Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Everything in the Shadow of the Gospel

My favorite mega-pastor Matt Chandler recently tweeted, "The Gospel must not be assumed. It's to be articulated clearly and constantly...if not you get moralistic pragmatism."

This is what I get at when I write things like Pharisees with Fauxhawks or The Gospel is Not Advice or The Weird Modern Desire for Legalism (and How Some People Don't Even Know they Have It).

I got an interesting email from a reader this week asking why he doesn't hear more in churches about "the power of obedience" (his words). I wasn't sure exactly what he meant, but in my view, the majority of evangelical preaching is about the power of obedience. It just isn't put in those terms.

Michael Horton re-introduces the concept of "moral therapeutic deism" as the operating worldview of most evangelical messaging, and I agree. What we have going on is repackaged legalism. I know, I know -- it doesn't look like legalism, but that's what it is.

We have been trained to think of legalism as being stuffy, outwardly religious, judgmental, traditional, etc. But any time the thrust of our message is --
"do better"
"try harder"
"reach your potential"
"do good works"
"help God help you"
"follow these steps"
"improve your life"
"succeed at life"
"achieve victory"
-- or anything of that sort, we've made works the center, which is antithetical to the gospel and therefore is legalistic. Even if it's not judgmental, even if it sounds inspirational, even if it's kicked off with a killer video and capped by a rockin' band. Just because it feels good doesn't mean it's good news.

The gospel must be the center. Always. The star player. The feature piece. The answer and the antidote.
The proclamation of the gospel must take precedence over exhortations to "do good;" otherwise, we will find ourselves beating upon people's wills. The gospel is the power of salvation. The gospel is of first importance.

The gospel of Christ's finished work is the towering pinnacle of God's practical glory shared with us, and all else must take a subservient place in its universe-spanning shadow.


Debbie Blair said...

Amen! I am so thankful that the gospel is so much greater than all my past feeble attempts towards following a list of do's and don'ts. What peace and joy to finally rest in Jesus's obedience and finished work on the cross. The gospel indeed is the power of salvation to everyone who believes!

leaves for my heart said...

Is the product of the Gospel ever "doing good"? Is DOING good a part of the Gospel? What is the balance in teaching of grace and the result of grace (WORKed out in our lives)? Should we ever be emphasizing the non-passivity of grace...that 'working out' the spiritual disciplines in our lives actually can change us / that we can access God's grace through entering into a rhythm of discipline? How do we stay focused on the Gospel when we realize we need to be PHYSICALLY apart of God's redemptive process in creation?

These questions are in NO WAY a criticism of your post, as I have no authority on which to criticize. But rather, they are honest questions meant to go along side the argument against works-theology.

Jared said...

Leaves, good questions. Been wrestled over for ages. Here are my answers:

Is the product of the Gospel ever "doing good"?

Yes. The product of the gospel is good works. When the person is in Christ, he can do all things. When the Spirit resides in a person, he will bear fruit.
I am not saying that Christians aren't supposed to do good works or that they aren't to be told to do good works. I'm only arguing for the primacy of the "news" of the gospel, with the "instructions" of good works subservient.

Is DOING good a part of the Gospel?

It is a part of gospel proclamation but it is not the message of the gospel.
In other words, we do good works to proclaim Christ's finished work, but not to proclaim that good works are the good news. Everyone, especially lost people, already think that being a good person is what gets you to heaven.

I sort of tried to tease this distinction out in this previous post:

In that post I write that me loving my neighbor is not the gospel, but my neighbor being loved by me is. See the post for explanation.

What is the balance in teaching of grace and the result of grace (WORKed out in our lives)?

I don't know how to quantify this.
I think we preach the gospel and make disciples. Discipleship is a mix of practical exhortations and comforts of assurance, but the priority must be on the gospel, because our behavior always follows our affections.
I also think it's safer to downplay works because:
a) People generally know what some good things to do are, they just don't want to do them.
b) Good works are the fruit of the Spirit, so we can trust him to produce them in regenerate persons (even as we exhort them to good works).

that we can access God's grace through entering into a rhythm of discipline?

I don't know what this means?
"Access his grace" via "discipline"?
I have access to God's grace through the work of His Son applied by His Spirit. He never withholds grace from me.
I could be wrong, but the way you have this phrased it sounds as though there are still portions of God's favor unavailable to me unless I do certain things. My perspective, rather, is that now that I have Christ freely given to me, I don't lack for anything else. As Augustine says, "You ask for your gift and the Giver gives himself: what more can you what?"

How do we stay focused on the Gospel when we realize we need to be PHYSICALLY apart of God's redemptive process in creation?

By focusing on Christ's finished work, his physical work.
By making it central in our proclamation and teaching. By preaching it and giving it to each other in community.

This reminds me that I need to pull the trigger soon on a post I have brewing on what a gospel-driven church looks like.

Again, good questions, brother. They are helpful for clarification and the sharpening of iron.

Brian said...

I was listening to a White Horse Inn podcast and one of the guys was talking about how you don't "of course" the Gospel. If you talk about how wonderful your church is, how great the preaching is, how friendly the people are and then kind of tack on "oh, of course we proclaim the Gospel" then you've got it all backwards.

I think I've mentioned this on here before but what about teaching that doesn't explicitly say "try harder, do better, etc"? What if instead the emphasis is more like you need to :
- submit to the Holy Spirit
- listen to God's voice
- let God empower you
- yield to God's presence

This is in the context of growing in maturity - IOW, in order for you to grow up, YOU need to LET God's power change you. And if you aren't experiencing growth/victory in some area then YOU obviously are not YIELDING to God.

Is this still legalism? Becuase despite the kernel of truth that may be there I still see no Gospel, no Jesus, just guilt being heaped on someone if they are not "growing up". Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe I really am wanting to be "in control" and I'm "quenching" the work of the Spirit. Sometimes its very clear that this Jesus-less preaching is going nowhere and sometimes, well, when you hear enough of it things just aren't so clear anymore.

Ok, enough rambling.