Restraining the Gospel?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : March 30, 2005

It seems to me that every church places restraints upon how they communicate the Gospel–some good, some bad.  For example, most churches won’t engage in blatantly unethical practices to get people to listen to a presentation of the Gospel. We intuitively know it is wrong to engage in the practice of the cult known as the "flirty little fishers"–exchanging sexual intercourse with the promise of conversion.   

Some churches have placed excessive restraints upon how they communicate the Gospel.  Many Churches throughout American history haven’t allowe "people of color" to come hear the Gospel in their churches.  In addition, there have been preachers who have tagged on alot of extra moral retraints onto their presentation of the Gospel–"don’t smoke, drink, or chew, or date girls that do…"

One of the driving impulses of the seeker-sensitive approach is to remove as many restraints as possible, so that people will find it as easy as possible to hear the Gospel.  Out of this impulse, the seeker-sensitive approach advocates the following:

  • People don’t like crossing ethnic or class lines, and are much more likely to respond to the Gospel if they don’t have to cross such lines…therefore, let’s have church that is focused on a specific demographic.
  • People don’t like having the Gospel "pushed" on them.  Let’s make it as easy as possible for them to come to us if they want to, where they can hear a simple, clear, uncluttered presentation of the Gospel (or what we think is the Gospel), and then allow them to make their own choices.
  • People trust things that look professional. Let’s have our meetings be as professional as possible, so that people can have trust in what we say. Let’s remove the barrier of mediocrity.  We know that God can work through humble means, but why use humble means if excellence is at our disposal?

Are these valid examples of removing restraints?  I don’t think so.  If we read the Gospels, we see that Christ challenges all three of these notions. Paul also challenges all three. I think that we have so refined our definition of the Gospel (it is a set of relatively simple propositions, that once agreed upon, open up a doorway to a relationship with God the father), that we’ve felt the liberty to peel away things that we consider to be secondary–ethnic reconcilliation, the centrality of discipleship, how we spend our money, the manner in which the Gospel is presented, etc.  I think it is time that we re-examine the retraints that the Gospel demands.  I know that we should avoid putting extras on the Gospel, but I’m unconvinced that most Evangelicals really know what the Gospel is.  Sure, there are snazzy statements in Scripture that seem to indicate that the Gospel can be boiled down to one key idea.  But, oddly enough, not all of those statements speak of the same idea.  Its as though those guys were talking about a mult-faceted Gospel or something.

for further reading . . .

  • None Found


6 Responses to “Restraining the Gospel?”

  1. pat k on March 30th, 2005 11:33 am

    A multi-faceted gospel?! What the…?!

  2. Van S on March 30th, 2005 12:05 pm


  3. Anonymous on March 31st, 2005 8:15 pm began a discussion titled “Should all Churches be Multiracial?” based off a recent article by Christianity Today. Divergent responses follow.

  4. bryan on April 1st, 2005 12:02 am

    interesting food for thought. I have a story about this that I’ll post later. For now, it’s off to bed.

  5. david on April 1st, 2005 8:22 am

    i typically just stalk blogs and make no comments, but i really appreciate this. the question then is, “now what?” how do we fix this problem without simply creating “new niche” churches?

  6. Aaron on May 2nd, 2005 8:11 pm

    Michelle Marschel referred me to your site. I thought you might find this excerpt of interest. It’s from Mark Driscoll’s book Radical Reformission. You might like the book, it’s very interesting. I’d recommend it.

    In ninety nations, people spend less each year than we in the United States spend on our garbage bags.

    Each year more Americans declare bankruptcy than graduate from college

    We have twice as many malls as high schools.

    We spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches than on higher education

    Our supermarkets have 250 percent more items than they did twenty years ago.

    Parents spend six hours shopping each week, and fourty minutes playing with their children.

    Only one-fourth of shoppers have a particular purchase in mind when they go to the mall

    Seventy percent of Americans visit a mall each week; that’s more than visit houses of worship

    The assumption that everyone is a customer to be marketed is a great pitfall for those who proclaim the gospel, because we tend to cast God as a product, and as mainstream a product as possible. After all, scriptural teaching about the curse, death as the wages of sin, the flooding of the earth, the killing of Egyptian babies, the slaughter of erverts in Sodom and Gomorrah, and the fiery torments of hell is a tough sell even for the best of marketing firms.

    Yet today everything from sex to Jesus is pimped, since some preachers have traded in prophecy for pandering. Meanwhile, people have become so seasoned from the years of direct mail, online pop-up ads, commercials, and the endless parade of advertising on everything from billboards to ball caps that they tend to view the church as just another business and the preacher as yet another huckster.
    The Radical Reformission, Mark Driscoll. (p.170-171)

Got something to say?