This week, I am at a conference in Louisville, Kentucky. I brought my staff (Tyler and Kevin, also blog contributors here), as well as my good friend Andy. The four of us are gathering with about 7,000 of our friends to learn about and celebrate the Gospel. Three days of messages about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The question is, why?
Why would pastors from all over the country gather to talk about something as simple as the Gospel.? Is there something more to the Gospel message that we don’t know about; is there some special insight that will take three days to unearth? Why do we need to spend so much time talking about it? What do we need to say about the gospel that couldn’t be said in one 15 minute message?
These are valid questions. After all, the gospel really is simple. It is not a complicated message. It’s the message about a good and loving God who created man for His glory. Man destroyed that relationship with God through his rebellious sin. That good and loving God who cannot allow sinful man into His presence, sent His Son Jesus Christ to be a substitutionary sacrifice for those who would respond to Him through believing faith and repentance of sins. That’s the gospel, short and simple. Not complicated.
So why a three day conference?
A conference of this nature is so vitally important to the church today, because the church today has departed from this simple gospel, and has replaced it with what can be called an “adjusted gospel”. The church of today is confronted with a prevailing culture that is vastly different from that of previous ages. In light of the prevailing culture, today’s church is caught in a predicament of trying to relate timeless Biblical truths to an increasingly skeptical culture. Inevitably, the divide between faithful proclamation and cultural relevance tempts the church to head down a number of dangerous trajectories that could lead to an “adjustment” of the gospel. Tonight, Dr. Al Mohler (president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) explained 8 of these trajectories. I’d like to comment on just one of them (potentially returning to this in the future to comment on others).
The Pragmatic Trajectory – This is where we begin to value pragmatism over orthodox Christianity. It happens when the hard truths of the Biblical Gospel are sacrificed on the altar of “whatever works”. Foundational to this trajectory is the assumption of an unbiblical definition of success (see previous posts here), and then building on that foundation by utilizing the bricks and mortar of “whatever works”. If “success” is large numbers, then whatever works to bring in the most number of people is what will be valued. If “success” is making lost people feel good, then whatever works to eliminate “bad feelings” will be what we value. It’s not too difficult to see that valuing the pragmatic can lead to dangerous cutting of corners in our theology, and cutting corners theologically is tantamount to adjusting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This pragmatic trajectory is attractive to many pastors, especially those of us who(like myself), are prone to “managerialism”. This works for us because usually it involves things we can measure and evaluate tangibly. We can pull out our charts and graphs and statistics and we can gauge if whether or not what we are doing is “working”. The danger of this trajectory is that if we have been given a Biblical mandate to preach a particular Gospel as outlined on the pages of Scripture, and if doing this is not “working” (according to our man-made arbitrary definition of “working”), then we may tempted to abandon the unadjusted gospel in favor of one that will “work”.
This is happening all around us, and all over twenty-first century Christianity….and it is tarnishing the display of God’s glory among the nations through the church.
So, spending these three days clarifying and celebrating the true Gospel, is absolutely critical to maintaining the faithful testimony of the church in our day. Will you pray for us…that we will listen, learn, and be equipped to faithfully proclaim an “unadjusted gospel”?