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.