Message to Tom Ascol: Write the Book

man-shadow-cross.jpgUPDATE: Go into the comments and read the post by Pastor Scott Dontanville. Just go read it.

For those of you who are going to write me a hurt/angry note saying I’m picking on your church, I’m not. And if I am, I don’t know you anyway, so there’s no need to complain.

I just spent ten minutes reading something I’ve read/heard hundreds of times before: an established, traditional church, experiencing some signs of aging, goes through a process diagnosing its problems, developing/selling a plan for the future and asking the congregation to work with the leadership to bring the church through a period of decline into a future of growth and prosperity.

In those plans are predictable words: Plans. Consultants. Marketing. Children. New Staff. New facilities. New families. Communication. Outreach. Programs. Growth.

There’s the necessary optimism. (“Our best days are ahead of us.”) The ever present affirmation (“We’re a great church.”) The spiritual assurances. (“God is at work here.”)

Under the words, you can feel the tension. Generational worship styles have collided. The noise of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven revolution has been heard by members of the congregation, and there is a bit of unrest in the formerly passive pews. Young people want to know why their church isn’t doing what the other churches are doing. How long are we going to stick with the suits, the choir and the organ? Where’s the band? The projection? The CCM praise choruses? The cool stuff?

The good days of the denominational past are a powerful memory, but the raw competitiveness of evangelicalism’s present is a current reality. People with families are going elsewhere. Young people are shopping around, and what do we have to offer? What if we keep declining? Does our leadership get it? Does our leadership know what “it” is? Can we change if we wanted to? Do we want to? Can we start enough alternative services to make everyone happy?

There is the confidence of previous denominational wisdom in the voice of the pastor. With new staff, a good plan, better facilities, more marketing, we will prosper. We need to work harder and do more. We need programs and outreaches and visibility. It’s always worked. It will work again.

Many of you know this song before I sing it. You could write several more verses.

Many of you know what you won’t hear in this recitation of plans and programs. You won’t hear anything about the Gospel. At all.

The Gospel? We’ve got that down. We preach it. (Don’t we?) We teach it. (Of course we teach it. We baptized 15 last year.) If we don’t have the Gospel right, what are we doing anyway?

Now there’s a question.

Tom Ascol, Director of Founder’s Ministries, has repeatedly said that the challenge facing Southern Baptists and other evangelicals is the Gospel itself. Not numbers or how to grow bigger churches, but the Gospel.

The Gospel is rarely heard in many churches. Whole movements have moved past the Gospel into “felt needs” and “what people want to hear.” Pastor-theologians are rare; perhaps officially qualifying as an endangered species. Any survey or question and answer on the gospel in the midst of our Sunday morning congregations will yield results not much different than what one might hear in France or secular Europe. Oh there will be a LOT more God talk and religious chatter, but the Gospel? The core? The heart? You will be surprised. You ought to be broken.

Tom needs to write the book. (Write the book, Tom.) Our churches, our pastors, our leaders— they need to admit we’ve lost the Gospel, and what version of it we retain we’ve Americanized, diluted, perverted, spun, castrated and/or ignored. The Gospel’s transforming power is largely untapped among the majority of professing Christians. We are not counter cultural. Our first century ancestors wouldn’t recognize most of us as family unless they happened to catch us in church.

We’re about as much of a revolution as the latest sale at the Lexus dealership.

We want Christianity to be like a club the whole family enjoys. (Family values is one of the new code words for “What Gospel?”) We want our version of the gospel to protect us and our kind in the cultural collapse, even as we swim in the cultural sewer and buy into its idolatries. We want Christianity to keep our kids interested in morality and church, but we also want them to wear Hollister, and drive new cars, and go to prom. We don’t want them pregnant or in jail, and even an occasional mission trip would be good. In the end, we want successful Americans producing our beautiful grandchildren. God forbid they take off for Yemen or U.A.E. or Africa.

The Gospel? We want to finance it. We want to build buildings and talk about it. We want to hear beautiful music about it. We want the success of our church and the success of our pastor’s book and the cool songs on the Christian station to represent our Christianity. We’ll study the Bible and say “What it means to me is….” Good choice.

