Sat May 18, 2013
by Hugh Whelchel
Resurgence roundup, 5/17/13
Fri May 17, 2013
Grace all the way
Wed May 15, 2013
by Justin Holcomb
How to be on mission in the city
Wed May 15, 2013
by Stephen Um
How to love people well
Tue May 14, 2013
by Dave Bruskas
Gospel and Method: Part 2
(continued from Gospel and Method, Part 1)
In Gospel and Method Part 1, we exposed an unhealthy preoccupation with methods in church growth debates. To a degree, this debate ignores what is most critical in church planting: our understanding, articulation, and embodiment of the historic gospel of Jesus Christ. Varieties of methods, from organic house church to attractional megachurch, have been used by God to advance the gospel. But what kind of gospel are we advancing?
The 50/50 Gospel
In his newest book, Christless Christianity, Michael Horton argues that a semi-pelagian understanding of the gospel plagues the American church. Is it fair, however, to lay our rampant nominalism at the feet of Pelagius? After all, most so-called “semi-pelagian” churches are neither aware of nor lay claim to Pelagian doctrine (heresy). Perhaps it is overreaching to frame the Christless Christianity of America with a 6th-century theology? Regardless, Horton has placed his finger on the near lifeless pulse of the American gospel.
He points out that American Protestantism has come to view grace as “divine assistance for the process of moral transformation rather than as a one-sided divine rescue.” That gospel operates on what we’ll call a 50/50 principle. This 50/50 gospel offers salvation via a blend of fifty percent grace and fifty percent good behavior. The cross is no longer expiation of sin but an example of how to live sacrificially. People are good enough to choose Christ but they simply need to be reminded of how good a choice he is. Broken marriages, patterns of sexual sin, deep-seated anger, and rampant debt are primarily the product of our failure to behave like Jesus.
Enter the church. The church can remind us, exhort us, even train us to be like Jesus, to make good moral decisions, not bad ones. According to the 50/50 gospel, we need the grace of God’s example and a faithful commitment to be on our best behavior. This is the 50/50 gospel, and it is anathema.
Are our methods entirely untethered from the gospel? Are there certain, more biblically faithful understandings of the gospel that will produce certain, more theologically faithful churches? How does the 50/50 gospel affect church growth and methodology? Consider the impact of such a gospel. If all we need Jesus for is bygone salvation and an ever-present example, we reduce the church to a halfway house between our moral failures and our moral successes. We rehabilitate our decision-making under the faithful instruction of a faithless institution. Jesus need not die and certainly not rise from the dead!
But the 50/50 gospel is sometimes mixed differently. Some methods use a 50% mission, 50% grace concoction. We need the grace of Jesus’ example and the goal of Jesus’ mission. In this concoction, churches serve as an inspiring non-profit, moving us from missional failure to missional success. We soften our social consciences under the weight of a missional institution.
Alternatively, we may pick the 50% community, 50% grace combo. We need the grace of God to become “like the early church,” to have real community, to jettison our individualism in order to truly become “the church.” The gospel becomes a quick fix for our lack of community.
100 Percent Gospel
Each concoction of the 50/50 gospel is actually quite dangerous. They all produce churches that attract people to morality messages, missional activities, and communal experiences. The goal of the church is reduced to converting people to a better way of living, not to a better God to be believing.
What we need is a gospel that is 100 percent grace, the work of the Spirit to violate our dulled taste for what it good, true, and beautiful and to get us drunk on God. We need more than changed behaviors—we need changed hearts, new affections, from which a life of worship flows. We need the new covenant in Christ’s blood. What America needs is churches that are more concerned about pointing us to the multi-faceted splendor and staggering lordship of Jesus Christ than innovative ways we can be the church through community or mission. What we need is 100% gospel.