say that, but the point is that the Gospel is useless and inappropriate if the Law doesn't precede it. And that is, as I see it, the difference between the Church's currently predominant message and the whole of the New Testament.

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Dick Merner

May 30, 2008  9:36am

If the concept of a triune God doesn't fit with your experience of the real world, maybe this will help. we know that water exists as ice and liquid and vapor and we also know that that at the triple point they become one substance. In Hia creation He showed that all three forms can become one.

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len

May 29, 2008  5:47pm

Melody, I agree partially with your assessment. And I even agree partially with your critique of "relevantism" ;) It's true that some of the call to reassess the gospel is driven by cultural change. It's equally true that some of the call is driven by God. It seems he has a genuine interest in culture, and sometimes we have to change in order to stay the same. But here I am putting the emphasis on God's initiative in helping us disembed the gospel from the dying culture so we can understand it afresh.

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len

May 29, 2008  5:43pm

Two quotes come to mind Nathan. First, Brueggemann: "For Ezra, as for Moses, new church starts do not aim at strategies for success, but at strategies for survival of an alternative community. What must survive is not simply the physical community; what must survive is an alternative community." Second, Lohfink: "It can only be that God begins in a small way, at one single place in the world. There must be a place.. Visible, tangible..where the salvation of the world may begin: that is, where the world becomes what it is supposed to be according to God's plan. Beginning at that place, the new thing can spread abroad. All must have the chance to behold and test this new thing. Then, if they want to, they can allow themselves to be drawn into the story of salvation God is creating. Only in that way is freedom preserved."

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Bob

May 29, 2008  10:40am

To ericpo, Huh? Are you saying we don't know anything? Do we not "have the mind of Christ"? To Melody, Bravo!

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Melody

May 28, 2008  6:07pm

Skye says: "These two groups were not unlike the two groups that formed during the modernist/fundamentalist split that happened a hundred years ago... Many Christians looked at that tangled mess and concluded they needed to adjust the gospel. In doing so they ended up forming mainline, liberal theology. The fundamentalists among them said, "I don't care what's happening to the culture. The gospel's the gospel, and we're not changing it!"" Interestingly, the mainline liberal churches spent the next 50+ years in a death spiral which continues to this day. They took the core truth out of their theology and had nothing left to offer. No wonder people left in droves. The fundamentalists were so put-off by this that they decided not only to embrace core truth but to embelish it with various forms of legalism which in some cases created a new group of 'works' added to grace. Along come the new 'evangelicals' to fill the void and the gospel spread like wildfire. And here we are a hundred years later with another culture shift and the same thing happening again. This time the 'evangelicals' are splitting because a new generation of them (born into it rather than born-again) want to "adjust" the gospel to be culturally relevant. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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ericpo

May 28, 2008  5:57pm

As I have read this string I cannot help but wonder at our own blindness. We speak of God in very technical language awashed in institutional praxis. We are theologians adrift on an cloud casting judgement on others who fail to read the bible the way we would like us to. What if we are all wrong? What if the answer is yes and.... What if we are all right? Are we confident enough in our God and are we confident enough in our baptism to challenge our prejudices? Have we made Word our crutch? Have we Spirit the scapegoat for enforcement of institutional dogma. Wesley discussed viewing Christ the experience, tradition, reason, and scripture. It is a balance. Have we become so unbalanced that we won't accept Christ but on our very narrow terms. What if God doesn't work that way?

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Bob

May 28, 2008  2:32pm

Hummm.... the following comes to mind. "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." The gospel that Paul preached was: "...repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." So unless you are not for verbal inspiration of scripture, there is no argument.

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Mac

May 28, 2008  1:12pm

I am a product of the Gospel. It was a light that revealed the darkness that controled my life. When I belived the message of the Gopsel and accepted Jesus and surrender my life to him a change began to take place in my Mind and Heart which began to affect my way of living and believing, I think this is what transformation is about, Rom. 12:2. I soon found that I loved God and was thnakful for what he had done in my life and what he promised to continue to do if I trusted in him. This Transformation is a continuing work that goes on and will continue as long as I believe in the Jesus of the Gospel and by his grace continue to stive to walk in his will, and be lead by his spirit. Phil. 1:6 The Power of the Gospel is something you cannot understand by just reading it or watching other people, you have to accept it and experience it for yourself and then you will be able to understand why hundreds of thousands of men and women have given their lives to defend this eternal message and truth.

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Todd Burus

May 28, 2008  12:03pm

I think that J.D Greear of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C. handled this question well in his sermon from this past week. I suggest that anyone interested give it a listen.

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