We want to be a Christian niche market. We want to have enough Christian friends for Dinner 8 and for our children to have good friends. We want a gospel that keeps the marriage going and our prayers answered.

Yes Tom, write the book. Please. We need the Gospel of Jesus in America. We need it to be the kind of message that divides the world, stakes claims in the enemy’s territory, overturns the idols in our houses and sends our children into inner cities instead of to the suburbs. We need a gospel that addresses racism, abuse, excess, narcissism, corruption, sexual sin and the passive acceptance of poverty.

We need a gospel that makes us so hungry for reformation that we can’t stand ourselves and our churches to be the same. We need a gospel that makes a preacher a joke if he doesn’t preach it. We need a gospel that plants questions right where we aren’t used to asking them and breaks us on the rocks of integrity and holiness. We need a Gospel that will save us, and that we will will savor.

Write the book and sound the alarm. Zion isn’t quite sleeping anymore, but it doesn’t know that the Lord has left his temple and all we’re left with is the beginnings of judgement in his wake.

49 thoughts on “Message to Tom Ascol: Write the Book

  1. Amen Brother! I was talking with a family member the other day about church, and their concern was about being entertained. When did we start thinking church was about “us”? The whole purpose of coming together in the body is for Him and Him alone. The Gospel is about faith in Jesus and the living Christ being lived out of us. It’s not about experiencing a great sermon; it’s about experiencing Christ and being obedient no matter the conditions.


  2. True, and fairly, you did not say that Warren doesn’t preach the Gospel. But the implication is there that Ascol does, while others like Warren do not because they are focused on methods, marketing, and the like. And to be fair, they are largely focused on things like that. But I am not so sure that what guys like Warren preach is not Gospel centered, and I am not so sure that what they are doing “is built around allowing the culture to determine significant aspects of what a church says and does. His use of pragmatism is built on the assumption that scripture provides a message but not a blueprint for how to do church. PD churches generally are significantly different than churches that believe the bible contains uncompromisable directions for mission, worship, etc.” I just don’t see that. I don’t see him deviating from the umcompromising directions, I just seem him contextualizing.


  3. I would still like to know in what ways that some people feel Rick Warren is not preaching the “Gospel”?

    Much of my original assertion in my first post on this topic seems to have been unanswered.


  4. Re: the Gospel. At the Haystack Bicentennial at Williams College last fall, repeated reports were made of the spectacular growth of the immigrant churches in the US. An Episcopal priest sitting beside me at the Q and A, raised her hand and asked what accounted for this growth, as contrast with the ever-dwindling attendance at her church.
    The speaker thought for a minute, and then said, “The immigrant churches preach the Gospel.”
    Those of us sitting nearby heard the priest’s muttered surprise,”Well that never would have occurred to me.”


  5. Thanks, Michael, for the post. A good reminder for us all. Our church (First Baptist Church of Williston, South Carolina) has a “contemporary worship service” at 8:30 in the church gym on Sunday mornings. I preach the same sermon at the 8:30 service that I do at the 11:00 service in the sanctuary…and yes, I am one of those guys who does preach the gospel. With the exception of a few “growing pains” that accompany the influx of new people, it has been a good experience for us. The point is, I think there is a place for “contemporary worship” in the church if it is done in the right way, with the right motives. Again, thanks for your article. It really made me think!! David Richardson


  6. Willow Creek has attracted many people from the RC Church as well as others. They are doing something right to bring people in. Are they bringing back those disenchanted with their church? They seem to offer something for everyone. I’m curious what others have found at Willow Creek.


  7. I loved the post….and am largely in agreement, given your definition of the gospel (those who wonder what you mean by the term need to read the earlier comments).

    This is just to defend Bill Hybels and Willow Creek a bit. As I understand it, the “seeker service” on Sunday morning is NOT the “worship service” for members of his church — it really is intended mainly to attract the unchurched and get them interested in what’s going on at Willow Creek. The core members, and anyone who wants to explore more – besides being hooked up with small groups for study, for service, etc. – are expected to attend the “worship service”, which occurs on Wednesday night. This is apparently a significantly different kind of service than Sunday mornings.

