Leslie Keeney’s article “Why Telling Your Story is NOT the Best Way to Share the Gospel” raises many good points to which I am deeply sympathetic but I think it only scratches the surface of a much deeper problem within the western church today. In the west we have so greatly elevated grace over obedience, individualism over community, and love over truth that the very Gospel message we are called to share has been almost completely lost.
Grace over Obedience
In the west we have been preaching “cheep grace” for far too long. Yes, God has freely given his grace to us because of his love for us, a grace that none of us deserved. But the grace he freely gives us came at a very great cost, it cost our Lord his very life and his gift of grace should elicit a life long response of obedience that demonstrates the value of the gift we have been given. Our desire should be to please the one who has given us this unimaginably great gift. Leslie touches on the problem of “cheep grace” in her article when she says “Well-meaning pastors realize that people are scared to tell people about Jesus, and they want to find an easy method that they can use to teach their congregation how to share their faith without actually having to ask them to do anything—at least anything hard.” While I too believe this has been a mistake, I believe it is a mistake that extends far beyond the arena of apologetics. Yes, it is important that we take the time to learn how to share our faith with those in our culture and understand the questions they are asking but I believe it is even more important that we first take the time to understand our own faith, what we believe, why we believe it, and how that faith is demonstrated in every area of our lives. We need to understand the Gospel message and be willing to live it out in our own lives before we can begin to genuinely share it with others and this means that we understand that every disciple of Christ must be willing to make sacrifices for their faith; they must be willing to do hard things. When we do share the Gospel with others, we need to stop selling “fire insurance” and begin telling those who are seeking Christ that they need to count the cost of being a disciple.
Individualism over Community
Our faith in God is deeply personal and reflects an individual relationship between us and God alone but our relationship with God also brings us into the family of God and as members of God’s family we are responsible to love, care for, and support the other members of his family i.e. the body of Christ. God has uniquely gifted each of us to serve one another and when we fail to pull our own weight as a member of the family, the whole family suffers. As we seek to share the Gospel, I believe it is absolutely important to remember that we do this as part of the body of Christ. Yes, we all need to understand our own faith and yes, we all need to have a basic understanding of the questions those around us may be asking but we also need to remember that God has not given all of us the same gifts and sometimes the best coarse of action is not to study more but to know when to bring a brother or sister in Christ along whose gifts allow them to better answer the questions that are being asked. This is not an excuse to sidestep the hard work of learning but rather a recognition that we should focus the hard work in the areas that reflect God’s calling in our life because none of us can do or know everything. In order to answer all the questions asked by everyone in our modern multicultural society we would need to know more than anyone one individual could possibly ever know. Let us remember that we are not called to go it alone; we have been given a family who has been richly gifted by God to reach our hurting world and we will accomplish the most when we work together as a family and rely on each other to bring strength where we are weak.
Love over Truth
Before we can begin to address the questions of postmodernism asked by those outside of the church, we need to begin understanding how postmodernism has influenced the beliefs of those inside the church. How do we begin to explain why statements like “that may be true for you, but it’s not true for me” are wrong when we have tacitly accepted those same beliefs ourselves within the church. Often today, as long as someone associates themselves with the label “Christian” and/or a belief in “Jesus” they can voice beliefs that stand in direct opposition to the historic Christian faith taught in Scripture and few will be willing to take a stand against it. The word “heretic” has become taboo in the western church today. We are continually told that faith is a “personal thing” and we can not “judge” the faith of another person. And while it is true that only God knows another person’s heart and God may be working on a person’s heart in ways we do not understand, it is a lie to suggest that we should not make judgements about the beliefs/doctrines another person teaches. What people teach in the name of Christ is something that we can and must compare to what is taught in Scripture and when it is found to be in contradiction with what is taught in Scripture, we need to take a stand against those teachings. Until we recognize that the ideology of “that may be true for you, but it’s not true for me” is just as wrong inside the church as it is outside the church, we will never be able to explain why it is wrong to those outside the church.
A couple of more thoughts
The title to Leslie’s article (“Why Telling Your Story is NOT the Best Way to Share the Gospel”) is a little misleading. After reading Leslie’s article I think that she would agree that sharing our story is truly one of the best ways to share about our faith but she recognizes that it is ineffective unless we are also prepared to share the Gospel message itself and understand how our faith answers the questions our culture is asking. When our message is nothing more than “our story” the Gospel message is lost and our message ineffective. Leslie clearly communicates this in her article and in her response to comments following her article but the title of the article seems to have led people to misunderstand.
In Leslie’s biographical note it says that “She is both modern and post-modern (and the postmodern part means she’s OK with the paradox).” I wish she would have explained what she meant by this because many of the problems she describes in her article are a result of the church accepting a postmodern ideology.
Update: Leslie has explained some of her views on being modern and postmodern in the comments following her article.