Theologically speaking, I am closer to Wesley than I am to Luther or Calvin, the same way ‘3’ is closer to ‘1’ than, say, ’10’ is. I’m sure this will surprise or even disappoint some of my fellow theologues out there but there it is. Once upon a time I was a strict dispensationalist. A cessationist. A fundamentalist (note the emphasis is on the last syllable). I still adhere to the fundamentals which include the virgin birth, the vicarious death of Christ, His victorious resurrection and visible return to earth and the veracity of the holy scriptures . If you notice from that list I have conveniently alliterated it, showing my homiletic roots from which I can never stray very far. Tragically, there are more than three points, however, and no poem.
Well, you can’t please everybody.
Some time ago, the Lord had me all in knots over Paul’s first missive to Timothy when he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the startling prediction that “in the last days some will depart from THE faith…” This taxed me to no end especially when I laid it alongside Christ’s sobering conclusion to His famous Sermon (“MANY will say to Me on that day…”), my neatly packed world began to writhe and sway. This tumultuous “sword drill” further rocked my world when God added more beef to the stew through this interchange between Jesus and a seeker:
“Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?”
“Strive to enter through the narrow door,” He replied, “for MANY, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able…”
I see little ‘striving’ these days. I garner that such a message has been deemed non sequitur by moderns and we evangelicals have retooled it so we can help God turn the “few” into “many.” Sorry, Lord, but we think we can get You bigger numbers with some favorable repackaging. Whaddaya say we tone down the Gospel a smidge, hide some of its dicier demands, and make it easier to get in? Hey, I know, let’s get people to pray a quick prayer, shake their hand and tell ’em they’re saved? Forget the aisle or public confession, just have ’em pray it silently in their seats with no one looking around! Wouldn’t want ’em to feel self-conscious…even if they don’t connect with a faith family, no matter. They’re in. It’s all done.
If Barna’s right, then there’s not a whole lot more to do in America because 8 or 9 out of ten polled people consider themselves heaven-bound. Hooray! Our way has worked!
Oh, sorry, Jesus…uh, You’re still Lord and everything…
When it comes to evangelism, the church in our era is more like the proverbial hare, like a rocket out of the gate and hurry-scurry across the countryside, and Jesus’ style is more like the tortoise, plodding, purposeful and particular. And terribly effective.
When I was a teenager in the 70s, our youth group at church would go door-to-door witnessing on Thursday nights in area neighborhoods. I, however, would board a church van with three or four other guys and we would be taken into the seedier side of town, amid drug deals and shootings, to share the gospel on street corners. We were the ‘preacher boys.’ Our goal was to get as many saved as we could, so our presentation went something like this:
“How many of you want to go to heaven when you die?”
There was always a group of ten, fifteen, or thirty curious listeners, mainly children, and mostly puzzled by upper middle class white guys converging on their turf. When the question was raised, so were the hands. Even some adults lifted an arm to the air. Immediately, we knew we had them.
“If I could tell you that you could have a mansion one day, walk on streets of pure gold and live forever, would you be interested?”
They were hooked. Mostly by the mansion thing, but hooked, nonetheless. By now, some more children were filtering our way and they, too, were betaken by visions of fairies, angels and huge marble palaces. And gum. Not hard to see, really, when the streets we proclaimed this gospel from were not golden and lined by rows and rows of shanties. Well, anyway, I would hurry through the death, burial and resurrection part of the gospel because you couldn’t stay on these matters too long or you’d lose them. They were in it for bigger game. How do I get a mansion, mister? So, I would wrap up the “sermon” part and reel them in.
“So, if you want to live forever and have your very own mansion, repeat this prayer after me…”
Many did. We’d count the noses then report back to the van our great success. Never did know what became of those noses, however. The difference between our method and the first century understanding of the gospel was that we’d count noses and jump for joy! Those early disciples would make disciples and change the world.
Though the above scenario is absolutely true, I realize that I’ve caricatured to an extent and culled something from a different time, but over all I see very little in the western church that reflects the last sentence of my previous paragraph. Going back to those earlier texts, I am greatly burdened by a man-centered gospel that is powerless to save and weak against the kingdom of darkness. I fear for a people who are basing their salvation on “greasy” grace (slide in on a wing and a prayer), a little prayer and handshake, a raised hand during an invitation long, long ago, a gospel about heaven and not Him and who are unwitting targets for the great falling away.
Brothers, something’s wrong. And we’d better address it.