Friday, March 23, 2007

What's wrong with the gospel ?

updated: 28/03/07

I've recently finishing reading the excellent biography No Compromise, the life story of Keith Green. I thoroughly recommend this book to any Christian serious about their faith. Its absolutely fantastic! Very challenging as well.

Now I want to provoke my readers a little and post a little from one of Keith's talks mentioned in the book. If you want to hear his sermon in full then you can buy it on DVD
or read the transcript in full. I'm just going to give you the highlights.

I believe with all my heart that Jesus would be ashamed of most of the "gospel" messages and sermons that are being preached today, mainly because they lack almost every major point He Himself preached on...

Keith goes on to mention the following categories. I'll added my own comments in italics.

  • We have removed the Blood of Jesus from the gospel.
    Seems true in my experience. I did hear a preach on the blood of Jesus at New Life Church Kelowna, Canada last summer. To be honest it wasn't the best preach I'd ever heard...I think its hard to talk about this to a post-modern audience. Derek Prince tells us that "It is when we testify personally to what the blood of Jesus does for us that we can claim all the benefits that God has provided for us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross."

  • We have removed the Cross of Jesus.
    Yes! So many folks are saying this: Alistair Begg, N T Wright, Mark Driscoll...

  • We have removed the Threat and Terrors of Hell, and the Guilt of Sinners.
    I can't remember the last time the word Hell was even mentioned in church, let alone preached. I honestly think many Christians no longer believe in it. I do think that many of the images of hell in the bible are metaphorical / symbolic, as that is the nature of prophetic imagery. The emerging church has done a pretty good job at deconstructing hell. But its now time for the emerging church to reconstruct hell.

  • We have removed the Law of God Preached to Convict One of Sin.
    This is basically what Ray Comfort bangs on about (A friend of mine calls this the "sick-boy method" -- don't ask). I think this works for some people, but not totally sure about its validity. Any thoughts, especially from evangelists?

    updated: Synchronicity strikes again: it just so happens that Ed Stetzer has blogged on "beginning a conversation about Christ". He discusses the "Way of the Master" / "sick-boy" method, which he explains thus: "remind people they are hypocrites, liars, thieves, and adulterers in the first two minutes and bring up the "lake of fire" in the third.". Check out the his blog for more about how to share the gospel in today's world.

  • We have removed the Fear of God and the Judgment Seat of Christ.
    Absolutely. The very notion of fearing God is some quarters causes shuffling of feet and stifled coughs. And Christians being judged or rewarded? Come on! That's so medieval, right?

  • We have removed Repentance as Necessary for Forgiveness.
    I think I know why Keith said this. He encountered so many "forgiven" Christians living worldly lives and shaming Jesus. They needed to "repent", that is, to have a change of mind. Both N T Wright (emerging evangelical) and Bill Johnson (charismatic) have done excellent preaches on Repentance. If you haven't heard them -- you should! (Email me for the mp3s.)

  • We have removed God's Sorrow and Broken Heart Over Sin.
    Totally agree. But how does the cross factor into this?

  • We have removed the Necessity of Holiness to Please God.
    What does this Hebrews verse actually mean? Anyone venture an exegesis? The blood of Jesus makes us righteous, but not holy, is that the starting point here?

Some folks have commented that the church today is experiencing prophetic aftershocks -- "exhortations, teachings, and prophetic insights delivered years, decades, and even centuries ago that the Holy Spirit is now using to challenge and inspire the body of Christ.". I would agree with this. Keith's message seem more relevant than ever today (even if we would phrase things differently or perhaps tweak his emphasis).

Keith Green often offends Christians. As one blogger put it, "he was just a little immature in his communication skills [but] the message he had was right on the money." I don't think we should let his bluntness put us off him.

Another blogger commented:
Green brought streams of Christianity together, too. He incorporated the holiness movement, the charismatic movement, the Jesus People movement, the missionary movement, the worship movement, and old-fashined tent revivalism into one foundation. I can't think of anyone in recent memory who was able to pull off this feat so well.

Keith, I don't know if you can read blogs in heaven, but if you can, I for one salute you. We need more leaders like you. My prayer is that Jesus would raise up more radical Christians ready to walk in the footsteps of men like Keith.

We may have a more nuanced understanding of some things today, such as Wright's work on Jesus and Paul, and if Keith were here today I am sure he would recast his message in today's language. But lets challenge ourselves and take heed from this amazing man.


paul said...

my only thought for what it is worth that I don't see many of those points of Keith in Jesus teachings either - so is then a Q of preference: this is what i want to hear/think everyone else should hear. Or is it a Q of experience: this is what I have always heard? Or a Q of relevance: this what i think we need to hear and do now in our place/context?

Or maybe all of of the above to some degree...?

Alastair said...

