In the introduction to King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight tells a story about going to visit a man who had filled out a visitor card during a recent church service. McKnight (only seventeen at the time) accompanied a seasoned deacon with the purpose of sharing the gospel with this (unsuspecting) man. The man and his family were in the middle of dinner, but Scot and the deacon went in anyway. After the family had finished eating, the deacon coerced and persuaded the man to “make a decision” for Christ. The man made the decision to accept Christ, prayed a prayer, and the pair of evangelists had a soul-winner-notch in their belts. Once the church heard the report, they rejoiced, but the man never came to another one of their services again. McKnight suspected the man had not really “made a decision” for Christ at all, but had finally gotten them out of his house by pretending he had…
When I read this story for the first time, it struck a chord within me. I have done that more than I would like to admit. In my ignorant zeal, one time I hounded a guy who was working alone in a gas station until he prayed the “sinner's prayer.” I assured him that it was easy to be saved: just “invite Jesus into your heart.” I reminded him that he could die at any time and may not have another chance.
Many times did I strike up a conversation with someone and ask them, “If you died today, where would you spend eternity?” I have prayed the “sinner's prayer” with people to help them “invite Jesus into their hearts” several times, and I cannot think of any of them who are following Jesus today. I have seen (or known of) some of my friends who have prayed the “sinner's prayer” a few times now, but there is no change, no transformation. I, myself, went through “the motions” (sinner's prayer; baptism) when I was a teenager but bore no spiritual fruit. (To the contrary, I was involved in all kinds of debauchery and even denied the existence of God altogether for awhile.)
What is going on? Sure, we are all broken and sinful, but could there be something wrong with what we are presenting to people as the “gospel”? How does our gospel compare with the gospel preached by Jesus and the apostles? When they evangelized (or gospeled), did they have something bigger in mind than to “have your sins forgiven,” “get saved,” or “go to heaven (and avoid hell) when you die”?
I plan to blog on this topic for an indefinite amount of time and to look at it from several angles. I hope you will join me. In the meantime, check out the trailer for McKnight's book mentioned above. (Notice the statistics and the different ways that preachers are attempting to address the problem.)
Check out part two in the series: Gospel: Definition and NT Occurances