Having just finished rereading the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles, it strikes me that the apostle Paul was supremely ‘confident in the gospel’ of Jesus Christ. His own words, in another place, say so.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ (Romans 1:16–17 ESV)
It strikes me that there is not one way for a Christian to be ‘ashamed of the gospel’, but rather many.
One of them seems to haunt proponents of a ‘seeker church’ approach to ‘reaching’ the unevangelized and therefore unchurched. The desire—even the passion—for reaching out beyond the sociological and architectural walls of the church, of being the church of Jesus Christ primarily for rather than over against the neighbor and the shared culture is laudable. Presumably, the apostle’s own life endorses it, even if one’s own small, self-interested life too often does not.
Yet, when it occurs, a constant, sustained emphasis on technique seems to me symptomatic of a loss of confidence in the gospel as the self-attesting ‘power of God for salvation’ that Paul declares it to be. I grow nervous when sophisticated aesthetics (whether straight from the rock-‘n-roll present or venerably and retrospectively high-church), pedagogy, anthropological theory, or social analysis begins to dominate our discourse, as though us ‘getting it right’ were the key to being the church for our place and our moment. As though the powerful gospel needed elaborate assistance from those of us who are in the know before it can launch its transformative trajectory in the life of an individual, family, or neighborhood.
Admittedly, these things are critical. Over against a fusty, introspective, or antiquarian religiosity, they are even refreshing. More power to those who can help less alert people like this blogger to perceive what my neighbor cannot yet understand and how to begin the conversation where she is familiar, versed, and fluent rather than where my accrued preferences would have it begin.
Yet somehow the vaunted directness of Paul cuts through the human tendency to embellish and complicate.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation …
In an arena where it is too easy to snipe at any who step out innovatively—and therefore where cheap criticism multiples and becomes immediately damaging and makes me want to leave words like these on the digital cutting-room floor—one longs for this kind of gospel simplicity, this kind of confidence. Not the tired old Christian anti-intellectualism that equates ‘simplistic’ with ‘authentic’. That way be damned.
But confidence in God’s powerful intrusion in his world, of which we are at our best only ever servants.
God save us from embarrassment just here. God give us this power.