Monday, March 16, 2020

Anonymous Asks (84)

“Does Christianity need to develop a new gospel adapted to today’s world?”

If the Christian faith was merely the invention of man, and if Christians were permitted to market it to the world in whatever way seems like it might work best, this could be a good idea. After all, brands grow stale over time and need to be refreshed. And in a consumer world, it’s whatever makes the sale for you. The customer is always right.

In this case, however, the “customer” is going to hell.

A Non-Negotiable Gospel

We can’t let the world dictate the content of the gospel because that content is not negotiable. The faith was once for all delivered to the saints. No updates are required. The gospel is not something we may modify in ways that please us; it is something we must contend for as it stands. Jesus told his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations ... teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” That sounds very much like the gospel curriculum is already fully developed and needs nothing from us to make it do what it was designed to do.

So, no, we can’t develop a new gospel. The apostle Paul condemns the Corinthians for accepting a “different gospel”. To the Galatians, he says, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Again, to the Corinthians, he says, “Now I would remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you.” That gospel is full of non-negotiable elements: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,” and so on.

The gospel is what it is. The content cannot change, and we are not faithful witnesses to Christ when we presume to meddle with what it says. “Hold fast to the word.” That’s the teaching of the New Testament, and we are wise to hear it.

A Negotiable Method of Delivery

Now, that said, while we are not free to change the content of the gospel, there is real wisdom in seeking to express the good news of salvation in language each generation can process and grasp. Perhaps this is what today’s question is really getting at. There is little value in trying to reach a modern audience using evangelical jargon, antiquated expressions or heavily-theological terminology our audience isn’t equipped to understand.

I walked past a street preacher a few weeks ago in a major American city barking through a loudspeaker about the need to be bathed in the blood of Christ. I have no doubt he meant well, and was trying to be faithful to the gospel as he understood it, but his message was not communicating. In stark contrast, an hour later when I passed the same street corner, someone had put on a recording of the gospel of John, read clearly and expressively in a modern translation. The core message was the same, but the difference in tone (and response) was palpable.

So then, we cannot let our audience dictate the message they receive, but we also cannot effectively present the gospel if we are not listening to each generation to discern what its real needs are, and then attempting to meet them. Christ is the answer to every one of those needs, but we will not know which aspect of the gospel to major on in any particular witnessing opportunity unless we are able to really put ourselves in the shoes of those listening to it for the first time.

The Role of the Individual

This is where each individual believer becomes very important. It is not impossible that the fellow bellowing on the street is reaching someone. We can’t totally rule that out. People are different, and maybe a blood-and-thunder approach will touch the occasional heart. Others need something else entirely. Perhaps they need to see the love of Jesus modeled in a practical way. Perhaps they need a basic intellectual understanding of sin, righteousness and judgment. Perhaps they need to see the Christian faith in contrast to the religious beliefs they have grown up with and which pale by comparison. Perhaps they need hope in what has become for them a hopeless world.

What is important in taking our faith to the world is that we be authentic. We can’t be simply mouthing someone else’s words, though that is often all too easy. We need to understand what those words mean, and then express them lovingly and truthfully as best we are able in the context of our own lives and experience. “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did,” said the woman from Samaria. “Can this be the Christ?” All she did was ask the question. But “they went out of the town and were coming to him.”

A New Product?

Does Christianity need a new product to pitch to the world? Not at all. God understands the deepest desires of the human heart far better than we do, and we cannot improve on the teaching of Christ as explained by the apostles.

What we can do is make very sure that our chosen method of delivery is not getting in the way of the message.

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