Bible Evangelism the Church Theology

Do we need to change the Gospel to speak to today’s world?

This weeks article in Christian Today is a response to an article they published by Peter Crumbler, former Church of England communications director, entitled “Are we preaching the Wrong Gospel for Today’s World?”..  

I was horrified by it and wrote the following response.  For some reason the published version here is quite different in some places from mine.  I am not sure why the additions (and subtractions)…You can work it out for yourself.  It’s not that big a deal but suffice to say I prefer the original version.

Back to Peter’s article.   It’s no wonder that the Church is in so much confusion when we have leading clergy suggesting we need to change the Gospel to suit todays society…

Here is my response…be good to know your thoughts.

Do we need to change the Gospel to speak to today’s world?

The question was asked this week – are we preaching the ‘wrong Gospel for today’s world?  The obvious implication being that we are, and we should change it so that it is more appealing to today’s society.   That is the question/challenge that Peter Crumpler, former Church of England communications director, asks in his CT article.   Peter suggests that we should shift the emphasis from guilt to shame, because today’s society would resonate better with that.  Whereas in the past we spoke about the need to repent from our sins and seek forgiveness from Christ, now we should show people their true worth in Christ and turn them from shame.

From one perspective it’s an attractive proposal.  Telling people they are sinners is not attractive and telling them they should be freed from shame because they are worth it, is a winning formula – just ask Joel Osteen!  Christ came to give us all our ‘best life now’.   But is it the Gospel?

Guilt or Shame?

Generally it is recognised that guilt is “I have done something bad” – shame is ‘I am bad’.  Guilt is the wound; shame is the scar.  The Bible clearly addresses both.  Jesus talks about people being guilty of sin (John 9:41), Isaiah indicates the need for our guilt to be taken away and our sin atoned for (Isaiah 6:7).  The Good News of the Gospel is clearly tied up with the fact that we commit sins.  That is why Jesus tells us that we are to ‘repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15).  In fact, Jesus goes so far as to say that if we do not repent, we will all perish (Luke 13;3).

The Gospel message of the early Church included the command to repent and turn to God, so that our sins may be wiped out (Acts 3:19).  In fact, God now commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).   We cannot change that message because we think it will be unattractive to modern culture.  Apart from the fact that it’s never been an attractive message in any culture, we just do not have the right to change the gospel.  It’s God’s good news – not ours.  The is through the foolishness of preaching the Cross, and not the wisdom of the world, that people are saved. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

The Bible also speaks clearly about shame.  “How long will you people turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?” (Ps 4:2).   It is clear that shame is not divorced from sin – it isbecause of sin. It says that we make ourselves a stench and bring shame on ourselves (Proverbs 13:5). This is not the shame of status, of what others think or indeed of what others have done to us.  It is the shame of who we are because of our own sin.    When Paul warned the Philippians about false teachers, he described them in this way – “Their destiny  is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.”    God shames the wise and strong by choosing the weak and foolish (1 Corinthians 1:27) .     Those who are condemned to the blackest darkness forever are those who ‘foam up their shame’.  (Jude 13).

A Graceless Message

Shame in the Bible is never passive – it is always tied in with the guilt of what we do.  And what we do is because of what we are.  But Brene Brown gives a very different definition of shame – “believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”  The solution then is to ‘believe that we are worthy of love and belonging”.  What a desperately sad, delusional and graceless message that is.  Grace tells us that we are not worthy, but that Christ is – and that he comes to save us – not to tell us how worthy we are.

Rebecca Winfrey, also cited in the article states  “In Victorian times people had a very strong sense of right and wrong beaten into them at school, and a very strong sense of their duty to do the right thing.”  But that too is unbiblical.  We have a sense of right and wrong (and sense of duty), not because it is beaten into us (I suspect Rebecca is not an expert on Victorian history!), but because we have the law of God written in our hearts (Romans 2:15) .

Misquoting Scripture

Peter Crumpler rightly quotes Ephesians 2:10, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” But a test out of context is just a pretext for whatever we want to say.   It’s not the Gospel of God.  This verse does not support this new Gospel of telling people that Jesus came to tell them they are worthy.  The same chapter says we were dead in transgressions (ch2. V.5).  Dead.  Not worthy.  Not confused.   Not bearing other people’s shame. Not just filled with shame. But dead.  So dead that we cannot even see the kingdom of God unless we are born again (John 3).   We need to be made alive by Christ – then, and only then can we do these good works.

Of course there is a wrong version of shame – a sense of unworthiness which is caused by society, wrong judgements and self-absorption. In one sense that is easily dealt with – it certainly doesn’t require the Cross.  But the biblical idea of shame is much deeper and requires a much deeper solution that just telling people they are worthy.   To present the Gospel as some kind of therapeutic solution for a psychological condition, is no Gospel at all.

Why is this Important?

It’s amazing that in all Paul’s letters he wrote to churches who had deep problems – sexual immorality, incest, drunkenness at communion, factions, greed, idolatry and more.  Yet to all of them he began with a commendation and thanks – except for one – his letter to the Galatian church.  He was so astonished that they were turning to a gospel which is really no gospel at all, that he stated, “if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!’ (Galatians 1:8).

The wrong gospel for today’s world, is any gospel that turns away from the Gospel given by Christ to his apostles and revealed to us in the New Testament.  We don’t have the authority, the ability or the wisdom to create a ‘better Gospel’. Even if we mean well, let’s not think that we can improve upon the Apostolic Good News.   To add or take from it – is to change it. To change it is to pervert it.  The gospel the world needs today is the same that was preached in New Testament times – and has been throughout the world by faithful churches ever since.  Repent and believe the Good News about Jesus and you shall be saved.  There is no other name, and no other Gospel, by which human beings can be saved.  (Acts 4:12).  We don’t need a new Gospel.  We need to return to the old one!  The one given by Christ.   If we want to be called Christians.