    Furthermore, for members, the service component of membership is both required and monitored — you donate time to fix cars, help with taxes, prepare and pass out donated clothes and other items, cook for the free meals given out, etc. etc., depending on where your gifts and talents lie.

    IF this is what’s really going on, then what Hybels is doing is a very different thing than what we hear about. I did a bit of research into this when the pastor of a church I was attending came back from a “workshop” at Willow Creek, and we lost our worship service to a seeker service….period. If the information given above is false, or out of date, I’d be glad to hear about it.


  8. Michael,

    You may have to define what you mean by the Gospel so we can know what you consider to be missing.

    When I say I’ve never been to a church that didn’t preach the Gospel, I have a particular idea of what the Gospel is. The way I see it, BECAUSE the Gospel is so rich, people can wind up preaching bits and pieces of it–and that’s still the Gospel. It’s just not all of it.

    Therein lies the problem. Beyond the issues of praxis, most churches, even the hardest-core “Bible-believing” church doesn’t preach the whole Gospel. They may preach that God hates sin and that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, but what about being merciful to the poor, laying down our lives for the brethren, or esteeming others better than ourselves? Isn’t it all The Gospel?

    Churches may flail between the wide limits of the Gospel, but rarely do they stray from one side of the Gospel territory into another. That’s why I believe you almost have to jump around denominations to hear the whole of the Gospel, because each denomination stresses its own little portion of the Gospel it’s latched onto to the exclusion of the rest of it.

    From where you are in the SBC, what portion of the Gospel do you not see preached?


  9. you might want to check out more at this site…Michael’s done a great job at his definition of what he calls biblical sufficiancy. hope i’m getting this right and not calling you a heretic, imonk.


  10. Michael

    If you don’t believe in inerrancy, please define. What then do you believe in?

    In a logical sense, the concept of inerrancy has been foundational in knowing, believing and understanding God. It is the foundation of objective Truth. If the Bible is not inerrant, than it is errant. If errant, than every precept comes into question. Nothing remains certain. The authority on Truth then turns from an objective standard to my person. It was the inerrancy of God’s Word that the serpent put into question when he confronted Eve (“Hath God said”). Once I have been given the authority to question, I than in fact, like the serpent told Eve (Gen 3:5) “… shall be as gods, knowing good and evil”, because I have become my personal final authority in what is Truth and what is error.

    Don’t get me wrong. I do not subscribe to a dictation theory of inspiration, neither do I of necessity hold to a dictionary definition of terms and concepts. Language is what language is. It frequently communicates Absolute Truth in a relative way.

    In a general sense, everyone knows the difference between male and female. Since egalitarianism was a non issue in past Biblical history, and gender distinction was based on common sense, the Bible authors did not find it necessary to give us a concrete scientific or descriptive method by which to determine what is “male”, or “female” because most everyone in the past knew the differences without attaining a degree at a university or seminary, or without having the differences described to them in scientific terms. Therefore, when we bypass the obvious, we ask questions such as, is it a physical quality? Or, perhaps an emotional one? Could it not also be defined as a positional quality? Or perhaps a cultural or sociological one? While the Bible continuously distinguishes between the genders in responsibility and function, it never gives a concise scientific genetic, physiological nor psychological profile of either gender. What I find interesting however, in regards to Temple servants, or animals used in sacrifice, those of confused or compromised gender were not permitted.

    Because many of the above mentioned concerns are predominantly contemporary concerns, and have thus not been addressed specifically in the Bible, it might become necessary for the contemporary church to address these issues according to the principles taught in Scripture, which the contemporary church has to this point failed to do. The use of cultural knowledge in Scripture and the absence of scientific dogma however does not disqualify Scripture from being inerrant.


  11. Amen DLE!

    I’ve been in a church that didn’t preach the Gospel, but I’ve seen far too many who avoided living it any way they could.


