April 23, 2014

Why Isn’t The Gospel Front Page News?

historic_headlines.jpgFor more than thirty years, I’ve been reading our state denominational newspaper. While I don’t read every word, I usually spend 15 minutes or so taking in whatever interests me.

As I read that Baptist newspaper this week, I noticed something that strikes me as typical of how contemporary evangelicals see the Gospel and indicative of the problems we are experiencing.

For the vast majority of the times that I’ve read the front page of that paper, there’s been a featured story on some kind of evangelism event or method that either has been successful or should be successful if a church takes the risk and makes the effort. Having evangelism methodology on the front page is as predictable as aliens making the headlines in the Weekly World News.

What is featured?

Skateboard evangelism. Evangelism with illusions. Evangelism with cameras. Evangelism by gymnastics. Evangelism by music. Evangelism by feeding the poor. Church evangelism. Coffee shop evangelism. Small group evangelism. Crusade evangelism. Evangelism films. Evangelism by sports. Evangelism by preaching. Evangelism on the beach. Evangelism in traditional churches. Evangelism in non-traditional churches. Purpose driven evangelism. Puppet evangelism. Teen evangelism. Drama evangelism.

And so on. And on.

None of this particular bothers me, because I believe churches should be missional, wisely pragmatic, take risks, serve people, get outside the walls and care about the community. I’ve been encouraged many times by seeing what someone else was doing and realizing it was illuminating of how God wanted me to serve him in some way. Don’t throw me into the category of a pragmatic nay-sayer, because even with many, many questions about how methodology relates to the work of the Holy Spirit, I am spending my life serving, working and doing, not doing nothing and trusting the doctrine of election to do the work.

What does interest me is this: I’ve never seen- not in three decades of reading that newspaper- a significant front page examination of the question “What is the Gospel?” (I could be wrong, but the impression is one I’d wager is based on a consistent reality.)

Careful. I’m not saying that the Gospel isn’t ever mentioned. It is. I’m not saying that the Gospel isn’t at the heart of these evangelism events and methods. It is, though in varying measures.

I said I have never seen, in the pages of that particular publication, a significant examination of the question “What is the Gospel?”

I believe the reason for that absence of discussion about the Gospel is a kind of over-confidence about our understanding of the message of the Gospel and a kind of minimizing of the relationship between the content of the Gospel and how we do evangelism.

The over-confidence has come as evangelistic methods have crowded out the message that is communicated. My tradition of evangelicalism has a tendency to believe that God doesn’t particularly care about the content of evangelistic methods as long as they are well-motivated. The result, in my circles, tends toward an increasing ignorance of the essentials of the Gospel, and a kind of pride in that ignorance.

I’ve learned to not be surprised at the vapid content of many contemporary evangelistic talks, messages and content. I’m convinced that many professing believers don’t know the Gospel and really aren’t interested in knowing much about it, especially as compared to “life principles”. They believe a person can “accept Christ” or “get saved” with any kind of sincere nod towards a generic belief in “God.” (I’m quite convinced many people sitting under Gospel preaching and teaching won’t listen or take in what is said, because it seems like “boring doctrine.)

Many believe that the preacher can explain what needs to be known about the Gospel, or follow-up Bible studies will teach it, or it will show up in the right kind of worship songs. In my experience, none of those are dependably true.

The minimizing of the relationship between the Gospel message and evangelistic methodology is a result of the separation of theology and method that took place as early as the Second Great Awakening, but certainly arrived in the Southern Baptist Convention with the flowering of denominational programming in the post-war era.

The character of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, the sinfulness and depravity of human beings, the need to trust Christ and his work on the cross, the nature of faith; all of these are significant parts of the Gospel message that have major implications in evangelistic methods. The methods that have proliferated in my tradition- and that have been repeatedly featured in our state Baptist paper- show a growing, and disturbing minimizing of the gospel as content AND the gospel as the controlling reality in methodology.