David Robertson

The Emergent Church has Emerged….A Generous Orthodoxy?

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33 comments

  1. “We have a sense of right and wrong… because we have the law of God written in our hearts.”

    Yes, so this law teaches what sin is and we are made righteous, justified through grace in Christ, as if we had neve sinned. Does that mean we should go on sinning so that Christ be glorified and God’s grace be manifest in us? No. But rather that we are being freed from the consequences of sin by the transformative power of God in us. And given that no-one is without sin, this is a lifetime transformation process. And the work of God in which we participate.

    Perhaps where it gets tricky with the article you refer to David is in the reference to Brene Brown’s “strength in vulnerability” that Rebecca Winfrey alludes to and the idea of being worthy with “in his earthly ministry, Jesus showed people on the margins that they were worthy of that love and being connected with wider society.” And referring this to the woman at the well, Zacchaeus or the woman accused of adultery. So him affirming the dignity and worth of the individual, she argues.

    And while it is a basic human right that it be self evident that all are born wiht equality and dignity and should relate to each other accordingly, human rights can’t tell why this should happen. None of us are worthy because of anything inherent in any of us. Brene Brown’s “strength in vulnerability” doesn’t make her worthy. Nor does any “independent woman” make her worthy. Self-reliance leads either to narcissism or (because no-one and meet all of their needs all of the time) despair.

    However she does touch on something which is probably why she is so popular. And in sharing what she has about vulnerability, showing the need for humility. God resists the arrogant, but gives grace to the humble.

    We have nothing to bring that makes us deserve to be justified before God and the more we try, the more this becomes evident. All we need to do is to be still and receive that justification through Christ. So yes, it’s not what we are entitled to “because you’re worth it” but because being created in the image of God, God can’t deny himself and that divine spark that is in every human being. So it is about the love of God that attends to the needs of the woman at the well, Zacchaeus and the woman accused of adultery in spite of anything that they have done.

    Sin is serious stuff but deep love covers a multitude of sins and truth is freeing!

  2. Thanks, Pastor David. This is very timely, given the discussion hoing on on that older post about the Progressive Christian heretics with their desire to “improve” on the Lord’s Prayer and the creeds, their rejection of doctrine very low view of the Bible, and reformulation of beliefs to suit themselves, which has led to the terrible state of the Anglican Diocese in Brisbane and the culture of bullying and fears that it entails. Problems with the C of E seem endemic everywhere at the moment as they seek to please man, not God, and, ironically, ensure their further decline.

    On a much, much lighter note:

    “David Robertson @theweeflea

    I see that someone has uploaded this to YouTube again – I would suggest you watch it before it gets taken down – probably the greatest live performance ever – certainly the most emotional…incredible…”

    Boo! Boo! I would have thought a good Scotsman living in Australia like you would be into Cold Chisel, with their Glaswegian singer, Jimmy Barnes, by now. Surely Chisel’s Last Stand is the greatest and most emotional live performance by any rock band ever. 😉

    1. Here you go, Pastor, with some belated sample Cold Chisel songs. All it takes to make the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world is one drunken Glaswegian singer and a bunch of working class Aussie boys backing him. 😉

      First, some studio recordings:

      Standing on the Outside:
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-9M7wNdteS4

      Cheap Wine:
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0DbLadt6V_s

      Rising Sun:
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YJMx00OQUNM

      Saturday Night:
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9BPuRtrEP6w

      Now some recordings from the Last Stand concert in 1983:

      Wild Thing (cover):
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=oQ19NWzA8TA

      Bow River (Moss and Barnes duet):
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=y2by810nulE

      Only Make Believe (cover):
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=r5HjJPpDiTU

      Janelle (blues ballad duet with Ian Moss):
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ba2DJcK30O8

      Georgia (Ian Moss cover):
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NhFXjzRRv4w

      Twist and Shout (cover):
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NCKwZr5U6xE

      ***

      Bonus – Wild Colonial Boy live in 1982:
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LDSrop8BqHM

      Hope there is something there you enjoy and that you now understand why Barnesy is Australia’s favourite Scotsman (present company excluded, of course)!

  3. Excellent article David!

    It will come in handy as I am having to do a pastoral theology presentation on guilt/shame at Glasgow uni in a few weeks.

    Hope you are doing well.

    James

  4. The original article by Crumbler was quite gentle, although clearly theological nonsense. (But hey; what did St. Paul know about theology?) It fails to distinguish between true moral guilt and guilty feelings. But then everything is about feelings these days.

    However what is behind the article is what worries me. The opposite of shameful is, I suppose, shameless. Taking it one step further the opposite could also be prideful. To get rid of shame opens up all sorts of possibilities.

    I suspect the background to this article is the “queerification” of the C of E and the steadily advancing LGBT+ agenda, especially in the Synod.

    No doubt as summer progresses and the virus goes into the normal quiescent phase (nothing to do with lockdowns) the Gay Pride marches will recommence, blessed by various Bishops. These are pretty shameless, lewd spectacles which even embarrass many gay people. But get rid of shame then anything goes.

