Your question is a good one, and it is one that has haunted my own academic career for more than twenty years. Here’s your question: “how one should react to those preaching the traditional Romans road– especially at Bible Camps or other distinct Christian functions? Moreover, should that teaching be discouraged?” Put abstractly, is the summons to salvation distinct from the summons to discipleship? Well, there’s lots here, so let me give it a bit of a whirl. (This is sensitive enough that I’ll be a little longer today than I’d like to.)
The first thing I would say is that the Romans Road is a theory of salvation — and the word “salvation” is important here. It is not a theory of kingdom or a theory of liberation, but a specific word — salvation — and how that word takes on a life of its own in Paul’s letter to the Romans. There are more words than salvation and there are more books than Romans.
As a “plan” — and as a plan built on Romans — the Romans Road is sound. It speaks truths about the meaning of salvation in Romans.
The second thing is this, and it just might surprise you: as many evangelical Christians have problems with the Romans Road as non-Christians. And, now that the Romans Road is almost exclusively an evangelical thing, mainline, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Christians also have problems with it. Why? Because it has taken on a “groupishness”. It’s the way evangelicals talk. Oddly enough, Romans is in all of our Bibles. If the Romans Road tells the truth (not the whole truth) of the gospel in Romans, then I say we ought to protect it.
The third thing now: the Romans Road works for some. It is just as important to say it doesn’t work for others. We have a big “golf bag full of metaphors” and there is no reason to use the same club every day for every shot on every hole. And this leads me to another point.
Fourth: I’m not sure the entry door into a kingdom relationship with God through Jesus has to begin with sin. Not all agree with me, but I want to ask you this: How often does Jesus begin with sin? How many times does he “evangelize” (which he did often) by getting people to realize their sin and then asking them to accept him and then tell them they are forgiven? Now, if you are a good Bible reader — and I know you are — you will know that Jesus did emphasize “repentance.” In fact, Mark summarizes the message of Jesus with three words: kingdom, repent and believe. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the best entry today is the word kingdom — a visionary word of what God is doing in this world through Jesus and in the power of the Spirit. Kingdom vision seemed to evoke response to Jesus.
Fifth: I’m persuaded also that sin-trust-forgiveness tends to “objectify” things and can sometimes radically de-personalize things. What I mean is this: redemption is about “facing” God — I turn my face to God whose face is on me — or being in radically open personal relationship with God. To do this, we have to turn from our self and our sin (repentance) and turn to God. But, for many, the sin-trust-forgiveness is about having a problem resolved and not enough about a personal relationship restored. It’s all objective. The minute the gospel becomes totally objective, it loses its magic.
Now my final point: 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.
Now how about this Krista? Jesus called people to enter the kingdom. That’s his style of evangelizing. He wanted recruits, kingdom workers, ministers for God’s redemptive work in this world, and he was out and about summoning folks into that kingdom. When folks encountered him, they became aware of sin and Israel’s problem — how little they cared about God, about themselves, about others, and about the world. And they also saw their need to turn around and their need to turn to Jesus and their need to follow him and their need to get united with themselves and the other followers of Jesus. They also would have perceived their need to embrace in grace all humans and look after this world as God made Eikons to do. That’s how Jesus did it. Lots today get the needs and problems up front and they never get to the kingdom part. I suggest we learn more about evangelism from his summoning folks into the kingdom. I’m still working on some of this, so I’m keen on your thoughts.
Tell me what you think kiddo.