We are seeing a growing number of younger evangelical leaders reassessing evangelism based on Biblical teaching, and particularly in view of what the Gospel itself is about. This is resulting in a long-overdue recognition of the problems that result from “decisionistic” methods and the masses of unconverted persons that take away some kind of assurance from these experiences.

There is nothing more important for the health of the church today than pastors, churches, leaders, young people and even children coming to a fresh understanding and appreciation of the Gospel. Until what we do is vitally and deeply rooted in what we believe and confess, evangelicalism- especially in my tradition- will increasingly become a movement of shallow pragmatists producing disciples without serious depth, love for God or commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Will I ever see our denominational leadership take the Gospel itself as important as methods from registering decisions? Frankly, I doubt it will happen in my lifetime, but I am hopeful that leaders of another generation will be unafraid of putting the Gospel in its proper place.

Comments

  1. One thing is because nobody is better presently this day in covering up the Gospel than the church. We say in one breath something like this (I heard it CONSTANTLY in my former denomination), “Going to church or doing things in church doesn’t mean you are saved (i.e. a Christian)”. I did it tons myself on so called “evangelism campaigns” in my former denomination. Then, and it hardly passes the laugh test, we say to someone, “Well I don’t know if he’s a Christian he/she so little attends church or infrequently or is so little involved or doesn’t constantly ‘express’ his faith.” (Like the way we weigh politicians as being Christians. Huh??? Ladies and gentlemen we need to stop fooling ourselves, American protestants are in fact by in large functioning Roman Catholics. And we communicate that all the time. When I speak to people in general, non-Christians out there and they answer what is Christianity, its some form of moralism or ‘get better’ religion utterly indistinguishable from ANY other religion on the face of the earth.

    In the denominational circles I (and my wife and friends I know) grew up in and around, looking back at the age of 42, this is how ‘evangelism’ has lost, and I mean lost, the Gospel today: The emphasis of the message shifted sometime in the past to constantly on evangelism and missions. Let me say lest I be heard wrong, nothing wrong with these, in fact it’s absolutely necessary and a privileged joy. However, it’s the inversion that actually kills what it is seeking to do. The emphasis was put upon these “works” and the evangel itself began to slowly take a back seat. It’s key here that one understand that the Gospel at this point is never actually denied, it’s just implied or assumed. Slowly over time our former evangel proclaiming churches (SB) shifted to “evangelism and missions” proclaiming churches with an assumed Gospel, rather than a Gospel proclaiming church that assumes the evangel will drive the boat. The shift is so subtle as to be imperceptible, it sounds right and good, after all its evangelism and mission. But this is one way the devil actually covers the Gospel back up and it’s an insidious thing using an otherwise good thing to deceive. However, as the shift of decentralizing and maintaining as the highest the Gospel itself gave way to “gospelism”, the work and effort, the evangel itself was/is slowly lost. Some at this appoint would accuse, “You just don’t care about evangelism or missions”. To the contrary that’s why we clarify the message, because clarifying the message is giving the very message itself, it’s giving the Good Message made clear and giving the Good Message is the very essence of evangelism or Good News proclaiming, NOT proclaiming and calling for evangelism itself.

    The repercussions of this we’ve seen, and my wife grew up with it as to where I turned atheist for most of my life, range the whole extent from legalisms to licentious church spirituality, to a mixture of both and/or a tug of war between the two battling for “what’s wrong with the church” and “what’s the fix”, depending upon the local church cult.

