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Making Decisions is Counterproductive to Making Disciples

AT in Maine from FrenchyRecently I was listening to a representative from an evangelical ministry make a broad appeal to pastors and church leaders to sign up for their next event to introduce non-Christians to Christ. I was familiar with their overall strategy, and I was familiar with the specific event he was describing, but something caught my attention in listening to his appeal. He described how their ministry had seen numerous decisions for Christ over the years. (I did not doubt his statistics; this was a well-known ministry that had been around for a long time.) The report of the “success” of their evangelistic endeavors was followed by a bleak picture of American life – increased destructive behavior (crime, violence, abortion, drugs etc.), increased secularism, increased hopelessness, decreased church attendance, and the increase of young adults leaving the church. This picture was then followed by his announcement of another nation-wide event to do something to bring real hope, life, and salvation. The strategy was somewhat different, but the goal was the same: get people to make a decision for Christ. While listening, I had this thought: If your ministry has seen so many decisions for Christ made across the nation and around the world, then why is there such a decrease in church attendance? I had already seen the material to be used in this ministry event; it (like all their other events) culminated with inviting people to make a decision for Christ. I tried not to become cynical, but I continued to think, why would I invest time and resources in an event that does not seem to have lasting fruitfulness? After all, our goal is not simply to get people to make a decision for Jesus; our goal is to make disciples of Jesus.

The seeds of doubt regarding the effectiveness of “making decisions for Christ” go back to reading Scot McKnight’s book King Jesus Gospel where he argues we preach a weak gospel when the emphasis is the plan of salvation (which includes making a decision). This most recent experience only solidifies the conclusion I came to some time ago: a push to make decisions for Christ is counterproductive to making disciples of Christ.

The gospel preached in Acts was neither an invitation to make a decision for Christ nor an appeal to invite Jesus in your heart to be your personal Lord and Savior. The gospel preached by the Apostles in Acts was the proclamation that Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, had arrived and we killed him. While Jesus did enter into death, God raised him from the dead and exalted him to a place of authority. And now “let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The proper response to the gospel is “repent and be baptized…and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). There is not talk in the sermons preached in the book of Acts about making a decision or asking Jesus into your heart or life.

Do not misunderstand my point: repenting, being baptized, and receiving the Holy Spirit certainly do require making a conscious decision. God will not force us into repentance. He will not twist our arm or beat us into submission. We must of our own volition choose to repent, be baptized and receive the Spirit, but these are not necessarily one-time events.

We repent and we continue to live a life of repentance.
We are baptized and we continue to live out of our baptismal identity as buried and risen with Jesus.
We receive the Holy Spirit and we continue to allow our lives to be immersed in the life of the Spirit.

Living out our response to the gospel is a much better picture of discipleship than making a decision for Christ. So how does should this critique shape evangelical methodology?

We must abandon the invitation to make a decision and we must resume the invitation to come and follow Jesus. This approach sounds much more like an invite to a party than a high-pressure sales pitch to purchase a new car. This approach is much more about belonging to a community than making a personal and individual choice. This approach may not appeal to the masses, but we will make disciples from the few who see the power, position, and authority of Jesus.

I agree that with this approach – inviting people to follow Jesus and be his disciple –we will not see the outward, numeric success seen by other groups going out getting people to make decisions, but I have repented of measuring success by numbers. I have repented of desiring success at all. I have turned away from ambition & success and turned towards faithfulness & fruitfulness. I want to make disciples of Jesus. I want to make more disciples of Jesus. I want to see people following Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to conform them into the image of Jesus, but this is a slow, arduous process.

So Instead of making a decisions for Christ in order to get saved, let’s follow Jesus and find ourselves being saved.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2013 in Ministry

 

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Scot McKnight & The Gospel

Last week we hosted the Faith & Culture Conference 2012 at Word of Life Church and our featured guest was Scot McKnight, former professor in religious studies at North Park University and now professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary. Scot is an important theological voice, particularly in the evangelical world. I knew of Scot from his blog: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/ and from his books: Jesus Creed, A Community Called Atonement, and, most recently, The King Jesus Gospel. I had been preparing for his arrival at our conference by re-reading The King Jesus Gospel and by listening to four lectures he delivered last year at Truett Seminary.

