Monday, March 14, 2011

The Gospel of Evangelical Christianity

Millions of people in this country whose lives have never been changed believe themselves born again because we have so reduced the gospel of Jesus Christ that it means nothing more than a simple decision that will only take five minutes of your time,” admits Paul Washer, an American evangelical missionary in Peru.
He explains the evangelical method of making people born again as follows:
You walk up to someone and ask ‘Are you a sinner?’ If he says ‘yes’, then you ask, ‘Would you like to go to heaven?’ If he says ‘yes’, then you ask, ‘Would you like to ask Jesus to come into your heart?’ If he says ‘yes’, he prays that simple prayer. Then you ask him if he was sincere, and if he says ‘yes’ then you declare him to be born again. “
Paul Washer admits that the evangelical Christianity has done more harm than all the heresies combined by its simplistic method of making people born again. He asserts that the greatest need in the evangelical community today is that they need to know the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul Washer has given an excellent diagnosis of the illness of evangelical Christianity. He correctly assesses that the evangelical Christianity has become a show off without any real content. It has become a Christ-less Christianity. It does not serve its purpose anymore. It is a movement without power. Therefore, the evangelical Christian community needs to turn to Christ before it can help others to do so. It has to hear anew the gospel of Christ, and repent.
With this introduction, Paul Washer proceeds to a proclamation of Jesus’ Gospel as he understands it.  Although I fully agree with him in his analysis of the present state of evangelical Christianity, I cannot agree with him fully in his understanding of the Christian Gospel. In order to explain how I differ from him, I will present my own understanding here first, and then present his understanding.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ in my Understanding
Jesus’ Gospel is the good news of salvation for humankind, which is in the captivity of sin. Unlike the rest of the creation, humankind disobeys its creator. The Sun and moon, the earth and heaven, plants and animals—all of them obey the creator, but not human beings. We live a life according to our own will rather than according to the will of God. Not only that we are sinners, we don’t even know that we are sinners. Because we don’t see the glory of our creator, we don’t see the heinous nature of disobeying Him. Just as the fish in water do not know that they are wet, we don’t know that we are sinners.
This is the Christian diagnosis of the human condition. I don’t think any Christian tradition would disagree with this diagnosis. We, human beings, have to live our life according to the universal laws set by the creator. All of our problems in our life are caused by our disobedience. All our sciences and other branches of learning are our attempts to discover the universal laws. They all tell us that a healthy life depends upon the obedience of the natural laws set by the creator.
The Christian gospel is that this problem of humanity has a solution. It is possible for humanity to establish the right relationship with the creator so that they can live a life of obedience. Here is a short passage from John’s epistle, which clearly summarizes the Christian view of the problem and the solution.
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. I john 1: 5-10
According to John, the problem of the humanity is this: There exists an enmity between God and man. Why? God is light, but we live in darkness. Not only that we live in darkness, but also that we deny that we live in darkness. We can have a friendship (fellowship) with God only if we also live in light. The solution is simple: all that we have to do is to admit that we are in darkness, and come to the light. This is like a sick person admits that he is sick, and goes to the doctor. Once we establish friendship (fellowship) with God, we will also have friendship with each other. We will have a life of obedience. Like the rest of the creation, we will also live according to the will of God.
John also mentions that the blood of Jesus purifies us from all our sins. This statement implies that Jesus’ death on the cross was like a sin offering, one of the sacrifices in Jewish religion. In Jewish religion, they were supposed to sacrifice animals on the altar to pay off for their sins to God. The early Christianity understood Jesus’ death by relating it to a sacrifice-- the ultimate sacrifice which paid off all the sins of all humanity. However, in order for someone to establish the right relationship with God, he/she doesn’t need to know about this. All that a sick person needs to do is to admit that he is sick, and comes to the doctor; similarly all that we have to do is to admit that we are sinners, and come to God.
This is the essence of Jesus Christ’s gospel as I understand it. It correctly diagnoses the human problem, and prescribes a working solution. 
I used a passage from John’s epistle to explain this. I can also present a passage from Paul’s epistle to Romans. “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith” Rom. 3:21-25
Although we are sinners, we deny this, and remain self-righteous.  In order to be justified (establish fellowship with God), we need to replace our self-righteousness with God-righteousness. In other words, we need to agree that we are wrong and God is right. We need to have faith in God to do so. This is like a sick person approaching a doctor when he has faith in him. He also needs to admit that the doctor is right.
Paul also relates Jesus’ death to a sacrifice. “Faith in Jesus Christ” means faith that Jesus taught us or that Jesus exemplified. It does not mean faith in Jesus Christ as opposed to faith in God.
This passage is easier to understand in the light of John’s passage, but if we go to this passage straight, the ambiguous expressions such as faith in Christ and righteousness of God will be harder to deal with. The Christian exegetes have been wrestling with these expressions for two millennia to resolve the ambiguities.
There is a problem in the relationship between God and man, and this problem is caused by man. If man repents and reestablishes his lost relationship with God, it will solve the problem. This is how most of the Christian traditions understand it.

