There is an interesting blogpost at Out of Ur about the consequences of our Gospel presentation upon the life of our church in our culture. Scot McKnight, theologian, blogger (Jesus Creed), and writer, has thought deeply about what is written in the Scriptures about becoming a Christian and living Christianly. In the blogpost he contrasts two forms of "Gospel Presentation"; what people "sign up for" when they become Christians often profoundly shapes what the rest of their Christian life is like. Thus, if you want a robust Christian life, one needs to consider what kind of Gospel is initially offered to them.
Below is an extended quote from the Out of Ur blogpost concerning this issue:
"Scot McKnight summarized the “Standard Gospel Presentation” this way:
God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
Your problem is that you are sinful; God can’t admit sinners into his presence.
Jesus died for you to deal with your “sin-problem.”
If you trust in Christ, you can be admitted into God’s presence.
"He went on to say that the problems with this popular evangelical gospel include:
1. No one in the New Testament really preaches this gospel.
2. This gospel is about one thing: humans gaining access to God’s presence.
3. This gospel creates an individualist Christian life.
4. This gospel sets the tone for the entire evangelical movement.
5. This gospel leads to spiritual formation being entirely about “me and God.”
6. The evangelical gospel has created a need for evangelical monasteries.
7. The evangelical gospels turns the local church into a volunteer society that is unnecessary.
8. The evangelical gospel is rooted in Theism or Deism, but not the Trinity.
"In contrast to this anemic gospel, McKnight believes a more accurate and “robust” gospel presentation would include the following features:
1. A robust gospel cannot be “tractified” (meaning, reduced to a formula).
2. God made you as an eikon (Greek for “image”) to relate in love to God, to self, to others, and to the world.
3. The “fall” cracked the eikon in all directions.
4. Bible readers cannot skip from Genesis 3 to Romans 3.
5. Genesis 4-11 reveals the “problem” of sin: the climax is a society of eikons trying to build their way to God.
6. Genesis 12 begins to restore the eikon by a covenantal commitment and forming the family of faith. The rest of the Bible is about this elected family of faith.
7. The “problem” is finally resolved in “four atoning moments”: the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
8. The “locus” of resolution is the family of faith: three big words in the Bible that describe this family of faith are Israel, the Kingdom, and the Church.
As I reflected on this article, I was particularly struck by Problem #7 "The evangelical gospel turns the local church into a volunteer society that is unecessary." Lately I've been wondering about the point of the church gathering on Sundays, of recruiting volunteers to serve during these and other church gatherings...does it matter if people do this stuff? What about all the other people who have gifts and desires to serve Jesus - but who aren't a good fit for Sunday School, ushers, greeters, music stuff, mowing, and general event volunteer opportunities. Even if people do all of that stuff, does it really matter? Does it matter why people do that stuff, or just that they do it? Does it matter how they do it, or just that it gets done? I think of our regular Sunday gatherings and often despair: not that our gathering is a painful experience, but rather that something significant is not embraced by most of those gathered. There is little sense of how gathering together is essential to the ongoing following of Jesus Christ in everyday life. Some get it, but even then it is amongst a distraction of duties on Sunday morning.
The line in the nineties used to be "unchurched"; if you were unchurched, the goal was to get you churched. Thus we redesigned the purpose and activities of churches to get the unchurched involved in events, tasks, programs and experiences. But becoming churched did not necessarily mean becoming a Christ-follower. It could, but not in most cases. From my perspective, I'm not that impressed with churches as an institution; I know they have a role in the kingdom of God and in our culture. But when it comes to Jesus-followers gathering together as part of their following of Jesus, I'm just not convinced that what we do on Sunday morning contributes to that sense.
I'm striving to find words for what I sense; I'm striving to understand what I'm being led towards. The New Testament word for church is ekklesia; of which the common translation was often "assembly" or "gathering". For obvious reasons, the ekklesia of God has become primarily understood as an institution; but at its heart, the ekklesia of God in Jesus is about people devoted to the apostles teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer; to providing awesome miracles and meeting the needs of all. Obviously if people organize themselves to better live out this kind of life, their is an institutional determinism that results.
But rather than focus on the virtues or vices of institutionalism, I think it is more fruitful to focus on the Scriptures Gospel Presentation: what is Jesus proclaiming to us, and how do we proclaim it for our culture? Institutions that get God's Gospel right are powerful; local gatherings of Jesus-followers who get God's Gospel are potent. I want Anchor, our ekklesia, to get God's Gospel.