What Kind of Gospel Do You Preach?

What Kind of Gospel Do You Preach? January 25, 2017

Gospel Preach
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We all preach a gospel, not just TV evangelists. The question is: what kind of gospel do you preach and believe in? In The Rolling Stones’ song “All Down the Line,” Mick Jagger sings of needing a “sanctified girl” with a mind that’s sanctified to help him in the here and now, and how every once in a while he needs a “shot of salvation.” In Caddy Shack, Bill Murray’s character Carl Spackler talks about receiving from the Dalai Lama the blessing of “total consciousness” when he dies for having caddied eighteen holes of golf for his Holiness. Even though he was looking for money, Spackler finds it nice that he’s got enlightenment going for him. All humor aside, whether we think of salvation in the here and now, or at the end of life, we are looking for fulfillment or release in some way or another, even with “catch and release” in fly fishing, as with A River Runs through It.

For some of us, the gospel music tape playing in our heads is that we seek God and God begrudgingly gives us eternal life. After all, on this view, Adam and Eve sought total enlightenment in the Garden of Eden, but God kicked them out for eating a magic apple (See Genesis 2-3). Later on, in the land of Shinar, the people gathered together to build a tower reaching to the heavens, only to have God knock it down because they threatened his privacy and pride (See Genesis 11). Maybe, on this reading, Jesus eventually died on the cross to wring from God’s grip the ticket to eternity we have always craved.

Why is it, though, that God went in search of Adam and Eve in the Garden, while they hid from him? (Genesis 3) Were they really seeking him when they ate the forbidden fruit? And why did God kick them out of the Garden? Was it to punish them forever, or to spare them from greater pain and suffering? After all, if they were then to eat of the tree of life, they might live in that ruinous state of separation from God forever. Think of Cain and Abel (See Genesis 4). Though God warned Cain not to let his anger get the best of him, and though God forced Cain to wander the earth as a fugitive for killing Abel, God put a mark on Cain to protect him from harm. Lastly, after God destroyed the tower of Babel because the people sought to make a name for themselves, God called Abram and promised to make his name great and bless all people in him throughout the earth (Genesis 12). Could it be that God will not allow us to go it alone with the pursuit of enlightenment, since God is the light of our lives, or to go about building empires in the sand, since God is the solid rock on which our hopes must stand? Perhaps, then, his judgments are signs of mercy and grace.

Many people preach a gospel of MTD—moralistic, therapeutic deism. MTD conveys that God is on call to make us happy, if we live good lives. I prefer a different form of MTD—“more than deism.” For one, the MTD gospel of so many people today does not fit the biblical account that God reaches out to us when we least expect it, least want it, and most need it. Far from being a “divine butler” or “cosmic therapist” (See MTD), God is more like the hunter, king and husband that C. S. Lewis describes in his critical assessment of pantheism in Miracles. Interestingly enough, Lewis’ account of pantheism sounds quite a bit like the divine butler of MTD. According to Lewis, the pantheist’s god “does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf.” Lewis goes on to write of the predilection many have for an impersonal god,

An “impersonal God”—well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads—better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap—best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband—that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God’!) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?

So it is a sort of Rubicon. One goes across; or not. But if one does, there is no manner of security against miracles. One may be in for anything (C. S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study {New York: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1960}, pages 93-94).

I also prefer to preach a different gospel than MTD because the miracle of God’s grace and mercy revealed ultimately in Jesus to which Lewis gives consideration in various works, while quite costly, is transformative relationally. God has to take the apple from me, kick me out of the garden, cause me to wander from time to time, and tear down my towers so I will cease taking matters into my own hands and try to save myself. My own attempts at salvation have only and always led to anxiety and despair. I firmly believe that God only takes away from me so I will find my enlightenment, my salvation, and my release in him. God takes away but spares nothing of himself from us, when he gives us life: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32; ESV) While extremely costly, this is exceptionally good news to me.

What gospel do you preach?

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