I recently heard a sermon where the pastor made a simple, yet profound, point about understanding the Gospel. He said that for individuals to understand the good news of the Gospel, they must first accept the bad news regarding our “natural” state. Expounding further, he said that if individuals can’t see the need for God in their lives, they’ll be unable to see the necessity of the Gospel. In other words, he suggests that for people to see Gospel Truth, they must be aware of their circumstances when they are outside of God’s grace and mercy.
Starting with the pastor’s recommendation, we’ll first acknowledge the bad news regarding our natural state of being. With an understanding of the bad news, we’ll then consider the good news of the Gospel. After examining the good news with consideration of the bad, a few thoughts are offered for why some of us who claim to believe the Gospel message may, in actuality, be partially blind to its Truth—not fully seeing the power, love, mercy, and grace of God that it shares. In conclusion, recommendations are provided for sharing the whole gospel story, with considerations to content and context.
THE BAD NEWS
We all occasionally make mistakes, and I believe that no one would be bold enough to claim otherwise. Also, I believe that few would claim to be perfect—other than, possibly, a few sociopathic outliers. I’d suggest that these perspectives are, for the most part, universal. Ask others if they’re sinners, however, and I’m convinced that we’ll encounter defensiveness in some form. Even for those who, if asked, would be unable to define what it is to sin, there seems to be an innate understanding that being a sinner carries greater weight than either acknowledging mistakes or admitting imperfections. That being said, what is a sin? And, what does it mean to be a sinner?
Possessing a Sinful Nature
A sin is an immoral act that is, in simplest terms, a transgression against divine law. Therefore, to be a sinner is to be a transgressor of divine law. According to the Holy Bible, the punishment for sinning is condemnation—death (Romans 6:23). And the bad news? We’re all sinners, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB).
…as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:10-12, NASB; refer to Psalm 14: 1-3; 53:1-3).
For individuals that have lived under the premise that they are, generally speaking, “good” people, such a message comes across as a deeply personal attack; challenging a core component of their belief system. Based on their actions, the Pharisees and scribes that incited Jesus’ crucifixion adhered to the belief that they were generally “good.” They believed that if they followed Mosaic Law to the utmost degree, they’d enjoy God’s favor. And these men strictly followed the letter of the Law. They, however, in following the letter of the Law—and in some cases, unnecessarily elevating the letter of the Law—failed to understand the Spirit of the Law:
“But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40, NASB).
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:10, NASB).
For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).
Jesus regularly calls out many of the Pharisees and scribes for this specific error in understanding; emphasizing that they are in direct conflict with what they claim to desire. Their hearts are dead as they focus on rules rather than relationships. Christ, in chastising these Pharisees and scribes, takes the position that behaviors and actions without love and proper (God-focused and others-focused) intentions are hollow and lifeless:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28, NASB).
These men are devoted to the Law, but fail to foster a personal relationship with God. If these men could be intensely focused on the Law and still fail to understand the importance of loving relationship, how many of us are guilty of doing the same? A major theme throughout Jesus’ three years of ministry with His disciples is that to truly do “good” requires us to love God and others (Luke 10:27). Where love exists, there too, is healthy relationship (John 14:21). This understanding should encourage us to ask, “How can we serve God if we do not know Him or love Him?” The simple answer is: we can’t. We’re only fooling ourselves if we believe otherwise, for Jesus warns us:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB).
Therefore, I always exhibit concern and disappointment when professed Christians evangelize with only the bad news; especially when speaking to complete strangers. Let us consider how many of us, as believers, feel when we come across a street preacher proclaiming end times’ judgment and eternal condemnation for nonbelievers? Personally, such approaches to evangelism make me both uncomfortable and angry. Now, consider that same scenario from the perspective of a nonbeliever. They don’t know Christ. Does informing them that they’re condemned to hell because they don’t have faith in Him make sense? Would any of us have faith in someone that we didn’t know, when it’s rare enough to simply trust the people that we do know? How does such an approach function to effectively share the Gospel and grow the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 28:16-20)? How does such an approach communicate love? Where does such an approach foster relationship?
