My formal seminary education prepared me for many theological battles. We were equipped to defend the inerrancy of Scripture. We were prepared to defend the true ministry of the Holy Spirit, understand the proper paradigm of sanctification, and respond to the abuses of the Charismatic Movement. We learned how to battle liberalism, counter Catholicism, and deal with the cults, but the gospel seemed to be a settled issue in the evangelical world. Certainly, that is no longer the case.
Historically, the message of Christianity has always been the message of faith in Christ. The objective content of that message is found in Scripture. Since the New Testament era, true Christians have always believed that the only way sinners can be rescued from hell and reconciled to God is through the gospel of Jesus Christ. For centuries, Christians have given their lives and shed their blood to make that message known. They have spent their fortunes to send missionaries to the farthest corners of the world. In many cases, those missionaries gave their lives to spread that exclusive and unique message. Throughout church history, the core message of Christianity has always been that salvation comes only to those who believe the truth about the Person and work of Jesus Christ and receive it by faith alone.
So it is a pathetic irony that in our time, with greater means than ever to proclaim the glories of the gospel to the ends of the earth, the church has become confused as to whether preaching the gospel is even necessary. Embarrassed by the realities of sin and hell, fearful of offending the perishing by calling them to repent and confess Jesus as Lord, and desperate to save God from being responsible for anyone’s condemnation, we have raised questions about whether people even need to hear the gospel. After all, God loves you just the way you are, many will say.
We have questions about the lordship of Christ and the doctrine of justification. We’re confused about the doctrine of imputation and about the nature of faith and repentance. Many wonder openly, is it even necessary to believe in Jesus Christ? Others are confident it is not.
Today the word evangelical is so ambiguous that it doesn’t really mean anything. Somewhere between 45 and 65 percent of so-called evangelical Christians are convinced that Jesus is not the only way to heaven. Not only that, there are some very popular and prominent evangelical leaders who are promoting that deviant theology. These apostles of ambiguity are happy to abandon biblical precision for the sake of a softer, more palatable pseudogospel of their own design.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, both candidates visited Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church for back-to-back interviews. The event was the first of that election cycle to feature both candidates together, and it was broadcast on all the major news networks to a nationwide audience. In his interview with Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate, Warren asked about the senator’s faith, “You’ve made no doubt about the fact that you are a Christian. You publically say you are a follower of Christ. What does that mean to you and how does faith work out in your life on a daily basis? What does it mean to you?”
McCain responded, “It means I’m saved and forgiven,” and he went on to tell a story about his time as a prisoner of war. Warren simply replied, “That was just a gimme,” as if to say, That was so simple. You got it right. We don’t need to discuss that any further.
But there was still much more that needed to be said. Saved from what? Forgiven by whom? McCain’s answer lacked any specificity about the gospel at all. There was no mention of sin and no mention of Christ. There wasn’t a word about the cross, the empty tomb, or the future glory that awaits. “Saved and forgiven” might have a hint of Christian spirituality to it, but it leaves every vital gospel doctrine on the cutting-room floor. Worst of all, Warren affirmed it as a sufficient answer.
There is nothing sufficient about any supposed confession of Christian faith when it can’t be distinguished from false religions. And nothing distinguishes us more as believers than our exclusive faith in Christ, the only way of salvation. But as we’ll see next time, modern evangelicalism is now awash with obfuscation and equivocation on that very issue.
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