    By flip flopping and making “evangelism” the “real” message of the church and assuming the Gospel, the evangelism done is not what it sets out to be. My wife was actually once told that the continual message that should basically be weaved into the sermon and hooked with a given text constantly or at least the most frequent reoccurrence is “missions” (not Law and Gospel mind you) because “if we don’t people will not do it.” That’s just rank stupidity to the Word and what is the real power. I’ve found that to be entirely wrong. In fact at length that will either deny the Gospel and/or kill missions and evangelism. If one really wants evangelism and missions, then proclaim the Gospel in all its rich and sweetness in Word and Sacrament EVERY single Lord’s day from the text and it will beget itself for it cannot be held back. IT and IT alone begets and feeds faith and faith ALONE, which focuses ON the Gospel alone, produces the fruits. Every time one “rehears” and receives again for one’s sinful flesh the sweetness of the Gospel, Christ for me, seeing the shadows of Christ in the OT or NT proclamations of the reality in some way one never heard before, God’s Word comes alive when the Gospel comes to one in Word and Sacrament, and one cannot help but share it with other folks. It’s good news for goodness sake, its hard not to express it when it hits home again. You cannot keep good news in. It creates its self, it literally is the power of God. It seems that the thing that continually drives men to dangerous missions, at least historically, is that very message. The only thing, it seems to me as a layperson, that would keep pastor’s going week to week in the normally drudgery of life, those who are actually proclaiming the Gospel, is surely not all the troubles he’s dealing with in a congregation packed to the hilt with sinners, including himself, but, the JOY of the message being proclaimed. Churches will grow and shrink, and the church will by in large SUFFER here and now, NOT be victorious as men measure such, but the joy is in the message, the Good News. As for missions, if God is for me in Christ and I’m sure (assurance) of that and continually reassured receiving the Good News in Word and Sacrament, then fear is driven out. But if one inverts and emphasizes doing something, even missions, over the Gospel itself, works, implying that ‘you must be doing/proving this to be a Christian’, then it is just fear or reward driving everything and everything is done begrudgingly, because “a real Christian would be doing this and doing it with full desire to do so”. And as Luther said if fear of punishment or hope of reward is really all you have as a Christian, you have not been converted. The only way to fully desire and love doing these things is to have the Gospel itself and this must be given constantly to refresh us. The command to ‘have joy’ has absolutely no power in it. In fact its law again and will drive to despair so “trying” to have joy. BUT, hearing Christ FOR ME, by the power Paul spoke of, that sweet Good News, joy overflows the heart of the believer…it cannot but do so. And we see how the Gospel, Jesus Christ, once again fulfills ALL commands…ALL of them for us.

    It’s hard to nail them down. Why? Because all the right formulas like, “justification by faith alone” and “you cannot work your way to heaven”, are basically affirmed in so many words disjointedly though. None of the churches I’ve belonged to in the past out right denied the Gospel, in fact they would affirm everything vehemently if asked and would be offended if one implied otherwise. However, in overall church function, life and works, they are already denying the Gospel by implication that “the real Christian will be doing ”. This is what James was really getting at in his epistle. That a congregation could affirm with great accuracy the faith by mouth, but the actions surrounding that person or group is really saying something else by action and life. James’ epistle is not a whip to works but a statement about what real faith looks like and what the flesh (dead faith) looks like. He wasn’t setting forth a laundry list of ‘good works’, laundry listers don’t understand real good works that’s why they “make a list”. Saving faith doesn’t work like that. So, a church may affirm very adamantly, justification by grace alone through faith alone, but then turn around and start subtly measuring its people by the Law and local church yard laws, the local church cult, “a real Christian would…”, “I wonder if he/she is a Christian because they don’t do or do do xyz”, “the more spiritual Christians are here every day the doors are open, while the others are just ‘pew sitters’”, “yes drinking wine/beer is not a sin but the more spiritual Christian,” and so forth. When we do this we say with our mouths that a Christian = justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ’s finished work alone, but in actions we are more loudly and more clearly proclaiming that a Christian = those attending to ‘this’ list of laws I’ve/we’ve put together. I once asked my wife, “Who of two Christians is portraying the reality of Gospel by their outward motions and works more? Is it the garbage man restfully and joyfully doing his calling or the panic stricken busy body working in the church yard all the time thinking ministry is mostly if not only these good works? Who portrays very boldly a man trusting in Christ alone and who is portraying that Christ is not nearly enough?”