I would assert that most Christians—the majority of whom don’t follow the Westboro Baptist Church witnessing strategy—reject the “bad news only” approach to evangelism. I believe that this is a good thing. The problem, however, is that many professed believers evangelize by erring on the opposite side of the spectrum—solely sharing the good news. As I continue, there are now two questions that we should address. What is the good news? And, why would only sharing the good news be considered a problem?
THE GOOD NEWS
The good news is that an omniscient, sovereign, and just God loves us and desires healthy relationship with us—with healthy relationship being synonymous with loving relationship. Not surprisingly, this perspective of God’s character aligns with the greatest commandment that He gave us: to love Him and love others (Luke 10:27; Mark 12:30-31; Matthew 22:38). The message of the gospel—the word “gospel” literally meaning “good news”—shares what He did for us and how He did it. The gospel also provides greater clarification as to who receives what God gives, what He desires for those recipients to become, and how they can ultimately be transformed to fulfill those desires. Though, for now, let us focus on the more general presentation of the good news—what God did for us, and how He did it:
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11, NASB).
Emphasis should be placed on how the above scripture opens: “For while we were still helpless” (Romans 5:6). How can we save ourselves if we’re already dead? The word for “sin” in Greek is “hamartia,” which can be defined as “missing the mark.” Therefore, once we sin against God, we’re no longer capable of being in a healthy relationship with a perfect God. Furthermore, while we’re inconsistently faithful, God is both consistently faithful in His Word, and constantly loving, “for God is love” (1 John 4:8). And “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Too often, we fail to effectively communicate that our salvation is a gift from God; being unable to earn it through our own efforts:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:4-10, NASB).
The depths of the love that we proclaim through the Gospel is truly unfathomable, but still necessary to share. As such, I would argue that we, as Christians, too often struggle to effectively (not to be confused with wholly) communicate that love. When we’re struggling to share God’s infinite love to nonbelievers, I’d suggest that it’s because our level of investment in these people isn’t reflective of the love that we’re preaching:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
In our cynical world—a world that uses social media to turn celebrities’ lives into modern-day Greek tragedies—the message of an all-powerful God that possesses a sacrificing love for us is difficult to accept. If the individuals to whom we share the goods news cannot see the good—particularly the love—in our lives with their own eyes, how can we expect them to see the “good” in the news that we’re sharing? I’d suggest that we’re only capable of sharing the good news with others if we’re living in a manner that reflects God’s love; requiring us to love God and love others for our joy and His glory.
Therefore, in summary, the good news consists of the following convictions:
- God is all-powerful, loves us, and desires relationship with us
- God has given us a gift that allows for healthy relationship with Him
- God’s gift is not something we deserve, nor is it something we can earn
To a Christian, the above points should easily be understood as good news. But what about nonbelievers? I’d argue that many nonbelievers would be disengaged when hearing such news as I’ve positioned it above. Again, they don’t know God (hence, nonbeliever). If they’re Agnostic, or consider themselves to be the “spiritual sort,” they may believe in heaven—but almost definitely don’t believe in hell. Furthermore, their version of heaven is highly unlikely to be modeled after, or reflect, scriptural teaching. For instance, their version of heaven is more likely to be associated with their favorite leisure activity. For instance, “I can just see Bob now, in his fishing boat, enjoying the waters of heaven for all eternity,” or something to that effect.
The most egregious allowance that occurs when we share the good news without including the necessary context is that it permits nonbelievers to “fill-in” the contextual blanks. These are people that don’t likely have the biblical background, if any background, that most Christians (hopefully) possess. And I’d suggest that most people tend to fill-in the contextual blanks of the stories they hear with what they already perceive to be true. Therefore, they’re sure to fill-in the blanks by creating a context that aligns with their secular worldview. Remember, these are people who don’t know Christ (yet).
That is why, when sharing the gospel, applying proper context is essential.
