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Entries in Gospel (6)


Toxic preaching that confuses and wounds

"Christianity is not about how good we are, but how good God is." 

Are we sure about that?  [Even raising the question sounds heretical, doesn't it?]  As my friend Mike cautions, "Don't poke the bear..."  But what if the answer to the question is:  It depends on who the "we" is, in that statement. 

Part of the problem with preaching today is that it often has to be addressed to a large, diverse crowd, some of whom buy into the teaching of Jesus and some who are cautiously investigating.  The speaker/preacher ends up delivering a broad, cast-a-wide-net message that isn't oriented to any particular segment of the crowd [and ends up confusing everybody], or ends up covertly addressing the "unbeliever" in an attempt to evangelize them, though he appears to be addressing everybody.  [I used to be in that very position, so I understand the complexities.]

However, to preach or teach and not be clear with the crowd exactly to whom you are speaking [especially when making a statement like the one above] can have a bewildering and injurious effect.

For example, the above claim that:  "Christianity is not about how good we are, but about how good God is"  is true, but requires a clear caveat.  If you're a Christian who hears that statement, you might assume that your heart [your true nature] remains selfish and sinful --because it's not about "how good we are," according to that statement. 

This would in fact, be untrue and unbiblical for the Christian to believe.  The idea that the human heart is desperately wicked is true -- prior to a person entering the 'in-Christ' life.  After Jesus enters the person, he or she has a supernaturally and thoroughly-pure heart [true nature].  This is the classic notion of regeneration.

You can image the confusion many Christians have felt when hearing statements that are non-specific and unclarified like this.  The affect of such an unthoughtul approach to preaching (and a misunderstanding of Jesus' rescuing of the heart] leaves many who are technically free, but functionally bound, like Lazarus:  Invited into life, but unable to live freely, under the 'easy yoke.'  They don't know they've been made radically good; and their spirits break under the weight of poor preaching.

Can you think of other apparently 'Christian' statements that really need clarifying and a deeper undertanding?

Related post:

"How much do you know about 'grace?'

Video:  "How to Shame a Christian"


Is 'grace' the new secular humanism?

I'll tell you why I raise the question:  For many in the grace movement (of which I consider myself a part), there is the subtle transition away from the distinctive work of Christ for us (and the radical problem of personal evil it solves) towards a secular-humanism with a nod to Jesus, (but a revised Jesus.) This new 'grace' is a constraint-free, fully-permissive grace (but not 'profitable') that permits the adherent to believe whatever suits him or her.   

This revised grace flows from a reconstructed version of Scripture that no longer values absolutes:  Everything is now fluid and flexible.   This has happened in large part because of postmodernism's affect upon the Church, as much as anywhere else.  It has resulted in the deconstruction of everything, leaving many in the Church to develop their own stories piecemeal, and according to their own tastes...and wounds.  (Our unhealed wounds lead us far more than we know.)

This new grace is also a reaction to the failures of institutional ideals (and there are many).  I  myself was deeply wounded by the institutionalized version of the 'gospel.'  In many ways, an initial polarization against the things that once bound us is completely normal....as long as we don't stay there.  Healthy development means continuously reassessing our current position so that we are lead to truer and deeper freedom in Christ. 

Grace is a great thing, but it is not license to construct our own versions of the Gospel.   I'm not even sure you need Jesus with this new and revised grace, nor do you need the testimony about him and his cure for the human condition as described in the scriptures.   Many no longer even hold the Scriptures as the final authority against which all other voices are measured.  (God does speak to our hearts outside of Scripture, but never in contradiction to it.  So how do you evaluate what you hear if you've discarded the template altogether?)

Secular humanism, under the guise of 'grace' doesn't lead us into reality any better than the storylines we followed before we met Christ;  for it becomes unhinged from the actual person and restoring work of the actual Jesus.  This altered humanistic distortion of grace reconstructs the Gospel, leaving each of its adherents coccooned in their private plot-lines and fragmented narratives.  How is that helpful?


Have you seen this dynamic at work?  Do you agree, disagree?


'MISLEADING OURSELVES' - listen now- with guest Andrew Farley

Andrew Farley, author of The Naked Gospel, joined me again to talk about the misleading catch-phrases Christians use that end up leading them away from their new and good hearts. 

