During the past 20 – 25 years almost everything about evangelism has been questioned and evaluated in the dual lights of Biblical teaching and cultural alignment. And we have adjusted what we do. We’ve challenged everything, everything that is, except what we actually say to non-believers – the traditional gospel proclamation.
What do I mean by the traditional gospel proclamation? The typical approach to the gospel begins with the proclamation that humanity is alienated from the creator because of sin. It continues with the announcement that a Holy God requires payment for sin before we can be forgiven. It declares that Jesus died on the cross to make payment on our behalf and concludes with a call to respond to God in the light of what He has done for us. Given room for some differences in style and specifics, this is the backbone of almost every message the church sends to non-believers.
I believe this traditional proclamation, while telling a biblically true and wonderful story, needs a total makeover. It needs to undergo a fresh evaluation in the light of biblical example and cultural development because it no longer is properly understood by our audience. Here are 4 reasons that is necessary.
1. It assumes things about God that are no longer accepted as true by non-believers:
The Christian Gospel makes certain assumptions. We assume the existence of a personal God who has both the right and the inclination to decide what is right and wrong for everyone throughout history. The whole logical flow of our “gospel” is built on this. If this premise is not accepted, the whole presentation collapses. The result is many conversations that never get off the ground.
2. The concept of sin is wildly misunderstood:
The idea of sin has been diluted from a violation of the eternal word of a holy creator, to a kind of simple human miscalculation. It is seen as the inevitable result of the imperfect knowledge of an imperfect person. The concept that any sin results in a permanent separation from God seems more an indictment of God than an attribute that inspires awe.
3. In a democratic society, law is a reflection of human wisdom not divine holiness:
In our society, humans make laws based on the common consent of those governed. Some laws change, and not all laws carry an equal punishment. No one would argue that a speeding ticket and murder should exact the same penalty. That would be unthinkable. But the Law of God is different because it demands compete obedience. It doesn’t matter which law you break, you are guilty of all!
4. Atonement and justification are the right story but non-believers are the wrong audience:
The wonderful and powerful story that Christ died on the cross to take away sin is an amazing and life changing Truth. But a careful reading of the Book of Acts reveals a very challenging fact: No one ever described the meaning and the power of the death of Christ to non-believers. Not once! That story was reserved for teaching believers how God could forgive them once they had repented and believed in Jesus. We are telling the right story, but to the wrong audience.
All of this begs the question: If we don’t tell non-believers about why Christ died, what do we tell them? And if no one in the New Testament explained why Christ died to non-believers, what did they explain? That is the point of my next blog…. Your thoughts?