SHARING A CONTEXTUALLY COMPLETE MESSAGE
For the good news to be effectively heard requires that we share the whole story. The whole story involves who we are outside of Christ (the bad news); the loving promise of God the Father; the fulfillment of that promise through the loving sacrifice of Christ, His Son; and the loving gift of the Holy Spirit, allowing us to become transformed and made new (healthy) for eternal relationship with God in His Kingdom (heaven). If we don’t know who we are (the bad news), then we’ll fail to see our current situation. If we fail to see our current situation, then we’ll fail to understand what God does for us through Christ and the Holy Spirit (good news).
Consider how you’d feel if you’re sitting in your living room, watching your favorite show—be it The Walking Dead, Downton Abbey, or Castle—and some Stranger barges into your home. The Stranger then forcefully pulls you up from your extraordinarily comfortable, living room couch; dragging you outside. Would you be angry? How about defiant? I doubt that you’d be appreciative and praise the Stranger for His loving deed, right?
Now, would you think differently if you’re aware that your house is about to collapse? The Stranger realizes that the vicious storm outside—the one that you’d been ignoring while watching your favorite show—is about to destroy your home (with you in it). He sees that you’re in need of saving, and does so, even though you’ve done nothing for Him. And then He offers you a firm foundation, solid land, to build a new home—one that He’ll pay for:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall” (Matthew 7:24-27, NASB).
If you’re made aware of what would happen to you without the Stranger’s intervention, is there any way for you to be angry with Him? And then, how could you blame Him for your circumstances when He offers you a better home? I suspect that you’d be, as the saying goes, “eternally grateful.” There is wisdom in such gratefulness. And you’d definitely be foolish not to accept the Stranger’s offer for a fresh start—a new life. Furthermore, wouldn’t you make it a priority to know the Stranger, and maintain a relationship with the Stranger who saves you? The Person who restores your life?
While we were once enemies with God, upon receiving His wonderful gift of salvation, we become contributors to His story! Once imbued with the Holy Spirit, we become His ambassadors. This, to me, is the aspect of God’s gift that is often disregarded or, at minimum, under-appreciated. His love for us is so great that He equips, enables, and compels us (through the Holy Spirit) to share in His glory! We are the neighbors who help the next person He saves come to know Him. We are blessed to share the story of how that Stranger saves us too!
This is, in effect, what our God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—does for us. He saves us from our deadly foolishness. He offers us a relationship with Him that provides us with our daily bread (Luke 11:3)—that which we need to live. He desires for us to know Him and to love Him. And if we love Him and are grateful for what He does for us, wouldn’t we share our experience—our relationship with Him—with others? Therefore, it’s imperative that we’re honest with nonbelievers about their circumstances—and ours. The good and the bad. We must present the gospel to them with the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
But first, we must see the Truth that we intend to share clearly. We may believe the Truth; yet, allow the devil, the world, or our own flesh to warp our understanding of it. Sometimes we can become partially blind to the Truth, only accepting or emphasizing one aspect of the Gospel message. So again, we must see the Truth clearly, having faith in God’s goodness, and depending on His love and mercy.
Partial Blindness: Hearing But Not Seeing The Truth
The below figure shows three possible—though, not formally acknowledged—gospel perspectives that we, as believers, can follow.
Of course, only one of these perspectives is an accurate representation of Gospel Truth. When we place more emphasis on the bad news, we become partially blind to the good news; resting in a state of hopelessness. When we place more emphasis on the good news, we become partially blind to the bad news; embracing—and often advocating, given our individualistic culture—an independent perspective of how to live. Only by seeing the Gospel’s Truth clearly can we live in a manner that will bring us joy while glorifying our Lord.
The following three sections will separately focus upon each of these perspectives.