I'm hesitant to comment on this fully until I have heard the entire 4 hour (!) preach, but its clear that all of his themes are found within the NT. As I sort of indicated in the main post, I think the general thrust/background to his message was the prevalence of "luke-warm" faith and an attitude of "Jesus is my saviour but not my Lord" which according to his biography Keith continually encountered.

Thanks to scholars such as N.T. Wright I think we have come a long way in understanding the importance of what Jesus did and did not say. Clearly, for example, Jesus did not speak of his own blood yet the theme is often mentioned with regard to redemption by other New Testament writers. Is this detail important today, or just a trivial bit of historical data? Personally, I really don't know, I think I would err on the side of caution (i.e. still important).

Your last point about relevance I think is the key here...perhaps if Keith was alive today he would have a different list of "essentials" which were missing from contemporary presentations of the gospel.

Rupert Ward said...

Well Alastair ... no one taken you up yet on your thoughts ...!?!?!

Shall i brave some thoughts ... I read the book many years ago, when i was a new Christian and enjoyed it, and found it very challenging. He was clearly a man with a love and passion for Jesus.

Now, i guess, while there is some that i agree with, i would probably want to add a "but ..."

For example on repentance. I think we do talk about repentance, but don't always use that word. I think often that word is used of sins (eg. drinking too much, sex, swearing etc), but not of sin (independence from God) - so often when people talk about repentance i don't think they are using the word in the right way. I don't really care if we call repentance, turning towards God, changing our mind about where life is to be found ... it is much more important that we do it, rather than the words we use.

I think there are some things that i personally would see very differently. For example hell, and the place of that in preaching. i just don't see Jesus scaring people into heaven (yeah i know a bit of an inflammatory remark). But i think i do have a different perspective from the archetypal "sinner in the hands of angry God" sermon.

I guess i just don't see it being used by Jesus or Paul. There way is much more grace filled than i think. So i would want to take seriously that it is kindness that leads to repentance (not fear!).

Finally, i guess i see Keith Green as a bit of prophet ... he isnt' particularly nuanced; he is provocative; he isn't balanced. But he does have something to say. i wouldn't have him leading a church, but would be a great voice to stir things up a bit! That, it seems to me, is the role of the prophetic.

Rupert Ward said...

sorry started comment earlier in the day, but didn't post till later, when paul had got there first ... hence opening sentence.

Adam said...

Hello chaps, I too had been thinking about this, but only this morning felt that I'd processed it sufficiently to comment. But then realised that all three of you have said pretty much everything I was going to say!

So maybe I'll try to add something...

Regarding "the blood", Alastair, I think you've been slightly hard on Keith G in the sense that while they never report him doing anything like preaching on "the blood", the synoptics do have Jesus mentioning his blood on one occasion - in the sacramental context of instituting the Lord's Supper. There is one occasion in John's gospel ("I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." etc - chapter 6) where he preaches/teaches on the subject. In both of these contexts the body/flesh is at least as important as the blood. So if Jesus does tell us about his blood (AND his body) it doesn't seem to be an injunction to preach on the subject, but rather to participate in his death (and resurrection) via the Lord's supper - in a rather transsubstantiational sort of way it would appear. How do we respond to this?

I guess the amusing bit about Keith Green's comment is that if the church really did "preach like Jesus" it would sound absolutely nothing like the "gospel message" that he has in mind! But you guys have covered that already.

And now to use some "prophetic licence" and bring up something a bit controversial... Hell. From what Jesus says at various points, it seems that there will be a post-death "judgement day" scenario whereby those who don't end up in heaven (however that is decided - another huge controversial question!!) will indeed be aware of that, and will undergo some sort of punishment. However, an eternal hell, replete with eternal conscious horrific torturesome punishment, parallel to an eternal heaven is a) never clearly described as such and b) would so contravene almost all of the attributes of God as revealed to us in the Word of God and in scripture (Love, Mercy and Justice just for starters!) that it is surely an obvious no-goer. (And this is not to mention the fact that a blissful heaven would be impossible under such a scenario: I don't think even Hitler could be eternally happy at the thought of millions of Jews undergoing simultaneous eternal torture: for him, annihilation yes, torture (even of the temporary sort) by-and-large no.)

How do y'all feel about this?

Alastair said...

Adam, thanks for commenting. Responding to your points:

blood of Jesus - thanks for correcting me. You are of course right in saying this. Jesus himself did talk about his blood and (broken) body. I'm not sure that the Lord's supper is what Keith had in mind (need to hear the full preach), nevertheless, it is something that perhaps some Christians have not emphasised as much as Jesus did.

Personally I believe eating his body and drinking his blood to be more than a mere symbol: the very fact some Corinthians were becoming sick and even died(!) from not observing these "ritual" properly shows its importance and power. To me its a mystery, and a means of God's grace.

