How have modernity and postmodernity distorted how we understand the gospel? Jon Wilson, in his Why Church Matters, asks this question in chp 7: “Discipleship as Human Flourishing.” And we start with a bang:
“At these times, the church behaves as if the real mission of the church is to get people to a onetime event that ‘converts’ them to faith, erases their guilt, and guarantees their salvation for eternity” (87). “But everything in that sentence — converting to Christ, erasing guilt, and eternal salvation — is wrong, devastatingly wrong, when it is disconnected from the telos that gives it proper meaning and direction” (87).
What to do? How did we get here? How have we missed the telos — the final aim (kingdom) — of the gospel in our preaching of the gospel?
Here’s one of my ideas about evangelism today: the single-most influential mistake made in evangelism is basing one’s appeal on the “advantage” or “benefit” or “reward” one gets if one believes. Not to deny that there are rewards, but watch Jesus preach. It is that we start there and work back to a reasonable, evocative, compelling set of steps that will allow someone to get that reward. It has to do with emphasis, and it has to do with how to shape disciple-focused evangelism. Thoughts?
“Our impulse is to abandon the language of conversion, faith, and so on when we recognize the miscommunication that is taking place. But following that impulse is a mistake…” (87-88).
The rest of this chp explores our cultural context — modernity and postmodernity — how these have distorted the gospel and how we can make disciples in both a modern and postmodern context.
This chp is worth the price of the book.
While Wilson, in his attempt to keep this chp manageable, might be accused of simplifying, the overall thrust of his insights are treasures to explore.
The gospel preaches a telos that comes to us by way of a gift, the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Modernity distorts by promising control and freedom; postmodernity dissolves the capacity to make meaning of life, rendering us with power but no meaning to control it. The gospel then is distorted when we focus too much on freedom and appeal constantly to consumerist approaches. In postmodernity the gospel is distorted by focusing too one-sidedly on community.
Genuine making of disciples: “The mission of the church is to witness to the kingdom by being disciples and making disciples of Jesus Christ” (93). This statement challenges both modernity’s and postmodernity’s way of capturing the gospel.