  12. DLE…I think the whole point is that there is nary a foot or hand put toward actually living out the teachings and Way of Jesus regarding the Kingdom of God, the GOSPEL (whether that is in our marriages, our belief systems, justice, helping the marginalized, sexual lives, etc…)! If we “just don’t want to live it because it means our little worlds will go up in smoke and we’ll be forced to radically transform how we work, play, and live” then are we really even preaching and teaching and knowing the full, deep, holistic Gospel of Jesus?

    I think that was the point of Michael’s post, rather than ripping the American expression of the Church a new one…I think the question is: can true orthodoxy (right thinking) really exist in the absence of orthopraxy (right practicing/walking/ living)?



  13. Michael,

    I know that you know from my blog that I’m a very harsh critic when it comes to flaws in the American Church.

    But I must say this: I’ve been a part of many churches and denominations over the years, from Third Wave charismatics to staunch Lutheran to Reformed to Methodist to AoG to SBC, and I can honestly say that I’ve never been to a church where they didn’t preach the Gospel.

    This is not to say that they’ve all preached it well, preached it unadulterated from man-derived nonsense, preached the whole of it, or preached it consistently. But they’ve all preached it.

    So when I read that we’re not preaching it, I simply can’t agree with that statement. That’s the kind of statement that stifles all thought about how to fix the problems of our inconsistencies and mistaken notions. You can’t build reform out of that statement. You simply can’t.

    The solution is not to broadly insult the Church as a whole, but for people in each Church to come together to see what’s being overlooked, then restore it to the message. It’s sitting down as a community of believers and going before God with the intention of being true to the Gospel at all times and in all practice of it. How that will be done will vary from church to church, denomination to denomination.

    But to blanket condemn accomplishes little.

    I would also say that more than not preaching the Gospel, we’re failing in living even the little we do understand.

    Kierkegaard once wrote:

    The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?

    Therein lies the real problem. We preach the Gospel. We know the Gospel. We just don’t want to live it because it means our little worlds will go up in smoke and we’ll be forced to radically transform how we work, play, and live. And we’re simply not all that interested in making that change.


  14. David Cho:

    1) The Founders are not TRs.

    2) TRs are legalists. Say this to them: Faith is obedience. Watch how many giggle with joy.

    3) The watchbloggers are so legalistic they hate Driscoll and SWINDOLL over words like crap. Is that me?

    4) Critiquing Warren and hating Warren as the anti-Christ are two different things.

    5) Ingrid and Ken have denounced me as the anti-Christ, and posts like this don’t change that.

    6) Watchbloggers are Reformed Baptist. I am not.

    7) Caring about the Gospel doesn’t make me a TR or mean they like me.

    8) I don’t believe in inerrancy. That makes me a permanent outsider.

    9) TRs are all about dress codes.

    10) Know your TRs better.

    Thanks for reading and I appreciate the critique.


  15. I like the way you write Michael and appreciate your thoughts and comments concerning the Church. I remember when I was being pursued by 2 Churches last year both of them said that what they liked in my preaching was that I preached from the Bible. You would think that as a Pastor I would rejoice at that, but it just made me think “what in the world is going on in the church?”

    No one has talked about the aspect of prayer so far. That is a key element that is missing in the church today. I have tried to get prayer vigils going and was so concerned with the turn out or lack of I should say. Now If I can get only 5-10 people together to cry out to God on behalf of the church a few times a month I know that we will start to experience Him in greater ways. The church wants to start with programs, staff, and worship. It needs to start on its knees for a long season and listen to what God is saying. The Church that prays together is the church that will move forward with God. When the focus becomes on the spiritual God will add new people and the church will grow in all areas. How do I know that? I have experienced it before and I am trying to lead this congregation down that road. We have discounted corporate prayer in the Church for far too long.

    Pastor Jeff


  16. Michael,

    Is there anything you are saying that is different than what the “TR” crowd (for lack of a better term) and watch bloggers are saying? You have been at war with them for a long time, but I can picture the likes of Ken Silva and Ingrid saying, Hallelujah my point exactly.

    You probably have noted that the Founder’s was heavily promoted and attended by the TR crowd.

    I agree with your post, and I also think, having come from the TR background that they too have lost the sight of the gospel (that they promote the importance of the gospel more than anyone doesn’t mean they have it squared away). You cannot just put this on the Rick Warren crowd.

