The simple presentation of the good news of the gospel just isn’t sufficient any longer. Our sophisticated age demands something more intellectually compelling and more personally appealing.
At least that’s the impression I got after reading an article by Meghan O’Gieblyn. Her title asks the question: “How do you sell God in the 21st century?” Meghan grew up in an evangelical church, attending Sunday School and worship each week. She says she “got saved” when she was five years old. She describes her time at Moody Bible Institute, commenting on its adherence to the Bible and to traditional Christian doctrines.
Basically, Meghan’s article is a biopic on her journey away from faith. It was on her missions trip to Ecuador after her sophomore year at Moody (which she describes more in terms of an escape than service) that she stopped going to church. She finds herself jaundiced by the faith she once learned, going through what amounts to detox from the engrained pull of Christian ideology.
I find myself having two reactions to Meghan’s story.
On the one hand, I wonder if the church failed her in allowing her intellectual honesty. Was she permitted to express her doubts, ask her questions? Was she just fed a party line to which she had to conform rather than being discipled by bringing God’s truth to meet her where she was in her thinking?
She speaks in terms of pastors trying to “sell God.” It was almost as if she bought into what they were selling until she came to think for herself, released from the spell it had over her.
Certainly, there was some sort of disconnect. I hear a degree of affection and gospel delight in a comment she makes about her “churched” days, this from the distance of her newfound enlightenment.
Part of what made church such a powerful experience for me as a child and a young adult was that it was the one place where my own faults and failings were recognised and accepted, where people referred to themselves affectionately as “sinners”, where it was taken as a given that the person standing in the pews beside you was morally fallible, but still you held hands and lifted your voice with hers as you worshipped in song. This camaraderie came from a collective understanding of evil – a belief that each person harboured within them a potential for sin and deserved, despite it, divine grace.
I appreciated Meghan’s authenticity. She related her story with warmth, conviction and candor. It makes the Christian community look in the mirror she holds up to herself in the foreground and the church in the background.
My other reaction to Meghan’s article was dis-ease related not to the gospel but to the presentation of the gospel.
I found her story so profound and so contemporary that I wondered if we needed to adjust the presentation of the gospel to accommodate a more sophisticated day. Does God’s analysis of sin and its consequences, His provision of salvation through the giving of His Son, and His demand for repentance and faith need to be repackaged or recast to speak to a different age? Should certain aspects be unmentioned or minimized?
Then I realized that would just be another form of “selling God” that Meghan had bristled at.
The gospel is not a product. It is the power of God unto salvation for all who will believe. In it is found righteousness, reconciliation and renewal, both in this age and that to come.
We cannot bully or even reason someone into the kingdom. We can never make God’s truth palatable to people. Only the Spirit can give the spiritual taste buds to do that. But once He does, the Bread of Life that is Jesus Christ will be impossible to resist.
The Apostle Paul explains this both from the hearer’s perspective and the speaker’s. In addressing the hearer, Paul points to Spirit-generated receptivity.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (1 Corinthians 1:18–19)
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
For the speaker of the gospel, Paul explains his Spirit-reliant approach.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1–5)
While we need to be receptive, real and relevant in our gospel discourse, we do not need to either repackage that gospel or revise it. We simply commend the cross of Christ to the conscience of those with whom we converse, with all that means in respect to sin, righteousness and judgment.
By the Spirit of God, the gospel speaks with the same profound simplicity to the heart of the learned and the unlearned. The gospel for 21st century man is the same as it was for 1st century man, the good news of God and sinners reconciled through the promised Seed.
Click here to read the good news of great joy.