Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Why the Gospel Often Seems Irrelevant (to Christians)

Yesterday, as I've done so frequently in the past, I reflected on my deep appreciation and gratitude for the Journal of Biblical Counseling and those responsible for producing it. In some ways, the title is misleading because it could give the impression that only those engaged in formal counseling ministry can benefit from it. To be sure, it's a valuable resource for pastors, so much so that I think it should be a staple in every minister's reading. However, every issue contains thoughtful, theologically-rich content that can aid any follower of Christ in his or her pursuit of spiritual maturity.

A conversation with a frazzled parent seeking help in how to deal with a child's explosive tantrums led me to read an article by Michael Emlet and David Powlison called "Helping the Parents of an Angry Child" (Winter 2007, Volume 25, Number 1). As is so often the case when I read JBC articles, I not only received guidance for helping others but was confronted about issues in my own heart and life. The following paragraph, especially the last sentence, stood out to me because it addresses something that I think about frequently:

A child needs to learn how her anger operates directly against God. Too often parents only focus on the horizontal aspect of their child's sinful behavior - what the child has done to them. Targeting the heart means helping the child understand that her attitude, words, and actions violate God's standards first and foremost. To be self-willed is to assault God's right to rule. This God-ward focus keeps the gospel front and center, because sin against God and others has a remedy. If we confess our sins honestly, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us (1 John 1:9). Opening up the vertical dimension presents the immediate relevance of the gospel.
When considering my own reactions to life's problems and from conversations with other believers, I often wonder why it is that the gospel seems so disconnected and unrelated to the here and now. When we're dealing with the complexities and difficulties that are bound to arise, I think our (usually) unspoken mindset is "Yeah, I'm a Christian and I believe all that Bible stuff but I'm talking about real life here." That attitude betrays an underlying assumption that the gospel is largely impractical in terms of its explanatory and transforming power as far as our everyday struggles are concerned. As Paul Tripp and Tim Lane note in their book How People Change, believers often live with a gap between the two "thens" of the gospel:
The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is a "then-now-then" gospel. First, there is the "then" of the past. When I embrace Christ by faith, my sins are completely forgiven, and I stand before God as righteous. There is also the "then" of the future, the promise of eternity with the Lord, free of sin and struggle. The church has done fairly well explaining these two "thens" of the gospel, but it has tended to understate or misunderstand the "now" benefits of the work of Christ. What difference does the gospel make in the here and now? How does it help me as a father, a husband, a worker, and a member of the body of Christ? How does it help me respond to difficulty and make decisions? How does it give me meaning, purpose, and identity? How does it motivate my ministry to others?
Emlet and Powlison have identified one of the primary reasons that the gospel is functionally distanced from our daily lives - to the extent that I fail to see misguided worship as my greatest problem and adopt alien anthropologies offering alternative visions of what it means to be human, to that extent the gospel's luster appears dull and its melody sounds flat to my ears.

1 comment:

dconnery2 said...

Thanks, Keith, for this post. I was so intrigued that I actually ordered the book How People Change. It should be required reading for all believers.