    You ask and just about everyone will tell you that they are in tune with the gospel more than anyone else.


  17. As a post-evangelical myself, I am with you, arm in arm, in your pursuit of the past to inform the present. And in the midst of rediscovering the gospel, it seems like we also need to rediscover and reunderstand church, mission, and discipleship along the way. But my hope is that as we embrace the past, we will allow it to express itself in our present day in age, too. And the culture we find ourselves in is post-Modern. The trick, though, is how do incorporate the ancient-ness of our faith into a postmodern express without it simply transforming into another trendy bobble-head?

    anyway, thanks for the great conversations you spark each day!


  18. Jeremy,

    I hope in no way did I completely write off an awareness of the culture and the context in which we preach. I need to clarify that content and style are two seperate entities but are uniquely entwined. Our content has clearly been geared up a notch because we feel the Gospel is so important. Do we still use eye popping graphics and visuals? Yes, but not as a primary piece of our gatherings. They are appropriately used in order to not become the means. We do not have a dress code. We do not reject piercings or such things that reflect the culture but they also do not take center stage, that is reserved for the cross. We still have a coffee bar but it has been moved from the front of the building to the back. In other words we are making an effort to keep our practices informed and prioritized by the scripture. Nothing wrong with the coffee bar but when we have more people hanging out in it rather that joining in the worship of our Sovereign God we have had to rethink some things.

    Jeremy if you get the chance come to “Together for the Gospel 2008” in Louisville Kentucky. It is hosted by Al Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Ligan Duncan and Mark Dever. Guest speakers will include John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul. I was amazed at how many Xer’s and millenials were there with a lineup of speakers like that. I believe I saw for the first time a glimpse of what the church could be when the one thing is sought, “The Gospel”.

    Pastor Scott


  19. Approximately fifty years ago when our church still had a German Sunday School class, one of the younger, more outspoken men bluntly stated that we no longer needed that class because we were in Canada now, where we spoke English. And so, the German class was discontinued. Was there a need for that class? Definitely! There were still quite a number of elderly who were not fluent in English.
    Approximately ten years ago, my wife and I were having dinner at a restaurant. In the booth next to us sat three or four younger men, pastors from the largest church in the community. They were discussing future plans for the church. Their consensus was that they, in spite of the protest of the elderly, would eliminate the traditional services in favor of the contemporary.
    Most contemporary churches of which I am aware are being commandeered by younger pastors according to their tastes and discretion.
    Is the above according to Biblical instruction? Is the church to be ruled by younger men appointed/elected as pastors, shepherds and elders, or is the church to be superintended (episkope) and shepherded (poimen) by older men/seniors/elders (presbuterous) who qualify according to 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1?
    Is the church to be an institution ruled by the younger, or is it to be like a family, guided by the older more mature. Is the New Testament speaking about bureaucratic rulers/pastors/elders, or is it speaking of natural tribal based eldership?
    I would advise every church to study 2 Chronicles 10:
    Israel too ran into a problem when the younger men (Rehoboam’s advisors, those approximately 40 years of age), to the ruin of Israel, dictated the direction of the land over the heads of the older (Solomon’s advisors, probably those over 60 years of age).
    Like Israel, totally contrary to the teachings of Jesus as found in Scripture, the church is ruled by the youthful “Warrior Prince” rather than guided by the elderly “Sage”. I would advise all to study these assertions as taught in Scripture, within a historical context, from a Hebrew rather than a Greco-Roman bias.


  20. Casting Crowns says it very well in their song: “Stained Glass Masquerade”. When we sit in the pews and partake of all the programs without honoring our Lord Jesus Christ, we might as well change the sign in the parking lot to “Sunday Morning Social Club”.It was never about “What’s in it for me?” It is always about glorifying God, loving Him forever,and honoring Christ as a servant should. The comment by Greg Laughery is very well taken.


  21. jeremy:

    I think that the fact we’ve had two commenters ask what I mean by the gospel is encouraging.