Hopelessness: Accepting The Bad News | Doubting the Good News
When we accept the bad news and doubt the good, we’re at risk of experiencing hopelessness. We don’t question our inadequacy, but we do doubt that we’re capable of being loved. We doubt that God’s love is real. We place emphasis on our negative life experiences; exhibiting a myopic (a.k.a “near-sighted”) view of existence. As God’s love and justice are fully seen from an eternal perspective, we need to look past our mortal lives towards the immortal. To possess an eternal perspective of being, however, is only possible when we rest in faith. We cannot depend on our own eyes, which can only see in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). Rather, we must trust in the Word of our Lord. In doing so, we turn away from evil and experience the healing that can only come from His love:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your way acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from Evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones (Proverbs 3:5-8).
Having now discussed one way that our eyes can be perceptually skewed, let’s discuss the perceptual skewness that stems from the opposite end of the spectrum—rejecting the bad news altogether.
Independence: Rejecting The Bad News | Disregarding the Good News
We can proudly exhibit sinful independence when we claim to believe in God, but don’t understand how vital His work is for our salvation. God’s presence and work in our lives is unequivocally and absolutely necessary. This rejection of the bad news occurs when we believe that we’re generally “good” people, and that we aren’t deserving of hell. From this perspective of who we are, we will almost assuredly fall into a performance mindset. Those with a performance mindset will associate their “good” deeds as evidence of their righteousness; deemphasizing those instances when they’re failing to act rightly. And if judged on our own merit, failing to do good just once is tantamount to eternal damnation. Basically, if we believe that we’re generally “good,” then, won’t we believe that we can save ourselves? And in believing that we can save ourselves, won’t we act according to such belief? Where does Christ fit in this mindset?
When adhering to a Gospel perspective that embraces personal independence, we aren’t exhibiting a loving trust in our loving God. With such a mindset, we’re leading ourselves rather than following Him.
When We See The Truth: Our Actions Reflect Our Beliefs
So, here is the litmus test for whether or not we truly understand and live in accordance with Gospel Truth. Do we trust His Word in its entirety? Do our hopes emanate from a faith in Him? Are we dependent on Christ, following His Word with loving obedience? Do we bear fruit by loving in “deed and truth” (1 John 3:18)? And when we’re loving in deed and truth, what are the fruit of the Spirit that others should be able to see in our lives?
“the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Using a modern day colloquialism, our “talk is cheap” without evidence of fruit in our lives. How can we be good witnesses to others, if others are unable to see Christ through us? Christ makes this same point by referring to Himself as “the Vine” and His followers as “branches.”
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full (John 15:1-11, NASB).
Ultimately, as Christians, we must bear fruit in our actions. Jesus states as much. Subsequently, to bring credibility to our words regarding the Truth that we are commanded to share with others, they must observe evidence of our own adherence to it. The beliefs and convictions that we share in word must emanate into deeds that are reflective of such Truth. This is how we bear fruit.
For that to happen—for our actions to reflect Truth and bear fruit—it is first necessary that we see Truth accurately. Therefore, we must understand the Gospel message in its entirety—the good and the bad. We must know Christ, seeing our Lord from a proper perspective. The good news and bad news within God’s Word are representative of one deeply and all-inclusive message; intimately sharing His love for us and our need for Him. We must remember that the good news and bad news that God shares with us through His Word aren’t separate messages, but rather two strands of the same cord. “And a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
In putting it all together, let us focus on our core convictions. From these core convictions is presented a simple recommendation for sharing what it is to be Christian.
What Do We Believe?
It’s important that we know how we’d respond if someone asks us: What do you believe, and how strongly do you believe it? As much as how our answer helps others understand us, it also—and possibly more importantly—helps us understand ourselves. Why? Because our beliefs shape our identity. Furthermore, the depth of our convictions determines our character and integrity when placed in adverse circumstances.
