Does a changing culture require a different slant on the gospel? Part 1: The Past

The Gospel is Dynamic One of the most amazing things about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it has proven to be good news to every culture, in every time, and in every context. If you think about it, this is an amazing feat for any religion, and Christianity has done just that.

Christianity is not based on national identity or cultural mandates. It is a religion that offers good news to everyone. As you study how this has worked itself out, you notice that the gospel story has subtle to gigantic differences as you compare what was emphasized in differing Christian communities such as pre-Constantine Mediterranean, to the hight of Papal authority in the middle ages, to the reformation. And this is just the western branch of Christendom.

How much more diverse does the gospel look when you compare the differences from they hyper-spirituality of the Congo to the liberation theology in Central America. The underground churches in China have an expression of the gospel that is very different than the Conservative religious right of the United States.

Once we recognize that the gospel is a dynamic story that has flexibility to truly speak good news to the thin places of need in a culture, we can begin to think more creatively about what is the crisis our students are facing and what is the good news that addresses it.

Part 1) The Past But in order to figure out where we are, it is important to look back into our history and see some of the major cultural shifts and the church's response to it before we can move forward. For our purposes, the furthest back we need to go is for our modern memory, the gospel that has shaped for many of the boomers who are now in positions of power and leadership in the church. This is the Billy Graham Gospel.

Billy Graham and Bill Bright were among the leaders of pioneering a gospel story that was simple, clear, and straight to the point. It truly was good news for a generation of people who had grown up with a religious world view but had now clear path to connect the dots towards a regenerated life in Christ. They were rebellious and needed justification from consequences of their sin.

The gospel was a simple outline summing up the 4 main themes in scripture. These 4 themes came to be known as the 4 laws. The premies of them was rooted in foundational logic and a common understanding of truth. The introduction of the 4 laws says, "Just as there are physical laws that govern the universe, so there are spiritual laws that govern our relationship with God."

The Gospel as the 4 Laws Then will clarity and simplicity, the 4 laws can be presented: Law 1: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Law 2: Man is sinful and separated from GOd, so we cannot know Him personally or experience His love. Law 3: Jesus Christ is God's only provision for man's sin. Through Him alone we can know God personally and experience God's love. Law 4: We must individually receive Jesu Christ as Savior and Lord; then we can know God personally and experience His love.

Why were they so effective? This version of the Gospel was highly effective and brought about a significant revival in the 70's. It is the version of the gospel that is still most closely associated with evangelical Christianity. Even through these 4 laws are not clearly stated by Jesus as how to enter into His Kingdom, it has been the gospel that the church has relied on here in Northern America for the better part of 60 years.

But have you ever stopped to think about why was this version of the gospel so effective? What was the crisis that these laws were good news in fixing?

Think about the post World War II context with its rigid social rules and norms. Think of Leave it to Beaver. Everything was made right and had order and rules. The Judeo-Christian story was part of the culture and the Church as still the center of social and cultural life in the community. Sermons were even printed in the New York Times every Sunday.

With this emphasis on religion and order as cultural values, the crisis became one of rebellion. Many of us have heard the definition of sin as missing the mark. This is an important illustration in a culture that has a common understanding of order and law and could agree with what missing the mark meant.

As the chaos of the 60's erupted with its emphasis on rebellion and freedom, it made sense that there has now become an established thin place to communicate the gospel. Many of the boomers grew up with structure, order, and rules. When they exchanged that for rebellion, there were earthly consequences that followed. But because there was a common set of rules and norms it was easy to find a place for the gospel to be shared.

There was a common understanding of God. There was a common understanding and experience of rebellion and the consequences of that rebellion. And now there was a gospel that covered sin and washed away the consequences of that rebellion, and that was the person of Jesus Christ.

Why has this gospel become less effective? This gospel that used to have the power to fill stadiums with thousands of people coming forward, this gospel that used to be shared with just about any stranger on the street with a high chance for success, seems to have less and less impact, has lost some of its umph.

We no longer have a common Judeo-Christian culture with shared values, laws and rules. If you don't believe me, as any teenager an ethical question and you will quickly see that there is no truth with a capital T, but only situation ethics with the foundation built on minimizing their consequences. With little common agreement on the nature of truth, the nature of God and the nature of sin, the 4 spiritual laws don't answer any of the key questions being asked or solve any of the felt crises.

Because the gospel is dynamic and malleable to every cultural context, I think the gospel of the 4 spiritual laws with the emphasis on justification as the good news for our rebellion is fading in exchange for a gospel that is more relevant in addressing our current generation's crisis.

Where do we go from here? In part 2 we will take a look at what the emerging leaders have brought to the table and the transition in our understanding of the gospel. We have gone from a gospel of justification to one of healing. Where the crisis was rebellion and the good news justification, current thinkers like Tim Keller are clarifying a new gospel where the crisis is brokenness and the good news is healing power of Jesus Christ!

Want to join a conversation that is wrestling with this changing reality? Mark your calendar and save October 5, 2012. Click HERE for more information.