In yesterday’s post, I said that traditional presentations of the gospel are failing because they are trying to answer a question that no one is asking. What question do I mean? This one:
How can you get forgiveness of your sins?
The centerpiece of virtually every evangelistic message is a presentation of the cross of Jesus as a pathway to forgiveness of sins. That’s the point of the “Romans Road,” (a fundamentalist favorite) as well as the traditional “Five Step Plan” in Churches of Christ. It’s also the point of all those illustrations you’ve seen that show how sin creates a gulf between you and God, but the cross can bridge that divide. Like this one:
Or all of these. And if you click on any of the links that sends you to, you’ll see some variation of the same gospel presentation–the one about Jesus solving your guilt problem.
And it’s true. The cross solves our sin problem. Forgiveness is made available through the blood of Jesus. If anyone wants to know “what can wash my sins away?” “Nothing but the blood of Jesus” is still the right answer. I am fully convinced of that.
But very few of the people we are talking to want to know that. They don’t think of themselves as sinners. They don’t feel guilty. It doesn’t seem intuitive to them that their sins separate them from anyone, because all their friends indulge in the same things they do. Maybe occasionally they feel the some sorrow because of their choices, but they chalk it up to bad luck, or maybe a “dumb mistake”–but not sin. They think of themselves as good people who don’t particularly have a problem.
Not only that, but there is evidence that shows that the life of the average church-goer and the average skeptic are pretty much alike. Ron Sider covered that in The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Worse, on the personal moral hierarchy of, say, a twenty-something semi-liberal thoroughly skeptical college grad, Christians are seen as the problem, not people who have a solution. When those folks look at evangelicals, they see narrow-minded, ignorant and hateful people who seem to care a great deal about unborn babies, but vote against programs to provide food and insurance to the kids who are already here. They see people who commit adultery and file for divorce at the same rates as the secular world, but who vote against same-sex marriage because gays will “undermine the institution of marriage.” They see folks who claim to follow the prince of peace, but who gladly support optional wars and turn a blind eye to torture. When they look at the church, they don’t see a reason to lend us any particular creedence on moral issues. And when we, who are already fighting a reputation for hatred and hypocrisy attempt to spread the good news by saying, in essence: “Hey you–you need to realize that you have a sin problem….” Ugh. No wonder our churches are shrinking. If we had a contest to figure out which approach would guarantee us the fewest converts, our traditional way would be a strong contender for first place. It’s an unwelcome message that unintentionally reinforces everything our detractors are saying about us.
Yes, it’s true. All humans have a sin problem. But it’s not the only truth there is. And it’s not all there is to the gospel. But more on that later.