An early profession of faith, the Apostles’ Creed serves for many as a statement of their core Christian convictions. The Apostles’ Creed is based upon a Christian theological understanding that is derived from the Canonical gospels and New Testament letters. It reads as follows:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic and apostolic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
In 325 AD, understanding the necessity for Church consensus on matters of faith, an ecumenical (i.e. universal) council representing all of Christendom met to address what, at that time, were unsettled Christological issues; leading to the initial formation of the Nicene Creed. In 381 AD, the Nicene Creed was further refined and amended. It was intended to serve as a universal, doctrinal statement of correct belief (i.e. Orthodoxy). The Nicene Creed (in one of its more recent, translated forms) reads as follows:
We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and look for the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
While there is no Creed to which all existing denominations fully adhere, these creeds present the foundational beliefs of Christianity. In other words, these creeds establish the base identity for what it is to call oneself “Christian.” These core convictions, these foundational beliefs of Christianity, are what G.K. Chesterton coins “mere Christianity.” As an English writer and lay theologian, Chesterton’s writings—most notably, The Everlasting Man—were influential in the conversion of another well-known lay theologian of his time, C.S. Lewis. The fact that Lewis’ BBC radio talks turned book—a book that focuses on Christianity’s common ground—is titled Mere Christianity, pays respect to Chesterton’s influence. Lewis, like Chesterton, emphasizes the “mere” elements of Christianity in his writings. And for these two men, Christianity’s “mereness” centers around the person and work of Jesus Christ—Chesterton’s Everlasting Man.
Focusing on The ‘Mere” to Get From ‘There’ to ‘Here’
In the preface of Mere Christianity, Lewis explains why he only addresses the “mere:”
“Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times. I had more than one reason for thinking this. In the first place, the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even ecclesiastical history, which ought to be treated except by real experts. I should have been out of my depth in such waters: more in need of help myself than able to help others. And secondly, I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son. Finally, I got the impression that far more, and more talented, authors were already engaged in such controversial matters than in the defence of what Baxter calls ‘mere’ Christianity. That part of the line where I thought I could serve best was also the part that seemed to be thinnest. And to it I naturally went.
So far as I know, these were my only motives, and I should be very glad if people would not draw inferences from my silence on certain disputed matters.
For example, such silence need not mean that I myself am sitting on the fence. Sometimes I am. There are questions at issue between Christians to which I do not think we have been told the answer. There are some to which I may never know the answer: if I asked them, even in a better world, I might (for all I know) be answered as a far greater questioner was answered: ‘What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.’ But there are other questions as to which I am definitely on one side of the fence, and yet say nothing. For I am not writing to expound something I could call ‘my religion,’ but to expound ‘mere’ Christianity, which is what it is and what it was long before I was born and whether I like it or not” (Lewis, pp VIII-IX).
Scripture also seems to encourage a focus on Christianity’s ‘mereness,’ avoiding extrapolations of the Truth that venture so far from their origins that they cease to remain true. Consider Paul’s cautions to the church in Colossae and to his apprentice, Timothy:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Colossians 2:8, NASB).
O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”—which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith. Grace be with you (1 Timothy 6:20-21, NASB).
I would argue that such “philosophy and empty deception” occurs too often in our churches. Regularly, false prophets accommodate the “elementary principles of the world” and reorient Christian Truth into self-help, lifestyle advice. The Christ we’re presented in such messages no longer represents the everlasting man—the actual Christ. Instead, these messages regularly encourage audiences to see themselves in place of Christ. The applications of these messages are contextually warped to where audiences are encouraged to see themselves prospering from a temporal perspective of reality and living, rather than an eternal one. And in continuing, allow us to be unequivocally clear: There are no such things as half-truths, for half-truths are only lies that would share Truth if placed within proper context.
Once again, context matters.
And while it seems commonplace nowadays for Christians to immerse themselves within secular culture (and subsequently, secular structures of philosophical understanding), Chesterton would more than likely chastise us for allowing such cultural immersion and inclusion of its social norms into the practice of our faith. He finds fault with both conservative (not to be confused with Orthodox) and liberal perspectives of Christianity and politics, viewing both too integrated within our current culture to be set apart (Leviticus 20:26, Matthew 7:16) in any meaningful manner. In speaking to this view, he says:
“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected” (Chesterton, 4/19/24).
