For the past 60-75 years Christians, especially evangelical Christians in North America, have adhered to a formulation of the Christian message known as a Summary Gospel. This formulation came into being for thoroughly pragmatic purposes— to get the gospel out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. It was considered the “core” of the gospel; it was the least amount of information that an individual needed to know to make a decision about turning their life over to God. Over time it grew to be known as “the gospel”. Whether intentional or not, this simple, usually four point summary, came to be understood as the WHOLE GOSPEL.
It is not.
Not coincidentally, it followed the typical problem solving/sales model of the post-World War II era (1949), popularized by companies like Fuller Brush and Hoover Vacuums.
- You have a problem.
- We have a product that will solve your problem.
- Buy our product.
- Your problem will be solved.
This formulation worked quite well, quite pragmatically, as long as people retained a sense of their own rebellion and sinfulness before a Holy God. They understood the problem, their need of salvation, even if most rejected the product, Jesus Christ, as the solution to their sinfulness. But we now live in a society that no longer accepts the pre-suppositional basis for the Christian faith, nor understands its own need for salvation. Truly, then, HOW shall they hear? What has been lost in our society, in a very real sense, is the context for the Christian message. It no longer has anything to say to postmodern/postChristian man, woman, child, anybody. We have no sense of God’s love for us, we have no sense of our own rebellion against Him, or of our own sinfulness before God. And we certainly see no need for a personal Savior. It is this loss of context that is at the heart of the shift from a modernist-mindset to a postChristian-mindset.
Moreover, in this postmodern/postChristian era, it is not only the postmodern mind that needs to hear a new shape of our message. It is also the postModern heart that needs to grasp the greatness of Christ’s work on the cross. If I might play devil’s advocate for a bit, allow me to address the loss of a Christian perspective in our culture through a rhetorical dialog.
Mental Discussion #1
Why become a Christian?
To have your sins forgiven.
Why do I want my sins forgiven?
To go to heaven?
Why do I want to do that?
So you don’t go to hell.
Sound familiar? In one form or another, this is the gist of how many genuine Christians view their work in evangelism— saving people from hell. To say it feels somewhat condemnatory explains why so few Christians have the heart to engage their non-Christian friends in Christian conversation. That is, if they even have any non-Christian friends. We see ourselves as people trying to save people from hell, eternal damnation, and the pit of fire. [Sadly, many Christians aren’t even sure there is such a place any more. Good luck with that.]
Mental Discussion #2
Let’s try another approach that is more holistic, more in-tune with the deepest heartbeat and mindset of our postModern/postChristian culture.
Why become a Christian?
To fulfill your humanity.
What are you talking about!?! You don’t think I can be fulfilled unless I am a Christian?
Well, actually, no.
Not really. If God created us to live in harmony with Him how can we be fulfilled as human beings, as His creation, unless we are in tune with the God Who made us?
To fulfill our humanity we need to be in a healthy relationship with the world around us that promotes peace, nurtures and develops the natural resources God has given us, and protects those who are weaker from evil.
That’s Christianity? I’m already doing a lot of those things.
BUT…, we also need to enter into a healthy relationship with the God who made us— Jesus Christ, the Creator and Sustainer of life. We need both a vertical relationship with the God who made us and a horizontal relationship with the world around us. BOTH need to be governed by the Life Principles found in the Christian Bible.
As Creator, God set up safeguards for us to keep us from hurting ourselves and destroying His creation. These are His “Perimeters-of-Protection,” so to speak, that keep us in His safe-keeping. When we step outside those perimeters of protection we put our lives at risk, literally. So sin is more precisely described as not only breaking God’s Laws (Life Principles) but also stepping outside His perimeters-of-protection for us. It is a very foolish, life threatening rebellion at the least. Not smart.
So becoming a Christian involves a reentry into God’s Perimeter-of-Protection. So sin is taking matters into my own hand and ignoring God in my life.
You got it.
The second scenario is incomplete, of course, because every conversation proceeds just a little differently from the example. The point is that present-day Christians have forgotten the PURPOSE of the Gospel; namely, to bring men and women back into a relationship with the God who made them, not just so they can have their sins forgiven, not just so they can avoid hell (punishment) and enter into heaven (reward); but so that they live in harmony with the Creator of all things, in harmony with the earth, the universe, other people, and even relatives. Christ came NOT merely to pay the penalty for our sin: He came to set everything back on track; He came to initiate a course correction throughout the entire process of our relationship with this world and with His Father, the God who made us.
NEXT TIME~ Framing a postChristian Gospel: a heart to heart thing— part 4.
Mixing heart & mind,