For a B21 explanation of what the Gospel is, see Jon Akin’s post here.
Every problem that we face in our churches is a manifestation of an inadequate understanding and practice of the gospel. Giving problems? You’ve got a gospel problem. Can’t get enough people to sign up for that short term mission trip? Gospel problem. Apathy toward your community? Gospel problem.
The Apostle Paul saw problems in the church as gospel problems. The gospel wasn’t a simple three-step formula that was on par with saying “Abracadabra” to get people their Get-Outta-Hell-Free Card. Instead, it was the “principle article of all Christian doctrine” (Luther), and was something his readers could never move beyond. As Tim Keller puts it, “The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth…The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom. We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal.3:1-3) and are renewed (Col.1:6).” Therefore, the Christian is either living out the gospel well, or living it out poorly.
The problem is that our churches are full of the “fuzzy gospel” and we have got to kill it. You know what the “fuzzy gospel” is, don’t you? It’s an understanding of the gospel that is imprecise, cloudy, and lazy. It has a vague notion that for some reason Jesus died, and for some reason I don’t have to go to Hell now, and the details aren’t all that important. The “fuzzy gospel” follower leaves the details to the professionals, meanwhile viewing the gospel as something for unbelievers that is tacked onto the end of a sermon.
Of course, it would be silly of me (and demonstrate my own lack of understanding of the gospel) to act like “everyone else” doesn’t have it figured out. Everyday I misunderstand the gospel. When I’m impatient with my wife, it reflects that I’ve forgotten the patience God shows to me despite my sin. When I am slow to forgive my friend, it demonstrates that I think that his sin is somehow less forgivable than the daily sin I commit against my Savior. And when I’m too quick to assume that I “get” the gospel and others don’t, it means that I’ve forgotten the many years of my life that I rejected the gospel, and those following years where I viewed it as nothing more than my punched ticket to Heaven. God has been so gracious to me, and I pray that I would always demonstrate that same graciousness to others.
However, this grace does not equate permitting gospel-laziness but rather compels us to challenge others in gospel-growth. Now you may be saying, “my people aren’t seminary trained and if I used the words propitiation, imputation, or justification in a sermon they’ll think I’m speaking in tongues.” I say all this for the opposite reason, actually. I say it because I believe in the person sitting in the pew, and that they’re capable of great things, and they’re waiting, whether they realize it or not, for someone to take them seriously enough to teach them the gospel with the same specificity as Scripture does.
After all, they’re experts in plenty of other stuff—you’ve probably got churches full of men and women that can tell you Adrian Peterson’s number of rushing yards his sophomore year of high school or the various Vera Bradley patterns of the last decade. Now let’s help them become experts in what is supposed to be the most important thing in their lives—the gospel. To steal a line from Matt Chandler, we must encourage people to become “experts in the gospel.” This nonchalant, flippant attitude toward it has got to stop, and we have got to kill the “fuzzy gospel” in our churches.
Is there anything else in this world that people can attend on a weekly basis for years of their lives, yet still not have a grasp of the most foundational principles of the event? Can you imagine someone having season tickets to see Georgia football play for the past five years, attend every game without fail, and yet when the team comes out for warm-ups they say to the person next to them, “I love it when they come out on the court like that. I sure hope they score more runs than Florida tonight”? It seems unlikely, but not so if we were investigating the church. We’ve got congregations full of lifelong attendees who don’t understand the very foundation of the faith.
And if we have churches full of people who don’t understand the gospel, we shouldn’t be surprised when evangelism methods fail, discipleship is non-existent, and people are fighting over what type of tables we’ll buy for the new fellowship hall. We don’t have to search for why people won’t tithe, care about missions, or have their heart break for their community. These are all gospel problems. If the gospel is the most important thing we could possibly understand within the Christian faith, and we have churches full of people who don’t really understand it, then we shouldn’t be surprised when our churches are perpetually ineffective.
The next post will discuss practical ways to kill the “fuzzy gospel” in our local churches.
I think this is a very humbling article, that we in the church are more content with doing church rather than being Gospel-centered, Gospel-driven, and Gospel-proclaiming people in Gospel community. The core of the Gospel, being far more than a catchy acrostic or song or some other rubric, is the glory of God in Christ. When that becomes our goal, drive, and identity, then maybe the “fuzzy Gospel” becomes obsolete and the Gospel of Christ, the ‘costly grace’ as Bonhoeffer describes becomes what we are known for.
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Wow! So true. I never even really considered that being the root of so much. It seems that I have gone so many years while being in the Church, but am just now coming to grips with the Gospel… This has got to change by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must help each other and our churches overall understand the Gospel as best as possible while here on this earth.
Thanks for your comment. I think we must continually examine our hearts and motives to see what our chief end is in our worship and practice.
Hearing that you’re beginning to think through the robust nature of the gospel thrills me. Welcome to a journey that will last the rest of your life 🙂
Thanks Bryan. Any guidance that you can give would be of great help and much appreciated?
Thanks Bryan! It comes from really asking what I’m doing as a minister. Am I doing ministry for the sake of doing ministry, which is where many churches are, or am I doing ministry so that the Gospel gets broadcast through the transformed lives of those I impact?
Blessings on you as you seek to saturate the church and world with the Gospel message!
A follow-up post should be up in the next couple of days that offers some practical tips. Very practically, I would first read my Bible and see how gospel-centered the text is. We want to be gospel-centered because Scripture is gospel-centered. I would also pray and ask that God would help us understand the magnitude of the gospel.
Also, I would read and listen to guys who are gospel-centered. There’s many to recommend and some other people may have some other recommendations, but two guys who have been particularly influential on me are Tim Keller (both his books and sermons) and Matt Chandler (sermons). That would be a good start. If you shoot me an email at bryansbarley [at] gmail.com I’ll send you an article or two that helped me as well.
Thanks and great insights again. As my next post will communicate, we can’t think the problem is simply “out there” but instead we have to be willing to evaluate ourselves first.
Bryan…i think you hit the nail on the head. I was especially encouraged by:
“I believe in the person sitting in the pew, and that they’re capable of great things, and they’re waiting, whether they realize it or not, for someone to take them seriously enough to teach them the gospel with the same specificity as Scripture does.”
one question: I think it was Goldsworthy who claims that we can’t live out the gospel because it is solely the work of Christ. Do you agree with this and just mean something else when you say this? I have said it myself numerous times, but i’m just thinking through this.
Thanks also for always caring so much about evangelism. I want to surround myself with ppl like you because my natural tendency is to be very self-centered. I love you bro
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