  5. Im a new reader to your blog and thoroughly enjoying it.

    I’m a 30 years+ christian in sort of evangelical/charismatic tradition but who also enjoys morning prayer from BCP. I find myself generally getting more critical of ever new christian innovative practises and ideas to help spread the Gospel. However my children hav’nt picked up what I would regard a vibrant faith (though I do thank God two of the three pray at times and all three are beautiful people). But they definitely regard me as out of touch and out of date. And to take them as an example just citing the ‘repent and be saved’ message will not bring them to that point insofar as I can see. I am using them as examples because I know them intimately but they would be fine examples of todays youth (ages 21,26,30).

    Dare I say it as an Irish ex-catholic my received perception of Presbyterianism is of a harsh, legalistic and judgemental doctrine, probably formed in no small way by the now deceased infamous (famous?) Dr Ian Paisley and the like. However in my walk as a christian I have come to appreciate the solid ground the Presbyterians maintain and I am ever more concerned how to do so myself in such tumultuous times.

    Some years back I would have said Amen and Amen to your words above but in the past few years I’m coming to a different view somewhat though I could’nt particularly articulate it exactly. The Gospel message must be preached in all its fullness and beauty but it must be communicated to the world. We can all see those banners outside of old (often dying out)churchs with scripture verses on like “Today is the Day of salvation etc’. Wonderful truths indeed but not seen anymore as such by passers by but rather the crowing of an outdated and ‘past its time’ activity.

    So I can appreciate the efforts of the CofE article to try and find a new way of proclaiming eternal truth, though it is fraught with peril and we have seen too many examples of the Gospel message being lost en route. It is easy for us saved ones to sit in a certainty of salvation and not concern ourselves with propegating the gospel. I really don’t do enough at all and I’m glad Peter Crumpler is at least trying to address that. While such efforts need critiquing for sure they also need appreciating.

    As such do you think you are perhaps being too proscriptive and even unbiblical in your approach to preaching the Gospel? Looking back on my experience of coming to Christ it was not a massive conviction of sin ( that would come progressively later) but an acknowledgement that there almost certainly was a God who took an interest in me – in me! And so I ‘gave my life to Him’ as best as I understood what that meant. I had almost no idea just how utterly lost I was and would have pushed back at being told so. If you had quoted all those scriptures to me in 1988 I probably would have labelled you a typical Presbyterian! Would you have been drawing me towards Jesus in doing so? Almost certainly not.

    I would not quibble with the truth of any of the scriptures you quote in your article. But when I see the overall picture of the Gospel I see Jesus indeed being merciless with the Religious authorities and hypocrites with him using language like ‘brood of vipers’. But when He has encounters with individual ‘sinners’ we see a different picture. The woman at the well for example, we don’t read of Jesus presenting a demand of repentence but he met her where she was, ands treated her with respect. When she tried to cover her shame he uncovered it but in such a way as the woman ran to tell others and not to run away and hide.

    With Matthew the tax collector Jesus simply said He would eat with him that evening leading to a glorious and deep repentance on Matthew’s part. In these and other passages I see a similarity to the wonderful and precious Lord Jesus’ approach to me. Gently drawing me in closer and closer and even after my commitment He dealt with my sin and shame and necessary repentence gradually and delicately. And even lately He has been dealing with matters of shame that I had’nt realised were there and probably couldnt have faced years back.

    You critique Peter Crumpler’s approach to shame and I would agree your critique is biblically based and correct. But I would be more sympathetic with Crumpler’s heart for lost people than I see in your approach. There are countless lost and desperately hurting people around us burdened with deep shame. As church goers we are sometimes the last people they will turn to given that we must be ‘on God’s side’ and you and I both know this should not be the case, and it is certainly not what Jesus modelled.

    This issue of ‘worthiness’ is an interesting one and an issue I grappled with some years back. As a long time Christian who has used the McCheynes bible reading plan many times now I should be expert in grace ‘God’s riches at Christ expense’ etc etc but I still struggle with worthiness. In one sense you might say that is good – I can be moved to tears considering just what God has done for me in Jesus. But then I saw the verse in Acts 13:46 …since you judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life.. and I also reasoned that even to come to Christ there has to be is some sense the feeling that God in heaven has some sort of interest in you/me personally. That I am actually worthy of that. In that passage the people of Antioch did not receive the Gospel because they did not consider them selves worthy. In the Gospel encounters Jesus has with individuals he moved sinners to a sense of worthiness from their lost state of shame.

    I do think your dismissal of the issue of shame “Of course there is a wrong version of shame – a sense of unworthiness which is caused by society, wrong judgements and self-absorption. In one sense that is easily dealt with” is way off the mark. I can only assume you perhaps have never experienced shame yourself to say that ‘it can easily be dealt with’. In this broken world there are so many homes without fathers where boys grow into men never having experienced the affirmation of an earthly human being never mind father. Such deep rooted starvation will never be easily solved.

    I understand you are seeking to make some sort of distinction between different types of shame but your end result is to possibly move lost people even further from hope. And its a false dichotomy as the two types of shame (Shame for what I am v shame for what I have done) are intricitely entwined. I’ve sinned because of who I am and I am who I am because of my sin. Paul’s approach in Romans 8 is much more true to life in this matter that your coldly intellectual approach.

    This has turned out to be a much longer and indeed critical ‘comment’ than I had intended. You do invite comment above so I will leave it in the hope that if it has any value God will bless that. However before finishing I have one more critical comment to make which is tangential to the main argument.