    However, it’s exactly like Luther once said when he said that “I’m not against good works, I’m trying to show you where they really, truly and only and singularly come from” – “many will talk much about good works and faith and know nothing of either” (paraphrased). That’s the church, denomination or similar grouping of congregations that professes in confessions “justification by grace alone” but in church life gives a VERY, VERY, VERY different message…in fact another gospel altogether that is cursed. They talk a lot about these two things, faith and good works, but have inverted them by continually assuming the Gospel and continually proclaiming works rather than continually proclaiming the Gospel (in Word and Sacrament) and continually assuming the good works will come by God’s hand as HE promises to do in HIS Gospel. When we do this we have lost both faith and good works, though much is being done and much blabber about them is cast about. But its all vain and the religion of the world under “Christian” categories and names and NOT the religion of the Cross.

    Blessings,

    Larry KY

  2. Would you be willing to point me in the direction of some books where I could read about how the whole Bible points to Jesus? I think this is a great idea, but I’ve only heard it from you and a few other select places. I’d like to be able to read up on concrete ways this is exhibited in different books of the Bible. Thank you very much for anything you can offer!

  3. Anything by Graeme Goldsworthy, esp According to Plan, gospel Centered Hermeneutics and Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture.

  4. Eugenia Chang says:

    Amen. We are in desperate need of a movement within the church that brings people back to the gospel. This lack of understanding and interest in the gospel (other than within the context of evangelism efforts) results in a lot of confusion about Christianity for believers — there’s no focus whatsoever. The spiritual health of the church is at stake.

  5. Good points in Evangelicalâ„¢ circles the Gospel is actually just kinda assumed. Maybe it’s because there’s a hang-over from when most people (Church-going, non-Church going, even from other religions) knew the basics of the Christian Gospel because of the Christian gild on the culture. Or maybe because it’s because folks in Church are too embarrassed to let people know that they have no idea what the Gospel is or even how it links to the rest of the Biblical Story. I dunno, but what ends up happening is that the “Gospel” is communicated by a “whisper down the lane” process in which the end result has no grounding in coherence, history, or the Biblical narrative.

    Compounding the problem, though, are people who try to buck this trend by dictating the “True Gospel” to people – even those who aren’t playing whisper down the lane. In those circles the question, “What is the Gospel?” isn’t asked either, because “we already know what the Gospel is.” And so, instead of an informed conversation with Scripture and the great cloud of witnesses we end up with litmus tests like, “Do you define the Gospel as penal substitutionary atonement?” Answer wrongly, and you get obliterated.

    I guess the second might be better than the first – at least people are caring about doctrine – but it ain’t by much.

  6. Well, over here a vague belief in God will not suffice to get into most Evangelical (including Baptist) churches; at the very least a profession of faith in Jesus as the Son of God who came and died for my sins would be expected.

    But there is very litte teaching beyond this point, instead church services and Bible studies etc. are all viewed as evangelistic opportunities and tools; even weddings and funerals are viewed in this light.

    When one laments this fact one is frequently told that knowledge and understanding does not save anyone, and that the growth of believers should be left to God — or task is evangelism.

    That is why most Evangelicals in Germany and Austria leave subjects such as abortion or other social evils to the Catholics; that is why absolutely anything Christians do *as Christians* is evaluated on the basis of how it contributes to evangelism — whether it is political involvement or works of mercy, whatever.

    When Christian parents (mostly Germans from Russia) who are concerned for the spiritual wellbeing of their children keep them from the public schools and insist on home schooling, which in Germany is illegal, most churches do not come to their aid but rather are quick to distance themselves from these, lest they get tainted with the fundamentalism brush which will make evangelism more difficult.

    When, a few years ago here in Austria, a primary school teacher was suspended from her job after a new age practitioner among the parents of her class had complained that she talked to the children about God, most Evangelical leaders in my country, rather than coming to her defense, distanced themselves by pointing out that she attended one of the more “extreme” charismatic churches. Showing solidarity with her would have got them labelled as fundamentalist and “sectarian” and that would have made evangelism more difficult.

