The greatest truth ever known to man is quite obviously the Good News of our salvation. The Lord Jesus came to be our sinless substitute, providing the necessary payment for sin through his death, resurrecting three days later. Now, through the work of the Holy Spirit, those whom he calls may abide in him and he in them.
if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 ESV)
But this Good News is not always received as such. All who reject the gospel do so because they have some other explanation for ultimate reality. But there are those who, in the name of spirituality, reimage the gospel to make it fit a particular moral view of earthly living. Redemption in this sense takes on the form of compassion in the name of neighbor love, but that’s as far as it goes. This essentially describes the social gospel, a public ethic concerned specifically with justice and generosity. The social gospel usually finds its basis in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6) and other famed passages of scripture that reflect on peace, justice, and generosity toward others. Unfortunately, these passages of scripture are taken out of their original context and presented to both church and culture without reference to the Author of our salvation. The renowned quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi sums up well the social gospel paradigm: “Share the gospel, use words if necessary.”
Imagine if those involved in the movement to end world hunger were instructed to “use food if necessary” or those seeking to end homelessness were instructed to “use shelter if necessary.” Likely you would think these directives are ridiculous. So why are words optional for the gospel? We should never find ourselves speechless when it comes to the gospel. Even further, we should always be prepared to respond with the words of the apostle Paul, “How are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14) In a social gospel/social justice paradigm, words are only incidental to the tangible displays of kindness and generosity, seemingly sourced in the finiteness of the human will.
Before going any further, let me be clear that the expected expression of the Christian worldview is of words and works. Ours is not a gospel without tangible mercies poured out on those in need, we are called to impact hearts, minds and lives. The book of James specifically reminds us any other practice is a dead faith. But conversely, a gospel with works and no message of faith and repentance is a sham.
Some try to reimage the gospel in the name of Christianity, holding that a truly loving God demonstrates love, not through the sacrifice of his Son but through the sacrifice of truth. This is expressed by God through intellectual generosity in the form of tolerance for religious and moral diversity. By appealing to arguments of Jesus’ marginalization during his public ministry, they seek to accommodate the “marginalized” of our time, a hermeneutical strategy instituted by churches that, for example, promote themselves as “queer inclusive.” Since Jesus was excluded from the ranks of general public acceptance, those with a moral perspective outside the moral schema of biblical Christianity claim to identify more closely with Jesus, and therefore, promote this gospel of radical inclusion. Theirs is a “gospel” concerned with an understanding of redemption that has little to do with eternity but encourages men and women to do what is right “in [their] own eyes” (Judges 21:25).The Jesus that accompanies this gospel would want to mingle with sinners simply for the sake of mingling with sinners without any eternal ulterior motives. He has no desire to challenge them to pursue holiness and experience renewal in His image. With this sort of pandering, this Jesus could make a successful run for office. Sadly, this Jesus does not call anyone to repentance and makes a mockery of the cross. This is a reimaged Jesus not found in the pages of scripture.
The truth is the Good News of scripture actually weeds out religious and moral diversity. His children are all brought, through justification and then the process of sanctification within God’s holy parameters. God’s character is the determiner of all that is good, so to tamper with the meaning and application of the gospel is ultimately to reimage the character of God according to fallen human specifications. The problem is, who wants to worship a god created in the image of fallen man, ultimately unworthy of worship?
In the recent book, Taking Flight: Reclaiming the Female Half of God’s Image through Advocacy and Renewal, contributor Linda Mader writes that
Jesus’ life exemplified unconditional inclusion, willing submission, humble service, and self-sacrificial love. His life demonstrated the way of the kingdom, not only with miraculous signs, but also with radical inclusion of those at the margins of society. (p. 18)
This raises several critical questions: Who are those on the margins of society? Is she referring to inclusion without expectation for change? While this book is asking the questions in the context of women’s leadership in the church, there are others “at the margins of society” clearly in mind for this “radical inclusion.” This book provides arguments for women’s leadership argued primarily from a cultural standpoint. From here, arguments for all kinds of positions can be made.
Christians—and those that claim to be—often find themselves attracted to the idea of religious and moral diversity because they have a romanticized view of God’s truth rooted in a frail understanding of his love. Because he is a loving God, they wonder how someone not lucky enough to be raised in a Christian culture could go to hell. Given the tendency to want to save God from his own character flaws, inclusivist practices are developed to make God appear more compassionate—the source of the social gospel—but without any sense of the spiritual damage being inflicted.
The Gospel was never intended to conform to our expectations; it is a message of unparalleled love that provides a source of hope in this life and the next—on God’s terms. The Gospel is about the cause of Christ, his work in us to make us presentable to the most holy God. We are called to renewal and to be conformed to the image of Christ. This requires a spiritual change, but what makes this radical is that the gospel anticipates changes in how we live—a radical exclusion of our former ways of living. Jesus wants us to come, but then to go and sin no more.