Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Putting the Gospel acCENT on the Wrong syllaBLE

By Pastor Matt Everhard

I just finished reading Simone her goodnight story. It was an endearing tale called "The Night You Were Born." In this storybook with brightly colored pictures, the narrator extols the greatness of the person hearing the book read to them, presumably the small child cuddling up next to mom or dad.  

On the night you were born, the moon smiled with such wonder that the stars peeked in to see you and the night wind whispered, 'Life will never be the same.' Because there had never been anyone like you...ever in the world. 

As the child hears page after page, the impression is unmistakable: she is incomparable. Unique. A snowflake.

For never before in story or rhyme (not even once upon a time) has the world ever known a you, my friend, and it never will, not ever again. 

At this point I should acknowledge that this is a Christian children's book. It even begins with a Scripture quotation on the flap (Psalm 139). But I wonder if this isn't putting the Gospel acCENT on the wrong syllaBLE.

I know what the author is attempting to do. I don't mean to be a theological critic of picture books. The author is attempting to show each child just how precious he or she is in the eyes of God. God has created each of us with the imago dei (the image of God) stamped on our DNA, as it were.

So enchanted with you were the wind and the rain, that they whispered the sound of your wonderful name...Until everyone heard it and everyone knew of the one and only ever you.

Now wait a minute. I though the creation extolled the Creator?  (Psalms 145-150 collectively make this point). Is it possible that we have reversed the Gospel completely? Isn't the wonder of the Gospel that God should take notice of wretches and sinners such as us? And yet most of contemporary evangelicalism likewise presents the Gospel exactly backwards: the most glorious thing about God is that He recognizes my glory! Astounding in its twisted emphasis.

Let's call this "Gospel Narcissism" for lack of a better term. Gospel Narcissism is an expression of God's love that intentionally or unintentionally reverses the polarity of the Gospel. Instead of us recognizing His greatness, He sent His Son to recognize ours. It even finds its way into our more popular praise songs, 

"Above all powers above all thrones...You took the fall and thought of me, above all!" 

I admit that that sort of "gospel" is attractive to the masses. Hearing about a God whose primary virtue is that He recognizes your virtue will sell books and fill stadiums. It will grow churches and nab blog "pageviews." But reversing the glory of the gospel isn't the gospel.

Jonathan Edwards diagnosed this narcissistic version of Gospel presentation long ago, "They first rejoice and are elevated by the fact that they are made much of by God; and then on that ground, [God] seems, in a sort, lovely to them...They are pleased in the highest degree in hearing how much God and Christ make of them so that their joy is really in themselves and not in God." Exactly.  

What really makes the grace so amazing (as the old hymn extolls) is that God who is perfect in holiness would set His electing grace upon us in the first place. That God would take on flesh in the incarnation is stunning indeed. That the Eternal Son would impute His righteousness upon us, and take our guilt upon Himself at the cross is gracious beyond comprehension. But let's not make any mistake in our emphasis in our presentation of the Gospel. The "only begotten" one-of-a-kind is neither us nor our children. He is Christ the Lord.

No comments:

Post a Comment