Believe, Assume, Deny: The Progression of Losing the Gospel's Centrality
Monday, August 1, 2011 at 10:17AM
Ben Simpson in Theology, United Methodist Church, gospel

Though I'm a little late to comment on this entry, Justin Taylor has featured a brief treatment on the rapid loss, decline, and eventual death that takes place in the lives of even once thriving congregations, warning that the same can happen to any thriving church of our day.  Of note, I believe, is his citation of Don Carson, who has written:

In a fair bit of Western evangelicalism, there is a worrying tendency to focus on the periphery. [My] colleague . . . Dr. Paul Hiebert . . . . springs from Mennonite stock and analyzes his heritage in a fashion that he himself would acknowledge is something of a simplistic caricature, but a useful one nonetheless.

One generation of Mennonites believed the gospel and held as well that there were certain social, economic, and political entailments.

The next generation assumed the gospel, but identified with the entailments.

The following generation denied the gospel: the “entailments” became everything.

Assuming this sort of scheme for evangelicalism, one suspects that large swaths of the movement are lodged in the second step, with some drifting toward the third.

. . . What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? . . . Today there are endless subgroups of confessing Christians who invest enormous quantities of time and energy in one issue or another: abortion, pornography, home schooling, women’s ordination (for or against), economic justice, a certain style of worship, the defense of a particular Bible version, and countries have a full agenda of urgent, peripheral demands. Not for a moment am I suggesting we should not think about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?

The question with which Carson concludes is crucial: "In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?"  It is true that there are many other matters, doctrinal and otherwise, that can consume our time and attention as we conduct our ministries.  But we must always return to the heart--the undeniable core of the faith--that being, the announcement of the forgiveness of sin through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the inbreaking reality of the reign of God, and the future hope of eternity with God.  It has been my observation that the denomination of which I am currently part, The United Methodist Church, is unclear on even this.  More attention is given to methodologies or techniques for church growth, or advocacy on the part of this or that social cause.  Perhaps this is only reflective of my region, or of the websites and blogs that I frequent.  But I fear that United Methodists are unclear on the gospel, both what it is, and how to articulate it.

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