    Thus everything is subordinated to evangelism rather than to the Evangel and it’s principles of love.

  7. Is the problem at least in part because we’re not sure why the Gospel is “good news” in the first place? Willard talks about that all through his book, The Divine Conspiracy.

  8. Graeme Goldsworthy is great. Edmond Clowney is another.

    But in paradigm reading Martin Luther and really digesting what he’s saying, I’d start with his HD that draws out the difference between a theology of Glory (fallen religion by ANY name, even biblical or “christian”) versus theology of Cross. The best on that is Gerharde Forde’s “On Being A Theologian of the Cross”, you’ll never stop chewing on this small treatment of Luther’s HD. That’s when you begin to see Christ more and more in the text without direct mention. Rather than “what do we do” to “what did Jesus DO”. Luther drew this not from his imagination but from Scripture. As long as one reads the Bible as a prescription book and not seeing Christ in it – it will be closed to one.

    E.g. all of us see some of the obvious OT types and shadows like Gen. 3:15 where God’s seed will be bruised on the heel crushing the head, killing, of Satan. That type and shadow of Christ is throughout the OT so that we can see Christ again for example in Joshua. After Joshua (type and shadow of Christ) and Israel (type and shadow of Christ) take over all the land and kill all the kings of the promised land he has Israel (type and shadow of Christ) put their foot on the necks of the dead kings, who where just “hung on a tree” and “cursed of God” (he who hangs on a tree…). But the paradox of the Cross is this, while that shows the head of the serpent (kings of this fallen world and as such under Satan and their various kingdoms) being crushed, Israel’s (type and shadow of Christ) foot on their necks having been just accursed of God by defeat and hanging on the tree – It will be Jesus, the King of the kingdom of God coming and dawning, that will ‘hang on the tree’ (the Cross) taking the curse of God for His people. By this great paradox He will “crush the head of the serpent” and gain victory, but it looks like losing. The physical promise land is of course a type and shadow of the real kingdom of God, heaven, the city of God now dawning in part and will consummate at the second advent. The whole book of Joshua is pregnant with type and shadow of Christ or Christ in all of Scripture to put it another way. The Israelites actually killing ALL the kings of Canaan (fallen man’s city, Satan’s rule, fallen religion, etc…) in the promise land (earthly) are felled by Israel (type and shadow of Christ) and Joshua (type and shadow of Christ) and do inherent the land (type and shadow of the kingdom coming and to come even today inaugurated at Calvary): THIS portrays the resurrection, yet to come, even for us at the second coming of Jesus our king.

    I’m mean the WHOLE bible is about Christ, every part of it. It is so rich in Christ for us the more I read it the more faith is built. I use to read it and never find comfort, but now!

    When the proverbs speak they are speaking mainly that Christ alone has done them, the embodiment of them for us. The Psalms literally cry out Jesus in so many ways there’s hardly time to type it here.

    I’d start with Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, particularly Forde’s short but packed treatment of it. It really diagnoses the issue of the two religions in the world so that one really will see what sin really is and what grace really is. Then I’d move on to some other books. One really has to begin to grasp the problem we ALL have in reading the bible as an instruction or prescription book rather than Christ in all of Scripture. Because Jesus says it’s all about Him.

    I could wax on this all day long its so exciting! But this is Michael’s blog and I have a tendency to go long, too long most times!

    Blessings,

    Larry KY

  9. Caplight,

    I’d say yes and to bring that full tilt it is because the Law itself is not brought to bear in full swing such that the conscience of the hearer doesn’t hear his/her real need. In short if ‘I can still DO something’ then the Gospel is not that good to me, rather the gospel + me is what I think I need. As long as pastors preach law light or local church cult law, the house rules, then the gospel is not that good to you.

