–Summer of 2002
Selling the Gospel Short
Twenty years ago Francis Schaefer wrote about the Great Evangelical Disaster. Recently Dr. Dennis Kinlaw addressed what could be called the Great Evangelical Reductionism. The first sold the gospel out; the latter sells it short. Both can bring about the same pitiful end.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the church was caught in the cross hairs of liberal theology. Most of the large Protestant denominations were knocked down like a row of tenpins as liberal theology swept in like a flood. The National Council of Churches reigned as the ecclesiastical power and liberal theologians held prominent positions as professors in the great seminaries. The Bible was betrayed and the heart of the gospel was completely destroyed. Within 30 years the sell-out was complete. The gospel that was preached in most large protestant denominations was no gospel at all.
By mid century a despised marginal group of Bible believers known as evangelicals began to make their way to the forefront in America. By the 1980’s the focus of power had clearly shifted from the mainstream denominations and liberal theologians to the more conservative evangelicals. Today evangelicals have their own national association, speak on hundreds of radio and television programs, and control the theological positions of a large number of seminaries and Christian universities. Evangelicals operate book enterprises that gross billions every year. The president attends their annual prayer breakfast and prominent evangelical leaders weekend at the White House and council the president on religious matters.
Yet as the evangelical movement has grown in numbers and influence, the moral influence of the church has gotten weaken. How could this be? How could a church that has become more conservative theologically become less effected by that theology?
Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, in his book We Live as Christ, puts his finger on the problem. He states, “I believe that part of the reason for the state of affairs is the way in which the evangelical church is presenting the gospel here in America. We have engaged in a kind of reductionism of what we say Christ can do for us. We have largely preached the gospel of Christ as a way to find freedom from the consequences of our sin rather than freedom from the sin that causes the consequences.”
The evangelical church in America has given the impression that the essence of the Christian message is forgiveness of sins and the assurance of Heaven. They have failed to emphasis that the goal of the gospel is conformity to Christ. This has produced an insidious easy believism that makes no moral demands and insists on no behavioral requirements. It has separated faith from faithfulness and offered a brand of commitment with no cross. Sadly the holiness movement has begun to parrot the same line.
Dr. John Oswalt speaks to this issue in his book Called to be Holy. He says, “The Christian gospel is not primarily about having one’s sins forgiven and spending a blissful eternity with God after somehow getting through this life with one’s faith reasonably intact. The purpose of the gospel is the same that God has had from Genesis 4 onward: The transformation of human behavior in this world with a consequent possibility of living with God through all eternity.”
The New Testament gospel is inseparably linked to repentance, surrender, a supernatural eagerness to obey, and an inner hunger for moral goodness. Anything less is not true biblical conversion and denies the message of the gospel. But the gospel offers more. The gospel offers freedom from the tyranny of sin and self.
The gospel does offer freedom from sin’s penalty and a home in heaven. But it also offers freedom from sin’s tyranny and a life of holiness. This is good news, indeed!