I actually wasn't thinking of this at all when I read that Keith talked about the blood of Jesus. I was thinking more about its role in our redemption, as the NT writers indicate, looking back to the Exodus and Day of Atonement I shouldn't wonder.

on hellHere's my take on it. I'll probably develop this into a proper blog post, but for now here are my rambling thoughts:

It seems Jesus' views on hell were not unique to him: he seems to espouse a general viewpoint that would have been shared with many other Jews. Whilst our translations don't feature the word "hell" in the Old Testament (unless you have KJV, in that case read Sheol instead of hell), it seems to me that the prophetic literature is littered with repeated references (100s+) to concepts such as:

- God's wrath
- God's judgement
- God's righteousness
- a final day of reckoning
- a summoning of the pagan nations
to Zion for judgement
- vindication of Israel over/ against its oppressors
- restoration of the Holy Land
- fearsome and awesome retribution from warrior Yahweh, destroying Israel's enemies, often with fire and flames
- perpetual/eternal destruction/death for the "wicked"

Apparently ALL of these prophecies came true in Jesus (incarnation, ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, glorification) and in the outpouring of His Spirit. Yet clearly there is an element of "now, but not yet" as we wait for consumption of all these prophecies with the return of Jesus. This two-element fulfilment was not seen by the OT writers.

(Side note: many of the prophecies were "enlarged" as they were focused into Jesus: in the OT, Israel were to inherit the Land; in the NT, the people of God are to inherit the Earth)

So, in accordance with the entire narrative of the Old Testament and the people of Israel, in accordance with Jesus' own words, and according to the other NT writers on the subject, we await the second coming of Jesus, which will be the final Day of the Lord when all wrongs will be set right and God's presence will come to earth for eternity.

Clearly those that reject God in Jesus will not be free to remain in the New Creation. Here both the OT and the NT tell the same story: a separation will occur at the of time. The result of that separation will exclude a proportion of humanity from God's Kingdom, which is Life itself.

The OT texts seem describe final and complete death and destruction for people and their associated culture/cities that reject God to the bitter end. The exception is Daniel.

It is in Daniel that the parallel between the destiny of the righteous and the fate of the unrighteous is first revealed:

12:2 Many of those who sleep
in the dusty ground will awake –
some to everlasting life,
and others to shame and everlasting abhorrence. (NET)

Its important to note that everyone is resurrected at the Final Judgement. That is why Jesus talked about body and soul being destroyed after death.

As to the nature of this hell, that is going to have to wait for another day, but I note the following:

- eternal conscious torment does not seem right or just, as you say Adam.

- simple annihilation doesn't either. If I was to tell someone involved in serious crime/sin "one day God will wipe you out", I hardly see how that counts as justice. I mean, he or she probably thought death was annihilation anyway. Being resurrected to be told that you will now be wiped out doesn't seem to add much to the notion of justice being done here.

- therefore the truth must lie between the above extremes.

Alastair said...

Rupert, thanks for your comment.

On repentance - agreed. The preaches I refer to point in this direction, as it were. "Repent and believe in me" was actually used as a political slogan -- it's not a religious concept at all (according to Wright).

On hell - of course Jesus was the one who brought up the subject of hell (in the gospels) in first place! I think Brian Mclaren's book on the subject (I read it last year) was quite good but also annoying -- he went too far. Scott McKnight has pulled him up on this: you can't say hell is just a rhetorical concept without evidence for this, otherwise we might as well propose the Kingdom of God is nothing more than a political slogan to motivate people to be nice.

I guess the bottom line is, as stated in my previous comment, hell was a generally recognised concept. It didn't need to be preached, because most Jews believed in it. Even Greek's believed in some kind of post-mortem judgement.

In our post-modern culture, this is simply not the case. I don't think you can give a complete telling of the gospel (which is a proclamation of Jesus' Lordship and Kingship and a summons to loyalty to him) without painting the big picture, or meta-narrative. This big picture has to include:

1) Creator God
2) The Fall
3) Israel
4) Jesus
5) Church
6) Resurrection => Judgement => Restoration & Destruction of God's enemies

The Jewish contemporaries of Jesus knew this story inside out, up to part 3, and they also knew part 6. So Paul and other writers filled in the missing pieces (and trying to explain how part 6 had started to happen half-way through the story!)

To me, the post-modern challenge to the church when it comes to the gospel (and heaven/hell/judgement/salvation/etc) is this: how can we relate to this narrative? How can we retell the story so that it makes sense to regular punters?

So rather than just ditching hell, lets look at it afresh, lets deconstruct it, lets reconstruct it, and lets communicate it and all the other related concepts in a way that people can understand, and in a way that links it up with the rest of God's story.

Should we preach hell? Yes. Do we need to bang on about all the time? No!