    If one doesn’t see that from nature one is condemned whether you do external good or bad, then the Gospel is meaningless. One must be brought to see that God is not turned toward our doing, before or after conversion. The love of God, unlike man’s false love, CALLS INTO BEING that which it will love. That is it loves the unlovable and is creative in power. This is the Gospel. The love of man COMES INTO BEING by the object it seeks out, that is it only “loves” the lovable thing it seeks out. So man loves only “good works” and creates for itself an idol called “God” when it thinks God too is so moved, but this is really an idol. An idol that says in a sense, “If I were God, this is what I’d love, approve of, and shower blessing upon”, those who only do “good works” as I see them. But God says, “Here is My Son, I love the world in THIS way, HERE is MY Son Crucified for you Who are unlovable in ANY sense of the Word.”

    Thus, as Luther rightly points out God shows Himself to be true Creator AT the Cross by calling into being that which is not, faith from the dead to God.

    If the Law is not being preached in a killing way to ALL false saints and open sinners then its not THE Law. But just mindless ranting and foolish hellfire babbling. IF the Law is not preached such that ALL loop holes are closed to EVERY single hearer, then you have NOT heard the Law. If you can find “wiggle room” you have not heard the Law. And if you’ve not really heard the Law, air tight Law, killing Law, THEN the Good News will not really be GOOD news.

    Finally, the Good News is only Good News if you have both Christ dying FOR your sins and giving you all righteousness such that literally NOTHING is left for you to do. If your Gospel has never garnered the accusation of “antinomianism”, then you’ve not preached the Gospel at all (Loyd Jones recognized this).

    Pure Law and Pure Gospel. But this is counter intuitive to the reason of the natural man, the folly of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. It is weak to the natural “getting better” try harder systems out there, but the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of man.

    L

  10. Look, take anything I say with a grain of salt the size of a VW Rabbit if you like, but the thing that Larry KY observed –

    “When I speak to people in general, non-Christians out there and they answer what is Christianity, its some form of moralism or ‘get better’ religion utterly indistinguishable from ANY other religion on the face of the earth.”

    – is the inevitable result of a theology that puts its emphasis on “getting saved,” meaning gaining entrance to heaven and escaping hell.

    (1) Christians far and wide make it their mission to lead people to “get saved,” and make all manner of noise about it. Tracts everywhere. (2) The missional target, having heard the call, looks at the church, attempting to discern what differentiates those inside (those who claim to be “heaven-bound”) from those outside, and sees that they clearly put great stock in living a different sort of life (and, depending on whom they observe, see the different life either lived with integrity or gestured to hypocritically). (3) The conclusion is reached. (4) The finer details — how accepting the sacrifice of Jesus as payment for one’s own sins leads to a desire to live a life doing God’s will, not the other way around — are not heard because Christians can’t agree on the basics and can’t agree to disagree (Calvinism vs Arminianism, Catholics vs Protestants, filioque clause, etc) but instead all insist on acting like they’ve got it figured out and their Christian brethren are wrong. Oh, and when large numbers of us do agree, we still don’t get the message out because it won’t fit on a t-shirt.

    I’m seriously beginning to wonder if the modern Christian emphasis on “getting to heaven” isn’t a large part of the problem. The reality of Matthew 7:21-23 spits in the face of “promises of assurance” anyway, doesn’t it? Why can’t we just do the will of God without having a guarantee that it’s going to get us on the plane without the snakes? Seems to me that once we do that, our worship will finally stop being about us and start being about God.

  11. Jay,

    That’s not at all a bad point, in fact it’s a great one. One of the things lost is the concept of simul Justus et peccator which is just a $50 Latin phrase for simultaneously just and sinner. Now most would say “yes” to this but mean 50%/50% or some divvying up of 100%. But what is missed is that simultaneousness is 100% and 100%. This is why Paul for example saw himself MORE the sinner as his life progressed.