    Can I challenge you on the matter of intellectual pride Pastor David? You are obviously a highly educated and articulate man and I thank God for this – we need such insight into the world as you bring. The apostle Paul was likewise and used so mightily by God. Yet Jesus thanked the father that he did not reveal the Gospel to the wise and learned but to little children etc so He did not particulately estemm great learning insofar as proclaiming the Gospel was concerned. In this context your side comment “I suspect Rebecca is not an expert on Victorian history!” I thought was a little unnecessary and condescending.

    I will definitely end now.

    Bless You Pastor David and thank you for your blogs, posts and articles. Keep them coming!

    David Daly

    1. Thanks David for your long comment – forgive my brief reply. I have a lot of sympathy with much you say but a few points of concern.

      1) If Ian Paisley is your idea of Presbyterianism then I can understand why you think it is harsh and judgemental! I don’t think Paisley was really a Presbyterian at all….he had his own church!

      2) Yes the Gospel must be preached in all its beauty to the world as it is – not as we would like it to be. But that does not mean that we have to change the Gospel. If we change it – its no longer the Gospel. I agree that we can and often should change the way we present it.

      3) Peter C is not seeking to find a new way to preach the biblical Gospel. He is seeking a new Gospel which is no Gospel at all (hence the Galatians passage).

      4) I am not being too proscriptive on how we preach the Gospel. Just as you are judging Presbyterianism by Ian Paisley you are reading far too much in to my article. Where do I ‘proscribe’ how we should preach the Gospel? I’m just arguing that it is the Gospel we must preach.

      5) The woman at the well was presented with her sin – her shame was exposed – come meet a man who told me everything I ever did. But she was also offered Christ and a means to deal with that. That’s the point of what I’m saying. Jesus’s message was not ‘you are worthy so come to me’. He said you are not worthy, and you know it, so come to me!

      6) You judge both Peters’ heart and mine. I’m sorry but you have neither the authority or ability to do so. You say that Peter has a heart for lost people and contrast that with mine. I don’t know Peter’s heart but I would be delighted if he believed that people were actually lost (in the biblical sense)…nothing in his article gives me that impression. As for me – the reason I stick with the Gospel and don’t change it is because I care for the lost. There is no other Saviour or name than Jesus.

      7) Jesus never moved sinners to a sense of worthiness. Can you give one example of that extraordinary take on Scripture? He loved the unworthy. He saves the unworthy. But he does not do so by showing us that we are really worthy and our sense of unworthiness is false.

      8) Again you misread and judge me. I did not dismiss ‘shame’. I disagreed with Peter’s unbiblical understanding of it. Please don’t make judgements on people you don’t know. If you knew me you would know I have experienced – and do experience, shame.

      9) The distinction that is made (by Peter) is between guilt and shame. As explained in the article.

      10) You accuse me of being coldly intellectual and intellectual pride. Of course when you say to someone they are proud you are making an unanswerable charge and can feel satisfied whatever the response. If I agree you are right. If I disagree it just shows my pride – so you are right again! Please don’t be so judgemental – at least without evidence. And there was nothing cold in my response at all. It is because I love sinners, love the Gospel and love the Lord that I feel so strongly about distorting the Gospel. Like Paul I haven’t time for the niceties that people play – if someone preaches any other Gospel let them be accursed.

      11) You might be right about the comment re Rebecca – but those who profess to be teachers as she does are accountable for what they teach. She told something that was untrue about the Victorian period. Either she knew that and was just lying – or, as I more kindly assumed, she was just ignorant of what she was talking about. Either way the remark stands. DO you think Elijah was a ‘little unnecessary and condescending’ when he mocked the prophets of Baal?, or Jesus when he compared the Pharisees to a graveyard? Or Paul when he suggested that the circumcisers should go all the way and castrate themselves?!

      Having said all that I appreciate your comments and the spirit in which they were given. My only advice would be, try not to read too much into what someone writes, and please don’t make judgements on the state of someone else’s heart on the basis of one article!

      I hope you continue to enjoy the blog – and will continue to engage…

      David

  6. Sin-Cross-Resurrection fits with the problem-solution-joy triad our minds seem so conditioned to accept in regular advertising. The shame vs. guilt idea is interesting. Shame smacks of feelings and emotion, where we need to ask what the objective factors behind shame are. Guilt immediately connects with the objective truth of human wrongdoing. Maybe the theodicy arguments need to be played more cleverly, as radical evidences for God. A veteran at a Remembrance Day service spoke of wondering what the hell WWII was about, or why he was being put through such misery. He told me of entering a Belsen establishment at the war’s end, and being immediately certain of the spiritual or moral struggle.

  7. Thanks, David, I do appreciate your straight talking and dealing with controversial issues. I too am really concerned about this reinterpretation of the ‘gospel’: I fear it has already taken root in many evangelical churches. I think it was Keith Getty who said that Christians think worship is ‘catharsis’. I think some see the gospel as just a cathartic message: a religious self-help programme rather than a divine supernatural encounter which changes the heart. In Aussie slang this suggest change would be called a ‘shonky retread’.

    I do agree that we have to look at the semantics of biblical words and the meaning they have now acquired. I would add another couple to your emphasis: we need to communicate better the meaning of sin, guilt, shame and being ashamed. Sin is now understood as merely being ‘naughty’ and something God easily puts aside. Guilt seems to be something no one will admit to now (just look what is happening in the Scottish Parliament). The definition of shame you give is spot on: it merely relates to focus on the self. And being ashamed is another condition which people refuse to accept. But as Romans 6.21 teaches, being ashamed is the first step to Christian holiness.