At our conference, I enjoyed both listening to Scot and talking with him over lunch and on the ride to the airport. I found him to be engaging, thoughtful, and relatable. I like Scot, not that my feelings about Scot as a person adds any credibility to his theological work. I believe what he is saying about the gospel and modern evangelicalism is true and deserves a wider audience. I would say this about Scot whether I personally liked him or not. I like him because he talks a lot about Jesus. He is deeply committed to both the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. I also like the fact that he calls N.T. Wright by his first name, “Tom.” He has a friendly relationship with Wright and there is no denying N.T. Wright’s influence on Scot’s work in the area of New Testament studies.

The bulk of his message through three sessions at our conference was drawn from his work in The King Jesus Gospel, where he makes the startling argument that the “gospel” preached in modern, American evangelicalism is not the gospel preached by either the Apostles or Jesus himself. What modern evangelism calls the “gospel” is really the plan of salvation, that is, how someone receives the gospel. In Scot’s view, the gospel includes the plan of salvation, but is not limited by it. He further argues that preaching the plan of salvation as the gospel creates a “salvation culture,” where preaching the apostolic gospel, as recorded in the New Testament, creates a “gospel culture.”

Scot opened his first lecture with the question: “What is the gospel?” He says this may sound like a stupid question, but in the current climate of evangelicalism, it is complete pertinent. Some say the gospel is justification and others say it is justice, but in the New Testament, the gospel is the story of Jesus fulfilling the story of Israel. In looking to the Scripture for the gospel, Scot proposes we start with 1 Corinthians 15:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5)

The gospel is a story, the story of Jesus culminating in his death, burial, resurrection, and appearance. It is the story of how Jesus became the Jewish Messiah and the Gentile King, how Jesus became the Lord (the supreme ruling authority) over both Jews and Gentiles. The Gospel is primarily about Jesus and not salvation. Soteriology (what we believe about salvation) flows out of Christology (what we believe about Jesus). There are clear differences between the gospel as defined in the New Testament and the plan of salvation as defined by modern, American evangelicalism.

The Gospel

The Plan of Salvation

1. Exemplified in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 Exemplified in the “Four Spiritual Laws”
2. True to the teachings of the Apostles True, but not the gospel
3. A story framed around Jesus Principles framed out individual human beings
4. Highlights the Person who is the good news Highlights our benefits
5. Focuses on how God made Jesus alive again Focuses on how we are made right with God
6. Produces disciples Produces decisions
7. Depends on declaration/creativity Depends on persuasion/rhetoric
8. Creates a gospel culture Creates a salvation culture

There is a correct response to the gospel and most of the time the plan of salvation presents this response. The biblical call to response to the gospel is repent, believe, and be baptized. However, the plan of salvation (as noted in #6) above focuses the attention on simple belief in terms of a decision. In a salvation culture, people talk about making decisions for Christ, but too often we see this decision-making fail to lead into disciple-making. For Scot (and myself and others) this disconnect between making a decision and becoming a disciple is hurting evangelicalism and dampening our missional efforts. After all, Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of the nations, not go and lead people to make decisions. Certainly to repent, believe, and to be baptized requires a decision, but the decision is not to “ask Jesus into our hearts,” but it is a decision to become a disciple of Jesus and the Jesus way. Furthermore, if the gospel is salvation, then the gospel becomes a presentation of how Jesus meets my spiritual needs, keeping me at the center of my proverbial universe with Jesus as the means by which I get right with God. If we see salvation (or justification by faith) as an outworking of the gospel and not the gospel itself, then Jesus remains the center focus as both the means and the end (See #3, 4, 5 above).

As a friend of mine, who was at the conference, said, “The gospel is more than justification, but never less.” I am not denying the truth of justification by faith alone through grace alone. I am not denying the truth of salvation and the experience of conversation. I am not denying the need for a decision to respond to the gospel. I am not denying the benefits we receive from the gospel. But I do agree with Scot, these things are not, in and of themselves, the gospel preached in the New Testament. One piece of evidence Scot offers in making this bold claim is the sermons recorded in the book of Acts. If you read through the 7 or 8 sermons in Acts you will not see anything that looks like the plan of salvation. You see a story, the story of Israel and the story of how Jesus became Lord.

I have been growing in the conviction that all our work in the church and life should be gospel-centered. In this regard it is important for us to get the gospel right and for this reason we should listen to Scot McKnight.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2012 in Theology

 

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