The Evangelical Version of the Gospel
Unfortunately, the evangelical Christianity built up a mountain of complicated set of beliefs and doctrines based on this passage of Paul.
Paul Washer presents the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his sermon as he understands it from his evangelical tradition. Using the passage from the Epistle to the Romans, he begins the diagnosis of the human problem as sin. He correctly defines it as disobeying God. The complication begins at this point. God is introduced as a righteous judge and man as a criminal standing in front of God awaiting the judgment. God pronounces capital punishment upon man—eternal death, which is life away from God in eternal hell. But justice is only one side of God; God has also another side—of love. When the justice of God pronounces punishment upon man, the love of God saves man from that punishment. How does the love of God do this? The love of God makes God (or the son of God) incarnate as a human being and accept the capital punishment from the justice of God upon himself. Jesus experienced a separation from God on the cross as a punishment.  Anyone who believes this will go to heaven after death, but to those who do not believe this awaits eternal hell.
I don’t know in whose brain originated this circumlocutory story. But this story occupies the central place in the creed of the evangelical Christianity. According to this story, the essential human problem is not our sin, but God’s wrath toward us. So primarily we have to deal with God’s wrath and not with our sin. How do we do this? There is only one way. We have to hide behind Jesus, because if we appear before God as we are, God’s wrath will consume us.  

By salvation the evangelicals mean going to heaven after death. When one's soul reaches the gate of heaven, the gatekeepers will look for his/her name in the Book of Life.  Unless his her name is found in the book, he/she can't enter heaven. No one's name is in the Book of life when he/she is born. Once he/she believes that Jesus died for his/her sins, and he/she accepts Jesus as his/her personal savior, his/her name gets written for the first time in the Book of life, which guarantees his/her entry to heaven.  They call themselves "the saved".
They give undue stress to the second coming of Jesus Christ. They believe that when Christ comes down from heaven, all the  "saved" people get to receive him in the mid-sky. The dead ones rise and the alive ones get transformed, and with a new transformed body they rise up to meet Jesus.
Because they focus on the other world, they ignore this world. They don't care for the world in which they live. Once they rise up in heaven, this world is going to be burned along with all the unsaved ones. Whenever there is a war somewhere or when there is an earthquake somewhere they rejoice, for they see it as a sign of Jesus' return.
Because they sharply divide people into saved and unsaved, they refuse to cooperate with the "unsaved" ones. They look down upon the "unsaved" ones who include not only the people of other religions but also those Christians who are non-evangelicals.
A good friend of mine forwarded the link of this sermon of Paul washer, and I took time to watch it. 
At the beginning, I found in this a wake-up call to evangelical Christianity which has come from within itself. I had a faint hope at the beginning that he might present the gospel of Christ in a sensible way. However, he disappointed me toward the end. He proclaimed the same corrupted evangelical version of gospel.  He argues that this is the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and he wants the evangelical Christian community to regain this powerful gospel.
Paul Washer needs to realize that the gospel he preaches is a version of the Christian gospel which was corrupted by the evangelical tradition. Its circumlocutory story is an insult to human intelligence. It won’t help anyone to be in right relationship with God, but it will only keep people away from God, for who can be in friendship with a wrathful God? He has realized that the evangelical Christian community is in need of the true gospel. But he hasn’t realized that he himself needs the true gospel. May God help him!

Paul Washer is a gifted person and I admire him for his oratorical skills and his courage to speak out what he believes to be true. Personally I have nothing against him. I am talking about him here as a representative of evangelical Christianity. Similarly I am not pointing finger at the evangelical Christianity representing some other form of Christianity. I do not represent any organized community or tradition here. These are my personal opinions.

For further reading: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


Ninan Mathullah said...

Dear John Kunnathu,

Appreciate taking the time to read and analyse the article. It shows you are in search of the truth. Our analysis and the resultant understanding depend on our knowledge and understanding which can cahnge every moment. There is no meaning in arguing that our own understanding is the only truth when the color of that truth is changing every moment. If we could find our own shortcomings in the light of Jesus teachings, instead of finding the shortcomings of others understanding, we would be much better. This has led us all to a situation that Christians of one denomination (disciples of Christ) can't look face to face with another disciple or come near and cooperate because one is holier than the other.

Can you explain why there is no mention of Jesus in you probem and solution in the tables, under 'The Christian Gospel'

Kind regards

Ninan Mathullah

rickstarr said...

@ninan mathullah i think Mr. john Kunnathu is absolutely right, and what he explained is not his version of the truth, it is the truth that was from the beginning of the church by Christ, there is only one truth , so if Mr. john is right paul washer is wrong, and I second that , Christ did not die to satisfy an angry God, it is ridiculous to believe that,the idea that it is only about being forgiven by God and there is no need to be transformed internally is insane which is why many baptists have done away with communion because it is simply about being on good terms with God one has to reveal the truth and cannot stay silent just to make the others happy, excellent article Mr John , tkr :)