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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kevin DeYoung has an excellent piece regarding the Gospel in (it appears) response to Shane Claiborne’s recent letter to unbelievers in Esquire. Read Claiborne’s piece first then check out DeYoung’s response. It’s spot on.

The New Gospel generally has four parts to it.

It usually starts with an apology…

Then there is an appeal to God as love…

The third part of the New Gospel is an invitation to join God on his mission in the world…

And finally, there is a studied ambivalence about eternity…

This way of telling the good news of Christianity is very chic. It’s popular for several reasons.

1. It is partially true. God is love. The kingdom has come. Christians can be stupid. The particulars of the New Gospel are often justifiable.

2. It deals with straw men. The bad guys are apocalyptic street preachers, Crusaders, and caricatures of an evangelical view of salvation.

3. The New Gospel leads people to believe wrong things without explicitly stating those wrong things. That is, Christians who espouse the New Gospel feel safe from criticism because they never actually said belief is unimportant, or there is no hell, or that Jesus isn’t the only way, or that God has no wrath, or that there is no need for repentance.

4. It is manageable. The New Gospel meets people where they are and leaves them there. It appeals to love and helping our neighbors. And it makes the appeal in a way that repudiates any hint of judgmentalism, intolerance, or religiosity. This is bound to be popular. It tells us what we want to hear and gives us something we can do.

5. The New Gospel is inspirational. This is what makes the message so appealing to young people in particular.

6. The New Gospel has no offense to it. This is why the message is so attractive. The bad guys are all “out there.” This can be a problem for any of us. We are all prone to soft-pedaling the gospel, only presenting the attractive parts and failing to mention where Christ does not just comfort but also confronts. And it must confront more than the sins of others. [emphasis added]

This is no small issue. And it is not just a matter of emphasis. The New Gospel will not sustain the church. It cannot change the heart. And it does not save. It is crucial, therefore, that our evangelical schools, camps, conferences, publishing houses, and churches can discern the new gospel from the old.


Steve Martin said...

There's only one gospel.

As St. Paul has said, other gospels are different gospels and therefore, no gospels at all.

That Christ died for us and forgives us is the only gospel that I am aware of.

It's the only one I (or anyone) really need.

Chris A said...

I was able to read DeYoung's article, but I couldn't read Claiborne's because I'm at work and this stupid firewall blocked it.

Anyway, I think DeYoung's article is good and without reading the one he was responding to, I think I have enough of an understanding about Claiborne's theology and the trend he is addressing to make a reasoned comment.

I see two ways of looking at Claiborne's theology, and both are correct, but one is less precise. DeYoung is correct that Claiborne's approach does not square with the New Testament Gospel, and he makes a fair argument that it isn't effective pre-Gospel conversation either. If we look at it from this perspective, Claiborne is simply a false teacher.

But here is the other side. Rather than simply identifying Claiborne's theological faults, I think it would be productive to identify the basis of this theological trend. I do not agree that Claiborne is trying to throw other Christians "under the bus". I think his approach, though misguided, is an attempted apologetic. He is reacting to those elements within Christianity that have hindered the Gospel and is addressing these roadblocks in his engagement of the unbeliever.

Like it or not, this is a necessity when evangelizing in "Christianized" nations. There are a multitude of misconceptions people hold that are stumbling blocks to the real message of Jesus Christ. Try preaching Christ to indigenous tribes whose ancestors had their skin bleached by Catholic nuns. You aren't going to get very far without distinguishing yourself, in some way, from all the kidnappers, Indian agents, and the charlatans who doubled as Christians. Paul never had to deal with this same challenge.

So while Claiborne is wrong, to some extent he is wrong like so many Christian movements are wrong. In their attempt to reform or correct something, they are reactionary rather than reasonably responsive. They throw out the baby with the bathwater. Calvin did the same thing. Why? He was reacting, perhaps overreacting, to Roman excesses. I'm not putting Claiborne on the same theological ground as Calvin, but I am pointing out the tendency of people to over-correct and end up with varying degrees of error. In the end, you are left with something that people are zealous to defend, but something that just doesn't altogether jibe with the Scriptures.

Darius said...

I think I tend to agree with you, Chris. I don't mind Claiborne apologizing for the excesses of "Christians," as long as they are accurate. People who apologize for stuff like the Crusades and slavery don't have a clue about what was actually going on and where Christians were positioned on those issues and why.

Claiborne's biggest problem, in my opinion, is DeYoung's point 6. His gospel is a social justice gospel, and that doesn't offend almost anyone except the greedy misers in their mansions. The true gospel is meant to offend everyone, rich and poor. Claiborne routinely points to systemic evils or the bad people "out there" but never once mentions that we're all broken and sinful, including the bum on the street. In Claiborne's Jesus for President book, I remember one place where he talked about helping neighborhoods fight "street violence and police brutality". In other words, the violence was not the neighborhood's fault, but the police and the street (somehow, the street just gets violent at times). Claiborne is a Christian socialist, so he focuses on the evils within a system rather than the evil in every human heart. Because of this, while he feeds many people with physical bread and water, he never points them to the living bread and water.

Chris A said...

Yeah, I pretty much agree with you Darius.

But with respect to slavery, the issue is complex. There were Christians for and against slavery in the Western world at various times and for different reasons. We could argue that many of them were not Christians at all, but that would mean nothing in the way of apologetic discourse.

Neither can we say that Christians abolished slavery without acknowledging, for instance, the undisputed fact that the very reason we have a Southern Baptist convention is because the a southern faction wanted to be able to keep slaves. Of course, there is a little more to it than this, but slavery was definitely at the center of SBC's formation. And SBC is probably the biggest, most influential, and most evangelistic of all the Protestant denominations in the U.S., which is why this is such a crucial matter for them.

Notwithstanding whatever reasons the southerners had for wanting to keep slaves, I think (and many Baptists agree) that this is a blot on their otherwise noble history and certainly not something to be justified or glossed over. There were admitted racist elements within the denomination well into the 1960's. They issued a formal apology for their racist history in the 1990's, and I think this was key to their being able to reach out to other ethnic groups.

Considering also the fact that the Bible was used to justify slavery among different Christian groups, including the propagation of the doctrine of the Curse of Ham, I think people are perfectly right to call this for what it really is. If we cannot be honest with people, how can we expect them to hear our Gospel?

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Darius' book montage

The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Overcoming Sin and Temptation
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible
Disciplines of a Godly Man
Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
Respectable Sins
The Kite Runner
Life Laid Bare: The Survivors in Rwanda Speak
Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak
A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinist, ... anabaptist/anglican, metho
Show Them No Mercy
The Lord of the Rings
Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming
The Chronicles of Narnia
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