The Toothless Gospel


Rob Bell recently came out in support of gay marriage (see his interview here).  While I’m disappointed, I can’t say I’m surprised.  I read Love Wins.  My point isn’t really to talk about Rob Bell.  But his thinking in Love Wins and his support of gay marriage illustrate something about the church that concerns me.  We are uncomfortable with judgment.  We don’t know what to do with it.  We do our best to pretend it isn’t there.  But it is there.  In Genesis chapter one, God divides light from darkness, waters from waters, sea from dry land, day from night, man from beasts (Gen. 1:1-26).  Judgment is the frame, fabric, and foundation of the created world.  Noah’s ark: only eight people survived the flood (1 Peter 3:20).  The rest drowned in a disaster of God’s design.  Moses split the Red Sea with his raised hand and led Israel through a path created by judgment (Ex. 14:21-22).  Then the Lord allowed the waves to flood back, crushing and swallowing Pharaoh and all his men (Ex. 14:26-28).  Judgment.  Division.  Lines drawn in the sand.

Jesus drew in the sand once.  The Pharisees caught some woman in the act of adultery, then flung her in the dirt where Jesus was (John 8:2-8).  After dispersing the crowd, Jesus looked at her and said, “I don’t condemn you.  Go and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).  Notice Jesus didn’t say, “I don’t condemn you.  In fact, let me perform your wedding!”  Yet this is what many of us want the gospel to be.  A gospel without teeth or judgment.  A gospel where God makes no divisions but looks on our formless, void darkness and calls it good.

Jesus didn’t come just to bring grace.  He brought grace *and* truth (John 1:17).  “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).  To love people means we can’t rejoice in their sin.  We must tell the truth.  This doesn’t mean being an argumentative, finger-pointing jerk.  It means bringing truth in grace.  It means trusting the Holy Spirit to open or close our mouths.  It means judging only as we hear instead of by appearances (John 5:30, 7:24).  None of us is free to throw stones as if we are sinless.  Neither are we free to pardon those who refuse to leave their life of sin.

            Like God, we are called to speak the word into darkness, wherever we find it.  Sure, the word comes with judgment: “This is the judgment: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  But the judgment of the word is life-giving and creative to those who receive it: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17).

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jack Wellman says:

    Great work and spot on. For most we have changed the gospel to: Let Jesus Come into Your Heart, Jesus Loves You, Accept Jesus, Give Your Heart to Jesus, Give Your Life to Jesus, and Make Your Decision for God. I have seen so many church signs say that we can “Come to Jesus” or “Need Jesus?” and even “Need Happiness? You Need Jesus.” This is such a seeker sensitive time we live in and the soft-sell, easy believism just doesn’t work. Until we tell people the bad news that if they step out of this life without Christ as their Lord and Savior, they’re going straight to hell because their sins have only earned them eternal death (Rom 6:23)…that they are separated from a Holy God by their sins and they need to repent (Isaiah 59:2)…that only Jesus can become sin for them and through Him alone can they be seen as having His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21)…that ever one of us fall far short of God’s standard (Rom 3:23)…that we are not without sin (1 John 1:8)…that we are making God out to be a liar if we deny we are not sinners (1 John 1:10)…only then, in these dire straights, is the good news like water to a dying plant. Until a person sees that they’ve got the death penalty hanging over their head they won’t seek an Advocate (1 John 2:1) any more than if they don’t know their incurably sick they won’t seek a cure (Jer 17:9).

    You can not preach the gospel without preaching about repentance as “John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:1-2) and Peter pierced the conscience of those who were witnesses of and responsible for Jesus’ being crucified and ripped their hearts open by saying, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). Even Jesus preached to those hearing that “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). Repentance implies faith just as faith implies repentance and one can not exist without the other. They are two sides of the same coin.

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