    Many of us who are post-evangelical long for a return to a healthy and vital use of the creeds and confessions of our healthier past to answer exactly that question. The perponderance of “practical” teaching with no strong doctrinal foundation is starting to show, as millions of evangelicals now think that political action, environmentalism and prosperity teaching are “the gospel.”

    The gospel is two ways to live, I Cor 15:1-4, John 3:16, the preaching in Acts, Romans 1-3, the Nicene creed, the best confessions, etc. It’s the storyline of the Bible. It’s what Jesus is the key and revealer of. It’s the only reason the church exists.


  22. Wonderfully insightful as usual, Mr. Spencer! While I absolutly agree with you that the Gospel is central, I have a but…well actually 2:

    But 1) what is the gospel that we are to rearticulate? I think you do see that renegotiation happening within evangelicalism right now, which is fantastic, but I wonder what we are returning to, then, if the pop-Christian, Warren/Osteen/Hybel-esque gospel is so utterly diluted and glittered…

    But 2) (and this is more in response/reaction to Pastor Dontanville’s comment, which is a good one btw) why must it be an either/or senario? I am hearing “either we have a ‘genuine postmodern, radical coffee bar, candle lit, visual driven, come as you are church’ or we have a church that faithfully preaches the undiluted gospel, dang it!” While I am not a pastor yet and can certainly applaud you for leading and directing your church through torential waters, I hope you are not saying that people’s desire to missionally engage our postmodern culture is unbiblical or unfaithful to Jesus or His good news of redemption…

    I’m probably mischaracterizing in both of my buts, but as a pomo Jesus follower who has been in genuinly postmodern ministry and will begin seminary this fall in pursuit of Jesus and the dream of His Kingdom, I hope to God that there is a third way above the two polarities of fluffy, stylistic self-help blather and entrenched, Enlightenment theology…

    my 2 bits…


  23. Great post Michael. I can see two major problems in the Churches around me. the first is a lack of the Gospel as you point out here. They are more about selling Christianity then living by the Spirit. The second is a twisted or false presentation of the Gospel where there is one. Often I see this because they want to feel better about themselves and twist God into someone who is fine with how they live.


    “The consistent reply I received was “Being saved from hell”. Is that the extent of the Gospel, or is being saved from hell simply one of the many perks?”

    I recently wrote a post on my own blog on this very subject, Why Did Jesus Die?. I am always shocked when I find people who think that they will somehow go to heaven because they went to the front of a Church when they were 6. I am always reminded of one of the scariest verses in the bible in Mathew 7,

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”

    I pray that more people would read this passage with heavy, humble and repentant hearts.


  24. …results not much different than what one might here in France or secular Europe

    Whereabouts in France are you? Than one might what over there in France? Where is France?


  25. The penchant for idolatry is increasing with lightning speed, almost as fast as the tombstones of the living dead in churches that have been shrouded in deep and dense fog, unwilling to find their way back to the Gospel.


  26. In response to the comments on the Gospel.

    A number of years ago, when I was teaching a men’s Sunday School class, I randomly asked the question, “What is Salvation”? The consistent reply I received was “Being saved from hell”. Is that the extent of the Gospel, or is being saved from hell simply one of the many perks? Does the message of the Gospel focus on escaping hell, or on believing in Jesus? Is saving faith accepting an insurance policy, or believing/trusting in a Savior?

    Jesus Christ is central to the Gospel. Saving faith must be in Jesus Christ, and only secondarily in salvation. Though it may be immature and vary in knowledge, it must be total. I do not find Biblical evidence for a person being born again through a knowingly selective, incomplete, divided, or rebellious faith. Furthermore, saving faith must be in the atonement of the historic Christ Jesus alone, not in Jesus plus, nor just in fragments of what He has to offer. At the new birth/salvation, a person can not knowingly only believe in/accept the fire insurance policy from hell that Jesus has to offer without accepting the insurer, Jesus Christ. It is not a separable entity. If you believe in/accept Jesus Christ, you get the whole package. If you believe in/accept only the benefits He has to offer, you get nothing.


  27. AMEN, iMonk! While I was reading your essay, I thought, ” **HE** ought to write the book himself!” but other commenters beat me to it.

