The Scandal of American Evangelicalism

I was not there, but I am now wishing I had been, at least for R.C. Sproul Jr.’s address.   The Layman Online reports that Sproul prophetically challenged those gathered for 2012 Ligonier National Conference “… about the true scandal of the evangelical mind.”

Developing his message from 1 Corinthians 1.18-31 Sproul briefly outlined the Christian faith, and emphasized the Unity of those within the faith.  He then contrasted the unity of Believers with the perspective of Christians “by those outside of the room – the Greek, the Gentile…” reminding his hearers that “the story [the Gospel] is a scandal. It is foolishness. It is a stumbling block.”

This is an important reminder.

As Sproul elaborated:  “Paul wasn’t just saying they don’t get it.  Paul says, ‘they don’t get you!’ They think you are foolish … They won’t take you seriously.” And those in the evangelical church perceive this distaste and displeasure.

So we see that the unbelievers around us don’t get us, and don’t appreciate the Gospel.  This should be no surprise. This is as God said it would be.  But here is where what Sproul said really begins to carry weight:

“What scandalizes me is that this truth scandalizes us … that we, who embrace this Gospel that is an offense to the world, are offended that they are offended by us!”

I think this is so true.  Despite the fact that we are told that we will be despised and rejected, we seem surprised.  We don’t like it.

“Evangelicals grouse and complain. They go on television to complain about how they are presented on television. We want to insist that Paul is wrong – and not just Paul, of course. This is the wisdom of the Holy Spirit here … The text says ‘this is how the world will see you.’”

The greater scandal is not that we are “scandalized” by the worlds rejection but how many seem to respond:

“Some Evangelicals not only fight back and argue against it, We insist on our rights and worse of all we begin to adapt. We begin to reshape ourselves and our story. We diminish the stumbling block and, to establish our credibility, we begin to rewrite the story.”

“If we are Emergent… We say it is just our story. You have your narrative. We have our narrative. All God’s children have their narrative … You don’t need to be scandalized. I just have a different story, and I’m not sure about my story. Will you let me into your cool club?”

“If we are Seeker-sensitive, then we take the story and remove the sharp edges of talking about sin and judgment and wrath because people don’t want to hear about that.”

I won’t go into much more detail. Instead let me encourage you to check out the whole story at The Layman Online. They have done an excellent job of chronicling Sproul’s message.  But I do want to share one more of Sproul’s observations, related to the laments listed above about some common responses:

“When we remember the Gospel – when we remember our own salvation – we remember the necessity of resting in His provision. In our sanctification, we are called to have our heart, mind and soul rest in His wisdom.”

And this is also true of our mission.

The primary aim of our mission is to extend the Gospel of the Kingdom. To do this we must faithfully proclaim the rich, deep, truth of the gospel in all it’s dimensions.  Our hope is that this message will impact many, many people.  BUT we must be clear, and we must regularly remind ourselves and one another, that we cannot make the hope of impacting many people the priority over faithful proclamation.

I am afraid many are inverting these priorities.  The measure of success, in such cases, is numbers of people at the expense if gospel fidelity.  So we embrace either the Seeker or Emergent approach Sproul mentioned above, or something of a similar ilk.   But when we are willing to accept a gospel that is not complete, or even necessarily accurate, we then are preaching a different Gospel than the one that is faithful to Christ.  Success may be apparent, but as Paul warned, if anyone is preaching a gospel different from the one the Apostles preached they are “perverting” the gospel. What they are preaching is “no gospel at all”.  (Galatians 1.6-9)

If what is preached is not faithful to Christ, then it follows that the mission cannot be of Christ.  We may want to offer it to him, but it is not his mission. Christ is the King. He dictates the message, the means, and the motive.

So if such mission, mission in the name of Christ but without the genuine message of Christ, is not really mission for Christ, then who is it for?  Us. For our own sense of importance; For our own apparent success in the eyes of those around us;  Perhaps even, we think and hope, so that God will be pleased with us.  But regardless of the motive, such motive for mission is not so much for God’s glory as it is for selfish ambition. (See Philippians 1.17, Philippians 2.3)

What Sproul suggests about our sanctification, that we must “rest in his provision”, must also be applied to our mission ambition. We must rest in his provision of pure gospel and gospel power.