    Maybe we should teach sin as that in us which hates God and his laws. Guilt needs explaining carefully showing it is not a feeling but a legal ruling. The understanding shame now has is a lie to try and prevent us coming to Jesus for forgiveness. Being ashamed because the Spirit shines his light on our need to ask forgiveness is a joy because we know that the blood of Jesus cleanses us and inspires us to live in freedom.

  8. Much of the ‘new gospel’ that derived from society rather than scripture actually in effect negates the Gospel. Paul warned the Galations of this.

    If I am not guilty, ….then I don’t need to be redeemed.
    If I am worthy, …..then grace is not required. (It’s merit and reward)
    If my shame is not real,….. then the shame Christ suffered was for nothing.
    If I am not a slave to sin, then the work of the Cross to break the power of sin so we need no longer serve it, was needless.

    If my carnal desires are not really immoral, then it begs the question I need a gospel in the first place, as that suggests there is nothing actually wrong with me.

    In a society that refutes sin exists, and vilifies anyone who suggest we are sinners, there needs to be a change in thinking first, before a gospel becomes relevant.

    And this is where the message to repent has been neglected.

    Repentance is not the gospel. It’s not salvation. It’s a pre-courser. That’s why before Jesus came with the Gospel, God sent John to prepare the way.

    Without the ministry of John, the gospel is not received. Because the message to repent challenges the status quo!
    Metanoià is – change + mind.
    It means to reverse a decision, think differently.
    In order to receive a new idea (the gospel) there has to be the challenge to change how we currently think.
    This was how John B, Jesus, Peter, Paul etc applied Gods plan, so why has the church today stopped?

    Those who rejected the message of John, were those who rejected the message of Jesus.

    When the church begins with society and its current status to formulate its message, it will be rejected without a call to repent. Amending the gospel to make this more appealing, instead of calling for a change of mind (repent) is how the gospel becomes contaminated. Because the root remains.
    It is not possible to believe and receive without first repentance.

  9. A physicist, an engineer and a mathematician are taking the train from England to Scotland. As they cross the border, they see a single purple sheep in a field. The Engineer exclaims ‘ oh look, scottish sheep are purple!’
    The physicist replies ‘steady on, old thing, it looks like some scottish sheep are purple. ‘
    The mathematician bangs the table and shouts ‘Look! In Scotland, there exists at least one field, containing at least one sheep, at least one side of which is purple!!’ (Everyone clear on that?)

    I’m trying to speak to a few different ideas here that have floated up recently, some of which are more directly connected with this topic than others. I notice as well that Peter Crumpler talks of the ‘shame’ Jesus was exposed to on the cross, but appears to sidestep the reason or it. The simple answer is though, that once one grasps that the gospel is God’s message and people’s response to it is not the church’s direct concern, any attempt to make it more appealing defeats the object. I guess many of us have felt the pressure of wanting to see our friends become believers, and lamenting empty churches. I have spent many a time thinking about how to word a christian gospel message in an audience friendly way. But ultimately it is not possible past a point. I don’t know how much John Wesley and Martin Luther spent of their time organising food banks and providing free school meals for children, (necessary as these things sadly are), but neither of them I am pretty sure, were much in to ‘Back to Church Sundays’ or Vicarage open houses.

    Peter Crumpler takes several bible verses out of context. Paul’s letters are of course well worn ground for this. In this instance, it is trying to find the popular half of the message and tidy away the nasty bit. It is common amongst the institutional churches who are striving for ‘relevance’ and performing all manner of theological contortions to try and find it, whilst not seeing the obvious point that God whittled Gideon’s army (the then equivalent of God’s people doing God’s thing) from 22,000 to 300. I am not aware of such a thing happening on a Sunday lately. On the other hand, church leaders seem to feel they are on solid ground when relating to things Jesus said and people he spoke to, because 1) he was Jesus, and 2) we know the modern counterparts of such people, and therefore we ‘know’ exactly how he would have dealt with them. (This is where the sheep come in). Pausing a minute though, Jesus interacted physically with relatively speaking a handful of people during his earthly lifetime. From the recorded encounters we claim to know exactly how he would have dealt with all prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners, thieves, adulterers etc, and by extension, because we are confident that we ‘know’ all the modern day equivalents of those people, we ‘know’ exactly how to bring Jesus to the modern audience. We may not be always wrong, unlike the Pharisees who ‘knew’ that they would feel the full force of God’s law. Only Jesus’ earthly ministry also had a context, that of God coming to his chosen people and offering them a choice and one last chance to state where their loyalties were before the Kingdom was offered away from them. But continuing to treat Jesus then as that very same Jesus is going down to road of making the church into a battle reenactment or historical interest society. It makes for a comfortable characterisation and a welcoming message. instead of God’s living new creation. Jesus is resurrected now. The woman by the well’s sin is paid for, along with everyone else’s. Jesus’ message now is ‘repent’ , whether to tax collectors, prostitutes, drug sellers or billionaire businessmen. If you do not, you too will all perish. The real tragedy is that the tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes and neglected of this world often do not want the gospel any more than the rich and privileged. Which is the point that Peter Crumpler is missing.

  10. Interesting this idea that there is a desire to affirm that we are worthy, of being loved and saving.

    Scripture reveals otherwise. ‘There is none righteous…..we are as filthy rags.’

    If we make the basis a claim we are worthy of love, then we negate the love and grace of God.
    Worthiness is deserved. It is merited. To suggest humans are worthy of love, is to elevate humanity above God. ‘God could not help love us, because we are worthy.’

    Jesus did not reveal such to the woman at the well, zacheous, nor the woman caught in adultery.

