In his new (and very important) book Christless Christianity, Michael Horton writes:
“Does Christ come merely to improve our existence in Adam or to end it, sweeping us into his new creation? Is Christianity all about spiritual and moral makeovers or about death and resurrection — radical judgment and radical grace? Is the Word of God a resource for what we have already decided we want and need, or is it God’s living and active criticism of our religion, morality, and pious experience? In other words, is the Bible God’s story, centering on Christ’s redeeming work, that rewrites our stories, or is it something we use to make our stories a little more exciting and interesting?”
There are two problems with pitching Christianity as "making life better" (as one relative of mine's church posts as their mission) or "making you feel better about yourself" (as one local church advertised on the radio this morning).
The first is a problem of effectiveness: It's not really working at reaching the lost, because the majority of lost persons don't think they need Christianity to become better people. They're already "good" people. If that's what Christianity means, who needs it? Brad Pitt doesn't need the gospel to build homes in New Orleans. Oprah Winfrey doesn't need the gospel to set up trust funds for orphans in Africa. Salma Hayek doesn't need the gospel to rescue the suffering in Latin America.
And the average Joe in the West doesn't need the gospel to be nice to his neighbor, conscientious about recycling, charitable towards non-profits, and generally productive in society. Or even to feel better about himself. He's handling that quite all right as it is.
This is why decades of "Seven Steps to Blah Blah Blah" has neither resulted in more conversions nor in maturation of believers. Isn't that crazy? The things we've been doing -- and many churches are still full-tilt committed to continuing -- statistically, demonstratively aren't winning the lost and aren't discipling believers. In geekspeak, that's a big stinkin' FAIL.
Effectiveness is the language of contemporary evangelicalism, but if the data on the results isn't convincing, the second problem with the gospel of self-improvement is a problem of truth. It's just not the gospel message. It is not what Scripture teaches. It is self-centered, self-focused, self-concerned.
What will it take to radically revolutionize the pastoral and ecclesiological culture of evangelicalism toward the unadulterated, explicit gospel? I don't think the answer is pleasant.