    The ole “he needs to get saved” crap that me and my wife separately grew up around was always in this light: Such and such a person in the town/area has a pretty rough life style, maybe he/she is divorced several times, out of wedlock kids, any number of the “negative sins”. In polite “Christian” conversation (I use the brackets because its not Christian) some brilliant genius pipes up, “He/she just needs to ‘get saved’”. Meaning primarily if not only, morally improved by some form of conversion (false conversion in reality, a twice the son of hell as Jesus put it). But that type of Christian that says that just really doesn’t see their need. They are confounded if told, “You know your good polished works will send you to hell”. They are confounded if you say, “the man of real faith really NEVER concerns himself about his works but finds it sufficient that he suffer by faith so that the Cross is all the more to him and he dies all the more.” They REALLY don’t understand that “dying to self” means “trying to sanctify or make assured myself by my religious doings”. Luther captured it well when he said that he meant that to be a Christian was to bring a halt to all “getting better” programs. Because those indulging themselves in such “getting better programs” are really the apex of sinful flesh. For they ONLY do good works to ultimately and selfishly (the heart of sin) make improvement upon themselves. See only Christ could give of Himself without any gain to Himself for He was not in a state of sin.

    E.g. Say you have a person who is outwardly humble and he gives and gives and gives of himself. But then you face him up with it, the Law, and you make him see that all he does is nothing but sin, God will not accept it at all and all he procures to his lot is really robbing glory from God. He then begins to fume and rage over this with you, but really God, and is utterly repulsed that alllll he did, does and will due gains nothing at all. In fact he’s all the more damned for it, worse it bears witness to his martyrdom to perdition. Then you begin to see his hidden flesh’s intent, he only did this to save, sanctify or assure himself of heaven. He never REALLY did it altruistically for his neighbor, the heart of the second part of the Law, but for himself. Once the reward is removed from it and in fact the punishment for it is given, he reveals the evil intent of his heart. But what is annexed to his account is his hearts intent, not the outward good work. The outward good work is merely the Law of God still yielding good in spite of the heart of the instrument, man, doing it selfishly. The Law of God still yields a common grace to men, even though men attempt to selfishly annex merit to themselves by it. So, a double damnation is seen and the heart of fallen man is truly revealed for he takes the good of the Law and seeks to gain merit for himself by it – the Law is altruistic in its very nature and so operates. However, in the hand of us merit mongers and god makers of ourselves, we take an altruistic love and turn it into a selfish operation for ourselves. Keep in mind that “what we do” in our various callings in life (worker, husband, wife, son, daughter, candlestick maker, etc…) IS the physical manifestation of the Law. That is the offices we hold, our callings and all are godly calling assuming legitimate. Yet, within that very calling we procure for ourselves merit toward God.

    The thing that keeps man from free grace, truly, is nothing more than this very thing, man naturally fallen cannot ascend to accept free grace, man is always trying to “do” for himself. And in this paradigm the most dangerous works are the “highest looking” most “good works”. Nothing wrong with the works themselves, it’s the Law. But it’s the glory of the BEST of them that is dangerous to us and MOST keeps us from Christ alone. No man will dare say, “By murdering a man I deserve reward/heaven”, but MANY men can and do think in their hearts, “I’m doing a GREAT work, this church yard duty”. This is why some of the works held highest are always for example evangelism and mission (again nothing wrong with these). But the glory given to these only by men and not to say the garbage man or fast food cook show our bewitchment to works over Christ crucified. Few really believe or know that the later are just a glorious to God. Its one of the reasons the European reformers could say that all the angels of heaven sing when the father changes their babies diaper for it is such a great good work (this is James’ point by the way). Why? Because that’s not a ‘gloriously’ viewed work by men in juxtaposition with being a doctor or missionary. But the cheering in heaven comes from the fact that such a man is REALLY and truly exercising LIVING faith as opposed to dead pretend faith. For only such faith DARE to just do what is before its hands for the neighbor, the baby in this case, a work that is not glorious in the eyes of men.

