Wednesday, June 13, 2007

All Roads Lead to Romans?

What is the Gospel?

For many evangelical Christians it is defined by what has come to be called the Romans Road:

  • All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  • But God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
  • If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

This is true as far as it goes. But there is much more to the Gospel than what is represented in these four verses.

Scot McKnight has an excellent post on this. Here is an excerpt:

The biggest issue that I see with the Romans Road approach is that once the sin problem is resolved (sin almost always understood as guilt before an all-holy God, which is true but not true enough), salvation has been accomplished. Frankly, this isn't biblical: the sin problem of guilt, to be sure, has to be resolved, but sin is bigger than guilt (it is distorted relationship with God, self, others, and the world) and therefore the resolution (salvation) is bigger than forgiveness (it is resolved relationships with God, self, others, and the world — and it takes a lifetime). Only a kingdom vision makes the sin problem fully clear and only a kingdom vision makes the solution fully clear.

The Romans Road reduces the Gospel to getting people signed up for heaven. In the tradition I have come from, people look at me with utter confusion if I tell them that the Gospel is about more than just getting people signed up for heaven. They can't imagine what else there could be.

Among the worst expressions of this distortion of the Good News was a group of one-point Calvinists that I knew when I was in high school. They held to the "perseverance of the saints" but believed that individuals needed to "make a decision" for Christ. I actually heard one of them talking about his willingness to use deceptive means to get people to "make a decision" for Christ because once they were signed up for heaven they were guaranteed to get there.

I find myself surrounded by church leaders (not in my congregation) who seem to share a similar philosophy. They say things like:

  • "Nothing is more important than" getting people signed up for heaven.
  • "The only justification for the existence of a church is to" get people signed up for heaven.
  • "We need to do whatever it takes" to get people signed up for heaven.
  • "This event will be worthwhile if just one person" gets signed up for heaven.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reports that "3.9 million people made decisions for Jesus Christ in 2006." The 2005 report cites 3.2 million decisions: "On average, one life was transformed by God's grace every 10 seconds last year [2006] through the ministries of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association."

Now, I'm not claiming that the work of the BGEA is harmful or even worthless. But I am wondering if these 7 million people really have been transformed by God's grace in the past two years. Are they true disciples of Jesus Christ? Are they really "signed up" for heaven?

Unfortunately, when many Christians read the Great Commission they see this equation:

Make disciples = Get people signed up for heaven

Others read this (incorrectly, I believe) as a three steps process:

  1. First make disciples
  2. Then baptize them
  3. Then teach them

They then reason that the first step is the most important step because it gets people "signed up for heaven." But the Gospel seems to be much more than "step one."

What you present as the gospel, will determine what you present as discipleship. If you present as the gospel what is essentially a theory of the atonement and you say if you accept this theory of the atonement, your sins are forgiven and when you die you will be received into heaven, there is no basis for discipleship.

Dallas Willard, "Kingdom Living"

And as we think more clearly about what this mission really is, we must remember that it is not our mission. It is Jesus' mission in which he invites us to participate.

The Church's job is not to save people but to shape the space in which God calls them to Himself.

Earl Creps, Off-Road Disciplines, p. 145

So what do you think? Is the "Romans road" an adequate explanation of the Gospel? Is the mission of the church primarily to get people signed up for heaven? What exactly is the Gospel?

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"

2 comments:

ROD WILLETT said...

I think the Romans Road defines the Gospel according to Western Civilization. You would like "Honor and Shame" by Roland Muller. The Gospel is so much more than the four spiritual laws.

Pastor Rod said...

I'll have to look for that.