    One caution, though, to those who try to follow the Rx here: I have seen the pendulum swing too far the other way, i.e. ritualism-&-rote-&-exaltation-of-catechisms a la Pharisees and the Talmud. 2 reformed churches that I have attended come to mind: there is lots of “community chant” of creeds, catechisms, confessions and prefab prayer, and HUGE emphasis on “church membershipandchurchdiscipline!!!!!!” (yes, they’re Siamese twins). On the other hand, loving the brethren—genuinely caring about your fellow pewsters—is a teensy faded footnote deeply buried somewhere under the mounds of bureaucratic procedures and pamphlets. And who’s highest on the spiritual totem pole? Those who can perfectly rattle off the creeds, catechism, and confessions at Nascar speed.


  28. Turn the other cheek. Walk an extra mile. Give your possessions to the poor. Hardly any Christians ever do, but wouldn’t it be a better world if they did. If it’s not about making a better world, why bother. Talented and committed people can bring excitement to God’s Word, but it is more work than the hi-tech gadgetry. American Christianity is a long cry from a revolution. Don’t we Americans too often look for a church that reinforces our political/social/economic outlook. In the Catholic Church people will drive across town to hear Jesus’my way’. Yet in the rural areas where there is only one Catholic Church in the county everyone has to find a way to be church together. Rich, poor ,etc. Isn’t it sad that we can tell more about a person by his or political affiliation than by their faith. We are not bad people, but we are definitely distracted.


  29. This “reformation” in worship over the last 20 years has been identical in the education system. It is assumed that church goers (or children in school) cannot take traditional worship (or traditional school). This leads to false hopes, like some radical inspiration will be coming, and it doesn’t. That is followed by discouragement and genuine disinterest. The best way to do things has been going on for centuries. Teenage kids actually tell me they DON’T WANT the fluff, they want the substance. They actually want to learn. The same with church, they actually want to LEARN the bible, and drop the fluff. They will actually feel more secure with traditional hymns.

    But cranking this ship around is not gonna be easy.


  30. Michael,

    Out of all you’ve ever written, I’ve never been more edified, challenged, and compelled to go than by this. Tom can write the book, you can write the book. Tom has his readers and you’ll have your readers, so you won’t be a hack.
    For a reference, try Tom Nettles “Ready for Reformation”, a book about further reforming the SBC. He says we’ve fought for the authority of Scripture, and then done nothing with it.


  31. Awesome, awesome, awesome post.

    What’s so sad is that “Christianity as a family club” satisfies no one. It’s empty; it’s a lie.


  32. Michael,

    I have read your blog off and on for some time now. You have some very interesting points and in fact we connect on many topics. The book I think you refer to needing to be written has already been written. Gary Gilley’s book, “This little church stayed home,” is an excellent work. In fact, I may have been led to this book through your website. The chapter on hermeneutics and its practice by Rick Warren are worth the book. I believe he graciously addresses his concerns with Rick’s poor use and therefore dangerous practice of proof texting.

    You paint the scenario of a church that is in the process of reevaluating. That has been our church for the past three years. We have been down the road of the genuine postmodern, radical coffee bar, candle lit, visual driven, come as you are church. Our slogan was “wear jeans it’s cool.” If you had a tattoo, pink hair, and could say dude with a mocha Latte in hand, you were ready for worship. To make a long story short, God got a hold of my heart and directed us back to the scriptures. We recognized that a “Generous Orthodoxy” became a destructive practice. How we attracted them soon became the reason they left. The Gospel became a defining mark for us as a church. We began to elevate scripture and wean people off of the visual pabulum. The Gospel has the power to save and direct lives and transcend cultural barriers. The Gospel goes far beyond the moment of Justification and it is the justification for all that we do in our every day lives.