    Christianity at its hear is not a move from immorality to morality, but a move from morality to grace. And what is lost in the “get saved” notion is that THIS is a continuous thing in the Christian life. Faith by its very definition and nature, true living saving faith, lay in the constant tension of trusting while it does not realize what it trusts in. In a sense in this life with the flesh STILL here, our sins and struggles with them are a kind of alien blessing to us, a thorn in the flesh. Because they constantly keep us reminded that the life we live today we live PURELY by faith, trust, in Christ Who died and gave himself for me. AND NOT my improvement, which is deadly and against faith.

    If you are ever around a person or group that’s into any form of “self improvement” scheme in the church you will note one thing well about their conversation. They NEVER cease to speak of themselves, either their so called conviction of sins and need to do better. And what is this but giving fame, glory, to themselves. Christians ought to be notable as to their speech of Christ and His sufficiency, HIS fame/glory, not one’s self. But we speak of that which we desire to make most famous or glorious do we not.

    Larry KY

  12. Keepin’ the Gospel on the front page:

    here

    Yet if we now turn once more to the Gospel, we realize that the Lord is not speaking merely of a few individuals and their specific task; the essence of what he says applies to everyone. The heart of the matter he expresses elsewhere in these words: “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Lk 9:24f.). Whoever wants to keep his life just for himself will lose it. Only by giving ourselves do we receive our life. In other words: only the one who loves discovers life. And love always demands going out of oneself, it demands leaving oneself. Anyone who looks just to himself, who wants the other only for himself, will lose both himself and the other. Without this profound losing of oneself, there is no life. The restless craving for life, so widespread among people today, leads to the barrenness of a lost life. “Whoever loses his life for my sake … ”, says the Lord: a radical letting-go of our self is only possible if in the process we end up, not by falling into the void, but into the hands of Love eternal. Only the love of God, who loses himself for us and gives himself to us, makes it possible for us also to become free, to let go, and so truly to find life. This is the heart of what the Lord wants to say to us in the seemingly hard words of this Sunday’s Gospel. With his teaching he gives us the certainty that we can build on his love, the love of the incarnate God. Recognition of this is the wisdom of which today’s reading speaks. Once again, we find that all the world’s learning profits us nothing unless we learn to live, unless we discover what truly matters in life.

  13. Otherwise, the Gospel becomes nothing more than the Amway product allegedly being sold by the “save souls who then save more souls who then save more souls” Wretched Urgency pyramid scheme.

    Then comes the one-upmanship over who has Saved More Souls, i.e. who has the most notches on their Bible…

    (Also, what is this about “Saving Souls”? Isn’t the Christian afterlife supposed to be Resurrection of the BODY? That a detached soul is somehow incomplete until it gets its body back on the Last Day?)

  14. One of the best ways I’ve heard it and is the heart of Luther was this concerning the Gospel:

    The Gospel is not that Christ was born, that He died, or even that He rose on the third day. We can talk all day about all the wonderful, amazing, miraculous things that Jesus did and does today – and it still wouldn’t be the Gospel. The Gospel is the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified FOR YOU. The Gospel is in the FOR YOU. Everything that Jesus did, He did FOR YOU!

  15. Comment from one of the threads in Slacktivist’s page-by-page Left Behind review that might have some bearing on “Wretched Urgency” Evangelism monomania. Taken at face value and in isolation, Wretched Urgency/Walk the Aisle uber Alles is absurd:

    And you’ve totally put your finger on the manner in which LB theology is bankrupt. LaHaye & Jenkins would have us believe that the entire message of Christianity is “say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and you’ll go to heaven when you die or when Jesus beams you up,” and all Christians are supposed to do BEFORE they die or Jesus beams them up is tell everyone that they need to say the “sinner’s prayer” before they die or Jesus beams them up. Makes you wonder why God bothered to create the universe at all, let alone call it good, if this life is nothing but a kind of dress rehearsal for at best or demonic distraction at worst from the next life. — Sarah Dylan Breuer

    It takes God, Christ, and the Cosmos (which God said “was good”) and turns it all into a single sound bite. You’re going to lose something in the condensation.

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