I have been making the case that the evangelical Christian idea and voice is steadily disappearing from the social landscape in the United States. (See Part one and Part two and Part Three.) In some places, public engagement based on the Christian gospel is becoming like Burma Shave signs or Mail Pouch Tobacco murals on barn – a relic of another time.
Some analysts see an intentional and systematic eradication by socially progressive and secularist unbelievers. I think that has some impact, but more often the problem has been that evangelicals themselves have mindlessly retreated and diluted the gospel. We have slipped into a sort of theological Alzheimer’s disease, remembering our gospel only in odd snatches, misty memories and nostalgic feelings.
What can evangelicals do to reacquaint themselves with the robust nature of the gospel they claim? How can we come back from the brink and live a live gospel in our society again? Let me share some very practical suggestions:
+ Recapture a clear understanding of the Biblical gospel. We’re encouraged to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Jesus.” (2 Cor.10:5) Evangelicals would do well to apply that to the study of the gospel itself. In many places across the evangelical world, the gospel has been so diluted by the adjectives attached to it (prosperity, cultural, et al) that it is virtually unrecognizable. Evangelicals’ gospel default must be reset to the Bible’s clear parameters shown in places like John 3,4 &6; Acts 2:14-26; Romans 1-11; 1 Cor.15:1-15; 2 Cor.3,4; Galatians; Eph. 1:3-14 and Hebrews. Also, check out Two Ways to Live and the associated materials for as clear a presentation of the Biblical gospel as you will find. Yes, it’s geared for unbelievers, but it’s a helpful primer for Christ-followers, too.
+ Like a tea bag in boiling water, steep evangelical minds and hearts in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Evangelicals have for too long treated the gospels as elementary school and Paul as graduate school. But the gospel is mostly about Jesus, right? Jesus Himself is the gospel, so following, watching and listening to Him with open hearts will tend to shape us as gospel people.
+ Reignite a passion for the gospel at the level of our affections. The way back is not just, contrary to some prominent voices in my own denomination, through vigorous intellectual discussion and study of theology. Jesus said ‘I spoke these things (deep and profound truths and commandments) so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11) Knowing Jesus must result in treasuring Jesus—a palpable sense of emotion towards Him. Yes, living the gospel means our passions are regulated by truth, but it also means truth is set ablaze with passion. Far too many evangelicals have gotten lost in a head trip and must discover (maybe for the first time) that wide-eyed wonder, child-like surprise, unbridled joy and grace-generated belly laughs go hand-in-hand with the gospel.
+Make the gospel the defining element of our worship and preaching. Evangelical worship is often driven more by hot guitar licks meant to get people dancing than an overwhelming encounter with holy Love that leaves people on their faces—and silent. Evangelical preaching is often more dependent on Dr. Phil than the Physician of Souls, so that people may walk away feeling better about themselves, but without being deeply engaged and satisfied in soul.. We only enter worship “by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh.”(Heb.10:19-20) and only Jesus satisfies the soul with “living water’ so people will “never thirst again.” (John 4:10,13) Worship tethered to the gospel is simply and profoundly different.
+ Make the gospel the defining element of local church ministry. The church is a faith community created, defined and shaped by the gospel of its Founder. There has been such pressure from the church growth movement and corporate models to produce measurable organizational growth that we have rarely taken time to reflect on what we are producing. It’s possible to have a whirling hive of activity in a church—growing numbers, something for everyone, and buzz in the community– and never reference the gospel at all. Yet it is “through the church [that] the manifold wisdom of God is to be made known” (Eph. 3:9) as we “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9). We only have one message and one goal.
+ Live the gospel’s call to reach the least and the last, the messed-up and messed-over of our society. There is an increasing call for Christians in the West to have a “safe” experience of faith. We want safe radio stations and safe mission projects and safe movies and a safe life. But the gospel is built for messes in lives, communities and families. Jesus told us to enter the worlds of the poor, hungry, naked, imprisoned and sick for “as you do it to the least of these, you have done it unto me.” (Matt.25:40) He calls us to “bless our enemies and pray for those who spitefully use us” (Matt.5:44), like the atheist, the pornographer or liberal politicians. The gospel is big enough to handle the parts of our world that turn our stomachs, scare or intimidate us. We just have to believe that and live it.
+ Immerse our daily lives in the gospel- not just Sundays. The gospel is a whole-life calling. Gospel is the way we live every moment of every ordinary day. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) The gospel has implications for every arena of life: physical, intellectual, social, political, commercial, recreational, etc. (For more on this, I’d encourage you to read The Cross-Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney and The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges)
+ Grasp the profound reality that the gospel is not just evangelism for lost people; it is the advance of the gracious rule of the King. Jesus made it very clear that He came “preaching the gospel of God…the gospel of the Kingdom” (Mark 1:14, Matt.5:23). It’s the good news that the Kingdom of heaven –with its unique, eternal, supernatural qualities — has broken into life on planet earth. That changes everything. The gospel is not merely an individual transaction whereby spiritually far-from God people are converted. It is the reality of the King that impacts families, communities, nations, systems, businesses, universities, science, law, media and more.
+ Embrace marriage for the crucible of gospel living it is. Marriage is a picture of the relationship between Jesus and His Bride. Husbands who “love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25) are modeling the gospel, as are wives who serve their husbands in love. Dealing with the inevitable challenges inherent in any marriage is an opportunity to explore the application of the gospel to the closest of human relationships. (Another reading suggestion: When Sinners Say “I Do” by Dave Harvey)
+ Train our children to love the gospel. Part of our assignment is passing the baton of faith to the coming generations, so that the gospel remains clear and undiluted. Moses told the people of Israel to immerse their daily dealings with their children in God-realities (Dt. 6:1-9, 20-25) and the New Testament affirms that parents are to bring their children up ‘in the nurture and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Parents must be reminded that a primary part of their God-given calling is the discipling of their own children. Local church ministries partner with parents. And those children’s/youth ministries must move away from ministry as a blend of Jesus-sprinkled carnival or head-banging rock concert and become much more concerned with equipping those in emerging generations to take the next step in developing a passionate, Biblically-informed and gospel-centered relationship with Jesus for a lifetime
+ Model gospel relationships, especially in conflict. Perhaps nothing has more potential to demonstrate the gospel to a skeptical world than the application of the gospel’s reconciling power in conflict. This is an angry world. Violent speech and actions are the norm in our daily lives. Tensions mark families, workplaces, classrooms. What might happen if Christ-followers dared to step in with more than pity and prayer? Christ-followers have access the good gifts of the gospel that flow from Jesus’ death for sinners and resurrection – grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. We are commanded to live them (“forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”-Matt.6:12 and commissioned to share them with the world (“Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” – 2 Cor. 5:18-19). This is the world-changing power of the gospel.
As long as the gospel of Jesus lives in the minds, hearts, affections, choices and behaviors of Jesus’ people, it will not disappear from our society. There will be no theological genocide or suicide, for Jesus appeared to destroy the works of the devil and at the cross, He steps on the neck of the Serpent. There will be no theological genocide or suicide, for the resurrection power of Jesus is more powerful than any external threat or internal distraction.
A living gospel produces living souls who form living churches that proclaim a living Savior and King – forever.