    We have just put up a new website that clearly defines who we are, In the past we have found that if you don’t identify up front exactly what you believe, then you will have catastrophic damage down the road. During the past three years over two hundred people have left our church. Some of that has been due to the cultural shift of a somewhat less casual environment and some due to the content of worship. We are intent on singing biblically content rich worship. I had one couple come to me after teaching out of 1st John, informing me that they were going to leave. I asked them why and they said, “Because we want more than the Bible?” I confessed that I had fallen spellbound by the therapeutic Gospel and had moved from topical to exegetical and wasn’t going back, so they left. Lastly, we intentionally walked through the book of Romans this past year and those who hadn’t left certainly did when we unpacked the Doctrine of election.

    So I can truly say God through His sovereign grace has held me here in this church of which we planted 13 years ago. I have seen it all and have heard it all and have felt it all but nothing compares to the joy of knowing the true undiluted, unhindered, unashamed proclamation of the Gospel week after week. God has risen up out of the ashes a humbled group of men to lead this church forward. We go public in four weeks and we are sovereignly amazed by what God can do when you walk out His plan informed by His Word.

    So in a nutshell, if you want to know how to honor God, lose all your friends, and restart a church, give us a call. It’s THE key the church growth movement won’t tell you about!

    Scott Dontanville


  33. Wow, Michael that is a remarkable statistic. I’d say that around 80-90% of evangelicals and all other denominations here in NZ are clear on the fundamentals of the gospel as you describe them. Mind you, church participation and those who claim to be practicing Christians here is between 10-20% of the population, so we don’t have the exaccerbated problem of cultural christianity.


  34. Since when did Tom Ascol become the chosen spokesman for the Gospel in America? No offense to a dear brother in Christ, but why don’t YOU write the book, Michael Spencer? Looks like you have the passion and the words to do a really great job!


  35. I have never been to NZ, so I can’t comment.

    In America, I’d say less than 20% of professing evangelical Christians could accurately summarize the content or implications of the Gospel in any kind of recognizable form.


  36. OK, cheers for the links Michael. That is pretty much the basis of everything I have ever heard in churches. . . . I’m just trying to work out where this great discrepancy lies? I know of no church goers who would consider that their community’s core message is different from what is represented in those references you provided.

    Maybe things in the US are alot different from here in NZ? ? ?


  37. “Family values is one of the new code words for “What Gospel?””

    One of the problems is that “family values” is shouted from the rooftops, but then they split families up into age-centric demographic groups and treat them all differently. The commercialization of the church has turned us all into marketing segments.

    The gospel is hard to teach and hard to hear when it’s out of the perspective of the family.


  38. I think rick warren is a good man, and i believe he personally knows and loves the gospel.

    warren’s methodology for building a church is built around allowing the culture to determine significant aspects of what a church says and does. His use of pragmatism is built on the assumption that scripture provides a message but not a blueprint for how to do church. PD churches generally are significantly different than churches that believe the bible contains uncompromisable directions for mission, worship, etc.

    warren is particularly critical of traditional churches that do not quickly change to his methodology. My one reference to warren in this article has to do with that.


  39. Michael,

    Have you posted recently a summary of what you think the “Gospel” is. Rather than gettign you to draft something now, if you have done this already. I’d like to take a look, just in case I end up misreading your post.



  40. Here is something that I don’t understand…but first let me preface it: I am not a big fan at all of all the money and resources that get spent on marketing, buildings and the like in the Church.

    But here is what I don’t understand: Why does Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven” outlook get criticized as being not “gospel” centered? I mean, if you look at his biggest stuff (Purpose driven life and Church), what about the totality of that message is not gospel centered?

    For that matter, and believe me this is not meant to be mean at all, why is it that when a Church desires to be more “modern” in its context and style, we automtically decry “they are not following the gospel!”? Can not a Church preach a gospel that “addresses racism, abuse, excess, narcissism, corruption, sexual sin and the passive acceptance of poverty.” and still be more modern in its sensibilities? For that matter, isn’t it true that a Church that is stuck in its suit and tie days can preach an impotent Gospel?


  41. What a wonderful critique of what’s really happening in church today. All Christianity has ever been about is the gospel, but we “feel” that we need more in our idolatrous society. Probably most Christians who’ve been sitting in the pew for 40 years can’t tell you where the definition of the gospel is in the NT. All “flash- no- substance” makes Johnny Christian a very dull boy!!!


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