Chesterton continues by positing that conservatives and progressives fail to see the bigger picture [of Gospel Truth] because they invest too much of their focus into the minutiae of their present context; possessing limited, if any, ability for critical self-examination. Moreover, he asserts that one’s assumptions (i.e. perspective)—not current or past moments—are critical in seeing Truth; claiming, “What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century”
So, if Christian teaching and practice shouldn’t be bedfellows of our contemporary and secular culture, then some may ask how we’re supposed to effectively position the gospel message to nonbelievers? Look no further than the writings of C.S. Lewis.
God uses people from the most unlikely backgrounds to serve His purposes. Lewis is an example of such an individual. An English professor at Oxford before coming to the faith, Lewis grew up a passionate enthusiast of mythology and ancient cultures. He was a voracious reader, who read a wide-array of topics. With this broad scope of knowledge, both past and present, Lewis was able to take many of the inherently abstract concepts of scriptural teaching and explain them through the use of analogy and metaphor—much like Jesus would do with His parables. The explanations would serve to place the concept (or in these particular instances, Truth) in the physical (i.e. natural) realm; helping the reader (or listener) understand its relevance and application. But his explanations would also include caveats and conditions—establishing boundaries for when and where his analogies and metaphors could effectively explain Truth. Additionally, these analogies and metaphors could be used to illustrate where Christian belief aligned and contrasted from the secular. Providing explanations for abstract phenomena, and the conditions for when these explanations are relevant; these are aspects of doctoral training as a Ph.D.—Ph.D. standing for “doctorate in philosophy.” In other words, Lewis could present relatable stories for explaining the supernatural teachings of Christianity in the tangible realities of the nonbeliever, while still maintaining the contextual relevance of those teachings.
Furthermore, Lewis’ many years as an atheist equips him for addressing many secular misconceptions of Christian teachings. His writings do more than solely provide explanations of Truth. His writings also attack the deceptions embedded within secular thought which deter Truth’s acceptance. He often deconstructs these deceptions by highlighting elements of the faulty logic that justifies individuals’ unwarranted belief in them (e.g. see The Great Divorce).
Thus, to summarize the above, C.S. Lewis effectively shares Gospel Truth by:
- Focusing on the ‘mere,’ which centers around the person and work of Christ
- Explaining the ‘mere’ through relatable contexts
- Establishing conditions for the accurate application of his explanations; sharing the whole story
- Debunking false truths held within society
Now, for the sake of clarification, I think it’s important to point out that sharing the Gospel by focusing on the ‘mere’ is not synonymous with omitting the ‘uncomfortable.’ Quite the contrary. From what I’ve read of Lewis’ work, never have I seen him avoid any part of the ‘mere.’ Rather, he’ll acknowledge that he is about to explicate Christian beliefs where he anticipates nonbelievers may become uncomfortable. He is always intentional to fully discuss all aspects of “mere Christianity, which is what it is and what it was long before [he] was born and whether [he] likes it or not.” The Truth of the Gospel remains as such regardless of our present philosophical or theological orientations. And as Truth, it still possesses power whether or not it is properly interpreted or acknowledged. Further, why would we want to hide any part of the Gospel? Especially when we understand its implications:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17, NASB).
Without question, there are significant lifestyle differences between practicing Christians and nonbelievers. We, as Christians, shouldn’t attempt to hide these differences, but rather have them seen in the right light. Arising from a properly placed faith in Christ, seeing Truth through the lens of His life and loving sacrifice, we approach things differently—and beautifully. Taking once again from Lewis:
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”
Therefore, may we continually strive for intimate relationship with Christ, to know Him better and better. May we possess an accurate perspective of what represents Gospel Truth. May we share the complete story of Christ with others who do not yet know Him; providing context about our fallen nature and His eternal love. May we invest in those to whom we offer witness, our actions aligning with our convictions. May we follow Christ’s example out of love for Him and others. And may we trust in God regardless of the temporal circumstances in which we find ourselves and others; resting in Faith. For if God is with us, then who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?