    He revealed despite them, regardless of them, irrespective of them, taking nothing into account from them, He loved them, because he is love, and he loves. Not because they are worthy.

    Such people were transformed, because they grasped the truth it was not about them, but about him!

    That’s the good news, that’s the Gospel.

  11. David, are you sure that Peter Crumpler wasn’t talking about the entry point for telling people the good news of Jesus coming, teaching, dying and rising again? That is, was he saying that the way to get people’s attention in OUR culture today is to show how what God has done meets them ‘in Christ’ through the doorway of a ‘shame’ culture rather than a ‘guilt’ culture? Isn’t the New Testament gospel the ‘fact’ that Jesus came, that he died for our sins, that he was buried and that he rose on the third day and was seen by Peter and…’ How has Peter Crumpler CHANGED this?

    1. Yes – I’m sure. Feel free to twist and turn as much as you like. I read Crumpler’s article. He is very clear. If you want to stick to basic English. If we are preaching the wrong Gospel – then clearly we need to change it to the right one. Peter advocates preaching a Gospel that does not emphasise our guilt and need to repent and instead we should be told ‘we are worthy’. HIs understanding of both guilt and shame is unbiblical. It may be that like yourself, he is trying to be clever…but it doesn’t really work. Let’s just stick with plain speaking and the plain truth of the Word of God – and not just invent our own Gospel to suit our own world.

      1. It is when we run out of our own resources, that we turn to Him. A total inability of ours is more difficult to admit in a culture that peddles self everything.
        It is the kindness/goodness ( both objectively and subjectively/personally) of God that leads to repentance.
        Personally, it was in the full force of that revelation of his kindness/goodness and rescue, that I came to the knowledge of the underlying and main sin in life – that I had ignored him all my life- that is the the sin of breach of the first commandment, not loving Him, which is ineffect the sin of the pride of life.
        Now in what order? The order of salvation was much discussed in times past.
        Sinclair Ferguson in The Whole Christ to me gets to the heart of it best. Does repentance actually come first? Read the book.

      2. I think it’s pretty clear, athough it may have been written (conciously or otherwise) to hold that 1% of doubt in order to ease it past a less critical audience. I don’t suppose we ever feel the force of what would have happened if God had not paid the price for our sin. But once, unless you were one of a handful of people on the Ark, whether you felt shame and/ or guilt or neither would have been of little consequence, once it started raining. And so for the Egyptians and the Canaanites, whatever their moral outlook. The created purpose of humanity is be in the presence of God and worship him. That purpose will one day now be realised. However, Israel’s high priest couldn’t decide whether or not to poke his head round the curtain or not depending on how shameful he felt that day. The fact that the curtain is no more and we can come to God can have the effect of removing from our minds the impact of what needed to happen for that to be possible. Moses could not enter the most holy place, whether or not God sent him on assertiveness training.

        There are still plenty of us around who remember old school discipline, albeit in its dying out days . Sadly they will probably be more remembered for controlling which hand we wrote with, and litanies of sexual and physical abuse than anything else. Many of my schoolmates particularly remember having their poo inspected after breakfast, or being the fourth to the dirty scummy bathwater. And because all this took place under ‘christianity’, bye bye baby. And I must say, to a great extent, good riddance. If only the pendulum hadn’t swung so far. As we now know, even if you are 100 miles down a farm track pointing toward a old quarry and trying to get on the M1, it is always the wrong thing to ‘go back’ even if there is a sign saying ‘1M’ clearly visible in your rear view mirror. But the argument that ‘once they felt guilt’ (whatever the reason) and ‘now they feel shame’ therefore whilst once we preached guilt and that was fine, we should now be talking about shame, simply won’t do. Guilt is still the problem. No doubt the atheists will tell us that that was because it was simply expedient at the time that people should feel guilty, and that today’s lack of it is a progressive victory. Humanity’s moral compass is a trillion degrees off where it was even 30 years ago, no doubt. But that is in fact just another layer of problem for a humanity which cannot alter the terms on which it comes back to God, but as things have it, one that only God can solve. It isn’t an opportunity, however much it can be made to look like one. The real tragedy, as I said before, is that a large chunk of humanity, rich or poor, shamed, guilty or otherwise, do not want God or his gospel. Otherwise a few Sundays down at one’s local Lidl would boost numbers no end.

  12. David, how are my questions ‘twisting’ and ‘turning’? and how is Peter Crumpler (like me (sic.)) ‘trying to be clever’? Does God’s coming, dying and rising again save us from shame (as well as guilt), or not? In a culture in which people understand shame more than guilt isn’t it better to start there?
    Or, as Peter says:
    ‘Confession and repentance are VITAL PARTS of our Christian message. but maybe preachers and pastors should ALSO be addressing the pandemic of shame in our society.
    ‘That may be a BETTER WAY of getting people’s ATTENTION in a hurting shame-filled world.’ (uppercase, my emphasis)

    1. As I say Bruce – it seems to be your desire to nitpick, twist, turn, distort. To be honest its really tiring and tiresome – so up your game! If you bothered reading the article, thinking about it and actually responding to what is said it would be helpful. The problem is not with exposing peoples shame or offering Christ as a way out of it (that is precisely what the Bible does) – sin, shame and guilt all go together. It is rather the definition of shame that is used and the perversion of the Gospel (we are apparently preaching the wrong one and so need to change it to something more palatable). When you define shame as feeling unworthy – and then turn the Gospel into saying ‘you are worthy’ you are distorting the Gospel. Jesus didn’t die for us because we are worthy! It is while we were still his enemies that Christ died for us. I don’t care two hoots about your silly little word games and your desire for some kind of oneupmanship – play that game all you want. But I do care when the Good News of Jesus is distorted by a clergyman who is paid to proclaim that good news – but decides he can change it and improve upon it…I prefer the message of Jesus to the message of Peter Crumpler…

