I raised some important questions in my last post summed up with this: if we have a gospel that is more modern than biblical, what should Christians do?
Well for starters, I think we need to know the influence of culture and history on our beliefs, especially when it comes to something as central as the gospel.
One of my favorite Bible verses is Hebrews 13:8 - “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” It expresses the timeless reality of Jesus, the center of the gospel.
Yet so often in our attempts to be faithful in how we understand the timeless reality of Jesus Christ, our present understanding of Jesus and the gospel - our theology - is made out to be “the same yesterday and today and forever.”
If we look at history and culture there are several examples of genuine personal renewal in faith, especially related to personal salvation (e.g. Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Mennonite Brethren). Situations in history and culture led to these important moments in these individuals and the Christian faith. To varying degrees, their influence is still felt. Whether it was Luther’s reaction against a rigid Catholic hierarchy in 16th Century, or Wesley’s personal renewal from a stagnant faith - his “heart strangely warmed” - or the Mennonite Brethren pietistic revival amidst colony life in Russia, the personal experience of salvation has been rightly reasserted again and again.
But what happens when these radical examples go from counter-cultural expressions of the gospel, to reflecting norms in broader society? What happens when the gospel becomes normal? Or easy and straightforward? What happens, again, when the gospel becomes modern?
To be brief (I could say WAY more), in our modern culture the salvation-only gospel is incomplete. It’s simplistic, impersonal, too easy, too free, individualistic, and lacking a complete picture of Jesus. The gospel in this manner can end up mirroring what we want, not what the Bible actually says.
And so we need to recognize just how influential culture and history are. A gospel once freeing and transformational, risks becoming an easy formula for a discipleship-less gospel. History and culture changes; how we understand the gospel needs to as well.
But this does not mean every claim to truth about Jesus is relative - Hebrews 13:8 is as true as ever. We just need to know our biases and realize just how influential modern values (positively and negatively) are on Christian faith and practice. And then we need to realize that the timeless truths of Jesus need to be communicated for every age. Indeed, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." But how Jesus Christ is understood changes from age to age.
Next question: what is the gospel for today?
**This set of posts emerged from a sermon I preached, “Salvation-only Gospel.” You can listen here.**