Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Plausible Gospel

The Apostle Paul says, "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23).

According to the prevailing Greek plausibility structure, Jesus was a failure. According to the Jewish plausibility structure, Jesus was cursed by God and consequently a false Messiah.

But to those who have received the Good News, the defeated, humiliated, crucified Messiah is the power of God.

There are many who read 1 Corinthians 2:14 (The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.) as if the "man without the Spirit" cannot understand the grammar and syntax of plain language whenever the Gospel is communicated.

Rather, Paul is referring here to plausibility structures. (I'm not suggesting that he has this concept in mind or even was aware of the particular idea.) He is saying that according to the reigning belief system, the Gospel seems foolish and absurd:

  • "Why would I want to trust in someone who couldn't even save himself?"
  • "Everyone knows that the true Messiah could never have been crucified."

So what makes the Gospel plausible?

There are several factors involved, not the least of which is the Holy Spirit. But the primary reinforcement of the Gospel's plausibility is the community of believers.

It is only as we are truly "indwelling" the gospel story, only as we are so deeply involved in the life of the community which is shaped by this story that it becomes our real "plausibility structure," that we are able steadily and confidently to live in this attitude of eager hope. Almost everything in the "plausibility structure" which is the habitation of our society seems to contradict this Christian hope. Everything suggests that it is absurd to believe that the true authority over all things is represented in a crucified man. No amount of brilliant argument can make it sound reasonable to the inhabitants of the reigning plausibility structure. That is why I am suggesting that the only possible hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation which believes it.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p. 232

This sheds a whole new light on the idea that participation in a Christian community (church) is optional. Living the Gospel is virtually impossible alone. The Gospel not only needs community to create a hospitable plausibility structure, but it also demands to be expressed in community.

The reigning plausibility structure can only be effectively challenged by people who are fully integrated inhabitants of another.

Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p. 228

Unfortunately, much of what is being proclaimed as the "Gospel" does not challenge the reigning plausibility structure or require a community to survive.

Pastor Rod

"Helping you become the person God created you to be"


M. Pease said...

Hello Pastor Rod

I have a slightly adverse initial reaction to this post which I am containing for the moment because I would like to be on the same subject and semantics seems to be an issue. So, if you would be kind, answer these few questions please.

What exactly do you mean by "church"? Is it the body of all believers? Is it all or part of the Christian "religions" that house themselves in buildings? Is it limited those who belong to a recognized institution?

What do you see as the role of the Holy Spirit if not primary? Is He not the one who draws us to Jesus? Does He not work within us before we believe to enable us to do so?

How can the world possibly distinguish between the pretenders and the real thing? There are so many conflicting voices claiming to represent God: and then there are the Non-Christian religions too.

While I agree that Paul was not talking about syntax and grammar, today I believe that it is a factor what with evangelical speak, charismatic language, etc.,etc. I was raised in the Baptist church and have friends from other denominations and sometimes it feels like we need a gift from the spirit to have a conversation. A non-believer doesn't have much chance.

Pastor Rod said...


Sorry for not responding sooner. My e-mail notification seems to be broken.

I think the answer to your question is that I am talking about a definite community of believers. I am would not argue that they must own a building and belong to some official denomination. But I would say that this community must have a degree of mutuality and accountability.

Yes, I see the work of the Holy Spirit as primary. But I do not believe that his activity is "magical" and entirely independent of human actions. (This is not a complete answer to your question. We can explore this in more detail later, but a complete answer is beyond the current scope.)

I really don't think that the world has much difficulty distinguishing between real and fake believers--once they encounter real believers. There is a powerful authenticity generated by a community of true followers of Jesus Christ.

Insider language is certainly a problem. But that is a cultural problem, not an epistemological problem.

Again, sorry for taking so long. You probably feel like the people on the commercial where the cell phone goes dead right in the middle of a delicate conversation.


Pastor Rod said...


I am also very interested in your "slightly adverse initial reaction." Dissent is encouraged here.