  13. I doubt that either Paul’s rebuke to the unbelieving Jews ‘The holy spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet…’ or Jesus’ own ‘get behind me, Satan’ would go down today as examples of ‘how to do it’ communication. ‘Come on Peter, lets go and chill out and have one of Martha’s artisan scones and a cup of tea, and we can sort this out later when we’ve both had a chance to reflect properly and calm down a bit…. ‘ Jesus was also pretty hard on Nicodemus. Both Jesus and Paul spoke their hearts to the situation. Paul’s heart is clear from Romans 9, and Jesus’ from, well, pretty much anywhere in the bible one chooses. But institutional churches have elected to make themselves subject to pressures of human performance metrics, and I think it would be fair to say, are finding it somewhat of a challenge when all the work that they do get engaged in is simply met with another snip of God’s pruning shears. As someone put it (whether or not it was simply the Chariots of Fire screenwriter) ‘The Kingdom of God is not a democracy. The Lord does not stand for reelection. It is a top down organisation. ‘Look Lord, i know you want to get this guy Paul onside, and obviously we respect that, and I dare say he could be very handy, but our guys are really scared of him, as you know. Maybe we should just test the water a bit with him first and see if he really is on message…./ Okay Barnabas I hear what you’re saying, maybe there is some truth in that…’

    Underground churches in oppressed countries are growing, and at least according to the feedback I get, are not wrestling with difficulties to do with racism or lack of diversity, which according to the latest news, is an existential problem for the C of E. I dare say that this constitutes a mixture of genuine antipathy generated by years of ‘us and them’ culture, and some of it is because someone has decided that the demographics of the clergy are not comparable to that of the general population, and that somehow this matters. It is true that the western church does find itself confronted by some particularly difficult issues, not least the very real problems of our deprived communities (I don’t care whether they are 10x or 100x better off than living in a Mumbai slum; living in a cold mouldy flat with no heat and no food isn’t offset, in my opinion, by the blessings of clean water and free visits to the doctor. Maybe I just haven’t eaten enough refried hotel food waste a la Bangkok). The philosophical, moral, equality and identity driven knots that our culture has managed to get tied in are truly mind boggling, and will all be different in five years time, as generations of lifelong feminists and socialist politicians are currently discovering, But the vicar who told his parishioner that he was in sales, not in management was not (quite) telling the truth. The well known professor of music D F Tovey used to say of playing Beethoven ‘obey orders first, and understand the results by their effect’

  14. A point of access for us to present the gospel that God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit-so loved the world that He sent His Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life-is what we need to have to enable people to listen. Paul is a fine example of intriguing hearers. They often rejected the message of the gospel when it called for the action of repentance. But they stopped to listen. Our job is done. We then, as Paul mentioned as a motivator for him, do not have blood on our hands. For the gospel demands repentance ‘for whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.’ Vulnerability may be a point of access. Shame may be a point of access. The message is then how to escape the condemnation all already stand in due to their guilt due to their life of sin: not giving God the glory due to His name; deciding what is good and evil for ourselves. Let us learn how to flex the points of access. Let us stand firm on the gospel itself. Let’s give God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit- the glory for such love for the unworthy. Thank you David for sparking clearer articulation of the challenges we face in calling all, including ourselves into a life of repentance and faith, faith in God’s power bringing us everlasting life.

  15. Reply to Geoff:

    True Geoff, when we come to then end of our resources, but often the message today negates the possibility of people so reaching moral and spiritual bankruptcy!

    Our egos are nursed, our abilities lauded, and our errors trumped by the claims we deserve to be loved even if we get some things wrong. Thus, it’s all about us .

    ‘It’s the hardest thing, and requires the greater of humility to receive anything from God, because we would much sooner earn it!’ (Oswald chambers)
    How true.

    To receive from God is exclusively on the basis of grace. I.e. It’s because he gives, not that we deserve, are worthy, nor can merit it.
    Very few want to receive on that basis. E.g. as a pauper.

    To you last question, yes, repentance comes first, it leads to salvation, it’s not salvation itself. (2 Cor 7:10)

    Those who won’t change their minds, find no need for it.

    1. Hello Dave,
      Agree with your first part, that is the reason I said it is difficult today in the culture of self-everything, without going into detail. We come empty.
      As for repentance coming first, I do think there is a great need to understand the depth of Sinclair Ferguson’s teaching, as contained in the book, based on a historical controversy in Scotland, which, by the way, comes highly recommended by David Robertson, but as a spoiler, faith, revelation, comes first, though in time they may be almost inseparable.
      And legalism and antinomianism have the same root – doubt over the radical Goodness of God.
      Of course, this reduction of the teaching does not do justice to SF.
      Maybe, David could link his glowing review of the book, as it is likely to be somewhere in his blog archives from a few years ago.

  16. Bruce, this is an article that looks fairly insightful at first read but rather like THAT sermon from Bishop Curry, reveals more of its flaws the more one reflects on it. It is from the same stable, if not the same author. I have spent the weekend with about four things on the brain: this article; an old school chemistry experiment which in its way is very similar, longing for a McDoos after weeks of tummy a la chemotherapy, and misuse of statistics by numpty researchers who don’t understand them. Such is life under UK lockdown.