We also address that sticky passage in the Lord's Prayer that says, "If you don't forgive others...neither will your Father forgive you."  But wait a minute, aren't we already and fully forgiven?  How do we reconcile other passages on our completed forgiveness with this passage that follows the Lord's Prayer?




Death by assumptions

One of my greatest concerns is that we must challenge our assumptions about the Gospel -- or what we think we know about it.  It actually might be better than we think it is. 

I don't mean that we should challenge the core doctrines of Christianity, or question the supremacy of Christ.  In my mind, that's been settled.

I do mean that the version of the Gospel we've been given may not, in fact, be the Gospel; or at best, a gross distortion of it.  For example:

Much of the Church has the impression that the Gospel is either about getting your sins forgiven by accepting God's gracious pardon and receiving the promise of heaven;  or, that the Gospel is all about evangelism, outreach, and new programs for reaching the lost.  There's truth in each of these, but not enough truth.

The Gospel is the offer of a good and noble heart.  Jesus comes to restore the person -- not simply let them off the hook.  His work is deeper, more glorious, and far more supernatural than the anemic "gospel" we've settled for. 

When you said 'yes' to him, your nature, your identity, underwent a remarkable transformation.  You no longer possess a sin nature.  You're still free to sin, but it's no longer who you are or what you want.  (I know, it doesn't often seem that way, but if you judge your heart by the failures of your former self - even the ongoing ones - you will end up in despair.)

People who don't question their assumptions about the offer of Jesus scare me, frankly.  Damage has been done by those who refuse to let new information form their opinions, who muzzle any perspective that does not align with their preconceived assumptions -- even if that new perspective is firmly rooted in Scripture!

If we don't get the Gospel (the offer of Jesus) right, then Lazarus is still in his grave clothes.

Podcast:  "A better way to relate to God" challenges these false assumptions about the offer of Jesus.    Click here to listen.


River rescue - how I almost drowned and what it taught me

Three years ago, I almost drowned.  I was rafting on a Class Five river when our raft hit a boulder and we were hurled out.  Our brief Rafting 101 talk we received back at base camp did nothing to prepare me for the shock of icy water, the panic of drowning, or the continuing slap of brown river water I was choking on. 

I tried to estimate whether I could swim laterally against the current to either bank.  Not a chance.  It was too far.   My guide and raft were too far up river to pull me out, the current having carried me too quickly away from our raft.  My only hope was another guide's raft about 50 yards ahead.  Would he see me?  I had no strength or ability to contribute to my hope of rescue.  The water was strong and fast.  I was powerless and in danger of drowning.   And as they say, the orange life jacket just makes it easier to find your dead body. 

Thankfully, the other boat saw me.  I don't know how the guy pulled my soaking, 6 feet- 2 inch, dead- weight body out of the water, but he did.

Later, while sorting through everything that happened God said, "Jim -- this wasn't about your failure to handle the situation.  It wasn't about your capacity at all.  It was about my ability to rescue you." 

This is the Gospel.  This is the ongoing nature of the Christian life -- Jesus' ability to 'save' us didn't simply cease after we said 'yes' to his offer to "save us from our sins."

We need the experience, not simply the idea or hope of being rescued.  Through these experiences of rescue, we gain a perspective that is more real and confident than the one we had on paper.  We can only gain that experience by taking the risks God is asking us to -- by placing ourselves in situations (again, when God counsels us to take the risk) where unless he rescues us, we're toast. 

Is there anything he's asking you to risk, so that you can experience more life?



Enough ... already.

Ours is an Already Gospel. Certain things are now settled fact.  Through the rescuing work of Christ, not only did something happen for you, something happened to you -- something that goes way beyond the forgiveness of sins.  An interior revolution took place.  An already reality:

  • Your heart was made good...already.
  • You are pure...already.
  • You measure up ... already.
  • You make God's heart glad ... already.

Why don't most of us feel this is true of us?  It is because the "gospel" we've been handed is the "Not yet gospel:" 

  • You're not yet doing enough for God. (More accurately, for your church.)
  • You're not yet righteous.
  • Your heart is not yet radiant, strong and blameless.
  • You're not yet pleasing.

The actual Gospel will feel too good to be true because you've been fed a distortion for so long.