    The word ‘shame’ is actually used in several different ways. For example

    Having found their worth in God’s eyes, turning to christ, and having their shame relieved, apparently christians should be taught they may experience shame for they faith… Possibly true and not just shame, but then why? (we know the answer to that one). But then are we not just offering one more heap of shame in place of the old one? Great…

    ‘The Exodus is an account of the Jewish people being released from the shame of slavery into the freedom of their worth in God’s eyes.’

    The Exodus is God’s pictorial of delivering people of his choosing, from the slavery of sin to freedom in God’s presence, in order that they reflect the glory of God. When one stops to think that of the huge number of people released from Egypt, only 2 actually lived to see the promised land, so that practically no-one who actually experienced the shame of slavery actually got to realise their worth in God’s eyes, it doesn’t seem to score so well as an example. Maybe best stick with nice heart warming Jesus stories….After all, as I said before, the church has got Jesus well and truly sussed (or so they think). I have always however been a WWJD cynic, as Andrew’s law states that ‘Jesus always acts in such a way that the questioner wins the argument’, although like all good laws, someone probably discovered it years before I did.

    This came to me. Hebrews 4, 2-4
    ‘For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. 3 Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

    “So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”’

    Finally, whilst the Romans may have intended to shame and humilate crucifixion victims (as well as kill them), Jesus included, God’s primary intent was for him to die.

    There’s probably still more juice in this article. Like all bad arguments, its good reading. Although depressing but not unexpected from a politician/media facing representative of a modern institution. OF COURSE guilt is still important. But only as important as I allow it to be

    1. Andrew, thank you for your interaction. Sorry about your chemotherapy issues.
      My issue with David’s response to the Peter Crumpler article arises from my interest in language and how as humans we use language in communication. So if I see a reader inferring more than a writer intended I ask questions.
      So I have a reflection on your your first statement: ‘this is an article that looks fairly insightful at first read but … reveals more of its flaws the more one reflects on it.’ Is there a danger in a reader critiquing a text after reflecting MORE on it WITHOUT checking back to what clues the writer actually gave of their thoughts? Or, originally did David take more from what he inferred from the header of Peter’s article than what Peter actually wrote? If our inferences rely on a writer being from a particular ‘stable’ can we successfully understand what they wrote especially if we make our inferences from what we ‘remember’ of what they wrote?
      To some particulars: yes, Peter gave some examples of ‘shame’ — as we might expect him to.
      You suggest his example of teaching new Christians that they might ‘face shame for their faith’ is offering a new heap of shame. Well, yes, BUT within the situation of knowing ‘their intrinsic value in God’s sight’ which is the next part of the sentence he wrote.
      You say of the exodus: ‘practically no-one who actually experienced the shame of slavery actually got to realise their worth in God’s eyes, [so] it doesn’t seem to score so well as an example.’ Why not? They were in reality no longer slaves. Maybe we shouldn’t jump too quickly from the historical reference to ‘spiritual’ one. And which of these two statements talk about freedom from slavery in the Bible: ‘the exodus’ or ‘crossing the Jordan’? So, communication doesn’t necessarily deal in such carefully defined categories as you are suggesting.
      You say of crucifixion: ‘the Romans may have intended to shame and humilate crucifixion victims’. Why the ‘may have’? Jesus was actually crucified, with all the ‘connotations’ that that action carried with it. I suggest we are not reading what the text means if we limit that to ‘God’s primary intent was for him to die.’
      So my concern that we read what Peter Crumpler wrote arises from my concern about reading the Bible as an actual text and not as a bunch of isolated true thoughts about God, but also from the wider concern for listening to missiologists such as ‘Jackson Wu’ when they talk about taking the gospel to the WHOLE world.

      1. How do you know what the writer intended? I commented on what he wrote. You claim knowledge of what he intended to write.

        It was nothing to do with him being from a particular stable – that may be the way you judge people – it’s not how I roll. I have no idea who Peter is or what stable he comes from.

        I agree that we should read the Bible as a whole text, not a series of blessed thoughts. Which is why we just don’t get to rewrite the Bible or change the Gospel (as Peters original article states) just to make it more palatable to our culture.

      2. David:
        I am able to interpret what Peter intended to COMMUNICATE through making inferences from what he wrote. That is how human communication seems to work. I did not claim knowledge of what he INTENDED to write.
        On ‘stable’, I was responding to Andrew’s comment, not yours.
        Once again I am observing that Peter did NOT ‘state’ we need to change the gospel. I claim that is an inference YOU made (probably from the article header) but an inference not supported by the rest of the text.

      3. Ok Bruce you’re done. I’m tired of you playing these silly games. You think that there is some kind of substantive difference between ‘I know what he intended to communicate’ and “I know what he intended to write’. You claim the first and deny the second…

        Peter did state we need to change the Gospel…….that was the point of his article.

  17. I’m reminded of CS Lewis on First and Second Things. He warned that if you aim for the second thing you often lost the first and second together. There is both guilt and shame. Shame needs dealing with but if we focus on that and try to forget about guilt, not only will we not deal with guilt but in so doing we’ll fail to deal with the root cause of shame too. I wish that we would give more attention to the issue of shame. I think there is a lack of attention to it -and I think we see that in some of the scandals and the toxic cultures but we will not deal with it by ignoring the problem of guilt

  18. Here’s a video of a Christian US Congressman , who , having made reference to God in a debate , is told by a Jewish member that his God has no power in the House :

  19. So far as I , laymanlike , understand the Gospel , it means “Good News” , so what change might replace this encouraging message ?

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